. 3
( 8)


standing of what is good for human beings. Aristotle™s passage further
underscores the importance of conceptions of nature and naturalness in
humanistic social science in ways that none of our three contemporary
theorists repeat or reinforce. Aquinas™s Aristotelian political thought, by
contrast, does both.
So I turn now to examine Aquinas™s appropriation “ and sometimes
alteration “ of the three political-philosophic foundations of Aristotle™s
Politics. In this chapter I give an overview of Aquinas™s three responses
to Aristotle™s respective foundations, followed by a more detailed con-
sideration of the manner in which Aquinas “excavates” and approves
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 63

Aristotle™s ¬rst political-philosophic foundation in our common human
nature. In Chapter 4, the analysis focuses on Aquinas™s more ambiva-
lent response to Aristotle™s second civic foundation in the distinct natures
of political regimes. I argue there that Aquinas initially defers or even
replaces Aristotle™s science of the absolutely best regime “ Aristotle™s third
foundation “ with his own deeper ethical foundations for politics, namely,
natural law and the social and civic inclination. In Chapter 5, I go on to
show how Aquinas™s new or newly reinforced foundations inform his the-
ories of the right direction of the will or rational appetite, human action,
and ethical virtue vis-` -vis the common good.

3.2 Aristotle™s Three Political-Philosophic Foundations
in Thomas Aquinas™s Thought
Thomas Aquinas™s response to the ¬rst two theoretical foundations
of Aristotle™s Politics seems at ¬rst sight straightforward and relatively
unproblematic. In both cases, Aristotle™s texts and their central argu-
ments concerning the naturalness of political life to humans, and the
centrality to politics of citizenship and civic virtue, are referred to explic-
itly and approvingly by Aquinas (cf. inter alia ST I“II 63, 4 and 72, 4).
Their importance to Aquinas™s anthropology, ethics, and politics is fur-
ther indicated by the fact that a decidedly overworked Aquinas made
sure to complete his commentary on Politics I through what he must have
considered the most relevant chapters of Politics III.4
Yet it is striking that nowhere in Aquinas™s writings do we ¬nd an exact
equivalent of Aristotle™s third political-philosophic foundation, the craft-
ing in speech of the best political regime any human being could hope
to live in. One could read the un¬nished Thomistic text De Regno or On
Kingship in that light, but in my opinion, a close read of that text (the

4 On Aquinas™s second period of professorship at Paris (1268“72), when he almost certainly
commented on both the Ethics and the Politics of Aristotle, and his vast literary output
during that time, see Torrell (1996, 179“246). Torrell sums up this output as follows: “The
conclusion of the chapter on the Roman period [1265“8] emphasized the large quantity
of work Thomas did during those three years. If we now cast a retrospective glance on his
productivity during the second Parisian period, we can only be struck with astonishment.
A summary of the works probably from that epoch renders the following list: Lectura on
Matthew, Lectura on John . . . , the [Second Part] of the Summa theologiae in its entirety,
plus some twenty-¬ve questions of the [Third Part], a dozen or so commentaries on
Aristotle . . . , to which we must add the Super de causis [Book of Causes], the [Disputed]
Questions De malo [On Evil] . . . , De virtutibus [On the Virtues] . . . , De unione Verbi incarnati
[On the Union of the Incarnate Word],” among many other works (Torrell 1996, 239“40).
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

small portion of De Regimine Principum that Aquinas seems to have written:
cf. Ptolemy of Lucca 1997, 3“5; Torrell 1996, 169“70, 350; and Weisheipl
1974, 189“95) shows it more centrally preoccupied with avoiding or mit-
igating tyranny than with elaborating the simply best civic way of life.
Moreover, as others have noted, this text is written in a popular fashion
and with a speci¬c primary audience in mind, apparently at the request of
a particular king of a small Christian principality: it is, as its author speci-
¬es, “a book on kingship” written to bene¬t a king (On Kingship n. 1, the
author™s dedicatory preface; cf. Eschmann™s “Introduction” xxxii). Some
of the sections commonly attributed to Aquinas are in rather rough form.
Thus On Kingship hardly has the trappings of a full-¬‚edged theoretical
treatise on the universally, absolutely best political regime (see Torrell
1996, 169“70).
Aquinas™s commentary on the Mosaic Law in his ST (I“II 98“105)
does include an explicit discussion and interpretation of the best regime,
and with reference to Aristotle™s Politics; but this turns out to mean for
Aquinas the best possible government under ordinary human conditions:
not the best regime simply speaking, a virtuous monarchy or a genuine
aristocracy similar to that described in Politics VII, but rather a “mixed
regime” combining elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy
and incorporating a strong dose of empirical realism into its formulation
(see ST I“II 105, 1, and 95, 4; cf. 95, 1). It is striking that Aquinas does not
quote from Politics VII or VIII anywhere in his elaboration of the rational
excellence of the Old Law™s political regime; rather, he cites principally
from Politics II and III “ which we will have more to say about in Chapter 4.
That Aquinas had read the whole Politics with care well before he drafted
this part of the Summa also seems evident, since he refers to passages from
Politics VII and VIII in sections of his earlier On Kingship.
As I noted in Chapter 1, Aquinas™s commentary on the Politics breaks
off some three and a half books before Aristotle™s third foundational text
commences in Politics VII. While Aquinas evidently deemed it essential to
write on Politics I through III.8, both as a protreptic to his own theoretical
work in the ST 5 and as an educational exercise on behalf of students in
philosophy and theology, he apparently sensed no equivalent urgency to
explicate at length the text of Politics VII and VIII. It is possible, of course,
that Aquinas could not physically have reached further in this Commentary
even if he had judged it essential for the best possible product in ST I“II;

5 Especially, I shall argue, as an immediate preparation for writing on law and most espe-
cially on the Mosaic Law in ST I“II.
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 65

but the fact that his prodigious labors (and, we may suspect, a larger than
average dose of the divine assistance he regularly reminded his read-
ers not to overlook) did allow him to complete the massive Commentary
on the “NE” seems a clear indication that Aquinas did not prioritize the
Politics™ last word on the best regime as highly as other dimensions of the
Philosopher™s ethical and political thought.
What may we make, then, of Aquinas™s selective textual and thematic
appropriation of Aristotle™s political-philosophic foundations? Here, in a
nutshell, is the argument I advance throughout the second part of this
book: Aquinas follows Aristotle in endeavoring to found his theory of pol-
itics securely on traits and inclinations of our common human nature,
speci¬cally on characteristics of rational and social animals drawn to con-
verse and deliberate and debate about what is just and good or unjust
and harmful or evil in human affairs. This conversation is intelligible and
potentially productive of truth, according to Aquinas as well as Aristotle, at
least in part because our intellects grasp that some states of affairs, deeds,
and distributions are naturally right or just, while others are clearly con-
trary to the social exigencies of human nature and its ethical awareness
and experience (cf. NE V.7 with ST I“II 91, 2; 94, 2 and 4, II“II 57, 2). The
terse foundational argument for the naturalness of political life near the
end of Politics I.2 is thus, in Aquinas™s estimation, critical for evoking and
explicating the deepest anthropological “ and hence ethical “ founda-
tions of political community and the fullest common good it can pursue.
Likewise Aristotle™s second foundation, his speci¬cation of diverse
regime types that govern cities and dictate correspondingly diverse crite-
ria for citizenship and civic virtue, sets the stage for a comparative assess-
ment of regimes and for the emergence of the common good as the most
critical criterion distinguishing basically just regimes from deviant ones
(see Pol. III.6“8). For Aquinas this second foundation is important on its
own terms, for helping to explain the particularity of political life as we
know it and the great variety among nations and cities, their ways of life,
and their guiding notions of justice. Aquinas deems this second founda-
tion especially valuable, however, on account of the way Aristotle™s prelim-
inary dialectic among particular accounts of political aims and aspirations
yields the common good as a mediating, measuring, and ultimately nor-
mative concept. Aquinas himself utilizes this normative concept of the
common good (bonum commune) abundantly throughout his works.
Once this theoretical high point of Aristotle™s second foundation is
reached (at Pol. III.6“8), however, the discourse of the Politics descends
quickly from the light of abstract, universal ends into the cave of regime
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

particularities, the means they require for their preservation, and the
modes by which they might be toppled. Rather than ¬ll out in bold,
broad strokes the contours of the common good and connect it explic-
itly with foundational concepts from the Ethics such as natural right, pru-
dence (phronesis, prudentia), and legal justice, the Philosopher™s political
science turns to focus on the speci¬c principles, aims, institutions, ¬‚aws,
and mechanisms for strengthening the various regime types, including
oligarchy and tyranny. If my argument in Chapter 1 is on the right track,
Aquinas is generally persuaded by the dialectical and theoretical content
of Aristotle™s second foundation, or the emphasis on regime types and
the classic regime typology in Politics III; yet, he is not entirely satis¬ed
with the Philosopher™s argument afterward, through to the end of the
Politics. Aquinas at this point parts company with his Stagirite mentor
and reverses course, bringing the argument back around to Aristotle™s
political foundations in nature, justice or right, and virtue in an effort to
deepen and reinforce them.
In this task, to borrow a Machiavellian metaphor, Aquinas in certain key
respects builds on his own foundations, while in others he borrows from
the modes and orders of others (cf. The Prince, chapter VI, 21“5), espe-
cially, though far from exclusively, those of Augustine. One aim Aristotle™s
Politics and Augustine™s City of God clearly have in common is effecting the
moderation of political ambition especially insofar as it conduces to or
even comprises a desire for mastery over others, to dominate others for
one™s own private or class advantage. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics
and Politics takes a noble human approach to the problem of moderation,
as captured so well by Raphael in his masterpiece the “School of Athens.”
To return to the motif of this painting, recall how Aristotle shares the
canvas™s center stage with Plato and extends his right arm, gesturing out-
ward in a con¬dent yet measured manner toward the proverbial mean of
ethical virtue. Augustine, we can imagine, would join his mentor Plato in
pointing upward toward the heavens, although he might rather extend his
left arm outward with Aristotle and his right arm heavenward with Plato.
For the Christian Augustine, and indeed also for Aquinas after him,
Platonic philosophizing comes to exemplify the profoundly human need
to incorporate a metaphysical and religious dimension into one™s ethical,
social, and civic thought in a deeper way than does Aristotle. Human
beings by nature do not only live face to face with one another; they also
and ultimately live facing God, however vaguely and confusedly he is
apprehended by them. An Augustinian upward gesture would not be
one of triumphal pride, but rather a humble acknowledgment of needy
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 67

