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Thomas Aquinas on political obligation

NAME: Brahadheesswaran.k YEAR: II year SEC : „A‟

Aquinas does not have to reconcile Aristotelianism with a concrete political and legal code specified in the sacred writings of his religion. As far as he is concerned. God no longer requires people to live according to the judicial precepts of the Old Law (Summa Theologiae [hereafter ST]. the human soul. even neglect. and whereas St. and morality. in Aquinas‟ time. This generalization would explain why Aquinas seems to eschew.” Although Jesus claimed to be a king. he was quick to add that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Unlike Judaism and Islam. I-II. most Christians before Aquinas‟ time (such as St. along with the broader philosophical teaching of which it is part. In fact. Unlike his medieval Jewish and Islamic counterparts.CONTENTS Introduction Natural Law The Political Nature of Man Human Legislation The Requirements of Justice The Limitations of Politics Conclusion INTRODUCTION The political philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). stands at the crossroads between the Christian gospel and the Aristotelian political doctrine that was. newly discovered in the Western world. Christianity does not involve specific requirements for conducting civil society. the subject of politics. such as the nature of the divine.3). Aquinas‟ whole developed system is often understood to be simply a modification of Aristotelian philosophy in light of the Christian gospel and with special emphasis upon those questions most relevant to Christianity. Augustine) had interpreted Jesus‟ assertion that we should “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar‟s” (Matthew22:21) to mean that Christianity can flourish in any political regime so long as its authorities permit believers to “render unto God the things that are God‟s. In fact. Paul . 104. and so the question of formulating a comprehensive Christian political teaching that is faithful to biblical principles loses it urgency if not its very possibility.

but also and more importantly through the natural inclinations which guide it to behave in conformity with the particular nature it has. NATURAL LAW „Aquinas‟ celebrated doctrine of natural law no doubt plays a central role in his moral and political teaching.had exhorted Christians to obey the civil authorities and even to suffer injustice willingly. Even though not presented in the context of a comprehensive political teaching. for instance. the common good. A thing‟s nature is detectable not only in its external appearance.1). he never considered it necessary to discuss the nature of political justice itself. Aquinas‟ thoughts on political philosophy may be found within treatises that contain discussions of issues with far reaching political implications. Even his commentary on Aristotle„s Politics is less than half complete. In his celebrated Summa Theologiae. This does not mean. According to Aquinas. Nor does it mean that Aquinas does not have a political teaching. His letter On Kingship (written as a favor to the king of Cyprus) comes closest to fitting the description of a political treatise. These observations perhaps explain why Aquinas. 90. 91. God‟s authorship and active role in prescribing and sustaining the various natures included in creation may rightfully be called a law. these texts provide a crucial insight into Aquinas‟ understanding of politics and the place of political philosophy within his thought. however.4). everything in the terrestrial world is created by God and endowed with a certain nature that defines what each sort of being is in its essence. I-II. As Aquinas argues. Although it is not expressed in overtly political works. and promulgated. economics. that Aquinas was uninterested in political philosophy or that he simply relied on Aristotle to provide the missing political teaching that Christianity leaves out.” (ST. made by someone who has care of the community. I-II. Aquinas engages in long discussions of law. and it is debatable whether this work is even intended to express Aquinas‟ own political philosophy at all. the virtue of justice. Even though the world governed by God‟s providence is temporal and limited. Aquinas calls the .” (ST. and yet this brief and unfinished work hardly presents a comprehensive treatment of political philosophy. After defining law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good. never completed a thematic discussion of politics. whose writings nearly all come in the form of extremely well organized and systematic treatises. Aquinas explains that the entire universe is governed by the supreme lawgiver par excellence: “Granted that the world is ruled by Divine Providence…the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason. and the basis of morality.

and yet “the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature‟s participation of the eternal law” (Ibid. “the very idea of the government of things in God the Ruler of the universe. and for others. has the nature of a law. As we have seen. therefore. God. Instead of saying that humans are under the eternal law. equally accurate. way of stating Aquinas‟ position is that the natural law is the eternal law as it applies to human beings. the natural law provides the only possible basis for morality and politics. however. according to Prov. the author of the natural law. As Aquinas explains. I-II. For this reason Aquinas considers the natural law to be a habit.). the human subjugation to the eternal law (called the natural law) is always concomitant with a certain awareness the human subject has of the law binding him. whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end. namely.” (ST. “among all others. As Aquinas explains. of course. intends for them.2).law that governs it the “eternal law. As the “rule and measure” of human behavior. Synderisis denotes a natural knowledge held by all people instructing them as to the fundamental moral requirements of their human nature. but because the principles (or precepts) of the natural law are naturally held in our minds by means of an intellectual habit. by being provident both for itself. Aquinas prefers to call the law that governs it by a different name. viii. are humans who. it has a share of the Eternal Reason. which Aquinas calls synderesis. although completely subject to divine providence and the eternal law. he says they are under the natural law. possess the power of free choice and therefore have a radically different relation to that law. the natural law would lose its legal character if human beings did not have the principles of that law instilled in their minds (ST. but rather from whom the law is derived. the rational creature is subject to Divine Providence in the most excellent way. 90. 91. As Aquinas explains. however. This awareness is crucial in Aquinas‟ view. This. Another. not in itself. the natural law guides human beings through their fundamental inclinations toward the natural perfection that God. just as speculative knowledge requires there to be certain principles from which one can draw . And since Divine Reason‟s conception of things is not subject to time but is eternal. in so far as it partakes of a share of providence. is because most beings in the universe (or at least in the natural world) do not possess the rational ability to act consciously in a way that is contrary to the eternal law implanted in them. Since one of the essential components of law is to be promulgated. Wherefore. I-II. Completely unique among natural things.” Its eternal nature comes not from that to which it applies. Simply stated.4 ad 1).” In the vast majority of cases. 23…this kind of law must be called eternal. Because the rational creature‟s relation to the eternal law is so different from that of any other created thing. God governs his subjects through the eternal law without any possibility that that law might be disobeyed.

