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Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good

Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good claims that con-
temporary theory and practice have much to gain from engaging
Aquinas™s normative concept of the common good and his way of rec-
onciling religion, philosophy, and politics. Examining the relation-
ship between personal and common goods, and the relation of virtue
and law to both, Mary M. Keys shows why Aquinas should be read
in addition to Aristotle on these perennial questions. She focuses on
Aquinas™s Commentaries as mediating statements between Aristotle™s
Nicomachean Ethics and Politics and Aquinas™s Summa Theologiae, show-
ing how this serves as the missing link for grasping Aquinas™s
understanding of Aristotle™s thought in relation to Aquinas™s own con-
sidered views. Keys argues provocatively that Aquinas™s Christian faith
opens up new panoramas and possibilities for philosophical inquiry
and insights into ethics and politics. Her book shows how religious
faith can assist sound philosophical inquiry into the foundations and
proper purposes of society and politics.

Mary M. Keys is associate professor of political science at the Univer-
sity of Notre Dame. She has received fellowships from the Erasmus
Institute at the University of Notre Dame; the Martin Marty Center for
Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago, the Earhart
Foundation, and the George Strake Foundation, among others. Most
recently, she has been awarded a fellowship from the National Endow-
ment for the Humanities for research on “Humility and Modern Pol-
itics” in 2006“7. Her articles have appeared in the American Journal of
Political Science and History of Political Thought.
Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise
of the Common Good

University of Notre Dame
cambridge university press
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Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge cb2 2ru, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521864732

© Mary M. Keys 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published in print format 2006

978-0-511-25658-5 eBook (EBL)
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guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
My Teachers,
Especially My Parents

Acknowledgments page xi

part i: virtue, law, and the problem
of the common good
Why Aquinas? Reconsidering and Reconceiving the
Common Good 3
1.1 The Promise and Problem of the Common Good: Contemporary
Experience and Classical Articulation
1.2 Why Aquinas? Centrality of the Concept and Focus on Foundations
1.3 An Overview of the Argument by Parts and Chapters
Contemporary Responses to the Problem of the Common
Good: Three Anglo-American Theories 29
2.1 Liberal Deontologism: Contractarian Common Goods in Rawls™s
Theory of Justice
2.2 Communitarianism or Civic Republicanism: Sandel against
Commonsense “Otherness”
2.3 A Third Way? Galston on the Common Goods of Liberal Pluralism

part ii: aquinas™s social and civic foundations
3 Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations:
From Three Anglo-American Theorists Back to Thomas
Aquinas 59
3.1 Aristotelianism and Political-Philosophic Foundations, Old and New
3.2 Aristotle™s Three Political-Philosophic Foundations in Thomas
Aquinas™s Thought
3.3 The First Foundation and Aquinas™s Commentary: Human
Nature as “Political and Social” in Politics I


Reinforcing the Foundations: Aquinas on the Problem of
Political Virtue and Regime-Centered Political Science 87
The Second Foundation and Aquinas™s Commentary: Human
Beings and Citizens in Politics III
Faults in the Foundations: The Uncommented Politics and the
Problem of Regime Particularity
Politics Pointing beyond the Polis and the Politeia: Aquinas™s New
Finishing the Foundations and Beginning to Build:
Aquinas on Human Action and Excellence as Social,
Civic, and Religious 116
5.1 Community, Common Good, and Goodness of Will
5.2 Natural Sociability and the Extension of the Human Act
5.3 Cardinal Virtues as Social and Civic Virtues “ with a Divine

part iii: moral virtues at the nexus of personal
and common goods
Remodeling the Moral Edi¬ce (I): Aquinas and
Aristotelian Magnanimity 143
6.1 Aristotle on Magnanimity as Virtue
Aquinas™s Commentary on the Magnanimity of the
Nicomachean Ethics
The Summa Theologiae on Magnanimity and Some “Virtues of
Acknowledged Dependence”
Remodeling the Moral Edi¬ce (II): Aquinas and
Aristotelian Legal Justice 173
7.1 Aristotle on Legal Justice
Aquinas™s Commentary on Legal Justice in the Nicomachean
Legal Justice and Natural Law in the Summa Theologiae

part iv: politics, human law,
and transpolitical virtue
Aquinas™s Two Pedagogies: Human Law and the Good of
Moral Virtue 203
8.1 Aquinas™s Negative Narrative, or How Law Can Curb Moral Vice
8.2 Beyond Reform School: Law™s Positive Pedagogy According to
8.3 Universality and Particularity, Law and Liberty
8.4 Thomistic Legal Pedagogy and Liberal-Democratic Polities
Contents ix

Theological Virtue and Thomistic Political Theory
9 226
9.1 The Problematic Political Promotion of Theological Virtue
9.2 Infused Moral Virtue and Civic Legal Justice
9.3 Thomistic and Aristotelian Moderation for the Common Good

Works Cited 239
Index 249

This book, or whatever is good in it, is truly a common good. I am
delighted to thank some of the many teachers, colleagues, family mem-
bers, and friends without whose help this book never would have come
to be, or would have come to be quite differently. Because I am, alas, a
quintessentially absent-minded professor, I ¬rst want to apologize to and
to thank anyone I have accidentally omitted here.
My ¬rst debt is to my teachers. Christopher Bruell introduced me to
political philosophy when I was a freshman at Boston College and inspired
me to continue its study. I owe to him an abiding interest in Plato™s and
Aristotle™s works and in ancient Greek political thought generally. The
late theologian and political theorist Ernest Fortin directed my under-
graduate thesis and later suggested that I study the common good in
Aquinas™s thought. That Fr. Fortin™s other suggestion for my dissertation
was the rediscovery of Aristotle in the Latin West is, in the context of
this book, one more indicator of how profound my intellectual debt is
to this learned and generous man. Peter Kreeft, Marc Landy, and Mark
O™Connor were also for me the best of teachers in undergraduate phi-
losophy, political science, and “great books” courses, respectively.
At the University of Toronto, Clifford Orwin and Thomas Pangle were
my graduate mentors, teaching outstanding seminars in ancient and mod-
ern political philosophy. Cliff Orwin excelled, as he still does, at prompt-
ing me to laugh, chie¬‚y at myself. Tom Pangle, beyond directing my
dissertation, somehow convinced me before I had even defended my
proposal to apply for a job at the University of Notre Dame, where I
have been ever since. The late Edward Synan of Toronto™s Ponti¬cal Insti-
tute of Medieval Studies worked with me in a year-long directed readings

course on Augustine™s City of God. He combined deep intellectual seri-
ousness with childlike delight and wonder, and so made learning more
lovable for his students. During a year of independent study in philoso-
phy at the University of Navarre I bene¬ted greatly from the assistance
of Rafael Alvira, Alfredo Cruz, and Alejandro Llano.
My second book-related debt is in many ways no less than the ¬rst: my
colleagues at Notre Dame have been for me true treasures of prudence
and wisdom and constant sources of encouragement. Here it is hard to
know with whom to begin, so I will proceed alphabetically, thanking from
the heart Jim McAdams, department chair during several of my critical
early years on Notre Dame™s faculty; Ralph McInerny, who graciously and
repeatedly assisted a ¬‚edgling student of Aquinas in her work; John Roos
and David Solomon, whose colleagueship went from the start and still
goes far beyond the call of duty; Catherine Zuckert, who has given me a
wonderful example of a woman who is a leading scholar in my ¬eld and a
very faithful friend; and her husband, Michael Zuckert, who as my depart-
mental senior faculty mentor has been incredibly generous in reading my
work, providing critical feedback on several versions of this manuscript.
I would also like to mention with gratitude the assistance, encourage-
ment, and insights received over the years from many other Notre Dame
colleagues, including Ruth Abbey, Eileen Botting, Gerry Bradley, Fred
Crosson, Fred Freddoso, Edward Goerner, John Jenkins, C.S.C., Alasdair
MacIntyre, Walter Nicgorski, David O™Connor, Paul Weithman, and the
late Jean T. Oesterle, a great translator with whom I shared an of¬ce
during the 1995“6 academic year and whom I miss very much.
Several colleagues from other institutions have helped to improve this
book with comments on earlier versions of the whole manuscript, indi-
vidual chapters, or related pieces of work. In this regard I am indebted
especially to J. Brian Benestad, Kenneth Deutsch, Rebecca Konyndyk
DeYoung, Harvey Mans¬eld, Christopher Wolfe, and the members of
the 2000“1 Erasmus Institute Fellows Seminar. I am deeply indebted
to Cambridge University Press, especially to senior humanities editor
Beatrice Rehl, who has been wonderful to work with throughout the
review and publication process. I am also most grateful to senior polit-
ical science editor Lewis Bateman for ¬rst taking an interest in this
manuscript, and to production editor Louise Calabro and copy editor
Helen Greenberg for their expert and eagle-eyed assistance. For permis-
sion to reprint, with some small changes, previously published articles as
chapters in this book, I thank History of Political Thought and the Imprint
Academic (for chapter 6, originally “Aquinas and the Challenge of
Acknowledgments xiii