searching for and indebtedness to the transcendent origin and ful¬llment
of creaturely existence. Augustine™s hand held heavenward would differ
from Plato™s by having also an open palm, a sign of humanity™s neediness
and hope for God™s blessings. From looking upward come both a deeper
awareness of one™s own limitations and a positive redirecting of desire
toward what is truly good, luminous, and beautiful. Augustine argues
in his early dialogue On Free Choice of the Will that truth and wisdom are
quintessentially “common goods” for human beings, and he democratizes
the possession of this highest, fullest common good of sublime truth by
arguing that it is a divine gift available to anyone willing to receive it from
another and embrace it (On Free Choice of the Will II.12“14). By grace, all
may come to share in what by nature belongs to no one, not even to the
philosopher (cf. City of God I.1, X.27“32, XIX.4).
Aquinas as an Augustinian is thus led from Aristotle™s second founda-
tion not onward toward the third so much as back around to the ¬rst, to
endeavor to reinforce it with insights from both common ethical expe-
rience and the religious dimension of humanity, and to extend its social
scope outward toward all persons. In the course of this task Aquinas under-
takes a theoretical founding of his own, one intended, at least in part,
better to support the Aristotelian social and civic end of the common
good. This new foundation comprises Aquinas™s account of the ¬rst prin-
ciples and precepts of natural law (ST I“II 94, 2). Aquinas™s natural law
theory comprises a subtle yet signi¬cant philosophic revision of Aristotle™s
framework, incorporating a new theory of the principles of practical rea-
soning to complement Aristotle™s speculative ¬rst principles and adding
an account of synderesis and conscience to Aristotle™s psychology. From
this new archon, or normative foundation in an Aristotelian rather than
Cartesian or Kantian spirit, Aquinas is able to delineate and defend a
more capacious account of the common good and to undergird it with
a more metaphysical or transcendental, upward-looking form of moder-
ation that we might call humility. The ethical and political implications
of Aquinas™s re-founding do not stop here, of course: together with fresh
insights and opportunities come new pitfalls and perils, as must be the
case with any daring human endeavor, philosophic or practical.

3.3 The First Foundation and Aquinas™s Commentary: Human
Nature as “Political and Social” in Politics I
When Aquinas argues near the opening of the ST that philosophy, like
other human sciences, can without loss of its proper dignity stoop to
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

serve theology (ST I, 5) there is nothing patronizing about his remarks.6
Philosophy for Aquinas constitutes the highest achievement of natural
human reason; it is a powerful and noble study possessed of a certain
autonomy, yet unaided it cannot reach the heights and depths of wisdom
that by nature the human being desires. Of itself, Aquinas argues, philos-
ophy cannot comprehend the identity or the essence of God (cf. ST I 1, 6;
I“II 3, 6“8). As a consequence, philosophy cannot elucidate all there is to
know about the universe as God™s creation.7 As I emphasize in Chapter 6,
Aquinas™s ethics place a high value on humble yet great-souled service.
Through assisting theology or divine science in its proper task of re¬‚ect-
ing on the revealed word of God and elucidating both its mystery and its
meaning, philosophy enhances rather than forfeits its intrinsic nobility.
In a striking formulation, Aquinas maintains that “since . . . grace does not
destroy nature, but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the
natural bent of the will ministers to charity” (ST I 1, 8, ad 2, emphasis added;
cf. 1, 5, ad 2).
In Aristotle™s rediscovered and newly translated texts, Aquinas found
a tremendous reserve of fresh philosophical effort and insight, indeed
a systematic search for wisdom about the whole universe and all things
human. While some scholars have argued that Aquinas commented on
Aristotle™s texts primarily and perhaps solely for the bene¬t of students
who would otherwise have relied on the interpretations of Averroes and
his heterodox Christian disciples such as Siger of Brabant , Jean-Pierre
Torrell (1996) offers a more complete perspective when he argues that
the pedagogical function of the commentaries should be understood
in terms of their overarching value for Aquinas™s work as a theologian,
including his own scholarly investigation and pursuit of wisdom as a truly
common good for himself and his readers.8 As any scholar knows, devising

6 Indeed, the very ¬rst question of the ST shows the high regard its author has
for philosophy: “Whether, besides Philosophy, Any Further Doctrine Is Required?”
(ST I, 1).
7 On this point see Josef Pieper™s (1999) illuminating discussion.
8 Compare Weisheipl (1974, 281“5) with Torrell (1996) on the Aristotelian commentaries
generally: “[Aquinas] undertook these commentaries in an apostolic perspective in order
better to carry out his job as a theologian, and better to accomplish his labor of wisdom
such as he would understand it in the double school of Saint Paul and Aristotle: to
proclaim the truth and refute error” (Torrell 1996, 239). And on the Commentary on the
“NE” in particular: “We will doubtless better understand what Thomas wanted to do if we
recall that these commentaries were not courses he would have given to his students. They
are rather the equivalent of a personal reading made with pen in hand to constrain himself
to penetrate the text of Aristotle in order to prepare himself for the composition of the
moral part of the Summa Theologiae. He had already used this procedure with the Sententia
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 69

and drafting a coherent interpretation of a dif¬cult text aids one tremen-
dously in appropriating its content, plumbing its perplexities and theo-
retical prospects, and clarifying one™s own judgment of its merits. Given
the very extensive use Aquinas makes, for example, of Aristotle™s NE in
sections of his ST (and also, although to a lesser extent, throughout vir-
tually all his works, even his commentaries on sacred Scripture), it seems
clear that his Commentary on the “NE” was of great assistance to Aquinas
in completing his own magnum opus and developing and clarifying his
own thought (see ST I 1, 5, ad 2). After all, which classical philosopher
could help one more in a task of theoretical breadth and clari¬cation
than could Aristotle?
In addition to its nearly 1,800 references to the NE, Aquinas™s ST con-
tains a substantial body of references to the Politics, some 109 in all,
by far the largest number in any of Aquinas™s writings.9 The frequent
use Aquinas makes in the ST of Aristotle™s Politics, often in unexpected
contexts, indicates the considerable value of Aristotle™s social and politi-
cal philosophy for the work of our medieval theologian. One important
incorporation of the Politics in Aquinas™s ST occurs in a passage that clar-
i¬es Aquinas™s overall appraisal of Aristotle™s ¬rst foundation in Book I
of the Politics.
In the course of an inquiry into the nature and kinds of sin, Aquinas
raises the question of “[w]hether sin is ¬ttingly divided into sin against
God, against oneself, and against one™s neighbor” (ST I“II 72, 4). Some-
what surprisingly, Aristotle™s ¬rst political-philosophic foundation plays
an important role in Aquinas™s response. “As stated above (I“II 71, 1 and
6), sin is an inordinate act. Now there should be a threefold order in
man: one in relation to the rule of reason, in so far as all our actions and
passions should be commensurate with the rule of reason. [A]nother
order is in relation to the rule of the Divine law, whereby man should be
directed in all things: and if man were by nature a solitary animal, this twofold
order would suf¬ce. But since man is naturally a political and social animal, as
is proved [ut probatur] in Politics I.2, hence a third order is necessary, whereby

libri De anima [Aquinas™s Commentary on Aristotle™s “On the Soul”]; with a ¬rm constancy he
continued his effort until the end. There is here in any event a new element . . . ” (228“9,
emphasis added). Jenkins shows convincingly that Aquinas wished his commentaries to
be useful to advanced as well as beginning students (1996, 39, 61).
9 The ST contains an astounding 1,794 references to the NE. By comparison, the SCG
contains 130 references to the NE, the On Evil 173, and the (much shorter) On Kingship
24. Similarly, the ST contains 109 references to the Politics; the SCG only 10, On Evil 6,
and On Kingship 23.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

man is directed in relation to other men among whom he must dwell [debet
convivere]. . . . Now the things whereby man is directed to God, his neigh-
bor, and himself are diverse” (I“II 72, 4; emphasis added). This threefold
diversi¬cation holds for virtuous actions too, and so Aquinas adds that “by
the theological virtues man is directed to God; by temperance and forti-
tude, to himself; and by justice to his neighbor” (ibid.; cf. I“II 62, 1“3).10
For now, what matters most in this passage is Aquinas™s unequivocal
endorsement of Aristotle™s foundational argument that human beings
are by nature social and civic. Never one to use terms such as “proof”
or “demonstration” lightly, Aquinas does us the favor of stating explic-
itly that he takes Aristotle to have “proved” his foundational proposi-
tion in Politics I.11 To understand more precisely just how Aquinas inter-
prets Aristotle™s ¬rst political-philosophic foundation, or what it means
for Aquinas to say with Aristotle that humans are naturally “political and
social,” this passage from a generally apolitical segment of the ST consti-
tutes an important signpost, pointing us back to Aquinas™s little-studied
Commentary on the “Politics” of Aristotle.

