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


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This chapter shows that end, object, matter, circumstance, and motive can all be understood to contribute to the specification of human actions for Aquinas in a fundamentally consistent way. Although specification by end and by object have characteristic differences, they are at base compatible because both end and object can refer to precisely the same reality in human action. The same goal can be both a human action’s final cause (end), and that good to which the will is directed (object). Specification by matter can be integrated with the first two: Aquinas asserts that matter specifies human action either because it has been willed as an end or possesses a distinctive formal aspect (like an object’s). Specification by circumstance can be fit into the picture through object: Aquinas believes that a ‘circumstance’ essential with respect to right reason takes on a new name, ‘condition’ or ‘difference’, and constitutes in whole or in part something essential to an object’s formal aspect. Although motives may seem more difficult to integrate since they are sometimes presented as causes for appetite, Aquinas says that motives are ‘proper objects of the will’ and asserts that they specify as ‘ends’ of human action.

Keywords: circumstance; end; human action; matter; motive; object; proximate end; remote end; species; specification

Chapter.  3392 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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