Ia. I-II. I-II. Just as the speculative intellect naturally apprehends the fact that “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time. Thus understood. he calls the act by which one applies that understanding to concrete situations conscience (ST. Whereas Aquinas calls the habit by which human beings understand the first moral principles (which are also the first principles of the natural law) synderesis (ST. Still. they are first principles inasmuch as they are not derived from any prior practical or speculative knowledge. I-II. Otherwise stated. To return to the above example. In fact. This is important from Aquinas‟ perspective because all practical knowledge (including the moral and political sciences) must rest upon certain principles before any valid conclusions are drawn. He simply understands it by the habit of synderesis.further conclusions. 94. By definition. it is the same in all humans (ST.2). of course. 79. 94.13). place. How. 79. the very first precept is that “good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided. they are a law to themselves. unchangeable (ST. a man who recognizes the evil of adultery will only know that this act of adultery must be avoided if he first understands the more fundamental precept that evil ought to be avoided in general.” the practical intellect apprehends that good is to be pursued and evil is to be avoided. they are naturally known and self-evident for the very same reason that they are not subject to demonstration. by means of synderesis a man would know that the act of adultery is morally wrong and contrary to the natural law.” (ST. Rather. It is in light of this teaching that Aquinas interprets St. or culture. so also practical and moral knowledge presupposes an understanding of fundamental practical precepts from which more concrete moral directives may be derived. this principle serves the practical reason just as the principle of non-contradiction serves the speculative reason. By an act of conscience he would reason that intercourse with this particular woman that is not his wife is an act of adultery and should therefore be avoided. Therefore. Paul‟s argument that the “Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires. 94.6).4). 94. I-II. they are principles without which human reasoning cannot coherently draw any conclusions whatsoever. As he explains.” (Romans 2:14-16). even though they do not have the law.5). They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. one must . and cannot be abolished from the hearts of men (ST. neither the first principle of speculative nor practical reason can be demonstrated. they are just as surely known as any other knowledge obtained through demonstrative reasoning. Ia. that the simple requirements of doing good and avoiding evil fail to provide human beings with much content for pursuing the moral life. How are the precepts of the natural law derived? According to Aquinas. the natural law includes principles that are universally accessible regardless of time. In Aquinas‟ words. Aquinas would be the first to recognize.12). No one can prove this general principle to him.

94. To be sure. the political nature of man. It is not morally good. Beyond the mere knowledge that good is to be pursued and evil avoided our natural inclinations are the most fundamental guide to understanding where the natural law is directing us.2.” Secondly. Aquinas recognizes that all the aforementioned inclinations are subject to the corruption of our sinful nature. simply to act on an inclination. If this natural order of reason is ignored. he must also recognize that this natural good must be pursued only within a certain context (that is. This is why Aquinas is quick to add that all inclinations belong to the natural law only insofar as they are “ruled by reason. any natural good (even knowledge [ST. It is rather something to . One must first recognize the natural purpose of a given inclination and only act upon it insofar as that purpose is respected. there are inclinations we have in common with other animals. such as the inclination to “know the truth about God. man first has natural inclinations “in accordance with the nature he has in common with all substances…such as preserving human life and warding off its obstacles.” This remark presents the ideal point of departure for one of the most important teachings of Thomistic political philosophy. such as “sexual intercourse. it is not an invention of human ingenuity (as in the political teachings of modern social contract theorists) nor an artificial construction designed to make up for human nature‟s shortcomings.).” to “shun ignorance.” and to “live in society. for instance. within marriage. Aquinas mentions that one of the natural goods to which human beings are inclined is “to live in society. namely.” (ST.” And finally there are inclinations specific to man‟s rational nature. It is. political society is not simply given by nature. therefore. etc. THE POLITICAL NATURE OF MAN As we have seen. our natural inclinations reveal to us what the most fundamental human goods are.” (Ibid.ask. Thus understood. chapter 8 of Aristotle‟s Politics. Aquinas seems to have commented upon what he considered to be the Politics‟ theoretical core. Following “the Philosopher” Aquinas believes that political society (civitas) emerges from the needs and aspirations of human nature itself. This doctrine is taken primarily from the first book of Aristotle‟s Politics upon which Aquinas wrote an extensive commentary (although the commentary is only completed through book 3. As someone is inclined to sexual intercourse. As Aquinas explains. open to the possibility of procreation. In other words. do we know what things actually are good and evil? In response to this Aquinas argues that human beings must consult their natural inclinations. To be sure. ad 2). I-II. 167]) can be pursued in an inappropriate way that is actually contrary to the natural law.” the “education of offspring and so forth. a prompting of nature itself that sets humans apart from all other natural creatures. It may seem strange that Aquinas would list the pursuit of “sexual intercourse” as one of the natural inclinations supporting and defining the natural law.). II-II.). rather.