Aquinas and “the Philosopher”
Before bringing the argument back around to the text of Aquinas™s Com-
mentary, I should pause to address an important preliminary objection. It

10 Aquinas further speci¬es that “[o]f these orders the second contains the ¬rst and sur-
passes it. For whatever things are comprised under the order of reason, are comprised
under the order of God Himself. Yet some things are comprised under the order of
God, which surpass the human reason, such as matters of faith, and things due to God
alone . . . ” (ST I“II 72, 4). And “[t]o sin against God is common to all sins, in so far as
the order to God includes every human order; but in so far as order to God surpasses
the other two orders, sin against God is a special kind of sin” (ibid., ad 1). Aquinas™s
arguments as to the overlap among the three ethical “orders” will be important for
our consideration later in Chapters 5, 8, and 9. Particularly relevant is the question of
correctly discerning Aquinas™s complex view of the relationship between primarily self-
regarding activities, virtuous or vicious, and the common good, and between the social
order and suprarational divine revelation and ordinances.
11 Nederman (1988) makes a strong argument for the importance in medieval political
thought generally of Cicero™s case for the naturally social and civic character of humanity,
noting also that Aquinas follows Aristotle rather than Cicero on this count (5). It is
interesting that Aquinas does employ Cicero™s De inventione (on rhetoric) and De of¬ciis,
along with other Stoic, Neoplatonic, and Patristic sources, in many important sections
of his ST on law, politics, and virtue, at times where we would expect him to rely instead
on Aristotle as the central authority (auctoritas). I will consider the import of at least
two of these instances later on, in Chapters 5 and 6. For now, it is equally interesting to
note that Aquinas cites Aristotle™s argument in Politics I as proof for natural sociability,
in preference to Cicero™s arguments, with which he was certainly familiar.
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 71

goes something like this: Why call to our attention Aquinas™s statement
that Aristotle “proved” human beings to be naturally civic and social, as
if that were something noteworthy? Doesn™t Aquinas think that, so far
as natural reason™s search for truth goes, Aristotle proved virtually every-
thing he ever argued? Surely that is why Aquinas spends so much time
commenting “ often without comment, one might say, in as literal an
explication as possible “ on Aristotle™s philosophic texts. Aristotle™s rea-
son is for Aquinas synonymous with philosophic reason, as indicated also
by Aquinas™s repeated references to Aristotle as “the Philosopher.” On
this account, Aquinas™s approach to Aristotle falls at one of two vicious
extremes on the spectrum of the interpretation and use of an ancient
thinker. The virtuous mean is, of course, between the extremes, as one
scholar indicates on the back cover of a helpful recent anthology treat-
ing Aristotle and Modern Politics (Tessitore, ed., 2002): “These essays offer
an Aristotle who comes across not as ˜the Philosopher™ [extreme number
one, on the side of excess: Aquinas™s error] nor as an archaic specimen
[extreme number two, as defect or de¬ciency: presumably the extreme
occupied by some classics scholars and historians of ideas], but as a dia-
logic companion. . . . [The authors of this volume] all ¬nd in their encoun-
ters with Aristotle the theoretical resources for addressing the challenges
that confront citizens of the liberal democracies of the 21st century.”
The problem with such de facto dismissals of Aquinas™s approach to
Aristotle is that they do not accurately convey what Aquinas means by
attributions such as “the Philosopher” or, for that matter, “the Apostle,”
“the Jurist,” or “the Commentator.” These appellations “ instances of
antonomasia12 “ certainly indicate a preeminent status among peers, but
by employing them, Aquinas does not mean to suggest that their posses-
sors had said or done it all in their respective ¬elds, much less that they
were infallible in their theoretical or practical judgments. To make this
clear, it should suf¬ce to note that the man Aquinas respectfully refers to
as “the Commentator” is none other than Averroes himself! Averroes thus
comes across as a remarkable mind, a most dedicated and gifted reader
of Aristotle; and where he deems it appropriate, Aquinas will ungrudg-
ingly cite from Averroes™s interpretations in an af¬rmative manner (for
an example see ST I 54, 5, where Aquinas refers to Averroes on Aristotle™s
Metaphysics). Yet this intellectual respect does not prevent Aquinas from

12 “Antonomasia is the ¬gure of speech by which a generic predicate is used to designate
an individual because it belongs to this individual in an eminent degree” (On Kingship,
Eschmann 10n24; cf. ST II“II 125, 2 c. with Dominican Fathers™ note).
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

challenging Averroes™s interpretations, at times in highly spirited terms,
or indeed from producing an entire body of his own original commen-
tary on the Aristotelian corpus, as an alternative overall reading to that
offered by Averroes and his disciples. Averroes “the Commentator” is
thus clearly not the only or the last word on Aristotelian commentary;
yet he remains for Aquinas “the Commentator.” In like manner, there is
nothing dogmatic, uncritical, or inherently unphilosophic in Aquinas™s
dubbing Aristotle “the Philosopher.” Rather than base his arguments on
Aristotle™s unquestioned philosophic preeminence in the realm of rea-
son, Aquinas speci¬es that in scienti¬c investigations an argument based
on any human authority is extremely weak, indeed the weakest possible
argument (ST I 1, 8, ad 2).13 As John Jenkins has observed, “Aristotle was
for Aquinas and his contemporaries not simply an ancient philosopher
but also an authority (auctoritas). For them the writings of an authority
were not texts to be simply learned and parroted; they were, rather, aids
in one™s inquiries into truth. Dialectical reasoning provided a method
by which authoritative claims could be used in one™s inquiries” (1996,
In the chapters that follow, I argue that in some subtle yet highly sig-
ni¬cant ways, Aquinas™s philosophic thought often develops Aristotle™s
ideas and even diverges from them. This claim might seem implausible,
especially since Aquinas so rarely takes open issue with Aristotle, in his
commentaries or for that matter in his other writings. As I illustrate in
several portions of the chapters to come, I think that Aquinas™s reticence
can be explained on at least three levels. First, it is a prudential strategy
in view of Aquinas™s conviction that Aristotle™s newly rediscovered texts,
including those on ethics and politics, could contribute much to phi-
losophy and theology in the world of medieval Christendom, and that
given the formidable opposition to Aristotelianism in the schools (and
particularly in the theology faculty at Paris), it was generally preferable to
suggest rather than trumpet differences between the Philosopher™s pagan
and Aquinas™s own Christian worldview. While Albert the Great chose to
blast outright the obscurantist opposition to Aristotle in the preface of
his Commentary on the “Politics,” Aquinas generally takes a more modest,
less in¬‚ammatory approach, stressing the positive in Aristotle™s works
and questioning or critiquing the Philosopher most often by suggestive

13 “[A]lthough the argument from authority based on human reason is the weakest [kind of
argument], yet the argument from authority based on divine revelation is the strongest”
(ST I 1, 8, ad 2).
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 73

glosses or simply by omission (see Chapter 6). Second, Aquinas is more
aware than we might think that, especially in his practical philosophy,
Aristotle begins from ordinary opinions or empirical observations, and
that he treats the former seriously and yet at times also with what Susan
Collins aptly terms “a gentle measure of caricature” (2004, 51). This
awareness operates to blunt or at least to defer for a fuller reading any
critical observations on the part of the re¬‚ective reader.
Finally and most interesting, there is the impact of the nature and
aim of Aquinas™s commentaries themselves. It has often been noted, and
rightly so, that most of his commentaries on Aristotle™s works, including
the two of most interest to us, are of the sententia genre. When discussing
the Commentary on the “NE”, Torrell describes the sententia genre as “a sum-
mary and rather doctrinal explication, and not an expositio, an in-depth
commentary with textual discussions. This is important . . . if we are to
appreciate correctly Thomas™s effort vis-` -vis Aristotle: he did not wish to
make a critical commentary, and his title [Sententia libri ethicorum] suf¬-
ciently indicates as much” (1996, 228). But this sort of observation has
led some scholars to take a rather ¬‚at, one-dimensional view of Aquinas™s
aim and also of his methodology: Aquinas endeavors to get at Aristotle™s
exact meaning in the text and to clarify this exact meaning for the reader,
nothing more and nothing less. In an important article quoted earlier,
Jenkins challenges this view, as well as the opposing one that regard-
less of his title, Aquinas comments on Aristotle chie¬‚y to “baptize” or
Christianize the Stagirite™s thought, taking many and very obvious liber-
ties with the Philosopher™s texts in order to do so. Jenkins™s conclusion
is that Aquinas employs a more subtle hermeneutic in view of a more
nuanced goal: “In the commentaries, Aquinas was not interested in end-
ing inquiry, but on the contrary, he wanted to introduce his readers to Aristotle
so that they could fruitfully employ this authority in their own inquiries. In this
effort . . . his strategy was to teach his readers about Aristotle™s own indi-
vidualistic understanding . . . of the issues discussed. Yet he also wanted
to suggest or to show the ways in which Aristotle™s words are open to, and
can be incorporated in, a fuller and more adequate understanding. . . . A
full account of key concepts is the work of further inquiries, and we
should not expect Aquinas to give it here [in his commentaries]. Still, he
was interested in showing how Aristotle™s words may be open to this full
account which may be further clari¬ed in the inquiries of teachers and
students” (1996, 58; cf. Torrell 1996, 238“9). Jenkins traces Aquinas™s
methodology in large part back to an appropriation of Aristotle™s own
commitment to “saving the appearances” of empirical observations and
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

