The Rise of Modern Philosophy

By Anthony Kenny | Go to book overview
Save to active project


Histories of ethics often skim swiftly over the sixteenth century. In the high Middle Ages moral philosophy was presented in commentaries on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and in treatises on the natural or revealed law of God. In Aquinas' Summa Theologiae both elements are combined, but the system is structured around the concept of virtue rather than around the concept of law. It was Aquinas' successors, from Duns Scotus onward, who gave the theory of divine law the central place in presentations of Christian morality.1 But the medieval tradition in ethics suffered a shock, from which it never recovered, under the impact of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.

Both Luther and Calvin emphasized the depravity of human nature in the absence of the divine grace that was offered only through Christianity. For them, the path to human salvation and happiness lay through faith, not through moral endeavour, and there was little scope for any philosophical system of ethics. Aristotle was the enemy, not the friend, of the only possible good life. As for other ancient sages, their teaching could not lead to virtue; as Augustine had insisted, the best it could do was to add a certain splendour to vice.

Catholics did not agree that human possibilities for goodness had been totally extinguished by the Fall, and the Council of Trent declared it a heresy to say that all deeds of non-Christians were sinful. But the disciplinary regulations of that council gave Catholic moral theology a new direction which took it far away from Aquinas' synthesis of Aristotelian and Augustinian ethics. A decree of 1551, strengthening a rule of the

1 See vol. II, pp. 263–77.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Rise of Modern Philosophy


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 356

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?