since one man can now specialize in a certain task while fulfilling his family‟s remaining material needs through barter and trade. The priority of the family. Lesson 1 [40]). politics surpasses all other communities in dignity while at the same time depending upon and presupposing the family. Whereas the household suffices for providing the daily necessities of life. Humans share with other animals (and even plants) a “natural appetite to leave after them another being like themselves. acquiring the virtues nonetheless requires both education and habituation. Lesson 1 [27]). Book 1. To be fully human is to live in political society. In other words. Despite the village‟s usefulness to man. 1253a27.” (Aristotle‟s Politics. such societies must still be established. in the same way as the five senses are natural. Much . The reasons for this are primarily utilitarian. This is partly because the village is still relatively small and so the effectiveness of the division of labor remains limited. What Aquinas and Aristotle seem to have in mind in describing the emergence of the village is the division of labor. life becomes much more productive and affluent when families come together in villages. The family is natural in perhaps an even stronger sense and is prior to political society. that political society is not the only natural community. Whereas humans can reproduce and survive quite easily in families. either a “beast or a god. Lesson 1 [39]). therefore. In the same way.” (Commentary on the Politics. built. since politics aims at a higher and nobler good than the family. it nevertheless leaves him incomplete. and Aquinas makes a great deal of Aristotle‟s claim that one who is separated from society so as to be completely apolitical must be either sub-human or super-human. Aquinas admits. The naturalness of politics is more appropriately compared to the naturalness of moral virtue (Commentary on the Politics. the village is necessary for providing non-daily commodities (Commentary on the Politics. and maintained by human industry. Book 1. Cf. is not a priority of importance. As families grow in size and number there also seems to be a tendency for them to gravitate towards one another and form villages. of course. On this point Aquinas follows Aristotle‟s explanation of how political society develops from other lower societies including both the family and the village. even though human beings are inclined to live in political societies. Aquinas‟Commentary. Book 1. Lesson 1 [18]) and immediately see the utility if not the necessity of both parents remaining available to provide for the needs of the children and one another. Even though human beings are inclined to moral virtue.which human beings naturally aspire and which is necessary for the full perfection of their existence. The capacity for political society is not natural to man. however. It is rather a priority of development. The human family comes into existence from the nearly universal tendency of males and females joining together for purposes of procreation. Book 1.

Whereas other animals exhibit a certain social tendency (as bees instinctively work to preserve their hive). the political community. Lecture 1 [36]). In addition to yielding greater protection and economic benefits. It is in this context that Aquinas argues (again following Aristotle) that although political society originally comes into being for the sake of living. Book 1. By means of speech. human beings begin to see the world in broader terms than the mere satisfaction of their bodily desires and physical needs. Book 1. I-II. Since . Similar.” (Commentary on the Politics. to this claim is Aquinas‟ further assertion that man is by nature a “civic and social animal. the goal of the political community becomes the good of the whole. better serves the individual by promoting a life of virtue in which human existence can be greatly ennobled. human beings may collectively deliberate on core civic matters regarding “what is useful and what is harmful. even though not directed to the individual good. but not identical.4). This is one reason why the village is eclipsed by political society. speech (loquutio) involves the communication of thoughts and concepts between persons (ST. which provides a wider variety of commodities and specializations to be shared by means of exchange (Commentary on the Politics Book 1. Book 1. 72. Whereas voice is found in many different animals that communicate their immediate desires and aversions to one another (seen in the dog‟s bark and the lion‟s roar) speech includes a conscious conception of what one is saying (Commentary on the Politics. In this sense. rather. therefore. the social setting in which man truly finds his highest natural fulfillment.” (Commentary on the Politics. There is. Book 1.” as well as “the just and the unjust.4). The political community is thus understood as the first community (larger than the family) for which the individual makes great sacrifices. It is. Lesson 1 [31]). Lesson 1 [31]). 72. Lesson 1 [11]). since it is not merely a larger cooperative venture for mutual economic benefit.more useful is the conglomeration of several villages. which Aquinas claims (following Aristotle) is “better and more divine than the good of the individual. Lecture 1 [37]). virtue. Aquinas refers us to Aristotle‟s observation that human beings are the only animals possessing the ability to exercise speech. it also enhances the moral and intellectual lives of human beings. Whereas the residents of the village better serve their individual interests.” (Commentary on the Politics. I-II. Not to be confused with mere voice (vox). By identifying with a political community. which proves much more useful to human beings because of its greater size and much more elaborate governmental structure. or the common good. it exists for the sake of “living well. and the good. only humans are social in the sense that they cooperate through speech to pursue a common understanding of justice. however. Aquinas takes Aristotle‟s argument that political society transcends the village and completes human social existence to prove that the city is natural.” (ST. To support this. a far more important reason why political society comes into existence.