reputable opinions, to acknowledging and upholding the partial truth
embedded in an alternative account even while disproving it in part and
so ultimately transcending it.
While I stress the element of respectful or implicit critique of Aristotle
in Aquinas™s commentaries and especially in his ST more than does
Jenkins, his account goes far toward explaining satisfactorily what the
reader cannot fail to notice even in Aquinas™s most literal commentaries:
the periodic if always surprising appearance of “suggestive glosses,”
deliberately “ambiguous glosses,” and even “tendentious glosses” on the
Philosopher™s texts (Jenkins 1996, 43“8). Other scholars accuse Aquinas
of either naively or with full awareness distorting Aristotle™s text and so
impeding the recovery of Aristotle™s literal meaning. This might in fact
be the case for us readers today, on most of whom Aquinas™s suggestive
glosses would be lost since we lack the medieval and Christian referents
his ¬rst readers would have shared. Aquinas did want to explicate well the
original text (recall that the commentary originally included the Latin
Politics™ text, section by section, before the comments ensued; the reader
thus read Aristotle before reading the commentator). He also, however,
sought to nudge the reader to think beyond that text understood in a
purely literal fashion, to question what appear to be watertight arguments
or foregone conclusions, but in Aquinas™s view were not really so. The fact
that he was writing sententiae did not preclude, for example, stressing in
his comments an aspect or two of the text that seem clearly (although
Aquinas does not say so) to clash with the spirit or even the letter of the
Gospels; or from giving a Christian sense or example that Aristotle would
de¬nitely not have had in mind; or from making a political observation
that diverges sharply from the direction of the Philosopher™s analysis at
that point. These glosses might serve as gad¬‚ies to wake readers up, to
urge them to recognize and think through on their own the meaning
and implications of Aristotle™s original writings, as well as fuller accounts
of this subject matter that might be developed. Respecting the commen-
tary™s focus on the Philosopher™s text, Aquinas would not in that context
go far in elaborating these alternative or purportedly fuller accounts. But
he might indeed endeavor to do so in his other works, notably in his ST
and his commentaries on sacred Scripture. Such will be a large part of
my argument in the chapters that follow.

Aquinas and Aristotle™s Politics: A Brief History
Aquinas™s four-volume Summa Contra Gentiles (SCG), begun around 1259
and completed in 1264 or early 1265, contains just ten references to
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 75

Aristotle™s Politics: in Part III nine references and in Part IV one refer-
ence. All four are to passages from Politics Book I, chapters 2“5. Likewise,
the ¬rst volume of the ST, begun about two years after the SCG™s com-
pletion, contains only a handful of references to the Politics. ST I has no
reference at all to the Politics before question 81, relatively late in the
volume. Moreover, only question 108, very near the part™s end, contains
references to texts beyond Book II of the Politics (two in the same article,
both to Politics IV.2; see ST I 108, 1, obj. 1 and ad 1). In the Second Part
of the ST, by striking contrast, the Politics becomes omnipresent, with a
stream of some 105 references running throughout the volume almost
literally from beginning to end (ST I“II 2, 1 to ST II“II 188, 8). The
vast majority of Aquinas™s references are to passages from Politics I“III,
although there are also a few scattered quotations from and paraphrases
of passages in Politics IV, V, and VIII.14
This brief citation history reveals much about Aquinas™s access to and
familiarity with the text of Aristotle™s Politics, and can provide helpful
clues regarding the composition and intent of Aquinas™s Commentary on
this work. Torrell concurs with Gauthier and others in judging Aquinas™s
Commentary on the “NE” to be written at the same time as the ST II“II
(see Torrell 1996, 343, 228“9), during the years 1271“2; and primarily,
I would add, given the huge proportion of citations in these questions,
as preparation for writing the latter volume™s detailed treatment of the
virtues. Eschmann has argued in general terms that the Commentary on the
“Politics” was probably written around the time of Aquinas™s composition
of the ST™s Second Part, “in view of the elaboration of certain questions of
the Summa, I“II and II“II. . . . [Beyond this,] [m]ore precise chronological
determinations are mere conjectures” (1956a, 405; cf. 1956b, and Torrell
1996, 233“4, 344). After studying the citation patterns, I would add that
the Commentary on the “Politics” seems very likely to have been written
in immediate preparation for Aquinas™s drafting the questions on law
and most especially on the “Old” or Mosaic Law. In the questions on
law Aquinas discusses more political topics than anywhere else in the ST,
with the possible exceptions of the questions on the virtues of prudence
and justice in ST II“II. Most decisively, it is in treating the Mosaic Law,
and the excellence of the regime or ordering of rulers and citizens that it
established, that Aquinas gives his only detailed treatment of a particular

14 I am grateful to Notre Dame graduate students Matthew Mendham and Jeremy John
for their excellent research work in compiling and assessing citation data on Aquinas™s
references to the NE and the Politics.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

political regime, whether in speech or in deed, and simultaneously reveals
his understanding of the best regime. It is in ST I“II 105, on the “judicial
precepts” delineating and guiding the Mosaic Law™s political regime, that
Aquinas employs Aristotle™s Politics far more frequently than in any other
single question in the ST (14 out of a total of 109 references).
A study of the citation data for Aquinas™s use of the Politics in the ST
shows an index of both intensity or frequency of citation, and variety in
passages cited, that rises slowly to a crescendo in the questions on law (ST
I“II 90“105), peaking sharply in the section™s last question on the Mosaic
Law. Early in ST I“II Aquinas cites almost exclusively from Politics I; by the
time we reach the questions on law, the citations range over the whole
of the commented Politics (Book I through Book III, chapter 8, and a bit
beyond), and they increase considerably in frequency. Then the index
declines steeply again, only to rise somewhat in the questions on prudence
(II“II 47“56: nine references, six of which occur toward the end of the
“commented Politics” III, and the others, unsurprisingly, from Politics I),
sustaining some strength (in terms of numbers but emphatically not of
variety) through the questions on justice (II“II 57“79: seventeen passages
referred to, all but two from Book I). Then it declines sharply once again,
with two points of special interest late in the ST II“II that we shall return
to later. Of the remaining sixteen references to passages of the Politics in
ST II“II and III, all but ¬ve are once again to Book I.
In sum, the citation data comprise circumstantial evidence suggesting
that Aquinas engaged in this commentary, focusing more intensely on
mastering the text of Politics I“III as his drafting of the discussion of the
Mosaic Law drew near, and then perhaps returned to polish or revise its
last chapters on Politics III while working on the treatment of prudence
as practical and political wisdom in ST II“II. After that, he was content to
leave this Commentary aside, in an un¬nished condition. Since Averroes
had not commented on the Politics and Albert the Great already had,
there was less need perhaps from the point of view of service to students
for Aquinas to complete this work; and in his mind he had ¬nished all
that was needed to aid his theorizing of law and regimes, including the
best regime. Other and more foundational work would take precedence
for Aquinas, dictated in part by his reading and appraisal of Aristotle™s
political science.
If correct, this correlation would place the composition of Aquinas™s
incomplete Commentary on the “Politics” sometime during the years 1270“1,
during Aquinas™s last period as professor in Paris, and well before the
completion of his Commentary on the “NE” (in 1272). Both commentaries
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 77

would be crafted chie¬‚y in function of the writing of the ST™s Second
Part.15 As we shall see, this reading offers a partial explanation for the
incompleteness of the Commentary on the “Politics” and can also help in
the interpretation of some perplexities of Aquinas™s text commenting on
Aristotle™s Ethics, including his famous (or infamous) gloss on natural
right as natural law.
With regard to Aquinas™s access to the text of the Politics, contemporary
English speakers who do not read Latin are in much the same situation
vis-` -vis Aquinas™s Commentary as for much of his career Aquinas was vis-
a-vis the Politics itself, since he did not read Greek. Only small portions
of the Commentary on Politics I and III are currently in print in English
translation, and to make matters worse, this translation had to rely on a
faulty manuscript tradition that intended to “improve” Aquinas™s Latin
prose style, bringing it up to Renaissance humanist standards (Cranz
1978; Martin 1952; Torrell 1996, 233, 160ff.). While disadvantageous in
itself, this state of affairs at least helps us imagine more vividly how much
Aquinas would have valued William of Moerbeke™s full Latin translation
(which revised and completed an older rendition, apparently only of
Pol. I“II), when it ¬nally reached his hands sometime after 1260.

Aquinas on Aristotle™s First Foundation in Politics I
Aquinas™s commentary on the text of Politics I.2 shows us Aquinas excavat-
ing and appropriating Aristotle™s ¬rst political-philosophic foundation,
speci¬cally his interpretation of human nature as “political and social”
(cf. ST I“II 72, 4). I will highlight three important features of Aquinas™s
text: ¬rst, that Aquinas accentuates Aristotle™s argument that human beings
are naturally political over the Philosopher™s prior argument that the
city exists by nature, as the natural outgrowth and end of prior natural
associations; second, that the analogy Aquinas draws between the natu-
ralness of civic life and the naturalness of human virtue is a signi¬cant
one, indicating the real yet relative naturalness of political community for
Aquinas and also intimating the close link between virtue and politics in
Aquinas™s theory of the common good; and third, that the vision of polit-
ical community Aquinas appropriates from Aristotle is not an organic
one but rather an action-based, associational theory. As was the case in

15 This is based on more current and seemingly more precise indications than those sup-
porting Eschmann™s argument dating the ST I“II writing to c. 1269“70. On the dif¬cul-
ties and debates surrounding the effort accurately to date the ST I“II, see Torrell (1996,
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

