St. Thomas, Our Natural Lights, and the Moral Order

Lawrence Dewan

in Wisdom, Law, and Virtue

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780823227969
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823237210 | DOI:

Series: Moral Philosophy and Moral Theology

St. Thomas, Our Natural               Lights, and the Moral Order

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The study of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas draws one into considerations of the distinction and coexistence of reason and revelation, as well as of the divisions, pedagogical sequence and coexistence of the sciences. In the Summa theologiae (ST), St. Thomas insists from the start on the unity of his theological undertaking, while affirming the inclusion of all the philosophical or scientific endeavors, theoretical and practical, within this unity. John Finnis, in his book Natural Law and Natural Rights, calls attention to such issues by the very nature of his project. Finnis wishes to present a genuinely ethical discourse, as distinct from a metaphysical reflection on human action and human sciences, and he wishes to do so by making considerable use of the ethical discourse contained in the writings of Thomas Aquinas. This obliges him to say what he takes to be essential to the ethical discourse of St. Thomas and what he takes to be “speculative appendage added by way of metaphysical reflection to such ethical discourse.” Such judgments obviously comport risks, and this chapter highlights some features of St. Thomas's doctrine of natural law that may be obscured in the Finnis presentation. Concerning Finnis's positions, it focuses on two points: (1) his view of the first principles of practical reason as underived; and (2) the role of our knowledge of God in natural law.

Keywords: Thomas Aquinas; John Finnis; God; natural law; practical reason

Chapter.  6130 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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