Aristotelian Magnanimity” in HPT 24/1, 2003), and the American Journal
of Political Science and Blackwell Publishing Ltd. (for chapter 8, originally
“Aquinas™s Two Pedagogies: A Reconsideration of the Relation between
Law and Moral Virtue” in AJPS 45/3, 2001). I have also bene¬ted from
consulting an unpublished translation by Ernest Fortin of Aquinas™s Com-
mentary on Aristotle™s “Politics.”
For their generous support of my work I am most grateful to the Col-
lege of Arts and Letters of the University of Notre Dame, the Earhart
Foundation, the Erasmus Institute at the University of Notre Dame, the
Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts of the University of Notre
Dame, the Jacques Maritain Center of the University of Notre Dame, the
Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University
of Chicago, the Olin Foundation, and the Strake Foundation. Without the
contributions over the years of several dedicated graduate student assis-
tants this book would likewise be much the poorer, and so I thank Geoffrey
Bowden, Catherine Borck Horse¬eld, Jeremy John, Robert L™Arrivee,
Matthew Mendham, Ana Quesada Samuel, and David Thunder, as well
as undergraduate student assistant Cecilia Hadley.
Many family members and friends have been for me unfailing sources
of inspiration and support over the years, especially my sister, Elizabeth
Christina Keys, and friends Amy Cavender, C.S.C., Debbie Collins-
Freddoso, Carole DeCosse, Peggy Garvey, Eve Grace, Sharon Hefferan,
Tricia Keefe, Jody and Brad Lewis, Sera Marin, Gabriela Martinez,
Madonna Murphy, Laura Sanchez Aldana, Marylou Solomon, and Moira
Lastly I thank my parents, Elizabeth Noll Passman Keys and Bertram
Lockwood Keys, Jr. To them above all, with deep gratitude for the price-
less gifts of life and faith, learning and love, this book is affectionately
part i


Why Aquinas?
Reconsidering and Reconceiving the Common Good

This book began, appropriately enough in view of its topic, in the form
of a “disputed question”: what bene¬t can contemporary political the-
ory gain from engaging Aquinas™s ethical and political thought, most
speci¬cally his concept of the common good (bonum commune)? From
this “focal question,” again appropriately enough, a number of related
queries arose, sometimes from the author herself and sometimes from
her colleagues: Why should a book on the political common good focus
more centrally on Aquinas than on Aristotle, Aquinas™s mentor after all,
and the founder in Politics III of common good“centered political theory?
How does Aquinas navigate a key problem that seems intrinsic to the very
concept of the common good, namely, how to give priority to the com-
mon good in social and civic life without undercutting or alienating the
goods of individual persons? What for Aquinas is the nexus point of per-
sonal and civic ¬‚ourishing, and how can locating and understanding that
link alleviate the tension between personal and communal happiness?1
Finally, what about the religious or theological nature of most of Aquinas™s
works? Doesn™t that limit their theoretical signi¬cance and restrict their
credibility for most scholars today? Doesn™t Aquinas™s theological empha-
sis imply that only a closed community of Christian or even Catholic
believers can identify with his thought, especially when it deviates from
Aristotle™s hard-headed philosophic reasoning? And if this is so, aren™t

1 Douglas Kries(2002, 111) has recalled Ernest Fortin˜s suggestion that a version of the per-
sonal good“common good question constitutes perhaps the central problem for political
theory. Compare perhaps the more standard position (also advanced by Kries 1990, 89ff.)
that the question of regimes, especially the “best regime,” is primary.

Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

we better off accepting a potentially less complete but nonetheless more
tenable account of personal and common goods? Once again, we are
back to wondering why Aquinas.
The argument I advance in this book ¬nds Aquinas™s thought a very
useful and perhaps even essential resource for political theorists today,
precisely because it delves deeply into the philosophic-anthropologic and
ethical foundations of social and civic life, and so better enables us to
envision the purposes of politics. On this score I will argue that Aquinas™s
virtue theory and his legal theory are in key respects more illuminating
than Aristotle™s path-breaking accounts. Aquinas embarks in part from
Aristotle™s ethical and political thought, but also from signi¬cant prob-
lems that arise in it when one considers the full requirements of both
the “common” and the “good” aspects of the Aristotelian political telos.
Aquinas aims to do justice to both dimensions, or at least to approximate
their meaning and demands as closely as possible; in particular, he seems
to take the “common” or universal dimension of the common good and
its normative implications even more seriously than his philosophic men-
tor did. This endeavor, I will argue, enables Aquinas to enhance Aristotle™s
theory of the ethical virtues and to give a fuller description of the com-
mon principles and precepts from which our moral reasoning embarks.
In doing so, Aquinas offers a probing account of the relation between
personal and common goods. He understands both as anchored in the
social virtues and ultimately in the natural law, both of which in turn are
oriented toward a transpolitical happiness. Awareness that personal and
public goods point beyond themselves to something higher can mod-
erate as well as ennoble civic endeavors in this world. The theological
dimension of Thomistic theory certainly entails risks,2 yet I will argue
that it also offers signi¬cant insights into civic and political life.
In the course of this book I explicate and support this claim, ¬rst, by
considering at some length the “problem of the common good” in con-
temporary context, theoretical primarily but also practical; second, by
looking more closely at Aquinas™s theory of social and civic foundations;
third, through theoretical case studies showing the impact of Aquinas™s
approach on two ethical virtues of particular political import, magna-
nimity and legal justice; and fourth, by facing objections that Aquinas™s
common good theory paves the way for a politics of moralizing legisla-
tive coercion and religious extremism. In this chapter I begin the ¬rst
task, exploring some prospects for and problems of the common good

2 These pitfalls will be treated most extensively in Chapter 9.
Why Aquinas? 5

in contemporary theory and practice, with special attention devoted to
the question “Why Aquinas?” In the chapter™s concluding section I offer
a preview of topics and arguments yet to come.

1.1 The Promise and Problem of the Common Good: Contemporary
Experience and Classical Articulation
In recent years, the concept of the common good and the reality it pur-
ports to signify have been experienced on the one hand as a deep desire,
perhaps even a need, yet on the other as an insurmountable dif¬culty.
This is so, it seems to me, on many fronts: domestically, in U.S. civic life
and culture; globally, in international relations and world politics; and
philosophically, in many diverse contemporary political theories includ-
ing some important Anglo-American analytical thought. On the home
front, the common good has increasingly been seen as an apt counter-
balance to what many consider an excessive or overly exclusive emphasis
on individual rights. Yet concerns remain that concepts of the common
good, especially if they comprise concrete ethical norms and substantive
accounts of human goods and virtues, are inextricably bound up with
particular religious convictions that have no place in the civic forum of
a liberal democracy. Current debates over the legitimacy of government
support for “faith-based” social service initiatives and ¬libusters blocking
judicial appointments on account of controversial religious and ethical
convictions are but two cases in point. Can any polity buttressed by a “wall
of separation” between church and state be guided by considerations of
common good(s)?
Analogs of these features of the American political scene appear,
mutatis mutandis, across the global political landscape and in the realm
of international relations. Particularistic communal memories of insult
and humiliation or of triumph and ascendancy; practices indigenous to
one people but foreign and even offensive to others; violence on account
of (or under the pretense of) a given religion over and against its rivals:
these are all too familiar features of the post“Cold War era. In this con-
text a crucial question arises: does there exist or could there ever exist a
common good of universally human appeal, at once open and amenable
to religious belief (a social fact even in its “thick” or traditional varieties
that shows no sign of withering away) and resistant, at least in princi-
ple, to cooption for intolerance and oppression? A related inquiry must
be whether theological theory and religious practice can contribute in
any way to the development of a humane, philosophic common good
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

theory capable of speaking and resonating across confessional borders
to persons of good will?
Finally, common good theory faces the dif¬culty that utilitarianism in
its various instantiations currently constitutes the reigning paradigm for
approaches to political science that are explicitly teleological and seek a
common good or, as Rawls and others would have it, a “dominant end.”3
So, for example, even the Thomistically inclined analytic philosopher
John Finnis commences a chapter section on “The Common Good” by
noting: “Confronted by the term ˜the common good,™ one is ¬rst inclined
to think of the utilitarian ˜greatest good for the greatest number,™” and
therefore to reject common good theory out of hand (Finnis 1980, 154).
This identi¬cation, as Finnis also notes, oversimpli¬es the situation con-
siderably and gives a bad name to alternative common good theories such
as Aristotle™s and Aquinas™s. Nevertheless, it also seems true that critiques
of utilitarian theory raise critical questions that any common good the-
ory must somehow address. In the following two sections I will elaborate
brie¬‚y upon these windows into the promise and the problem of the
common good: individual rights, religion, and the “realism” re¬‚ected in
assigning utilitarianism the status of “focal meaning” for common good