Aristotle™s usage, the organic argument is a metaphorical one not to be
read ad litteram (Saxonhouse 1992, 189n1). This is apparent not only in
Aquinas™s actual commentary on Book I of the Politics, but also and even
especially in the original prefaces with which Aquinas commences his
commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics. The point of this
section is to note critical respects in which Aquinas considers his thought
on society and politics to be constructed on explicitly Aristotelian founda-
tions, and to understand better the argument Aquinas himself considers
persuasive in support of human nature as social and political.
Aquinas opens his commentary on Politics I with an observation we
can trace back to Plato™s Socrates, that by nature “each of us isn™t self-
suf¬cient, but is in need of much” (Republic II, 369b). The neediness
of the human individual opens and indeed inclines him or her toward
various forms of association with others. The ¬rst and most natural of
these associations in what Aquinas terms the “order of generation” is
the family, which looks especially to the procreation, sustenance, and
education of offspring. Aquinas also duly notes and explicates Aristotle™s
text on the naturalness of the master“slave relationship as completing
the household; yet it is signi¬cant that in the relevant parts of his own
“original” works Aquinas never advances an argument for the naturalness
of some humans™ possession of others as property in an absolute sense.
Service to others is natural to humans, as is a division of labor among free
persons for the sake of the common good; but Aquinas judges less gifted
members of society by nature to constitute something much closer to
natural service opportunities than to naturally enslavable commodities.
Despite its fundamental role in human existence and its primordial
naturalness, a lone family unit or household is incapable of complete self-
suf¬ciency. It cannot provide securely for its preservation or on its own
attain the best possible life for its members. So the “domestic society”
fans out into clan and village units as a consequence of both the natural
growth of human households and the development of rational human
organization seeking a fuller and more satisfying way of life. These small
societies in their turn are said by Aristotle to require speci¬cally political
society for their completion. Explicating the makeup of the polis and its
function in human life, Aquinas writes:

[Aristotle] shows the condition of the city with reference to three things. First,
he shows of what things the city is made up. For, just as a village is made up of
several households, so a city is made up of several villages. Secondly, he says that
the city is a perfect community [communitas]; and this he proves from the fact
that, since every association [communicatio] among all human beings is ordered
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 79

to something necessary for life, that community will be perfect which is ordered
to this, that human beings have suf¬ciently whatever is necessary for life: and
such is the civic community. For it is of the nature of the city that in it should
be found all things that suf¬ce for human life; and so it happens to be. And for
this reason it is made up of several villages, in one of which the art of the smith
is practiced, in another the art of the weaver, and so of the others. Whence it is
evident that the city is a perfect community. Thirdly, he shows to what the city is
ordered. It is ¬rst made for the sake of living, namely, that human beings might
¬nd suf¬ciently that from which they might be able to live; but from its existence it
comes about that human beings not only live but that they live well, in so far as by the laws
of the city the life of human beings is ordered to the virtues. (Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 31 [23],
emphasis added)

Note especially that the city is said by Aquinas here, as commentator on
Aristotle, to be “perfect” (i.e., complete or self-suf¬cient) only as regards
living, not as regards its highest telos or end: the good life marked by the
cultivation and exercise of the virtues (Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 31 [23]).
Aquinas next explicates Aristotle™s account of the naturalness of the
city. The smaller associations of family and village are natural to human
beings, yet still require political society for their completion, to ful¬ll their
natural aim of self-suf¬ciency in meeting the needs of human life. In this
sense the city is the “end” of the more basic natural associations; and the
end of the growth of natural things de¬nes their nature par excellence.
Among properly human things only the city is self-suf¬cient, “so to speak,”
and “self-suf¬ciency is an end and what is best” (Pol. I.2, 1252b29“35).
That Aquinas does not give much attention to this proof is not surprising,
since by itself the argument is inconclusive (see Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 32“3
[24“5]). It proves no more than that a larger association for security and
exchange is desirable, perhaps necessary: a bigger, better clan or village,
or a loose confederation of clans and villages. Most signi¬cantly, the argu-
ment abstracts from the speci¬c nature of political society, which hinges
on the establishment and enforcement of justice and the inculcation of
civic virtue by means of the regime and its laws.16 Perhaps this critical
weakness accounts for the fresh start (and second foundation) Aristotle
makes for his political science at the beginning of Book III, where he
speci¬es the regime as the form of the city and the citizens as its most
basic, properly political parts. From these new principles Aristotle and
Aquinas after him commence a dialectical examination of justice and civic

16 Cf. especially Politics III.9, 1280a25“38; Aquinas™s Commentary breaks off just prior to this
passage, at 1280a7.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

Aquinas now shifts focus from the city itself to the human being, as nat-
urally oriented toward participation in political society: the human being
as “by nature a political animal.” Aquinas comments much more exten-
sively here, and with good reason: this aspect of Aristotle™s argument is
more intriguing and more compelling. It approaches more nearly to the
core of speci¬cally human existence, and comes closer than the preced-
ing argument to considering political society as political. Aquinas ¬rst
brie¬‚y considers the political character of human nature as following
necessarily from the “naturalness of the city”: “[The Philosopher] infers
then, ¬rst of all, from what has already been said that a city is made up of
things that are according to nature. And since a city is nothing other than
a congregation [congregatio] of human beings, it follows that the human
being is a naturally political animal” (Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 34 [26]). But
of course, the city is not simply a multitude of humans without further
quali¬cation. More must be said if we are to be persuaded.
So it is with greater interest and stronger conviction that Aquinas con-
tinues, arguing in con¬dent language that “Then [Aristotle] proves from
the human being™s proper operation that the human being is a political
animal, more so even than the bee and any gregarious animal” (Comm.
Pol. I, 1 n. 36 [28]; cf. ST I“II 72, 4, where Aquinas uses the identical verb
This then is the argument we have been waiting for, the one Aquinas
in his ST refers to as Aristotle™s conclusive demonstration of this foun-
dational proposition concerning the human person and political society.
Other animals have voices with which to communicate their perception of
pleasure and pain and their experience of the passions, but only human
beings as rational animals have language, or speech properly so called.
Parrots, for instance, mimic human speech, yet “they do not properly
speak, because they do not understand what they are saying but produce
such sounds [voces] out of a certain practice [ex usu quodam]” (I, 1 n. 36
[28]). Speech, by contrast, presupposes reason. It transcends the plane
of pure passion, enabling its practitioners to engage in deliberative and
dialogic evaluation of emotive responses:

Human speech, on the other hand, signi¬es what is useful and what is harmful. It
follows from this that it signi¬es the just and the unjust. For justice and injustice
consist in this, that some people are treated equally or unequally as regards useful
and harmful things. Thus speech [loquutio] is proper to human beings, because
it is proper to them, as compared to the other animals, to have knowledge [cogni-
tionem] of the good and the bad, and so of the unjust, and other such things that
can be signi¬ed by speech [sermone]. Since language [sermo] is given to human
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 81

beings by nature, therefore, and since language is ordered to this, that human
beings communicate with one another as regards the useful and the harmful,
the just and the unjust, and other such things, it follows, from the premise that
nature does nothing in vain, that human beings naturally communicate with one
another in reference to these things. But communication in reference to these
things is what makes [facit] a household and a city. Therefore, the human being
is naturally [naturaliter] a domestic and political animal. (I, 1 n. 37 [29]; cf. ST
I“II 72, 4)

By this last formula Aquinas™s commentary confers on the family a dig-
nity higher than we might have expected, in light of the earlier passages
in the Politics that assign “living” as the aim of the household and seem
to reserve the goal of the good life for the larger, more comprehensive
association of the polis. Now it appears instead that, like civil society,
domestic society itself comes to exist for the sake of mere life but aims
ultimately at the good life for itself and each of its members, especially
the children. Yet the family still requires the city for its “completion,” for
the establishment of the overarching context in which its good may be
best or at least most securely pursued. Civic association seems by nature
particularly apt to raise the sights of humans beyond self and nearest of
kin, to establish and secure a more (though far from perfectly) univer-
sal order of justice, peace, and virtue among humans (cf. ST I“II 105,
2“3). In this sense the city is the “whole” and households are “parts” of
that whole.17 As I show later on, especially in Chapter 8, Aquinas con-
siders political society essential for promoting and safeguarding justice
and friendship in that broader context of social relations necessary for
relative human self-suf¬ciency. For better or worse, the polity™s vision of
what constitutes a good life is likely profoundly to in¬‚uence the sort of
upbringing most parents give their children. The coercive power of the
city™s laws will prove essential in the effective repression of vice, providing
moral education a sort of second beginning when parental admonition
goes unheeded.
So on the paradigm of Aquinas™s Commentary and its vision of Aristotle™s
¬rst foundation, the political community appears at the service of the