political rule may be exercised by the multitude. which are determined according to two criteria: how the regime is ruled and whether or not it is ruled justly (that is. Aquinas argues that all regimes can be divided into six basic types. by a select few. The fact that man is a naturally political animal has far-reaching implications. it is called a monarchy or kingship when ruled by one single individual. Book 3. on the other hand. an oligarchy when ruled . but the full potential of the good citizen will never be realized unless he lives in best of all possible regimes. If the regime is ruled justly. since no society exists where everyone is virtuous (Commentary on the Politics. But what is the best regime? Following Aristotle. good men are often called to stand up heroically against tyrants (ST. In fact. man is political by nature for the same reason he is naturally rational. most always means achieving excellence as a citizen of some political society (Aquinas does mention the possibility that someone‟s supernatural calling may necessitate that they live outside of political society. such a person exhibits the virtue of legal justice whereby all of his actions are referred in one way or another to the common good of his particular society (ST. however. even the best regime will fall short of producing a multitude of good citizens. Following the progression of Aristotle‟s discussion of citizenship. a human being is more importantly identified as a citizen. In doing so. As examples of such people. 42. an aristocracy when ruled by a few. In addition to being a father.speech is the outward expression of his inner rationality. Aquinas recognizes a certain difficulty in assigning an unqualifiedly high value to citizenship. or a teacher. In any regime that is less than perfect there always remains the possibility that promoting the interests of the regime and promoting the common good may not be the same. only in the best regime do the good citizen and the good human being coincide (Commentary on the Politics. II-II. In other words. for the common good). Lecture 1 [35]. for the sake of the ruler(s) and not for the common weal). Book 1. or by one person. To be sure. but more generally conceived the good citizen is the one that places the common good above his own private good and acts accordingly. As he explains. Book 3. 58.” See his Commentary on the Politics. the requirements of good citizenship vary from regime to regime. it is called a tyranny when ruled by one. To be sure. Lecture 3 [366]). If. ad 3).2. II-II. a mother. Achieving genuine human excellence. Lecture 3 [367]). What sense does it make to speak of a good citizen in a bad regime? One does not need to consider the worst sorts of regimes to see the difficulty inherent in achieving good citizenship. he mentions “John the Baptist and Blessed Anthony the hermit. a regime is ruled unjustly (that is. a farmer. and a polity or republic when ruled by the multitude.5). therefore.).

A hive of bees is ruled by a single bee. For this end is much more efficaciously secured by a single wise authority who is not burdened by having to deliberate with others who may be less wise and who may stand in the way of effective governance. Aquinas‟ argument for this is drawn from a mixture of philosophical and theological observations. This conclusion is confirmed by the example of nature. it is not always the best regime in a particular time and place. whereas monarchy is the best regime simply speaking. Finally. and a democracy when ruled by the multitude (On Kingship.” As art is called to imitate nature. and even where he is available it is not always guaranteed that the conditions will be right to grant him the political authority he ought to wield.” For the many powers of the human soul are governed by a single power.” Whereas it has a monarch at its head.e. Inasmuch as the goal of any ruler should be the “unity of peace. Aquinas outlines in the Summa Theologiae a more modest proposal whereby political rule is somewhat decentralized. In this sense. In this case the best of all regimes has the greatest tendency to become the worst. The regime that he recommends takes the positive dimensions of all three “good regimes.e.. Chapter 1. And most convincingly of all. that such a monarch is not always available in political societies. “Maker and Ruler of all things. This is why. Book 3. Book 1. human society is therefore best that is governed by a single authority of a eminently wise and just monarch who resembles God as much as humanly possible. therefore.” the regime is better governed by one person rather than by many. it is also governed by “others” possessing a certain degree of authority who may advise the monarch while curbing any tyrannical tendencies he may have. a few. Aquinas is well aware. Therefore. there is always the danger that the monarch will be corrupted and become a tyrant. the best regime is monarchy. Lecture 6 [393-394]). any governing body comprised of many must always strive to act as one in order to move the regime closer to the intended goal. which is to say it is certainly not always the best possible regime.Commentary on the Politics. Even worse. which always “does what is best. In fact. the queen. As Aquinas observes in his letter On Kingship. the universe is governed by the single authority of God. HUMAN LEGISLATION The fact that regimes may vary according to time and place is a perfect example of the fact that not every moral or political directive is specified by nature. Simply Stated. Aquinas suggests that the entire multitude of citizens should be responsible for selecting the monarch and should all be candidates for political authority themselves. fails to provide specific . reason. while providing the fundamental basis for human action and politics. Chapter 2). Aquinas is eager to point out that the natural law. Book 1.. of course. the less perfect regimes tend to imitate monarchy in which unanimity of rule is realized at once and without obstruction (On Kingship. i.