Rights Rhetoric and the Promise of the Common Good
Despite the many philosophic attacks the past two centuries have wit-
nessed on the notion of natural or individual rights, the belief in and
focus on these rights have continued to dominate civic life and discourse
in the United States. Many contemporary critics of rights acknowledge an
aura of greatness about them: Robert Kraynak, for instance, writes without
irony that rights “are noble and glorious when used against tyranny and
oppression” (Kraynak 2001a, 16). In Kraynak™s words one hears echoes
of Alexis de Tocqueville™s praise in Democracy in America for the concept
of rights. No friend of democratic individualism, Tocqueville nonethe-
less gives “the idea of rights” a prominent place among the “real advan-
tages that American society derives from the government of democracy”

3 For example, Rawls assumes that the “dominant-end theorist” wants “a method of choice
which the agent himself can always follow in order to make a rational decision.” This
involves three requirements, according to Rawls: “(1) a ¬rst-person procedure which is
(2) generally applicable and (3) guaranteed to lead to the best result (at least under
favorable conditions of information and given the ability to calculate)” (Rawls 1971, 552;
1999, 484). These may be requirements of the utilitarian dominant-end theorist, but
they are neither a general nor a necessary feature of teleological, common-good, or
dominant-end theory as such.
Why Aquinas? 7

(Tocqueville 2000, 220, 227“9). He commends the United States for its
recognition of the centrality of rights to a great republic, indeed to any
free and prosperous people, and in a signi¬cant comparison maintains
that rights are to political societies what virtue is to individuals:

After the general idea of virtue I know of none more beautiful than that of rights,
or rather these two ideas are intermingled. The idea of rights is nothing other
than the idea of virtue introduced into the political world.
It is with the idea of rights that men have de¬ned what license and tyranny are.
Enlightened by it, each could show himself independent without arrogance and
submissive without baseness. . . . There are no great men without virtue; without
respect for rights, there is no great people: one can almost say that there is no
society; for, what is a union of rational and intelligent beings among whom force
is the sole bond? (Tocqueville 2000, 227)4

Tocqueville™s analysis highlights the way in which the concept of rights
ennobles the average citizen even as it undergirds the public welfare.
This twofold function reveals the concept™s speci¬c excellence or virtue,
the outstanding bene¬t it confers on society by means of the liberal-
democratic political form. Rights appear to constitute the nexus point
between personal and public good. Perhaps this is what Tocqueville has in
mind when he denies that virtue and rights are really discrete ideas. Rights
terminology, rights recognition, and rights protection on the part of insti-
tutions and of¬cials tend over time to foment an active and engaged
citizenry, aware of the stake that each individually has in the welfare of
society as a whole. Citizens are cognizant that others™ respect for their
rights, including and perhaps especially their property rights, depends
on their own habitual respect for the rights of others. Moreover, their
personal and common interest in upholding rights often impels citizens
to take an active part in local public administration and to contribute
productively to society and its economy. Tocqueville thus makes a cogent
case that at all times, but especially in modern times, when, he argues,
ardent, “unre¬‚ective” patriotism and religion are on the wane, the uni-
versal extension of rights and the effective freedom to exercise them are
essential for the public good (see Tocqueville 2000, 227“9).5

4 One might well question the rather reductive options for achieving social and civic cohe-
sion that Tocqueville offers here “ either force or rights. In this book we will explore the
common good as an alternative or supplemental social bond.
5 Tocqueville himself adopts, apparently for pragmatic or “realist” reasons, a utilitarian
understanding of the public good. It is never fully common; at its best or broadest, it is
the greatest good for the greatest number. This conclusion seems to follow from a class-
based and Aristotelian regime-based analysis that gives heavy weight to the distinction
between rich and poor: see Tocqueville (2000, 223, 230“1).
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

Yet in recent years, even Tocquevillian social scientists respectful of
rights have wondered whether liberal democracies in general and the
United States in particular have not overemphasized to their detriment
the “beautiful” idea of individual rights. Comparative legal scholar Mary
Ann Glendon is one case in point. In Rights Talk (1991), Glendon ¬nds
that in the United States a near hegemony of rights language in law and
politics has crafted a civic discourse dangerously short on the “language
of responsibility” and the “dimension of sociality.”6 Language re¬‚ects
reality, or at least our perception of reality; yet over time language also
helps to mold the reality of our way of life. When one lone concept such as
individual rights de¬nes the paradigm of public debate, the conceptual
pluralism that makes genuine dialectic possible “ and better expresses
the manifold nature of shared, social human existence “ is effectively
barred from the civic forum. Hence the subtitle of Glendon™s book, The
Impoverishment of Political Discourse, which both re¬‚ects and portends the
impoverishment of politics.
To balance rights talk and reinvigorate our public life, civic discourse,
and capacities for deeper political re¬‚ection and meaningful common
action, Glendon prescribes a retrieval and robust utilization of relational
concepts such as sociality, civic virtue, responsibility, and the general wel-
fare. In this she is joined by a strong contingent of broadly communitar-
ian and civic republican scholars, many of whom are dialogic partners
for Glendon in her work: Robert Bellah, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Amitai
Etzioni, Christopher Lasch, Michael Sandel, and Charles Taylor. One
ethical and political thinker whom Glendon does not cite (perhaps to
avoid the appearance of being “positively medieval” to contemporary
readers), yet whose theory exempli¬es a relational or social concep-
tion of humanity together with an emphasis on virtue and the common
good, is Thomas Aquinas. A central aim of this book is to help reinsert
Aquinas into contemporary debates in political theory, to explore various
ways we might enrich our political-philosophic discourse with conceptual
resources drawn from his works.7

6 From an explicitly “Thomistic Aristotelian” vantage point, Alasdair MacIntyre (1990b)
develops a similar line of argument, albeit one far less friendly than Glendon™s to the
aspirations of liberalism.
7 In this I join the efforts of Edward Goerner (1965, 1979, 1996 with Thompson), John
Haldane (1999), and Russell Hittinger (1994, 2003), among many others. Alasdair
MacIntyre (1988a, 1990a, 1999) and Ralph McInerny (1961, 1988, 1990) have, of course,
engaged in a parallel task in moral philosophy, as have John Finnis (1980, 1985, 1998a,
1998b) and Robert George (1989, 1993, 1999) in legal theory and constitutional scholar-
ship. The relevance of their writings to political thought happily attests to the continued
viability, indeed the vitality, of interdisciplinary scholarship.
Why Aquinas? 9

Religion, Realism, and the Problem of the Common Good
An ideal counterbalance to rights talk is arguably the concept and dis-
course of the common good. Rights highlight the particular, irreducible
claims of individuals over and against one another and against unjusti-
¬able encroachments from society as a whole or its government. Rights
delineate what is the proper, inalienable possession of each. They have
their basis in our separate selves, particularized by what Michael Sandel
has termed our “common-sense” apprehension of “the bodily bounds
between individual human beings” (Sandel 1982, 80). Rights often point
us back to a prepolitical and even a presocial state of human existence,
conveying to us that we are autonomous self-owners before we enter by
contract or convention into society, whether matrimonial, associational,
civil, or political.
By contrast, the concept of the common good re¬‚ects and relates an
ethos of communicability, relation, shared practices and bene¬ts, and
responsibility. Where rights references may prima facie prompt citizens
in election years to wonder whether they are “better off today than [they]
were four years ago,” concern for the common good elicits rhetoric along
the lines of “ask not what your country can do for you, [but] what you can
do for your country.” The concept of the common good is most at home
in theoretical paradigms of teleology, natural sociability, and natural ori-
entation toward participation in political community. It reminds persons
of the claims of ties that bind as well as of the importance of moral and
civic virtue for personal ¬‚ourishing and societal welfare. Rights highlight
the e pluribus, the common good, the unum of our social and civic fabric.
In intellectual, cultural, and civic environments marked by fragmenta-
tion and moral dissension, the time would seem ripe for a fresh study of
theorists such as Aquinas, whose ethics and politics give pride of place to
the common good. As Tocqueville wrote of the study of Greek and Latin
literature in modern liberal democracies, an open-minded engagement
with Aquinas™s thought may well help “prop us up on the side where we
lean” (Tocqueville 2000, 452).
Yet if the effect of rights rhetoric in the “Natural Rights Republic”8
makes a practically persuasive case for the promise of “common good talk”
as a moderating and ennobling counterbalance, consideration of what
are increasingly regarded as the two most likely sources of common good
theory reveals rather the problematic nature of the concept. I refer to
religion on the one hand and utilitarian social theory on the other.

