Aquinas vs. Aristotle: Justice as Virtue

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March 18, 2013
Response Paper #3
In Thomas Aquinas’s On Law, Morality, and Politics, Aquinas agrees completely with Aristotle’s notion of natural law. Like Aristotle, he believes that everything has a purpose, which is determined and fulfilled by natural law. However, he makes a very clear contradiction to Aristotle’s beliefs when it comes to the issue of what the purpose of justice is. Aristotle believes that justice is the presence of all virtue, while Thomas believes that Justice is one thing on its own, he believes that it is specifically the virtue of a good citizen.

This idea is one that Aristotle could not have understood, because in his time, being a good citizen is all that really mattered to people, there was no distinction between a good person and a good citizen. However, in the context of modern thought, Aquinas’s idea makes much more sense. To be a good citizen is clearly one virtue all on its own, because it is entirely possible to be a good citizen that obeys all laws but still be a bad person despite this. Likewise, someone can be a less than perfect citizen but still be in general a good person, which Aristotle would not have grasped. If someone does not pay their taxes, drives without a license, and does not vote, but donates to charity, goes out of their way to help people, and volunteers at homeless shelters, Aristotle would not say that they are a good person, but Thomas would say that they just do not have the virtue of being a good citizen, but they are otherwise good. Aquinas’s idea is one that makes much more sense in modernity.

Thomas says that the virtue of a good citizen is justice in general, which directs one toward the common good, therefore, justice in general is different from virtue in general, which means that it’s entirely possible to have one without the other.
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