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Ernesto Rodriguez

Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004

 

Midterm Question #4

 

Aquinas is said to be a Christian with an Aristotlian bent. Explain how he is similar to Aristotle and how he is very different. Explain each philosopher and then compare/contrast them.

 

To say that Aquinas is simply a Christian with an Aristotlian perspective is a vast oversimplification, but nevertheless there are certain parallels to be drawn between the ideas of Aquinas and Aristotle.

 

Aristotle's moral theory consisted of a teleological system of means and ends, in which all actions lead to ends, and those ends in turn lead to an ultimate end. His criteria for that end were that it be something desirable all on its own, and that it cannot in turn lead to another end, and finally that it be something attainable. Aristotle conceived two different types of virtue: the moral and the intellectual, both of them governed by rational principles.

 

Aquinas is well known for having drawn a distinction between theology and philosophy and incorporating both perspectives into his moral theory. Theology is based on the matters of faith, revelations, the intangible; while on the contrary philosophy revolves around the observable. Aquinas drew on both principles in order to develop his moral theory. This lead him to believe that there are two truths to be realized, those within the capacity of human faculties and those that come only through divine revelation. The similarities and differences with Aristotle begin here. While Aristotle and Aquinas might agree on the philosophical perspective, the theological perspective belonged entirely to Aquinas.

 

Both Aquinas and Aristotle developed a teleological argument which stipulated that all means lead to and end, and those ends in turn lead to a single ultimate end. Like Aristotle, Aquinas had three criterions for this ultimate end; that it must be something that can stand alone and be desirable, that it can by itself be enough to fulfill all of our desires, and finally that it be something that is actually attainable. But Aquinas' teleological theory differs from Aristotle's in that Aquinas' goes beyond the philosophical end and ventures further towards a theological end.