Proximate and Remote Ends

Joseph Pilsner

in The Specification of Human Actions in St Thomas Aquinas

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780199286058
Published online May 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191603808 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Theological Monographs

Proximate and Remote Ends

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There is an apparent paradox with respect to Aquinas’s teaching on proximate and remote ends. On some occasions, he seems to assert that a proximate end specifies a human action, while the remote end is inconsequential. On other occasions, he appears to hold not only that a remote end gives a species to a human action, but also that this species has greater formal influence than the species from a proximate end. The way to resolve this paradox is to realize that Aquinas addresses two different questions with respect to the specification of human action. Sometimes, he is exploring what is required to determine a particular species of human action. In this case, he thinks that willing a proximate end (such as ‘having intercourse with another’s spouse’) is sufficient to determine this action’s species (adultery), and that no further end would add something critical for making this determination. On other occasions, he is wondering what the species of an action would be in a case where a particular proximate end (such as theft) is already being willed by an agent for a particular remote end (such as murder or almsgiving). In this case, he believes that the human action in question has two moral species, one from each end; the species from the remote end has a kind of formal primacy, since the proximate end is being willed for the remote end’s sake.

Keywords: cause; charity; effect; form; genus; human action; proximate end; remote end; species; specification

Chapter.  10026 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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