Virtues and Vices

Jean Porter

in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195326093
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Virtues and Vices

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  • History of Western Philosophy
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The concept of virtue has a central role in Aquinas's thought. Aquinas's moral theology incorporates both a general theory of virtue, and extensive consideration of the ideals and precepts proper to particular virtues. According to Aquinas, actuality is the fundamental characteristic of any kind of existence, which implies that every actually existing thing is in act and can be said to be perfect insofar as it is fully in act. Perfection is understood, correlatively, as the fullest possible development and expression of the creature's dispositions and capacities, in accordance with the intelligible causal powers and inclinations. Aquinas acknowledged that one can legitimately regard the traditional cardinal virtues as general qualities of every praiseworthy action, but he argued that these are distinct virtues, corresponding to the distinct faculties of the soul. Aquinas interpreted the kinds of actions traditionally associated with particular virtues in such a way as to display these as perfections of specific faculties, and exemplifications of general ideals of praiseworthy behavior. The passions, which are naturally oriented toward what is perceived as desirable and away from what is perceived as noxious through the senses, are shaped through reason in such a way as to aim towards the overall good of the person through virtues of temperance and fortitude.

Keywords: Aquinas's theory of virtue; causal powers; perfection; passions; distinctive habitus

Article.  5418 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy

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