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Carrascal, Estipona, Pazcoguin, Perez, Vallarta 2OTA

PRINCIPLE OF EPIKEIA

Definition
- Epikeia. n. The principle in ethics that a law can be broken to achieve a greater good.
- Reasonable
- Ancient Greek

Presented by Aristotle

Explained and retained by St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica

It was not possible to lay down rules of law that would apply to every single case. Legislators
attend to what commonly happens, although if the law be applied to certain cases it will frustrate
the equality of justice and be injurious to the common good, which the law has in view.

St. Thomas teaches in the Summa that epikeia o equity is part of the virtue of justice. He
describes the use of epikeia as follows: It was not possible to lay down rules of law that would
apply to every single case. Legislators attend to what commonly happens, although if the law
be applied to certain cases it will frustrate the equality of justice and be injurious to the common
good, which the law has in view. (St. Thomas then goes on to give the examples of application
in the use of epikeia, such as a madman who has deposited his sword with another and wishes to
redeem it to do harm, or fight against his country. In another place, St. Thomas cites the example
of citizens fleeing from an enemy. The gates of the city are ordered locked by the authorities, but
the use of epikeia demands that they be opened for the welfare of these citizens.)
In these and like cases it is bad to follow the law, and it is good to set aside the letter of the law,
and to follow the dictates of justice and the common good. This is the object of epikeia which we
call equity. Therefore it is evident that epikeia is a virtue. However, Epikeia does not set aside
that which is just in itself, but that which is just by law established. (Summa Theologica, Pt.
II-II, Q. 120 , Art. 1
Source: http://betrayedcatholics.com/wpcms/articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/canon-law/theorigin-and-use-of-epikeia-links/

Originally for the interpretation of legal conceptions of the Ancient Greek

Extended to human justice in individual cases, and culminated in an independent virtue of natural
law beyond mere jurisdiction

Built on the principles of human rights and dignity of man

Adjusted to the individual conscience

Epikeia therefore:
1. Applies only to positive law
2. Its use must involve something posing a sudden risk that needs immediate remedy

Carrascal, Estipona, Pazcoguin, Perez, Vallarta 2OTA


3. Certain limits are imposed upon its use
a. In cases of doubt, it must not be used. Instead, one must according to the letter of the law
and consult proper authority
b. It cannot be applied to incapacitating and invalidating law, or irritant laws, whose
universal observance is demanded by the common good.
c.) cannot be applied to laws originating from the Divine law
d.) Should be appealed only in absolute necessity
4. It must therefore be used with great prudence
5. Great care should be taken to avoid acting out of self-interest or against the common good
6. Habitual and general use of epikeia is an obvious abuse

Applications:
- A mother presumes that she may miss Mass on Sunday when there is no one present to care
for her baby.
- A doctor deciding to tell the condition of the patient to his family even though the patient do
not wish to.

Another example:
- A wife comes to you and says that her marriage is falling apart. She and her husband have
tried and tried, but their marriage is, according to her, beyond hope. They fight continually in
front of the kids. They bring out the worst in each other. The marriage has changed both of
them into bitter, unhappy people. Their kids are suffering greatly due to their unhappiness and
seeing a terrible example of marriage.
It is a sin to get a divorce. However, the attitudes that they continually bring out in each other
are terribly sinful as well. Not to mention that they are hurting the kids. Which is the greater
evil? Which is the greater good?
SOURCE: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/05/does-god-approve-of-greatergood-theology/