My Philosopher: St. Thomas Aquinas

stthomasaquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas, nicknamed the “Dumb Ox” for his heavyset and quiet nature, was an Italian theologian and philosopher between the years of 1225-1274. Born to a noble family in Roccasecca, he was raised in a castle before departing to receive an education. In 1243, while attending the University of Naples, he came in contact with the Dominican friars and ultimately joined their order. After completing his undergraduate studies, Aquinas traveled to Paris, and later Cologne, where he continued to study under the German Scholastic philosopher, Albert Magnus (Funk & Wagnalls, 2014).

Often considered his most significant work, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, is split into two separate parts. The first details the various teachings of the church and the rules its members are meant to follow. Additionally, the first part of Summa Theologica details what Aquinas refers to as the “Five Ways,” or the five aspects that he claims proves God’s existence. The first, and perhaps most notable, “way” is an expansion upon Aristotle’s notion of the “Unmoved Mover.” Aristotle argued that everything comes from something and that in order for life to begin, something had to cause it. This cause is what Aristotle refers to as the “Uncaused Cause.” Aquinas uses this as evidence of God’s existence by claiming that the only logical entity that could be able to do such a task is God (Kerr, 2009).

The second part of the Summa Theologica is more grounded in ethics. Similar to part one, Aquinas bases some of his claims off of Aristotle’s teaching. This comes to no surprise seeing as how it was no secret that Aquinas spent a considerable amount of time studying the works of Aristotle. Aquinas agrees with Aristotle’s notion of eudaimonia, or happiness, as being something to work towards but he argues that Aristole’s definition of eudaimonia is imperfect. Aquinas argues that man’s real happiness consists in the vision of God. In order to obtain this happiness, Aquinas states that people must take part in universal moral obligations, or natural law. These obligations are what ultimately define the school of ethics called deontology, or duty ethics (Elders, 2006).

Additionally, according to Aquinas, morality within a person is best measured by intent of their actions. The specific actions we take, Aquinas would argue, are neutral in and of themselves. However, our purpose in actually performing that action or our reasoning behind it is what determines the good or bad morality of us. For example, in the case of hitting another person, Aquinas would say that if we chose to commit the act itself for reasons such as protecting our family, then the act is morally good. However, if the reason behind committing the act was to cause harm and injure the other person, then the act is morally bad (Kerr, 2009).

One manner in which Aquinas’ form of normative ethics is best applied is in tandem with professional ethics. An excellent example of this would be Journalism’s SPJ code of ethics. Journalists are required by the SPJ to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable transparent. Unfortunately, there are times in which journalist’s may bend the lines of the ethical rules set in place for them thus making the judgment of their immorality difficult. With the inclusion of Aquinas’ teaching on ethics, it becomes much more clear to whether or not a journalist’s actions are actually moral.

 

References

Aquinas, Saint Thomas. (2014). In Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book.

Elders, L. (2006). The Ethics of St. Thomas Aquinas. Anuario Filosofico, 39(2), 439-463.

Kerr, F. (2009). Thomas Aquinas a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

St. Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from     http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=2530

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