This is not to suggest. human laws serve two purposes. This second function of human law leads Aquinas to a crucial distinction. Accordingly. I-II.” (ST. assault. of course. although all human laws are derived from the natural law in a certain sense. The distinction he invokes is that between human laws which constitute “conclusions” from principles of natural law and those which constitute “determinations” from the natural law. of human law (ST. Even though. it may indeed be a terrible mistake to make military service compulsory or in another context to punish treason with leniency. he argues that. To press the analogy further. Thus. however. some are more directly derived than others. First. Such is the role. or whether military service will be mandatory or voluntary. according to Aquinas.3).2). the death penalty. human laws must include prohibitions against murder. they provide the missing details that the natural law leaves out due to its generality. Secondly. these details do not pertain directly to whether a regime is good or bad. whether (for example) by means of banishment. the basic requirements of justice must be bolstered by an organized and civilized human authority (ST. there is no natural specification as to precisely what kinds of punishments ought to be imposed for these crimes. I-II. it does not give a preferred form of currency.1). 95. that human laws only concern those matters which may just as easily be decided one way or another. even though the natural law does not specify which situations call for which measures. or imprisonment. 95. human social life would be impossible to maintain without attention to such detail. Additionally. I-II. just as all houses must be . 91. the natural law does not specify exactly how a murderer must be punished. After asking whether human laws are derived from the natural law. they compel those under the law to observe those standards of justice and morality even about which the natural law does specify.requirements for all the details of human social existence. There is no natural law that requires how often public roads should be repaired. And because the natural law does not simply enforce itself. and the like even though such actions are already prohibited by the natural law. as Aquinas recognizes. Whereas Aquinas argues that the natural law requires criminals to be punished for injustices such as murder. Human laws are considered conclusions from the natural law when they pertain to those matters about which the natural law offers a clear precept. and assault. “that one must not kill may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that one should do harm to no man. At the same time. human law is necessary to enforce the moral and political requirements of the natural law that may go unheeded. Even though the precepts of the natural law are available to human reason when it considers matters rightly. not all human beings use their practical reason to its fullest capacity and some act maliciously even when they happen to know better. For example. theft. Within a particular socio-political context. whereas the natural law does provide certain general standards of economic justice (which we shall consider later on). To use Aquinas‟ own example.

or even that virtue should not be an express goal of human law (that virtue is an express goal of human law.” (ST.g.g.g. 95. however.1. I-II. In the same way. determining specific punishments for specific crimes). The most obvious example of this is the simple fact that human laws may be in error. Finally.). I-II. theft. Regardless of whether they are intended to be conclusions or determinations of the natural law. Secondly. human legislators must remember that most of their subjects need to be governed in relation to their limited capacity for virtue.. so also all political regimes must enforce certain human laws as conclusions from the natural law (e. Thirdly. see ST.1.built according to certain general principles (e. etc. human laws are essential for the maintenance of any organized and civilized society. Aquinas suggests. etc. Thus understood.). I-II. including Aquinas‟ comparison between human law and divine law.g. since genuine human goodness depends not only on external actions but upon interior movements of the soul. just as a house under construction may exhibit a wide array of details not belonging to the “general form” of a house (e. By this Aquinas means that human laws must concentrate upon hindering those sorts of behaviors that are most damaging to the commonwealth.). II-II. For example. adultery. As he explains. so also political regimes may vary according to similarly nonessential details that Aquinas would call determinations of the natural law (e. windows. some are heated with oil and some with natural gas. human law is unable to “punish or forbid all evil deeds. 120.6. Aquinas understands human laws to be somewhat limited in scope. the very reason why divine law is necessary pertains directly to those areas where human law (and even natural law) fall short.. Several passages in the Summa Theologiae testify to this. Aquinas explains that human law is unable to direct the interior acts of a man‟s soul. As a result.1). some human laws may simply fail to apply. human laws are made by fallible human beings and may often tend to hinder the common good rather than promote it. This is not to say that the coercive power of human law may not play some role in leading people to virtue. which are hidden. rather. At the same time.. Aquinas elaborates upon this by saying that the political community would “do away with many good things” if it attempted to forbid all vices and punish every act that is judged to be immoral. In Aquinas‟ view. 96. and assault). given certain circumstances. that there sometimes arise situations in which securing the common good requires actions that violate the letter of the law.4). a foundation. 91. human law has a difficult time directing people toward the path of virtue. all houses must have a roof. at least one door. This does not necessarily mean that such laws are unjust or even erroneously enacted. a law that requires the city gates to remain closed during certain times may need to be broken to allow citizens to enter as they are pursued by enemy forces (ST. some houses have a brick foundation and some are on a concrete slab. Aquinas argues that. It only means that the power of human law is limited by the fallible intellects of the human beings who enforce it and who only see a person‟s external actions. 92. prohibitions against murder. ..