8 The phrase is Michael Zuckert™s (see Zuckert 1996).
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

There is a powerful tendency in contemporary political thought as well
as American constitutional jurisprudence to equate any countercultural
moral argument or substantive view of human good or goods articulated
by a religious believer in the public square with “religious reasons” and
“faith-based values” (cf. Hittinger 2003). We are constantly on our guard
against the cooption of our political institutions and legislation to support
particularistic religious convictions or to foist the religious morals of some
citizens on the body politic at large. In an age of ethical skepticism and
no more than “weak ontology,”9 many secular denizens of liberal democ-
racies assume that only religious faith underlies strong moral conviction.
Many religious believers appear to concur, adopting ¬deist accounts of
belief-sans-raison and having recourse to the general will of, for instance, a
“Christian America” to legitimately and democratically legislate substan-
tive morals in accord with divinely revealed law. Where virtues facilitating
and instantiating moral goods are at the center of a vision of the com-
mon good and legislation acts as its privileged articulator and instrument,
rights and reason supporters suspect theocratic encroachment on their
most cherished freedoms.
If any government in recent years has embodied our worst nightmare
of religious regimes governing for virtue, law, and the common good, it
is the Taliban regime that formerly ruled in Afghanistan. Scholars of my
generation and earlier will recall the old Soviet times when almost any
resister of expanding Marxism and politically enforced atheism looked
good to us. A decade or two later, however, the more naive among us had
a rude awakening to discover that once in power, the ruling elite from
among the former coalition of “freedom ¬ghters” systematically assaulted
the freedoms of women and of political and religious dissenters. They
used their hard-earned autonomy to harbor terrorists who periodically
destroyed the freedoms and the very lives of others in fell blasts. And they
did all this purportedly in the name of religion and the view of virtue and
the public good that they understood their faith to profess.
The Taliban™s institutional structure included what is in modern times,
and even in ancient times if one takes Aristotle™s account of regimes in
Politics II and III to be revealing, a most original department: the Min-
istry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue (hereafter
the Vice and Virtue Ministry). This branch of government had its own

9 See White (2000) for a defense of “weak ontology” as a viable approach to political
Why Aquinas? 11

police department for morals-enforcement purposes. Offenses policed
against included women going unveiled or unescorted in public, but
also men sporting no beard or longish hair and couples holding hands.
Shortly before the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the world was aghast
to hear of the Virtue and Vice Ministry™s proposal that a law be enacted
requiring non-Muslim Afghans to wear an identifying mark on their gar-
ments. According to government of¬cials, this measure was meant to
protect the Hindu population, Afghanistan™s largest religious minority,
from harassment for noncompliance with legal norms applying only to
Muslims, such as mandatory beards for men. Memories of the Star of
David measure in Nazi-occupied Europe half a century earlier, however,
led to an international outcry. Afghan laws did permit non-Muslims to live
in peace among their Muslim neighbors; however, at least since January
2001, they strictly prohibited any form of proselytism among Muslims;
attempting to spread the Christian faith or (for Afghan citizens) con-
verting from Islam to Christianity carried the penalty of death.10 Citizens
were forbidden by law to visit the homes of foreigners residing in their
As shocking as these revolutionary political returns to religious law and
penal practices in Islamic states seem to us liberal Westerners, in many
respects they call to mind aspects of the United States™ own theological-
political origins. As Tocqueville notes early in Democracy in America, the
Puritan pilgrims who founded the New England colonies often categori-
cally denied to others the religious liberty they themselves had demanded
in the mother country. Some colonies enacted strict religious “morals leg-
islation” and penal codes with precepts modeled on those of the Mosaic
Law. Tocqueville notes that mores in the New World were mild and the
often-allowed death penalty was relatively rarely imposed; but regarding
minor social offenses, “mores were still more austere and more puritani-
cal than the laws. At the date of 1649, one sees a solemn association being

10 The demise of the Taliban did not completely wipe out this sort of religion and morals
policing for the public good, both within and without Afghanistan. In June 2003, for
instance, the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan passed a bill introducing Islamic
law (sharia) into their legal code and created yet another Vice and Virtue Ministry with
a similar mandate to the Afghan experiment (see “Islamists impose Taliban-type morals
monitors,” The Daily Telegraph, June 3, 2003). Saudi Arabia and Iran have “morality police”
forces with equivalent mandates (for a critical report on the Saudi Arabia morality police,
see “Frederick™s of Riyadh,” The New York Times, November 10, 2002). Article 3 of the
Iranian Constitution declares that one of the goals of the Iranian government is “the
creation of a favorable environment for the growth of moral virtues based on faith and
piety and the struggle against all forms of vice and corruption.”
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

formed in Boston having for its purpose to prevent the worldly luxury of
long hair” (Tocqueville 2000, 38“9).
It is instructive to note that in today™s West, hostility to strict morals
legislation with real or perceived religious roots is on the rise: rather than
rebuke its supporters for puritanical tendencies, those who advocate the
legal buttressing of virtue for the common good are often branded new
“Talibans” (or even “Nazis,” about which appellation in our context more
follows).11 For now, suf¬ce it to note that one aspect of the problem of
the common good as we experience it today is that we cannot imagine a
virtue-promoting, morally substantive version of the concept that is not
religious or a religious one that is not unreasonable and repressive when
it informs political practice.

Utilitarianism as “Realism”
Even in the realm of pure reason, the concept of the common good
applied to politics poses some formidable problems on both the “com-
mon” and the “good” sides of the equation. With regard to the “common”
claim, some realists might argue that the term is and indeed can be no
more than a mask for hypocrisy and the will to power, or for acquiring
or protecting greater wealth or freedom or other bene¬ts that one has
no intention of sharing. Utilitarian theory in particular has given the
common good a bad name by aiming at a maximized “public welfare”
or “general good” that necessarily privileges what brings happiness qua
utility or pleasure to some over what similarly bene¬ts others, only fewer
of them or less intensely. Orienting ethical and political life toward the
(in)famous “greatest good for the greatest number,” utilitarianism too
easily ends by employing some members of society, or at least their labor
and public contributions, as mere means to the happiness of others. How-
ever ruefully, utilitarianism thus regards the well-being of these unfortu-
nate persons, groups, or classes, and in the most extreme instances or

11 Consider, for instance, Dutch legal theorist A. A. M. Kinneging™s 1998 newspaper col-
umn in favor of “Christian-humanist” views on vice, virtue, and liberal society (in Trouw,
September 5, 1998), followed by molecular biology professor R. Plasterk™s op-ed (Trouw,
September 12, 1998) blasting “The Taliban from Leiden” and concluding (prepos-
terously) that Kinneging™s views actually support “nazism [as] an extremely virtuous
culture.” (I am grateful to Emma Cohen de Lara for bringing these pieces to my
attention and providing translations from the Dutch.) Consider also the recent U.S.
Senate memo controversy, in which one of the leaked memos branded several U.S. judi-
cial nominees as “nazis” “ doubtless loosely used, but disturbing nonetheless (source:
www.washingtonpost.com, “Turmoil Over Court Nominees,” January 3, 2004).
Why Aquinas? 13

radical theories their very lives and selves, as expendable.12 Denizens of
utilitarian polities busily working away and even sacri¬cing for the pub-
lic welfare may wake up one morning to realize that they have alienated
their own welfare, contributing to the putative “good of the whole” that
on closer inspection turns out to be the good, if at all, merely for other
If Hawthorne™s The Scarlet Letter and the ethos informing its narrative
illustrate the religious problem of the common good, its secular coun-
terpart is well dramatized in Orwell™s Animal Farm. The fate of Boxer, the
hard-working horse who labored long hours for the commune, partic-
ularly exempli¬es the hypocrisy and pathos of a utilitarian social ethic:
aged and nearly worked to death, Boxer is carted off unawares to the
glue factory rather than the veterinarian. He has made his contribution
toward maximizing the farm™s “general welfare,” and he is now judged
An extreme form of the utilitarian ethic of dominant end and pub-
lic good appears to underlie the twentieth-century totalitarian regimes
of both the left and right. Karl-Otto Apel, a German Kantian philoso-
pher raised during the Third Reich, and Josef Pieper, a German Thomist
whose young adulthood occurred at the same time, both recall in their
memoirs how seductive the Nazi propaganda of “general good before the
personal welfare” could be.13 A survivor of Stalin™s “terror-famine”14 in
Ukraine recalls analogous if less subtle rhetoric from Communist Party
of¬cials: the anthill is all, a lone ant is nothing; just so the collective
farm is all, the individual human being outside it is worthless (cf. Dolot
1985, 70“1). These memories constitute our clearest secular nightmares