17 In this sense also, Aquinas remarks that on Aristotle™s view, while individuals (and, one
may assume, households) are prior to the city in the “order of generation,” political
society holds precedence in the “order of nature and perfection.” Cf. Augustine , City
of God XIX.16: “Now a human household ought to be the beginning, or rather a small
component part of the city, and every beginning is directed to some end of its own kind,
and every component part contributes to the completeness of the whole of which it
forms a part. The implication is quite apparent, that domestic peace contributes to the
peace of the city. . . . ”
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

human person and the family, and of many families even as it comprises
in a certain sense their end or completion; and any existent city must be
judged on how well it performs this service. The family, more “natural”
than the city in terms of spontaneity, is also by nature more fully one,
more of a unity (cf. Aristotle™s critique of Plato™s Republic, Pol. II, 2“5 and
Comm. Pol. II. 1“5); yet even the most united family unit does not have the
“absolute” or organic oneness of a single human being. By emphasizing
Aristotle™s argument that the human person is naturally social and civic
over his case for the naturalness of the city itself, Aquinas underscores
that the political community by nature ¬nds its justi¬cation in the extent
to which it promotes the happiness of its people. There is by nature
no possibility of a happy city whose parts or members are not happy as
persons and as families, at least insofar as it is in the city™s power to help
them be so (cf. Pol. II.5, 1264b17“21; Comm. Pol. II, 5 n. [15]). This is
one signi¬cant sense in which politics is, for both Aristotle and Aquinas,
founded on the anthropological and ethical. In this antiutilitarian sense
we should read Aquinas™s earlier paraphrase of Aristotle, that “[the city]
is the seeker of [est coniectatrix] the highest among all human goods, for
it aims at the common good, which is better and more divine than the
good of a single individual, as is stated at the beginning of the Ethics”
(Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 11 [3]; cf. NE I.2, 1094b10“11).
Aquinas concludes his commentary on this foundational chapter of
the Politics with these observations: “the human being is the best of the
animals if virtue, to which he has a natural inclination, is perfected in
him. But if he is without law and justice, the human being is the worst
of all the animals. . . . But human beings are brought back [reducitur] to
justice by means of the political order. This is clear from the fact that
among the Greeks the order of the political community and the judgment
of justice are called by the same name: dik¯ . Hence it is evident that
the one who founded the city kept human beings from being most evil
and brought [reduxit] them to a state of excellence in accordance with
justice and the virtues” (Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 41 [33]). Aristotle, however,
does not himself say that humans have a “natural inclination” to acquire
ethical virtue in this passage of the Politics, nor for that matter in the
Nicomachean Ethics, although as regards intellectual virtue, Aristotle opens
the Metaphysics with the memorable statement that “[a]ll men by nature
desire to know” (980a). As I show in Chapter 4, Aquinas quietly but clearly
acknowledges this discrepancy in the ST™s discussions of virtue and law.
Insofar as Aquinas™s gloss “inclined by nature” refers to ethical or moral
virtue as distinct from intellectual virtue, it indicates an important new
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 83

foundation intended to deepen and reinforce the properly Aristotelian
principles of his ethics and politics.
At issue also at the end of Aristotle™s text and Aquinas™s commentary is
the necessity of a founding and hence of a founder for political associa-
tions. This datum some scholars take to undermine the prima facie case
Aristotle makes for the naturalness of political life. Aquinas faces the
issue directly and arrives at a resolution by means of an analogy between
politics and virtue: “Then [Aristotle] treats of the foundation of the city
and infers from what has been said that there is in all human beings a
certain natural impulse toward the political community, as also toward
the virtues. But nevertheless, just as the virtues are acquired through
human exercise, as is stated in Book II of the Ethics, so are cities founded
by human industry” (Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 40 [32]). The continuation of
both Aristotle™s text and Aquinas™s commentary underscores the impor-
tant interplay between virtue, law, and the common good in the art and
science of politics. Moreover, since virtue conduces to the perfection or
excellence (aret¯ ) of the human being who possesses it, these passages
highlight ethical virtue as a central area of overlap between personal and
common goods.
Aquinas™s politics“virtue analogy also conveys an important nuance
for the Aristotelian teaching that political society is natural to humans:
namely, that political society™s naturalness is real yet also relative or qual-
i¬ed. According to Aquinas™s commentary and its paraphrase of Aristo-
tle, humans naturally experience an inchoate “impulse” toward political
life and citizenship, and political society is required for the full devel-
opment of our natural capacities in the quest to live well. Political com-
munities themselves, however, do not come about simply naturally or
spontaneously; they require the addition of concrete human imagination,
ingenuity, thought, and purposive labor. In other words, their founding
requires not only nature, but also art and prudence.18
This facet of his political science is expressed most clearly in Aquinas™s
proemium (or prelude) to the Commentary on the “Politics.” In this closely
textual sententia (again, as distinguished from a more free-¬‚owing, cre-
ative expositio), the proemium is the most obviously original part of the
commentator™s work insofar as it comprises an introduction to Aristotle™s
political science that is not strictly dictated by the order and argument of
the original text. Aquinas opens the proemium to his explication of the

18 Cf. McInerny™s book (1988) by this title, Art and Prudence, on the thought of the
neoscholastic Jacques Maritain.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

Politics with this statement, striking for its stark simplicity: “As the Philoso-
pher teaches in Book II of the Physics, art imitates nature” (Proemium
1 [1]). Aquinas thereby introduces his reading of Aristotle™s politics as
both a science and an art, or perhaps better, as a practical science that is
needed for the complete human wisdom that philosophy seeks, yet also
and especially as a guide for concrete human action in civic fora. Politics
is something existing naturally and something manmade; it is achieved
through human reason and human action. “But nature, indeed, does
not achieve works of art; it only prepares certain principles and in some
way supplies craftsmen with a model according to which they may oper-
ate. Art, on the other hand, can examine the works of nature and use
them to perfect its own work, but it cannot achieve them” (Proemium 2
[2]). As the human being is comprised of both matter and spirit, so in
an analogous way the political world is a ¬t subject both for action and
for contemplation.19 Political community is thus among “ indeed the
¬rst or highest [principalius omnibus totis] among “ those “wholes that can
be known and constituted by human reason” (Proemium 4 [4], emphasis
added). Near the end of his prelude, Aquinas considers the question of
what kind of science politics is, asking speci¬cally in what “genus” political
science should be placed:
For since the practical sciences are distinguished from the speculative sciences
in that the speculative sciences are ordered exclusively to the knowledge of the
truth, whereas the practical sciences are ordered to some work, this science must
be comprised under practical philosophy, inasmuch as the city is a certain whole
that human reason not only knows but also produces. Furthermore, since reason
produces certain things by way of making, in which case the operation goes out
into external matter “ this pertains properly to the arts that are called mechanical,
such as that of the smith and the shipwright and the like “ and other things by way
of action, in which case the operation remains within the agent, as when one deliberates,
chooses, wills, and performs other similar acts pertaining to moral science, it is obvious that
political science, which is concerned with the ordering of human beings, is not comprised
under the sciences that pertain to making . . . , but under the sciences that pertain to action,
which are the moral sciences. (Proemium 6 [6], emphasis added)

Besides underscoring the fundamentally ethical character of
Aristotelian and Thomistic political science, this passage is signi¬cant in
that it locates the essence of politics in the activities carried out by human
beings, actions that are ¬rst and foremost a matter of their interior dis-
positions, rational deliberations, and free decisions. This beginning point
for Aquinas™s Commentary on the “Politics” of Aristotle foreshadows what

19 See the anthology on Aristotle™s ethics and politics with this title, Action and Contemplation,
by Bartlett and Collins (1999).
Unearthing and Appropriating Aristotle™s Foundations 85

we have already seen to be Aquinas™s emphasis on the acts of speech and
communication in interpreting Aristotle™s account of the naturalness of
political association to human beings. What this proemium reveals even
more clearly is that, contrary to some conventional wisdom characterizing
ancient and perhaps especially medieval political thought, the political
community is not understood by Aquinas as an organism, or a thing,
but rather most fundamentally as an association whose unity comes from
human action and interaction, and from common action with a view to
a common end or ends. Aristotle™s and Aquinas™s version of constitutive
community is constituted not by a shared identity, but rather by a con-
versation and a sharing in actions and in the goods they instantiate and
seek: every human association (communicatio) is based on certain acts,
and “human beings naturally communicate with one another in refer-
ence to [the useful and the harmful, the just and the unjust, and other
such things]. But communication in reference to these things is what
makes a household and city” (Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 37 [29]).
Signi¬cantly, Aquinas™s Commentary on the “NE” begins in a very similar
vein, stressing that while human beings are “by nature social animal[s],”
the political community itself “is not something absolutely one” (as nei-
ther for that matter is the family). Political society has “only a unity of
order” (unitas ordinis). Its parts are not organically united in a “body
politic,” as demonstrated by the simple fact that each citizen can per-
form actions that are proper to him or her, and that are not similarly
attributable to the whole political community of which he or she forms
part (Comm. NE I, 1 n. 4“5). When I, Mary Keys, a U.S. citizen, work on my
book, the United States of America is not working on a book “ not even
the Keys family is, or not exactly, although this is in many ways closer to
being the case. By contrast, when my ¬ngers click the keyboard in writing
this chapter, my body in general must be said to be moving, and the whole
person, Mary Keys, to be typing.
So, contrary to prevailing understandings, our visit to the site of
Aquinas™s excavation of Aristotle™s ¬rst civic foundation has indicated that
an understanding of human beings as naturally social and civic need not
yield an organic conception of community, political or other. In Aquinas™s
thought, in fact, this result does not obtain. This is as true in his other
writings as in his Aristotelian commentaries.20 What we ¬nd instead is an
interpretation and appropriation of Aristotle™s ¬rst political-philosophic

20 Thus Russell Hittinger (2003, 271) relies on Aquinas™s Contra Impugnantes “ his spir-
ited defense of mendicant religious orders “ to illustrate that Aquinas considers society
(societas) to be an activity of human beings rather than a thing in itself.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

foundation that approximates a mean between Rawls™s radicalization of
the distinctions among persons and Sandel™s invocation of constitutive
community as common identity and common good. Aquinas™s under-
standing of political community™s true but limited unity parallels and
indeed follows from his case for its real but relative naturalness. Political
society is grasped for what it is: not a uni¬ed Volk, nor an organism, nor
(as in Hobbes) a wholly arti¬cial body politic or Leviathan, but rather
a work of human lived or spoken art, and especially of human action,
rooted in and in some ways re¬‚ective of the order of nature. Political
community aims at or seeks the common good, the highest good to be
found and approximated or achieved in human affairs and by human
actions. Political community does not itself constitute that good, at least
not according to Aristotle or Aquinas after him. This is not the least
important conclusion that might be drawn from Aquinas™s account and
appropriation of Aristotle™s ¬rst political-philosophic foundation.

