Thomas Aquinas and Divine Command Theory

Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 76:153-164 (2002)
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Nearly all attempts to include Aquinas among the class of divine command theorists have focused on two kinds of texts: those exhibiting Aquinas’s treatment of the apparent immoralities of the patriarchs (e.g., Abraham’s intention to kill Isaac), and those pertaining to Aquinas’s discussion of the divine will. In the present paper, I lay out a third approach unrelated to these two. I argue that Aquinas’s explicit endorsement of one ethical proposition as self-evident throughout his writings is sufficient justification to include Aquinas among the class of divine command theorists. I examine Aquinas’s persistent contention that the proposition “the commands of God are to be obeyed” is a self-evident or per se nota proposition of ethical reasoning, and I then trace Aquinas’s appeals to it in the Sentences commentary, De Veritate, and Quodlibet 3. I conclude with a discussion of passages where Aquinas argues that the experience of moral necessity or obligation requires reference to divine commands.



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M. V. Dougherty
Ohio Dominican University

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