12 Arguably, as soon as utilitarianism builds in some protection for the lives of individu-
als against the utilitarian calculus, it loses its distinctively utilitarian quality, effectively
becoming at least partly deontic in character.
13 See Grif¬oen (1990), interview with K.-O. Apel: “[Question:] . . . I had at the back of
my mind what you wrote in your major essay Zur¨ ck zur Moralit¨ t, where you connect
u a
your philosophical existence to your experiences in Nazi Germany. [Apel:]. . . . There
was a substantial Sittlichkeit in Nazi Germany which was corrupted, distorted. I remember
that when I was a boy in the Hitler Youth, everything was very seductive. The Nazis said:
General good before personal welfare (Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz). We were collecting
for winter aid, no one should be hungry, no one should freeze. This looked like a
Christian confession. I was a boy, but those who were adults and professors could have
re¬‚ected on the anti-humanistic slogans” (20, some parenthetical German omitted).
One young adult academic who did so re¬‚ect was Josef Pieper, who identi¬ed the anti-
Thomist sense and antihumanist use of the Nazi slogan “The common good before the
good of the individual” (see Pieper 1987, 95, 175; cited in Sherwin 1993, 324).
14 The term is Robert Conquest™s (see Conquest 1986).
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

of the common good, far surpassing in magnitude “ if not so clearly in
intensity “ the Taliban regime™s religious variant. Pushing the problem
of the commonness or the shared nature of the common good to the
extreme, they illustrate it for us in starkest relief.
This dominant theoretical paradigm for common good“oriented pol-
itics is likewise vulnerable on the “good” side of the equation. By taking
the good or happiness seriously, utilitarianism broadly de¬ned appears as
the modern theory most representative of teleological, common good“
style approaches to social and political ethics. In reducing the meaning
of “good” to one univocal measure of happiness, measuring “welfare” in
units of pleasure or utility, and weighing all aspirations, aims, and ends
according to this unitary criterion, utilitarianism taken for teleological,
good-based theory is reasonably accused of irrational reductivism. Utili-
tarianism indeed appears to suppress or at least to con¬‚ate and denature
so many varied human goods for the sake of simplicity and “system” (cf.
Rawls™s critique of dominant-end views in Rawls 1971, 554; 1999, 486).
A survey of contemporary liberal theory indicates that utilitarianism
has become the dominant paradigm for common good theory, indeed
for any political theory that posits a shared social good as a common end
of political life and action. In refuting or rejecting variants of utilitarian
thought, many authors take themselves to indict all theories of political
society organized around a substantive account of the human good. The
problem with this method is that it goes after a sort of theoretical straw
man that is all too easy to knock down. It lumps what Alasdair MacIntyre
(1990b) has termed “unitary but complex” theories of the human good,
such as those advanced by Aristotle and Aquinas, together with utilitarian
“dominant end” theory or “monism,” namely, monolithic accounts of
human utility and perfectionist politics that aim to maximize a single good
or value.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that considering these problems with util-
itarianism can call to our attention an analogous dif¬culty within classical
or traditional common good theory: namely, how to elaborate a “unitary
but complex” account of the human good that does justice to the many
worthwhile ways of life and the multiple genuine goods that people seek
by nature and by choice. Rights-based or pluralist theories seem better
able to account for and protect the considerable diversity among persons,
pursuits, and life plans that even on key classical accounts gives rise to
political community. How Aquinas™s theory handles the claims of diver-
sity within its distinctive approach to virtue, law, and the problem of the
common good remains to be seen.
Why Aquinas? 15

1.2 Why Aquinas? Centrality of the Concept and Focus
on Foundations
As part of the task of retrieving and reexamining nonutilitarian (or at least
preutilitarian) theories of politics oriented toward a common good, in
this book we will consider some important aspects of Aquinas™s social and
civic thought. It might help to indicate relatively early on some reasons for
this choice of topic. In particular, it is reasonable to wonder why I have
chosen to focus on Aquinas rather than on Aristotle. Why go with the
successor rather than the founder, the disciple rather than the mentor?
Why a theologian working within a particular religious tradition rather
than “the Philosopher” whose naturalist and rationalist arguments at least
are well grounded in our common earth?
It is too often supposed by students of the history of political thought
that Aquinas™s relationship to Aristotle™s social and political theories can
be neatly subsumed under one of two explanations. The ¬rst is that all
the important political theorizing is found in Aristotle and is repeated
partially, here and there as he ¬nds it convenient, by Aquinas, who wrote
no “Treatise on Politics” in his Summa Theologiae (ST) and left his Com-
mentary on Aristotle™s “Politics” a full two-thirds incomplete. That evidence,
coupled with some appreciative citations by Aquinas of key passages from
the Politics, appears to indicate that Aquinas thought Aristotle had at least
in this regard said it all. On this account Aquinas does not appear to be an
original political thinker, however important his work in other terrains of
investigation may have been. A second common opinion among political
theorists is that Aquinas does indeed depart from Aristotle™s politics in sig-
ni¬cant respects. Most of Aquinas™s developments of or departures from
Aristotle are considered attributable to Aquinas™s deeply held religious
beliefs, to his identity as a Christian theologian. In the post-Christendom
world, what is original in Aquinas™s thought seems indefensible on ratio-
nal common grounds. The ¬rst of these positions renders Aquinas super-
¬‚uous, the second foreign to the ¬eld of political philosophy proper “ to
political theory as a rational, universally human endeavor.
In the remainder of this section and throughout the following one, I
elaborate some of the reasons why I ¬nd this paradigm a false dichotomy
and indeed consider Aquinas™s thought in some respects philosophically
more illuminating than Aristotle™s. This is so especially with regard to the
common dimension of the common good. It is important to keep in mind
when reading Aquinas that he is ¬ghting against formidable opposition
for Aristotle™s place in scholarship and education in the Christian West.
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

One notices that Aquinas rarely criticizes Aristotle openly, and this in its
own way accounts for both of the two standard views (Aquinas adopts
Aristotle™s politics hook, line, and sinker; Aquinas adds Christian ethics
to Aristotle™s politics, itself unmodi¬ed in the realm of pure reason).
A much more complex and theoretically interesting picture emerges,
however, when one carefully compares Aristotle™s texts with Aquinas™s
Commentaries on them, and these in turn with Aquinas™s roughly parallel
yet more original writings such as the Second Part of the ST; and again,
when one ponders some plausible reasons for Aquinas™s failure to com-
ment on particular parts of Aristotle™s works. To my mind, one advantage
of this interpretive methodology is that it helps us to recognize Aquinas
as an important social and civic thinker worth engaging in his own right.
The reader will doubtless have judged for him- or herself by this book™s
end whether I have made a persuasive case as to “why Aquinas.” For even
those readers who remain utterly unconvinced, I hope that engaging this
book™s argument will still assist them in clarifying aspects of their own
interpretive methodologies and ethical-political theories.

Aquinas on the Common Good and Aristotle™s Foundations
It is often the case that the reader ¬nds insights into Aquinas™s social
and political theory in sections of his works that apparently have little or
nothing to say about politics. One such passage that may prove especially
apropos for considering the relationship between Aquinas™s and Aristo-
tle™s respective notions of politics and the common good is to be found
in the First Part of the ST, where Aquinas inquires into the cause of evil.
In so doing, he argues that those philosophers erred who posited a sum-
mum malum as the ultimate cause of evil alongside the summum bonum as
the ultimate cause of good . For our purposes here, we can overlook his
explanation of the philosophic error and focus on his account of its cause:
Those, however, who upheld two ¬rst principles, one good and the other evil, fell
into this error from the same cause whence also arose other strange notions of the ancients;
namely, because they failed to consider the universal cause of all being, and considered only
the particular causes of particular effects. For on that account, if they found a thing
hurtful to something by the power of its own nature, they thought that the very
nature of that thing was evil; as, for instance, if one should say that the nature of
¬re was evil because it burnt the house of a poor man. The judgment, however, of
the goodness of anything does not depend upon its order to any particular thing, but rather
upon what it is in itself, and on its order to the whole universe, wherein every part has
its own perfectly ordered place, as was said above. (ST I 47, 2, ad 1)15

15 Cf. also Aquinas™s De Potentia Dei q.3, a. 5“6, summarized in Weisheipl (1974, 202“5).
Why Aquinas? 17

Likewise, because they found two contrary particular causes of two contrary
particular effects, they did not know how to reduce [reducere: ˜bring back around™]
these contrary particular causes to the universal common cause; and therefore
they extended the contrariety of causes even to the ¬rst principles. But since all
contraries agree in something common, it is necessary to search for the one common cause
for them above their own contrary proper causes. . . . (ST I 49, 3, emphasis added;
cf. I 2, 3)16