Reinforcing the Foundations
Aquinas on the Problem of Political Virtue
and Regime-Centered Political Science

In the previous chapter we saw Aquinas unearth in his Commentary and
appropriate in his ST Aristotle™s ¬rst political-philosophic foundation in
Politics I: the relative yet real naturalness of civic life for human beings,
and the close link between this naturalness and that proper to the virtues,
about which more will be said in the last part of this chapter. In this chap-
ter I explore another political-philosophic foundation common to both
Aristotle and Aquinas, and from that vantage point begin to question
the absolute af¬nity between Aquinas™s and Aristotle™s foundations for
political theory. My analysis focuses ¬rst on Aquinas™s more ambivalent
response to Aristotle™s second civic foundation in the distinct natures and
requisites of political regimes and their corresponding versions of polit-
ical virtue. I argue that as a consequence of ¬nding faults in Aristotle™s
second foundation, Aquinas defers or declines to comment on Aristotle™s
science of the absolutely best regime “ the Philosopher™s third political-
philosophic foundation in Politics VII and VIII. Instead, Aquinas sets out
to reinforce an Aristotelian grounding for politics with a new ethical foun-
dation of his own: his theory of natural law and the human inclination
toward moral virtue.
The argument of this chapter commences with what I have termed
Aristotle™s second foundation: the centrality of regime particularity, citi-
zenship, and civic virtue to politics and political science, as elaborated in
Book III of the Politics and the corresponding sections of Aquinas™s Com-
mentary. In this context the problem of the relationship between civic or
political virtue and human virtue simply, with no particularistic quali¬ca-
tion, comes to the fore. If the regime (in Greek politeia; politia in Aquinas™s

Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

Latin neologism) of the city, or its form of government and the aims and
aspirations that shape its assignment of of¬ces, is truly the soul of the
polis, and if humans are naturally political, then it seems that the regime
must decisively shape the souls of its citizens regarding their pursuit of
happiness and their vision of a good life. On closer inspection, however,
the partiality that necessarily characterizes even the best political com-
munities and their regimes, together with the truncated vision of justice
and human excellence each possesses and promotes, threaten to deform
the citizens™ souls and to debar most or all of them from the happiness
they seek, at least in part through politics.
Aquinas homes in on this problem in his Commentary on “Politics”
III. This sobering dif¬culty leads Aquinas, as it did Aristotle, 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. He ¬nds cracks in Aristotle™s foundations, ¬ssures
that come from not taking the common good of justice and its transpolitical
reach quite seriously enough, or from forsaking foundational work too
quickly in favor of focusing on regime particularities and preservation.
Where the political dialectic of regimes leads Aristotle to a thorough
inquiry concerning the best regime (or to his third political-philosophic
foundation) in Politics VII and VIII, for Aquinas it prompts a return to the
source, to the common and even universal moral dimensions of social
and civic life, relating to virtue, law, and the common good.1 Aquinas
thus endeavors to ¬ll in some faults and dig deeper still, to reinforce
Aristotle™s social and civic foundations. The higher and more expansive
the building, the deeper, wider, and more secure its foundations must

1 It is worth noting at this juncture salient differences in the approach and audience of
our two theorists: Aristotle is more political throughout, and so works with more practical
rhetorical savvy than Aquinas; Aquinas is more abstract and theoretical, expecting his
audience to be on the same page in terms of scienti¬c and ethical concerns. However, in
their accounts of regimes and citizenship both are preparing to discuss the best political
regime “ for Aquinas, in his discussion of the mixed regime of Mosaic Law, near the end
of the ST I“II; for Aristotle, in an aristocratic regime he founds “in speech” at the end of
his Politics.
2 Cf. this passage from Aquinas™s Commentary on the “NE” I, 2, n. 30“1: “But this good
common to one or to several cities is the object of our inquiry, that is, of the particu-
lar skill [methodus], that is, the art [ars] called political science. Hence to it, as to the
most important science, belongs in a most special way the consideration of the ulti-
mate end of human life. But we should note that he says political science is the most
important, not simply, but in that division of practical sciences which are concerned with
Reinforcing the Foundations 89

4.1 The Second Foundation and Aquinas™s Commentary:
Human Beings and Citizens in Politics III
As we noted in Chapter 3, Galston™s sole reference to Aristotle™s Politics
underscores the impossibility of a political science that does not take
into account the range of regime types and the corresponding forms of
citizenship and civic virtue: “[S]ince Aristotle™s classic discussion of the
matter [in Politics III], it has been evident that political communities are
organized around conceptions of citizenship that they must defend, and
also nurture through educational institutions, as well as by less visible
formative processes” (Galston 2002, 111; cf. 1991, 217“19). The text to
which Galston refers is the one I have dubbed Aristotle™s second political-
philosophic foundation. In this section I trace its outline and indicate
why Aristotle requires this second beginning for his political science,
why his ¬rst foundation in Politics I does not suf¬ce. I then consider the
problematic relationship between human and political virtue that derives
from Aristotle™s regime-centered political science, and from the vantage
point afforded by the Commentary explicate how Aquinas understands,
incorporates, and ¬nally revises this foundation in his own ethical and
political thought.

Aristotle™s Second Foundation
We have seen that Aristotle™s ¬rst foundation for the polis and political
science focuses on the human being (anthropos) as “by nature a politi-
cal animal,” characterized by a certain impulse toward civic life and fully
¬‚ourishing only within a political context. This social impulse is mediated
through various natural forms of community or koinonia, from house-
holds to clans, villages, and political society. On Aristotle™s model, the
city crowns human nature™s striving for the telos of self-suf¬ciency. The
city is ¬rst identi¬ed as “the partnership arising from [the union of] sev-
eral villages that is complete” or very nearly autarkic with a view to life™s
necessities (Pol. I.2, 1252b27“8; cf. b29“1253a1). By the time Aristotle
reaches Book III, however, having commenced in Book II his quest for
the best regime, it is clear that his ¬rst philosophic foundation alone
cannot explain the city: a city by its nature is governed by some speci¬c
regime, which in turn re¬‚ects a speci¬ed or particular understanding of
the general human aim “to live well” and its requirements. Following his

human things, the ultimate end of which political science considers. The ultimate end of
the whole universe is considered in divine science which is the most important without
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

usual scienti¬c methodology of discerning and de¬ning the smallest parts
of a composite whole before attempting to explain the totality, Aristotle
in Book III indicates that it is necessary to identify the smallest parts not
only of the city but also of the regime. This revised or re¬ned search seeks
the basic units of the political order properly speaking, namely, those per-
sons who participate fully in the city™s aims, operations, and bene¬ts. On
this supplemental yet still foundational level, the relevant components
of the city are not human beings, households, or villages, but rather citi-
zens. Aristotle concludes early in Politics III that “[w]hoever is entitled to
participate in an of¬ce involving deliberation or decision is, we can now
say, a citizen in this city; and the city is the multitude of such persons that
is adequate with a view to a self-suf¬cient life, to speak simply” (Pol. III.1,
1275b17“20, emphasis added).
From this fresh starting point, Aristotle™s inquiry proceeds to reject
birth-related criteria for citizenship as basic to the general, philosophic
de¬nition of the citizen (Pol. III.2). He then returns to a practical prob-
lem from which his inquiry in Book III began: whether or not it is just
for a city with a radically new regime “ analogous to postapartheid South
Africa or post-Soviet Russia “ to refuse to honor agreements made by
the previous government (Pol. III.3). That discussion ¬nishes inconclu-
sively, perhaps because Aristotle has not yet speci¬ed seeking the common
good as the fundamental evaluator of political justice. But having in that
practical, highly political discussion piqued the interest of his politically
minded readers, Aristotle now raises an ethical question of fundamental
importance: “whether the virtue of the good man and the excellent citizen
is to be regarded as the same or as not the same” (Pol. III.4, 1276b17“18).
Over the next two chapters (Pol. III.4“5) Aristotle wrestles with this
question, ¬rst directly and then indirectly, asking whether a common
laborer or craftsman could have civic virtue and thus be worthy of citi-
zenship. Aristotle™s ¬rst task is to de¬ne what is meant by political or civic
virtue. The Philosopher stresses that civic virtue is excellence relative to
the regime and with a view to its preservation. In both chapters diver-
sity is a key variable: in chapter 4, chie¬‚y diversity among persons and
their skills and functions within any city; in chapter 5, diversity among
regime types. Amid this twofold diversity one constant abides, namely,
that the virtuous citizen as ruler or statesman, actual or potential, is the
only “excellent citizen” in any regime who as citizen possesses the signa-
ture virtue of the good human being: prudence or practical wisdom. And
although Aristotle is not unambiguous on this point, it seems that even
this restricted convergence of ethical and civic excellence obtains only
in the best regime: a virtue-based, virtue- and common good“promoting
Reinforcing the Foundations 91

aristocracy, the rulers of which possess thorough knowledge of how both
to be ruled and to rule well (cf. Pol. VII“VIII).
At the conclusions of each of these two complex, winding chapters,
Aristotle remarks with a good dose of Socratic irony that the truth of the
matter is now “apparent” on the basis of what he has said (cf. Pol. III.4,
1277b29“32 with III.5, 1278a40“b5). In actuality, Aristotle™s treatment of
civic virtue as essentially regime-relative raises many questions, perhaps
even more than it answers. In particular, it illustrates a dif¬cult dilemma
for the would-be ethically virtuous human being who also cares about
his or her civic community and wishes to contribute to the public good.
For most and quite possibly all of us, our particular political society aims
only at partial goods for human beings, such as wealth or freedom, and
promotes at best a truncated version of justice and the common good.
Aristotle has argued that we are naturally political creatures, and that the
city is an association of humans for the sake of promoting their social
life and their proper and common happiness. If civic virtue is an indis-
pensable facet of human excellence, as seems indicated by the political
aspect of our common human nature, then how can it be cultivated at
all in a genuine manner outside the best regime, which on Aristotle™s
account perhaps never has existed and indeed may never come to be
beyond the realm of speech and prayer (see Pol. II.1)? How can a person
seek to promote any actual regime™s persistence, its welfare, and its con-
tinuance, and not by so doing obstruct his or her own as well as others™
full happiness, including the welfare of those persons excluded from full
participation in the regime or fooled by the regime into believing that its
partial accounts of justice and happiness constitute the full truth of the
This then seems to be the Catch 22 of the dual philosophic foundations
for politics in Politics I and III: there is no full human virtue, or ethical
virtue simply, if one™s interest and action are oriented toward ruling or
wholeheartedly supporting an imperfect regime; and yet there is likewise
no full human virtue if one does not care and work for the welfare of one™s
political society, which cannot exist as such without a particular regime.
The remaining chapters of Politics III (beginning with chapter 6) do more
to accentuate than resolve this dilemma through Aristotle™s dialectic of
regimes, justice, and the common good.

