Aquinas and the challenge of aristotelian magnanimity

History of Political Thought 24 (1):37-65 (2003)


This article revisits the account of magnanimity offered by Thomas Aquinas, in his Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle and especially in his Summa Theologiae. Recent scholarship has viewed Aquinas' magnanimity as essentially Aristotle's, complemented by the addition of charity and humility to the classical moral horizon. By contrast, I read Aquinas as offering a subtle yet far-reaching critique of important aspects of Aristotelian magnanimity, a critique with roots in Aquinas' theology, yet also comprising a significant philosophic reappraisal of Aristotle's account of human excellence. Against contentions that Aquinas' ethical revisionism is antithetical to civic common sense, the requirements of statesmanship, and the rational foundations of social science, I argue that Aquinas' theory is politically salutary and theoretically enlightening. Moreover, I suggest that recent dissident reflection on twentieth-century totalitarian experience underscores both the humanity and the nobility of a humility-informed magnanimity, such as that advocated by Thomas Aquinas

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Citations of this work

Modesty and Humility.Nicolas Bommarito - 2018 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Exalting the Meek Virtue of Humility in Aquinas.Sheryl Overmyer - 2015 - Heythrop Journal 56 (4):650-662.
Modern Liberalism and Pride: An Augustinian Perspective.Michael P. Krom - 2007 - Journal of Religious Ethics 35 (3):453-477.

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