In his response to the article™s ¬rst objection, Aquinas expresses his
positive position succinctly: “Contraries agree in one genus; and they
also agree in the nature of being; and therefore, although they have
contrary particular causes, nevertheless we must come at last to one
common ¬rst cause” (ST I 49, 3, ad 1). It thus seems to me that the
Thomist philosopher Ralph McInerny captures the core of Aquinas™s
social inquiry and contribution to political thought when he entitles an
article “What Do Communities Have in Common?” (McInerny 1990).
When Aquinas refers to the “ancients,” as he does in the ¬rst preceding
quote, he generally has in mind the pre-Socratic philosophers and often
follows Aristotle™s critiques of their methods and teachings.17 Aquinas™s
intellectual indebtedness to “the Philosopher” is beyond question and
has been much commented in recent decades by sympathizers and critics
alike. In the realm of practical philosophy, of ethics and political science,
from Aquinas™s point of view it is Aristotle who ¬rst succeeds in “bringing
back” [reducere] the very varied panoply of human relations and societies
to their “common ¬rst cause” and normative telos in the order of human
action: the common good. Moreover, Aristotle locates an important

16 I generally follow the Dominican Fathers™ translation of Aquinas™s Summa Theologiae
(1981, ST), Litzinger™s of the Commentary on the “Nicomachean Ethics” (1993, Comm. NE),
and Ernest Fortin and Peter O™Neill™s of the Commentary on the “Politics” (1963, Comm.
Pol.), all modi¬ed occasionally according to analysis of the Leonine edition (the Fortin
and O™Neill translation is based on the ¬‚awed Spiazzi edition, necessitating close revision
according to the Leonine text). References follow book, lectio, and paragraph number
(e.g., Comm. NE I, 1 n. 4“5), followed by a bracketed Leonine paragraph number in
the case of the Comm. Pol. (e.g., Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 40 [32] or Comm. Pol. II, 5 n. [15] in
texts not included in the Fortin and O™Neill selection). For Aristotle, I generally follow
Ostwald™s translation of Nicomachean Ethics (1962, NE), consulting also Apostle™s (1984b)
and Lord™s of the Politics (1984a, Pol.). J. Solomon™s translation of the Eudemian Ethics
(EE), W. Rhys Roberts™s of the Rhetoric, and R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye™s of the Physics
are all in Barnes™s edition, The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984a).
17 See, for example, ST I 50, 1: “The ancients, however, not properly realizing the force
of intelligence, and failing to make a proper distinction between sense and intellect,
thought that nothing existed in the world but what could be apprehended by sense and
imagination. And because bodies alone fall under imagination, they supposed that no
being existed except bodies, as the Philosopher observes (Physics IV, text 52, 57).”
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

means to the political common good in the art of legislation and a central
aspect of that common good in the cultivation and practice of the virtues.
One could say that these are also the guiding principles of Aquinas™s eth-
ical and political thought: virtue, law, and the common good.
Aquinas is known to have composed either the ¬rst or second medieval
commentary on Aristotle™s Politics (the other being the work of Aquinas™s
teacher Albert the Great; it is now generally thought that Albert™s
commentary predates Aquinas™s). Aquinas™s Sententia libri Politicorum is
primarily a literal (ad litteram) commentary, aiming to elucidate and
elaborate the meaning of the Philosopher™s text, rather than using
that text primarily as a springboard to original theoretical work on the
commentator™s own part. Yet Aquinas left his Commentary on the “Politics”
radically incomplete. Of the eight books of the Politics, Aquinas treats
only the ¬rst two and a half, his text ¬nishing with an explication of
Book III, chapter 8. Aquinas has just elaborated Aristotle™s famous
location of “absolute” or unquali¬ed political justice in the regime™s
seeking the common good of the city and citizens, in contrast with the
fundamental injustice of regimes intending only or principally the good
of the rulers themselves. He has noted Aristotle™s basic regime classi¬-
cation, distinguishing the “correct” regimes of kingship, aristocracy, and
polity from the “deviant” variants of tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy.
Finally, Aquinas follows Aristotle™s privileging of the bases and ends of
rule of the various regime types (virtue, wealth, and freedom) over the
number of rulers (one, few, and many) in understanding and de¬ning
the basic forms of political arrangement. Then his commentary ceases.
Why did Aquinas not complete this work? There is no ¬rm evidence
in the historical record to establish any particular explanation. Aquinas
might have been working on this text when he abruptly ceased all
scholarly writing some three months before his death, leaving even
his Summa Theologiae un¬nished. Alternatively, that Aquinas stopped
commenting on Aristotle™s Politics might indicate a low level of interest
in politics tout court. After all, years earlier Aquinas apparently left his
little treatise On Kingship (De Regno, ad regem Cypri) for another to ¬nish.
In this book, however, I advance a third hypothesis and explore its
implications for our understanding of Aquinas™s ethical and political
thought: namely, that Aquinas left off commenting on the Politics where
he did because he judged that there were some cracks in Aristotle™s
social and civic foundations, some areas still to be probed and some
digging yet to be done with regard to fundamental concepts such as
the common good and natural right, beyond what the Philosopher had
Why Aquinas? 19

already accomplished in his Nicomachean Ethics (NE) and Politics (Pol).
Aquinas might well have judged that Aristotle moved on too quickly from
these common foundational issues to his speci¬c analyses of each regime
type, its preservation, modes of corruption, and principal variations.
Aquinas may have deemed Aristotle™s political science in danger of
missing the forest for the trees without some additional attention to
“common causes” and moral norms.
From Aquinas™s point of view, such a deep foundational and normative
analysis was just what a philosophic theologian could best contribute
to the science of politics, just as he maintains that in the science of
(philosophic) anthropology the theologian properly focuses on the soul,
the immaterial principle of human life and goodness, and considers the
body only in relation to the soul (see ST I 75, preface). The body is also in
need of in-depth study on its own terms, of course, and likewise Aquinas™s
abstract theoretical work was not intended to replace more speci¬c
studies of regimes and their particular causes. Nevertheless, in the foun-
dations of the Philosopher™s ethics and politics, Aquinas found at least
a few troublesome faults and judged it necessary to dig deeper to ¬nd
Aquinas™s Commentary on the “Politics” ceases immediately before the
chapters in which Aristotle scrutinizes the aims and possible justi¬cations
of particular political regimes. In these chapters Aristotle highlights the
partial, imperfect nature of the vision of justice inspiring each and every
regime, although some regimes clearly approximate more nearly than
others the political telos, namely, the good of justice that “is the common
advantage” (Pol. III.12, 1282b16“17). Aristotle then elaborates strategies
for preserving each kind of regime and investigates in considerable
detail the variations and revolutions to which it is susceptible. Perhaps
Aquinas declines or delays inde¬nitely giving further attention to this
text because he judges that it concedes too much too quickly to the
partial goals of particular regimes, and that the Philosopher focuses
on their particularities to such an extent as to obscure or at least to
gloss over the universally human, normative foundations and purposes
of politics. The Politics thus seems open to Aquinas™s criticism of “the
ancients” in that the bulk of its argument appears to concentrate on
particular causes, a consequence of the regime centeredness and regime
speci¬city characteristic of Aristotelian political science. I do not mean
to suggest that there are no advantages to a regime-centered approach
to the study of politics. There are, and Aquinas also knows that there
are. He clearly incorporates this facet of classical political philosophy
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

into his own works and theories, as we shall see. Yet especially when one
is engaged in the study of such a multifaceted and perplexing activity
as politics, as Aristotle himself says of Plato™s dialogues, “it is perhaps
dif¬cult to do everything ¬nely” (see Pol. II.6, 1265a10“12).
More to the point, from Aquinas™s vantage point, Aristotle evinces
too little interest in delving more deeply into the universal ends and
norms he himself has identi¬ed and in elucidating their social and civic
relevance, especially after Politics III. This leads the reader to wonder how
essential they really are to Aristotle™s scienti¬c political analysis. As Wayne
Ambler (1999, 262) has noted, “[t]he common advantage is a memo-
rable feature of Aristotle™s political teaching, but it gains prominence
only in the Politics III.6“7. And once gained, this prominence is then
quickly lost: the common good or common advantage is a theme in the
central chapters of Book III, but this phrase does not occur in the ¬nal
¬ve books of the Politics” “ the uncommented Politics, as far as Aquinas
is concerned. By contrast, Aquinas employs the term bonum commune or
common good some seventy times throughout the questions on law in
the Summa Theologiae (ST I“II 90“108), almost literally from beginning to
In elaborating Aquinas™s more consistent focus on and universalization
of Aristotle™s concept of the common good, and in exploring the broader
signi¬cance of this theoretical move for ethics and political thought,
I consider the role played by Aquinas™s religious beliefs. In doing so, I
aim to challenge a standard view of the relationship between faith and
reason (read, faith vs. reason) as it is perceived by many political theorists
today. Aquinas™s Christian faith opens up for him new panoramas and
possibilities for philosophic questioning and development, many of which
remain socially and politically relevant even for those who do not share
his religious convictions. Aquinas does not equal Aristotle, but neither
does he simply blur or oversimplify the Philosopher™s pristine thought,
as some scholars have argued ( Jaffa 1952; cf. Strauss 1953, 120“64). At
times and in important ways, he improves upon it. To study only Aristotle