those who show hostility to their fellow citizens are restrained from their evildoing through “force and fear. legal justice is the political virtue par excellence. from which the virtuous abstain. See his Commentary on Aristotle‟s Nicomachean Ethics. By means of the law. but only the more grievous vices. too. and suchlike. without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder. Later in the Summa Theologiae.1).As a result. fortitude is normally considered to be a virtue distinct . Book 5. According to Aquinas. and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others.” By this term (pax). Aquinas‟ argument for the necessity of human law includes the observation that some human beings require an additional coercive incentive to respect and promote the common good. Aquinas also makes clear in the above passage that human law should strive to instill “virtue. Book 5.58.” (ST. from which it is possible for the majority to abstain. Lecture 2 [902]). The first of these is “peace.” (ST.” and specifically that kind of virtue which has to do with the common good of society.” By this he means that legal justice embraces any act of virtue whatsoever.2).” and may even eventually come “to do willingly what hitherto they did from fear. Thus understood. so long as the agent refers his action to legal justice‟s proper object. 96. Contrary to what its name appears to signify. Instead. Aquinas mentions two specific dimensions of the common good that are of particular concern to human legislation. Aquinas means something considerably more mundane than any sort of “inner peace” or spiritual tranquility that one finds as a result of moral or intellectual perfection. During this discussion. human law is interested in instilling virtues insofar as those virtues perfect human beings in their dealings with fellow citizens and the broader community as a whole.5-6. theft. 95. “human laws do not forbid all vices. It means. rather. I-II. I-II. In other words. II-II. he seems to have in mind the requirements for maintaining a social order in which citizens are free from the aggression of wrongdoers and other preventable threats to safety or livelihood. In addition to preserving social order at its most basic level. Commentary on Aristotle‟s Nicomachean Ethics. has the common good as its proper object. and become virtuous. Lecture 2). this virtue does not imply simple obedience to the law. To use Aquinas‟ example.” (ST. THE REQUIREMENTS OF JUSTICE As we have seen. an inner disposition of the human will by which those possessing it refer all their actions to the common good (Aquinas follows Aristotle in calling it “legal” justice because the law. however. Aquinas (again following Aristotle) considers it to be a “general virtue. Aquinas calls this kind of virtue “legal justice.

ius is understood by Aquinas as synonymous withiustum.3). and yet without the notion of ius. “the good of any virtue. II-II. is much more than to perform an action that reestablishes the equality of justice or renders to someone his ius. To exhibit the virtue of justice. which must be returned if justice in this case is to be accomplished. and which must be safeguarded by the law regardless of whether legislators have succeeded in implanting the virtue of justice in the souls of their citizens. 96. II-II. the $100 owed to the provider of the service is his ius. 58. which he characterizes as the object of justice considered as a particular virtue. 57. for example. the law also seeks to preserve justice as a certain kind of fairness. but in the sense that his actions (proceeding from any motivation whatsoever) reestablish that certain equality which can only be restored if the one who owes renders no more and no less of his debt to the one who is owed. a particular act of fortitude may be referred to the common good as its object and thus become an act of justice as well. Considered generally.5). However. When a judge orders a person to pay $100 to another for a service rendered. whereas justice deals with the perfection of the will and a person‟s dealings with others. Again. a soldier who rushes into battle displays fortitude by overcoming his fear of death.1). Aquinas also considers it as a particular virtue of its own. that each person receives what is “due” to him such that a certain equality is maintained among citizens. whether such virtue direct man in relation to himself. For example. or that which is just in a particular situation (ST. insofar as it directs man to the common good.1) legislators and judges ensure that the ius of particular situations between individuals is established or restored.” (ST. Aside from making their citizens just by cultivating in them the “perpetual and constant will to render to each one his right [ius]. In addition to considering justice generally. Strictly speaking. or in relation to certain other individual persons. Aquinas‟ concept of justice as a virtue would be unintelligible. This seems to explain why he mentions in a later discussion of human legislation that the law should promote justice in addition to peace and virtue (ST.from justice.” (ST. that judge reestablishes the equality of their relationship before the service was performed. II-II. his action is courageous. I-II. 58. is referable to the common good. it is an act of justice. In such a case. therefore. This is why the concept of ius lies especially at the core of that part of justice which Aquinas characterizes as . but he also displays justice if he is motivated by a love for the common good of the society he protects. however. this is not a sense of justice according to which the one paying his debt necessarily exhibits the virtue of justice. This becomes clearer when one considers Aquinas‟ discussion of “right” (ius). As Aquinas explains. to which justice directs: so that all acts of virtue can pertain to justice. since fortitude deals with the perfection of the irascible appetite and a person‟s ability to overcome fear. Considered specifically. Regardless of the fact that justice is a virtue that legislators would like to instill within their citizens.

