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Ernesto Rodriguez

Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004


Post #4: Offer summaries of the key ethical ideas of each and then compare and contrast the ethical ideas of these two Christian thinkers. How are they similar and how are they different?


In his writings, Saint Augustine set out reconcile some of the perceived inconsistencies of the Christian faith, and in the process outline a path to achieve true faith and religion. One of the main questions Saint Augustine worked to answer was one put forth by Epicurus concerning the existence of evil:


“If he be both willing and able (which alone is consonant to the nature of God), whence comes evil, or why does He not prevent it?”(63)


This is a rather noticeable inconsistency in the doctrine of the Christian faith. If God is in fact all powerful and good-natured, why then does he choose to allow evil to exist in the midst of his creation? If he is all-powerful, then he has the ability to stop it. And if he is good-natured, then he should have desire to stop it. If he is all-powerful and good-natured, then he will have the ability and the desire, the power and the will, to put an end to all forms of evil. So the question beckons for an answer, if God is as Christians say he is powerful and good-natured, why does he allow the existence of evil?


Augustine argues that God is good, and only creates things that are good. By this logic, Augustine writes that evil is not so much a trait, but rather a lack of a trait. What we perceive as being evil is simply lacking in good. Just as the color black is essentially a lack of color, evil is in essence a lack of good.  This sets up the premise for Augustine to argue that something that lacks good might be given to evil. Thus, evil is not something that God has created, rather it is something that is without God’s goodness. But the evil exists nonetheless, and if God is all-powerful and good-natured then why should he allow it to continue? Augustine answers this by saying that God’s good will includes allowing us a choice between good and evil.


Saint Thomas Aquina was a product of the Anglican school of thought. Contrary to the theories of Saint Augustine, Aquina and the Dominicans held that theology and philosophy were of two different natures that overlapped each other. Aquinas looked at religion from both perspectives, one focusing on faith and revelation, the other on observation and reason. Like Aristotle, Aquinas sees the individual actions leading to end, and then those ends leading to an ultimate end or happiness. But the similarity ends there, as the two philosophers have a different end in mind. Aristotle’s version ends in philosophy, that is, his idea of the ultimate end of all means. But Aquinas argues that the individual has two sources of truth, which extends the level at which all actions lead to an end. According to him, these two sources of truth consist of our own rational sense of truth, with the addition of the truth that is at some point revealed to us by God.


Augustine and Aquinas argue some of the same points, but their perspectives are entirely different. In comparison, Augustine’s views might seem antiquated and dogmatic while Aquinas might seem more given to depart.