18 In a footnote, Ambler speci¬es further that “[t]he Politics contains eleven direct refer-
ences to the common good or advantage (to koinon agathon, to koinon sumpheron, to koinon
lusiteloun). Nine of them are in chapters 6“13 of Book III” (Ambler 1999, 270n13). Of
these nine references, note that seven (nearly two-thirds of the total) occur in chapters
6 and 7 of Book III, the two chapters in which Aristotle posits (1) rule for the good of
the ruled and the common good as the distinguishing mark of properly political rule
(in contradistinction to mastery) and (2) the common good as the goal of all “correct”
or fundamentally just forms of regime.
Why Aquinas? 21

on the problem of virtue, law, and the common good is to clarify some
crucial theoretical possibilities but to miss out on others. Whether we
are religious believers or not, it behooves us to take Aquinas seriously.

1.3 An Overview of the Argument by Parts and Chapters
In rounding out Part I on “Virtue, Law, and the Problem of the Common
Good,” Chapter 2 takes a closer look at the way this problem is described
and analyzed in three important works of Anglo-American thought. I
begin by taking another look at the famous debate between John Rawls
and Michael Sandel. From the perspective of a politics of the common
good, I argue that one sees concern for balancing rights with notions of
shared goods and virtues almost as strongly in A Theory of Justice (1971) as
in Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982). In examining these seminal
liberal and communitarian (or civic republican) approaches and con-
clusions, however, I argue that neither has suf¬ciently solid foundations
for a moderate yet ennobling concept of common good. Rawls™s impres-
sive attempt to articulate a richer conception of the common good than
most liberal theories offer ultimately fails because he cannot posit a fully
common human nature to ground that common good. Sandel™s com-
munitarian or republican response to Rawls tends uncritically to equate
community with the human good, providing no clear criteria for distin-
guishing good communities from bad.
Likewise the recent work of William Galston, combining Isaiah Berlin™s
value pluralism with an interpretation of Aristotle™s natural right theory,
delineates a “capacious” and indeed “generous” public good that seeks to
accommodate and “connect” actual political conditions and the perma-
nent features of our common moral universe. I argue that Liberal Pluralism
(2002) nonetheless gives up too quickly in the search for universal foun-
dations, norms, and aims that “communities [and their members] have
in common” (McInerny 1990). Galston maintains that the “foundations
metaphor” is not very illuminating in the realm of practical philosophy,
and yet it seems to me that his own political theory becomes much more
intelligible when understood as founded ultimately on Berlin™s theory of
value pluralism. A further question then arises as to whether value plural-
ism provides bedrock, as solid as one may reasonably hope for in human
affairs, on which to construct edi¬ces of ethical, social, and civic life. While
there is much to appreciate in this worldview™s sensibilities, I argue that
the theorist stopping at the level of value pluralism has not dug deeply
enough into the meaning and measures of our moral experiences.
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

Foundations do matter: as Aristotle wrote, knowledge of the begin-
nings or principles of things is critically important to understanding
them as they are (NE I.7, 1098b1“8; I.12“13, 1101b35“1102a25; Pol. I.2,
1252a25“7).19 Part II delves into this issue by focusing on “Aquinas™s
Social and Civic Foundations.” The title includes two meanings, one pri-
mary and the other secondary, yet both relevant for our investigation.
The primary sense has to do with the origin and purposes of political life,
community, and action as Aquinas understands them. The secondary
sense regards Aquinas™s own theory of politics, especially in its norma-
tive dimensions, and the theoretical foundations on which he chooses to
Chapter 3 begins by treating the uses our three Anglo-American theo-
rists make in their own work of Aristotle™s ethics and political philosophy,
and notes how the few passages they refer to explicitly from the Poli-
tics have a distinctively foundational status. The argument then gives an
overview of Aquinas™s response to these three foundational texts and in
so doing sets the agenda for the remainder of Part II. Finally, we turn to
some signi¬cant texts that show Aquinas unearthing, interpreting, and
appropriating Aristotle™s account of the foundations of politics in human
nature: what I have termed the Philosopher™s ¬rst political-philosophic
foundation, his famous case in Politics I that “the city belongs among
the things that exist by nature, and that man is by nature a political ani-
mal” (Pol. I.2, 1253a2“4). Never one to use the word “demonstration” or
“proof” lightly, Aquinas does his readers the favor of explicitly stating that
he takes Aristotle to have “proved” in the Politics that the human person
is naturally social and civic (ST I“II 72, 4). But Politics I.2 may of course be
interpreted in a variety of ways, and so to understand precisely what argu-
ment regarding the foundations of politics Aquinas ¬nds so conclusive,
we need to turn to his Commentary on the “Politics.” In re¬‚ecting on this
Commentary together with related passages from Aquinas™s Commentary on
the Nicomachean Ethics and ST, I argue that Aquinas™s theory of political
society is not an “organic” one, but rather an action-based, associational
theory of community, and that Aquinas considers political community
both to be and not to be natural in much the same way that he considers

19 See also Physics I.1, 184a10“15: “When the objects of an inquiry, in any department, have
principles, causes, or elements, it is through acquaintance with these that knowledge
and understanding is attained. For we do not think that we know a thing until we are
acquainted with its primary causes or ¬rst principles, and have carried our analysis as far
as its elements.”
Why Aquinas? 23

the moral virtues both to be and not to be natural for human beings. This
last, characteristically Thomistic analogy between virtue and the political
community reveals an important aspect of the link between personal and
common goods as Aquinas understands it.
Chapter 4 begins to question the absolute af¬nity between Aquinas™s
and Aristotle™s foundations for political theory. The argument begins
from the problem of civic or political virtue vis-` -vis human virtue simply,
especially as it comes to light in Book III of the Politics. If the regime
(politeia) of the city, its form of government and the aims and aspira-
tions that shape its assigning of of¬ces, is truly the soul of the polis, and
if humans are naturally political, then it seems that the regime must
shape the souls of the citizens regarding their pursuit of happiness and
their vision of a good human life. Yet on closer inspection, the partiality
that characterizes even the best political communities and governments,
as well as the vision of justice and virtue that each possesses and pro-
motes, threatens to deform the citizens™ souls and to debar all or most
of them from the happiness they seek, at least in part through politics.
Aquinas homes in on this problem in his Commentary, and as it does for
Aristotle, this sobering dif¬culty leads Aquinas to urge moderation in the
social, civic, and legal spheres of human existence. But despite Aristotle™s
emphasis throughout the remainder of his Politics on moderating regime
excesses, Aquinas is not entirely satis¬ed with the Philosopher™s strategy.
Cracks are to be found in Aristotle™s foundations, ¬ssures that come per-
haps from not taking the common good of justice and its transpolitical reach
quite seriously enough, or from forsaking the foundational work too
quickly in favor of focusing on regime particularities and preservation.
Especially in his ST, Aquinas endeavors to ¬ll in these faults and dig
deeper still to reinforce Aristotle™s social and civic foundations. The ¬nal
section of Chapter 4 begins with a telling piece of evidence differentiating
Aquinas™s ethical and political theory from Aristotle™s: the “¬rst principles
of practical reason” that Aquinas elaborates in the ST. He does so by
employing an analogy with Aristotle™s indemonstrable (per se nota) ¬rst
principles of speculative reasoning, but signi¬cantly does not refer his
readers to any passages in Aristotle™s practical philosophy that argue
for ¬rst indemonstrable practical principles. In this important respect,
Aquinas is not building on anyone else™s foundations: he appeals to no
authority outside his own reason in the sed contra section of the article
dealing with the primary principles and precepts of natural law (see ST
I“II 94, 2).
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