Aquinas™s Commentary on the Second Civic Foundation
In his Commentary on the “Politics” Aquinas follows with care Aristotle™s
investigation into the meaning of “citizen” and the excellence proper
to citizens. Across the most varied regimes, that person is a citizen who
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

shares in or is eligible to share in deliberation and decision making in the
city. The citizen is thus one who either has or can have an active role in
running the regime, administering its justice, and helping to guide policy
with a view to its welfare. Aquinas repeatedly stresses that, according to
Aristotle, political or citizen virtue is properly de¬ned relative to the regime.
Just as a ship™s diverse crew members all act well by contributing to its
preservation and safe voyage to port, so a city™s diverse citizenry all con-
tribute to the regime™s persistence and well-being, though in diverse ways
and by performing various functions. Their common virtue as citizens is
always a function of the regime governing their polis, just as the decision
as to who is or is not offered citizenship depends on the regime in place.
A person qualifying in democratic Athens, for instance, might well fail to
meet Sparta™s property quali¬cation for citizen sharing in the regime.
Aquinas™s comments further highlight the regime™s role as the “form”
of the city, in a sense analogous to Aristotle™s and Aquinas™s teaching on
the soul as comprising the form of the human body (the example is mine,
not Aquinas™s). The regime crafts the city™s speci¬c identity and holds it
together: it is its principle of both unity and common action, the glue
that holds the association of citizens together in common life. When the
regime changes, the city is in the most signi¬cant sense other than it was,
despite the fact that the city™s territory and population may be virtually
the same as they had been previously (see Comm. Pol. III, 2 n. 364 [8]).
One strength of Aquinas™s Commentary is the way it elucidates the ten-
sion latent in the ¬rst ¬ve chapters of Politics III between citizenship as
de¬ned by law or nomos (civic status issued by and exercised with a view
to the regime in power “ de facto or realist citizenship, we might call it)
and citizenship as it should be by nature or physis, according to the chief
needs of any city and with a view to achieving its fullest common good
(natural or de jure citizenship, we might call it, in the sense of jus naturale
or natural right). Both de¬nitions are in some sense a product of what
polities all have in common: in the ¬rst case, each has some regime in
place, the right to participate in the activity and administration of which
captures the core meaning of citizenship. In the second case, all political
societies are in need of governance from persons possessing phron¯sis or e
prudentia, practical wisdom with a view to the preservation of the com-
mon life and the ¬‚ourishing of the community amid changing and often
dif¬cult circumstances. On the ¬rst count, citizenship is de¬ned by the
regime™s permission to participate, normally expressed in general legisla-
tion concerning citizenship requirements and regulating the ¬lling and
administration of of¬ces. On the second count, the citizen is de¬ned
Reinforcing the Foundations 93

pointedly by Aristotle as one who knows (cf. Pol. III.4; Comm. Pol. III, 3
n. 375 [12]), the person who possesses the political wisdom required to
carry out well the many tasks involved in public of¬ce and to be ruled
well in turn. It is a strong perennial possibility, to say the very least, that
the persons in these two groups “ the citizens according to nature and
the citizens according to law “ may not be the same.
Part of the subtle irony inherent in Aristotle™s account of citizenship
is conveyed in the Commentary through Aquinas™s glosses on the rightful,
as it were natural claims to citizenship versus claims de¬ned by purely
positive law. Most people think that natural or simply just citizenship is
de¬ned primarily by birth: birth on this city™s soil; birth to citizen parents;
birth into a family of this socioeconomic class. Aquinas follows Aristotle
in appearing at ¬rst to cater to these parochial or even prejudiced views
of who counts as a “good citizen,” a “real” or “genuine citizen,” even while
challenging their foundational premises on a deeper level. Birth-based
de¬nitions cannot in any way apply to a city™s founder(s) or to its ¬rst
generation of citizens; yet these people more than any ought to be con-
sidered full-¬‚edged citizens for instituting their city and establishing and
launching its regime. The most serious truth underlying the often comi-
cal common opinion on citizenship concerns the natural social and civic
need for prudence and the other virtues: the need, in other words, not just
for politically or legally rightful participation as de¬ned by the regime, but
also and especially for wise participation in governance and judging based
on the very nature of political society and its normative telos, the com-
mon good.3 In this sense, the best model of citizenship and civic virtue is
not any ordinary citizen, however respectable or even conscientious he
or she may be; as Aquinas™s helpful gloss on Aristotle™s text reveals, the
citizen par excellence is rather the outstanding statesman (Comm. Pol. III,
4 n. 383 [7]).

3 Another important truth embedded or implicit in even prejudiced views on citizenship
and birth is the need that statesmen have genuine affection or love for their people and
polity, and that cities need friendship above all else. Birth is one way of improving the
likelihood of “familiarity” that often “ but clearly, not always “ “breeds affection” in citizens
among themselves and for their city and of¬cials, and in rulers for the people. Knowledge
without love will not secure the common good or even motivate its attempt, especially
in the face of dif¬culty and danger. Aristotle has emphasized this already in Politics II.5;
Aquinas does so in ST I“II 105, 3, referring the reader to Politics. III. Hence, for example,
Aquinas as well as Aristotle would appreciate the rationale behind the constitutional
proviso that only a native-born citizen can become president of the United States. The
language of “naturalization” of immigrants and its implications merits re¬‚ection in this
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations

With regard to the master question of Politics III, chapter 4, whether
the virtue of the good citizen and the good human being are the same
or not, or whether the good citizen is ipso facto a good person, and
vice versa, there thus comes to the fore the distinction between ruling
and being ruled, between statesmen and ordinary citizens. In regimes
that do not promote full ethical virtue or seek the common good of
all citizens (such as democracy as de¬ned by Aristotle, oligarchy, and of
course tyranny), there is never a direct correlation between human and
civic virtue. Among other regimes, it still seems that only the best regime,
a perfect aristocracy, can unite civic virtue and complete human virtue
in those citizens who have the prudence (phron¯sis-prudentia) it takes to
rule and be ruled well. Writes Aquinas, “in a certain city, namely that of
the best, in which the ruling of¬ces are granted according to the virtue
which is that of the good man, the good man and the good citizen are
identical, while in other cities . . . the good citizen is not the same as the
good man. Furthermore, the one who is identical to the good man is not
any citizen whatever but the ruler [actual or potential] of the city . . . ”
(Comm. Pol. III, 4 n. 383 [7]).
Yet it is striking that neither Aristotle in his Politics nor Aquinas in his
Commentary provides an extant example of a truly aristocratic regime. In
virtually all political communities, the majority of the citizens together
with their rulers ¬nd themselves in this undesirable shared situation: the
end that they and their city seek in common, to live well, is de¬ned differ-
ently by the city and regime on the one hand, and by human nature and
philosophy (to say nothing of Aquinas™s Christian theology) on the other.
The regime recognizes and re¬‚ects a part, but only a part, of the require-
ments of justice and happiness, mistaking that part for the whole. How
then can citizens rightly devote themselves to action for the common
good if, in so doing, they act for an end that the regime establishes and
enforces, yet that cannot simply or completely perfect them as human
beings? The problem seems especially acute for those citizens who are
subjects of or ruled by others: if their prudence is merely “true opinion,”
as Aristotle opines crafted by the practical wisdom of their rulers and
the laws and decrees, how can it even be true opinion when the vision
of justice and the public good those rulers impart is partial, hence also
partially defective and false (cf. Pol. III.4, 1277b25“9; Comm. Pol. III, 3 n.
375 [12])? And if the rulers and future rulers themselves have no time
(and perhaps no inclination) to study philosophy, or even political phi-
losophy, busied as they are by the practical necessities of civic life such as
Reinforcing the Foundations 95

training for war, how will even they be able to rise above received opinion
(or, at best, partial knowledge of the good for humans)?4
One way around this dilemma would be to rede¬ne civic virtue as in
its essence other than regime-relative. Sensitive to regime volatility and
the dangers of instability and anarchy, one might yet argue that to be
a virtuous citizen is to promote the common good as fully and effec-
tively as possible, unimpeded by the regime™s truncated, perhaps posi-
tively warped version of the social and civic ends. To be a good citizen in
the antebellum United States, for instance, often entailed work against or
at least outside of, and in a wholly different spirit than, the legal structures
and policies of the time, to bene¬t those persons deprived of citizenship
through slavery. Likewise, on this model, the best citizen of the former
Soviet Union would paradoxically have had to refuse ¬rst-class citizenship
by not joining the Communist Party and by fostering free and truthful
(if clandestine) speech, thereby promoting the social trust demolished
by the regime. But then, on second thought, such persons would seem
excellent not as members of the Soviet Union, but rather as members of
a society in many ways oppressed by the regime that de¬ned the Soviet
Union as a political society. It is no accident that as soon as its Marxist-


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