St. Thomas, John Finnis, and the Political Good

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, John Finnis, and               the Political Good

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This chapter questions John Finnis's interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, concerning the specifically political common good. It is evident that Thomas limits the zone of human life subject to direction by the human legislator. Not only is God to be obeyed rather than man, but man's jurisdiction over man is not all embracing and leaves room for personal responsibility in such key areas as marriage. Finnis finds Thomas's justification of the limits not altogether clear, and proposes a conception of specifically political society as that of Thomas—a conception that is held to help clarify the situation. The said conception seeks to present political society as something less that a “basic human good.” It is argued that the “society” mentioned in Summa theologiae (ST) 1-2.94.2 is primarily political society; that we have a natural inclination to life in political society; and that the goal of the legislator is the development of virtue in the citizen. Thomas gives good reasons for limiting the role of the legislator, and indeed limits the common good of political society (to merely human virtue). Those limits imply the wider common good of the whole of reality. Thus, the Finnis appeal to private or personal zones is inadequate if the goal is to interpret Thomas.

Keywords: Thomas Aquinas; political society; John Finnis; God; common good

Chapter.  13593 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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