In his theorizing of natural law and the related concepts of syndere-
sis and conscience,20 Aquinas also posits a full-¬‚edged natural inclina-
tion (inclinatio) of the human will toward goodness and moral virtue,
and emphasizes the relational dimension of human existence even more
strongly than Aristotle had done, in both the vertical (human“God) and
horizontal (human“human[s]) dimensions. The ways in which this aspect
of Aquinas™s foundations extends and reinforces the role of the common
good (or various common goods) in his ethics and politics will be traced
in Chapter 5, starting with the disposition of the human will, continu-
ing on to external human actions and their transindividual impact, and
¬nally reaching the cardinal (or “principal”) virtues in their social and
civic reach and rami¬cations. Once again, in this segment, I show the
relevance of some apparently apolitical sections of the ST where Aquinas
probes the nature, causes, aspects, and meaning of human action, in
the genus of which politics is an important “ indeed “overarching” and
“architectonic” “ species. In this chapter I also consider salient scrip-
tural and theological sources of Aquinas™s theory and their relation to
his philosophic work of anthropological and social reappraisal. Again,
in this context we need to be open to the possibility of “faith and rea-
son” approaches, not just paradigms of “faith versus reason,” if we are to
understand what Aquinas is up to and give his thought fair consideration.
After the argument in Part II that Aquinas unearths and appropri-
ates but also seeks to reinforce, deepen, and enlarge Aristotle™s social
and civic foundations, especially in their common or shared dimensions,
Part III explores the implications of this theoretical development for
Aquinas™s theory of the human virtues. I argue that on Aquinas™s account
moral virtue is at the nexus point of personal and common goods, and of
philosophic anthropology and social and political theory. Understanding
Aquinas™s virtue theory and its place in his vision of both individual and
social ¬‚ourishing is critical for grasping the nonalienating, antiutilitar-
ian nature of concern and sacri¬ce for the common good in Aquinas™s
theoretical paradigm.
Chapters 6 and 7 begin this task by looking closely at two funda-
mental Aristotelian virtues that operate to safeguard and enhance the
political common good: magnanimity and legal justice. I argue that a
comparison of Aristotle™s and Aquinas™s accounts of these virtues shows

20 For Aquinas™s understanding and explication of synderesis, the “natural habit” of the ¬rst
principles of practical reason, and conscience, the application of moral knowledge to the
judgment of a particular act, see ST I 79, 12 and 13; I“II 19, 5 and 6; 94, 1, 4, 6.
Why Aquinas? 25

Aquinas remodeling them to ¬t his more capacious account of the com-
mon dimension of the human good, including the good of moral virtue.
Chapter 6 argues the importance of reading the question (quaestio) on
magnanimity in Aquinas™s ST together with the questions on two virtues
that did not make Aristotle™s list in the NE: humility and gratitude. I show
that the challenge posed to Jewish and Christian ethics by elements of
Aristotelian magnanimity occasions much of the structure and content of
Aquinas™s analyses of humility and gratitude, and that Aquinas™s estima-
tion of the personal and political value of these two “virtues of acknowl-
edged dependence”21 actually enriches his account of magnanimity as
a personal and political virtue. One ¬nds in Aquinas™s account a greater
openness to interdependence and shared excellence “ underpinned to
be sure by the ethos of his Christian faith, but also by some universally
accessible philosophic accounts that should resonate with many in our
times. This is one important instance of religious faith and theology fur-
thering rather than obstructing sound social and civic reasoning.
Chapter 7 treats Aquinas™s understanding of “legal” or “general jus-
tice,” the virtue that considers human acts insofar as they are or can be
oriented to the common good. I again compare Aquinas™s presentation
of this virtue with Aristotle™s seminal account in the NE and then explicate
Aquinas™s own case for legal justice as a preeminent personal excellence. I
argue that Aquinas™s novel theory of natural law and his deeper, divinely
anchored understanding of human sociability and the common good
equip him to resolve some problems brought to light by Aristotle™s treat-
ment of legal justice in the Ethics and the parallel regime-centered social
science of the Politics. Perhaps the most central of these regards the status
of legal justice as an ethical virtue under a regime that is not “correct”
and laws that are not “excellent.” The reader of Aristotle™s text is led to
wonder whether there exists a source or type of the “legal just” that tran-
scends particular codes of positive law, and similarly whether a citizen
may still direct his or her virtuous actions to the common good when
the political powers that be either do not share or badly misconstrue this
noble goal.
I argue that Aquinas™s independent treatment of legal justice, which he
generally prefers to term “general justice” in the ST, provides some con-
ceptual equipment and the outline of an argument that help to resolve
this dilemma. Along the way, I note aspects of Aquinas™s account that
distinguish it from the Philosopher™s. Aquinas again places an increased

21 The term is from MacIntyre(1999).
Virtue, Law, and the Problem of Common Good

and more explicit emphasis on the “common” aspect of the virtue of
legal justice and indeed on the common good as the end informing it,
just as he does in his explication of magnanimity. Aquinas™s theory of
natural law provides a higher measure, simultaneously divine and pro-
foundly human, whereby legal or general justice can be considered both
properly legal and universally virtuous.
Aquinas™s theory of legal justice nonetheless makes an important place
for politics ordinarily understood, for participation and practices guided
in some respects by civil law and issuing in new ordinances deemed useful
for the community. If law and virtue are so closely intertwined in Aquinas™s
politics of the common good, we might then wonder whether he is not
perilously close in theory to the “clear and present danger” posed by the
Vice and Virtue Ministry mentioned earlier in this chapter. If political
philosophy is a practical science and must take its initial bearings from
human activity, experience, and commonsense appraisal of practice, how
can a twenty-¬rst-century reader of Aquinas reasonably posit that it is a
good thing to involve human government in (as we typically term it) “leg-
islating” and “enforcing” virtues? If Aquinas was so concerned to open up
the transpolitical horizon of the human social inclination and the closely
related religious inclination “ both digni¬ed companions of rationality in
Aquinas™s anthropology and ethics “ then why did he stoop to involve all-
too-human law and this-worldly politics in the promotion of the virtues?
Part IV takes up these questions, focusing on two types of virtue that
may reasonably be said to transcend politics: ethical or moral virtue, on
the one hand, and religious or theological virtue on the other. Chapter 8
focuses on the former, especially on what Aquinas terms the “acquired”
moral virtues that do not per se presuppose supernatural grace in the per-
son who cultivates and possesses them. Here I concur, and judge Aquinas
to as well, with theorists of varied philosophic persuasions who have writ-
ten recently against the presumption that law and government can be
neutral, nonpartisan, and aloof with regard to all (or nearly all) human
goods, normative goals, and virtues.22 Aquinas posits that the actions
mandated, permitted, or forbidden by civil law will often conduce to
the formation of moral virtues, vices, or both. Moreover, according to
Aquinas™s understanding of habituation, this formative impact of law will
necessarily obtain even in polities where legislators scrupulously abstain
from “legislating morality.” Aquinas has a twofold response to those who

22 See, for example, Galston (1991), Sandel (1982), MacIntyre (1984), and Connolly
Why Aquinas? 27

reject any attempt at legislating with a view to the inculcation of moral
virtue. The ¬rst is his “negative” case: that law is necessary coercively
to restrain and reform the “bad man” or woman, to open up for him
or her the possibility of cultivating virtue, and to diminish his or her
corrupting in¬‚uence on others. The second is Aquinas™s “positive” case:
that well-framed law assists the basically good person in acquiring the
social virtues he or she already wishes to possess. Recent scholarship has
tended to emphasize Aquinas™s negative narrative. After recapping brie¬‚y
this better-known half of the argument, I recover, explicate, and assess
Aquinas™s more neglected, positive case and its relevance to Aquinas™s
vision of the civic common good.
If Aquinas™s case for a moderate yet ennobling legal pedagogy of ethical
virtue seems at least plausible to the reader, he or she may still be put off
by the case Aquinas appears to mount in the ST for the political enforce-
ment of religious, supernatural, or speci¬cally Christian virtues such as
faith, hope, and charity. These three “theological virtues” are linked in
Aquinas™s schema to a number of “infused moral virtues,” gratuitous gifts
from God allowing a person to found his or her entire life upon, and
orient all his or her actions to, friendship and union with God. When
Aquinas writes that public and “obstinate” heretics are properly punished
by civil authorities (cf. ST II“II 10, 8; 11, 3; 64, 4), and that laws generally
should “foster religion” (I“II 95, 3), he appears to overextend the initially
plausible case he has made for law™s link with virtue for the sake of both
personal and common goods. He pushes the envelope, moreover, in a
way that seems to justify contemporary suspicions that virtue and com-
mon good theories in political and legal fora must ultimately be religious
theories that open the way to severe theological-political problems.
Chapter 9 thus brings the book™s argument back around (in the
Thomistic spirit of reducere) to its beginning, to the contemporary con-
cern regarding faith-based visions of virtue and the common good, and
to the theoretical problem of the ¬rst foundations and ultimate pur-
poses of politics. These constitute some of the key issues at stake for
us in examining Aquinas™s arguments regarding the political promotion
and legal enforcement of theological and infused moral virtues. I argue
that even here Aquinas™s reasons are more properly ethical than reli-
gious in any revealed or supernatural sense, and moreover that the real
excesses of his position may well spring from insuf¬ciently checked indig-
nation against those who would assault common goods precisely as partic-

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