” By this he simply means that more should be given to those who deserve more and less to those who deserve less. I-II.Commentary on Aristotle‟s Nicomachean Ethics.” In contrast to the general virtue of legal justice. that something is owed to a person by the community as a whole. To observe how this teaching is applied to particular situations in the political community.“particular. Lecture 5). however. it is helpful to consider Aquinas‟ famous discussion of usury. The example above involving one person owing $100 to another for a service rendered would be an example of commutative justice. Since the punishment of criminals is not a matter pertaining to private citizens. Book 5. or work. In addition to punishment. To return to the example of punishment. just as in matters of exchange. It may happen. Aquinas further distinguishes between commutative justice and distributive justice. Following Aristotle‟s teaching in the Nicomachean Ethics. In this case the community distributes things according to what each individual deserves. a political community owes a certain amount of punishment that must be inflicted upon a criminal if the equality of justice is to be restored.2 ad 3). which Aquinas says must follow an “arithmetic proportion.2. constitutes the ius of the particular situation. The degree of punishment.142 [2]). it would likewise be unjust for a society to punish more or less than the criminal deserves. according to Aquinas. An example of this sort of debt would be found in the realm of punitive justice.” By this Aquinas simply means that the good or service provided must be proportional to the value of the currency or commodity for which it is exchanged (ST. 61. because it creates an unfair inequality among those private individuals in . material necessities. Usury inherently constitutes a violation of commutative justice. honor. Such is not the case in matters of commutative justice such as buying and selling. particular justice always includes some person or group who owes some sort of identifiable debt to another. In explaining the details of particular justice. where it would be unjust to fall short of or exceed the ius between buyers and sellers. As Aquinas explains. Aquinas argues that the ius of distributive justice must be calculated according to a “geometrical proportion. 92. which directs the acts of the other specific virtues to the common good. it would be gravely unfair to punish a murderer with the same penalty as a shoplifter. The equality that justice requires must be considered proportionally in the sense that greater punishments for greater crimes (and lesser punishments for lesser crimes) do in fact constitute equal treatment (Summa Contra Gentiles. however. distributive justice seldom requires that society render an equal amount (good or bad) to its members. II-II. furthermore. because it involves one private individual‟s debt to another private individual. but society as a whole (ST. Therefore. a political society may distribute such things as wealth. III.

Its exchange value is more akin to something like food or wine than to a house or a tool. I may justly demand $1100 in return to cover my losses [ST. If. If I lend someone $1000 there exists a $1000 disparity in his favor. On the other hand. . rather. If. Contrary to most modern economic theories. II-II. Since he only borrowed $1000. for example.society. The first would be if money is lent to someone entering a business venture in which the lender shares some of the risk [periculum]. As Aquinas explains.1). The same injustice would exist if one were to take advantage of a buyer‟s desperation by selling a product for more than its value or to take advantage of a seller‟s desperation by buying something for less than its value (ST. It is. Secondly. however. the exchange value of money should be considered more like food than a house: “Now money. ad 5]. if my loan of $1000 to a friend in need prevents me from paying my rent and thus incurring a $100 late fee. Any use of money beyond this purpose distorts its original function. Aquinas understands money to be nothing more than a medium for exchanging commodities and thus subject to the requirements of commutative justice.2. based on his notion of the nature of money itself. For example. According to Aquinas. If money can ever be considered a commodity in its own right. it would be quite unreasonable for a grocer to charge a fee for his food and then additionally to demand the food back after it is used. II-II. Hence it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent. it should be compared to those commodities whose use “consists in their consumption. II-II. Aquinas‟ logic is extremely straightforward. I charge him a 10 percent fee for the use of the money lent. ad 1]).” (It is necessary to add that Aquinas does allow lenders to require an additional fee under two conditions. When someone lends his house to be used. 78. Aquinas condemns usury because it exceeds the ius that justice requires to exist between individuals. 78. it makes perfect sense to charge rent and also to repossess the house when the allotted time for renting has expired.” (ST. by doing this I would be charging him $100 more than what I am entitled to receive. I may charge an additional fee for money lent if lending causes me to suffer some loss that I would have otherwise avoided. he should only have to pay me back $1000. The fact that he owes me this sum of money means that there now exists a ius that obliges him to pay me back the money he borrowed. Again. Aquinas‟ condemnation of usury has little to do with the idea that money should only be lent from the motive of generosity (even if this happens to be a consequence).2. I am entitled to a share in his profits so long as I also agree to lose some or all of my money if the investment yields a net loss [ST. II-II. I require him to pay back $100 more than he originally borrowed. was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange: and consequently the proper and principal use of money is consumption or alienation whereby it is sunk in exchange. I lend someone $1000 to invest in renting a vineyard. according to the Philosopher. 78.

