Justice as a Virtue: A Thomistic Perspective

Justice as a Virtue: A Thomistic Perspective

Justice as a Virtue: A Thomistic Perspective

Justice as a Virtue: A Thomistic Perspective

Synopsis

Explores Aquinas's concept of justice -- and why it matters today."Aquinas," says Jean Porter, "gets justice right." In this book she shows that Aquinas offers us a cogent and illuminating account of justice as a personal virtue rather than a virtue of social institutions, as John Rawls and his interlocutors have described it -- and as most people think of it today.Porter presents a thoughtful interpretation of Aquinas's account of the complex virtue of justice as set forth in the Summa theologiae, focusing on his key claim that justice is a perfection of the will. Building on her interpretation of Aquinas on justice, Porter also develops a constructive expansion of his work, illuminating major aspects of Aquinas's views and resolving tensions in his thought so as to draw out contemporary implications of his account of justice that he could not have anticipated.

Excerpt

A little over ten years ago, I completed a theory of the natural law, derived largely although not exclusively from the work of Thomas Aquinas. As I worked through the interpretative and theoretical issues raised by that project, it became clear to me that Aquinas’s theory of the natural law is incomplete without the theory of virtue that accompanies it. the virtues represent the full and appropriate development of natural human capacities, exercised in the context of an admirable and satisfying way of life. They are therefore the touchstones for any theory of the natural law, which presupposes some account of the normative significance of human nature. At the same time, the virtues presuppose rational insights into the true end of human life and the ways in which we can, or should, pursue that end, and Aquinas, together with many of his interlocutors, identifies the natural law with the first principles that lie behind these insights. Clearly, we cannot separate Aquinas’s theories of the natural law and virtue, as if these were two disparate ways of thinking about morality. Just as the natural law and the virtues are two distinct but complementary principles of the human act, so Aquinas’s theory of morality offers an integrated account of these two aspects of the moral life.

The close interconnection between natural law and virtue is nowhere more evident than in Aquinas’s account of justice. While Aquinas and our own contemporaries have very different conceptions of justice, they would agree that justice is distinctively associated with objective standards for equity, fairness, and obligation, formulated in terms of stringent rules. Yet Aquinas also claims that justice is a virtue, not just in the attenuated sense of a disposition to perform just actions, but in the same robust way that temperance and courage are virtues. As such, justice represents a full and appropriate development—a perfection, in other words—of the capacity that it informs, the will. To put the point in somewhat anachronistic terms . . .

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