that in addition to being good and natural political society is also limited in several important respects. assault. I-II. THE LIMITATIONS OF POLITICS As we have seen. must often settle for preventing only those things that imperil the immediate safety of those protected by it. on the other hand. Aquinas‟ definition of natural law as the human participation in the eternal law also indicates something emphatically trans-political about human nature that cannot be found in the Aristotelian . but the virtues it succeeds in instilling seldom fulfill the full moral capabilities of human citizens. Aquinas is making the simple point that human law is incapable of regulating every dimension of social life. much of Aquinas‟ political teaching is adapted from the Aristotelian political science which he studied in great detail and which he largely embraced. divine law is able to punish all vices while demanding the moral perfection from humans that God expects (ST. Perhaps he would elaborate that attempting to police the practice of usury may in some cases hinder a society‟s ability to prevent more serious crimes like murder. on account of the condition of those who are imperfect. not all of which would have been pointed out by Aristotle but are unique to Aquinas‟ teaching. and who would be deprived of many advantages. however. 91. 96. This is due to the limited nature of human law and political society itself and is one of the reasons why God has wisely chosen to apply his own divine law to human affairs.1). Aquinas believes that the human laws governing political societies must be somewhat limited in scope. It is also necessary to understand. and robbery (ST.77. Perhaps the most central Aristotelian political doctrine in Aquinas‟ view is the inherent goodness and naturalness of political society. In addition to its infallibility and the fact that it applies to the “interior movements” of man‟s soul.4). Human law. the fact that something like the practice of usury is unjust does not necessarily mean that political society can or should forbid it: “Human laws leave certain things unpunished. For example. Secondly. I-II.1 ad 3).2). 78. In either case someone falls short of or exceeds the ius of a given situation.” (ST. if all sins were strictly forbidden and punishments appointed for them. which is inherently contrary the equality that justice requires. II-II. In this argument. As we have already seen. This is not to say that human law does not also look to promote virtue.

For this reason Aquinas never ceases to remind us that. to political society for their content. Thus understood politics is no mere instrumental good (as in the teachings of modern political thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke). We may observe this by returning to Aquinas‟ claim that political society is natural. and thus the individual‟s participation in political society is a great intrinsic good for the individual as well as for society. therefore.3-4) Hence the very existence of natural law implies a more universal community under God that transcends political society. since under Aquinas‟ own definition there can be no law that does not derive from someone who “has care of the community. They owe nothing. I-II. This difference points out in a particularly striking way the un-Aristotelian character of Aquinas‟ insistence that all regimes. Not only is the natural law a universally binding law for all humans in all places (something that Aristotle never recognized). human beings know the precepts of the natural law by a natural habit Aquinas calls synderesis. he never suggested an overarching human community with a supreme lawgiver. . whether they realize it or not. the natural law would lose its legal character. political society as Aquinas understands it is limited in an even further sense. and yet this is precisely what Aquinas‟ teaching explicitly affirms (ST. they are first promulgated by nature itself and instilled in man‟s mind by the hand of God. it also points to the existence of a God that consciously and providently governs human affairs as a whole (also something absent from the Aristotelian teaching).” (ST. In one sense. although politics is natural to man and constitutes an important aspect of the natural law. This is considerably different from the Aristotelian doctrine that includes no teaching regarding the self-evident first principles of natural morality upon which Aquinas‟ natural law theory stands or falls and that seems to suggest (contrary to Aquinas‟ view) that no universally binding law even exists that is not somewhat subject to change from regime to regime (Nicomachean Ethics. 91. 90. but is part of the very fabric of the human person. 1134b33).doctrine to which Aquinas largely adapted his own. Whereas these precepts may be reinforced by the political community.1-2). Only by living in political society is man capable of achieving his full natural potential. Without such divine origins. As we have seen. are under God‟s supreme authority and owe the binding force of their laws to the more fundamental natural law of which God is the sole author. This is also apparent by looking at the epistemological basis of Aquinas‟ natural law theory. I-II. of course. Whereas Aristotle had argued for the existence of a natural standard of morality. the characterization of politics as natural also means for Aquinas that it falls short of man‟s ultimate supernatural end. this affirmation of Aristotle‟s teaching constitutes a very high exaltation of the political. CONCLUSION Finally. “man is not ordained to the body politic according to all that he is and has. On the other hand.” (ST.

By this Aquinas means that beyond the fulfillment of the natural law. which transcends politics both in its universality as well as in the finality of its purpose. Of course. and safety.I-II. but even in his terrestrial existence man is called upon to exercise a supernatural perfection made possible through his active cooperation with God‟s grace. beatitude is only fully completed in the afterlife (ST. Chapters 14-15). I-II. hope. 5. Precisely because it is a natural institution. Book I. The common good that political authorities pursue includes the maintenance of a just society where individual citizens may flourish physically as well as morally. and even the exercise of the moral virtues. charity. human beings find their complete perfection and happiness only in beatitude—the supernatural end to which they are called. political society is not equipped to guide human beings toward the attainment of this higher supernatural vocation. to say that political society is merely natural is not to suggest that it should only concern man‟s basic natural needs such as food. the active participation in political society. 21. Politics thus promotes the natural virtues (most of all justice). shelter. . which are themselves the human soul‟s preparation for the reception of divine grace and the infusion of the supernatural virtues of faith. above all.4 ad 3). The best one can hope from political society is that citizens will be well disposed to receive the grace available to them through the Church. and. In this respect it must yield to the Church.3). Again. which (unlike political society) is divinely established and primarily concerned with the distribution of divine grace and the salvation of souls (On Kingship.