Aquinas on Limits to Political Responsibility for Virtue

Review of Metaphysics 62 (4):819-847 (2009)
Al-Farabi saw himself as inheriting from Aristotle the problem of limits to political responsibility for virtue. If the state possesses the authority to habituate citizens to virtue, what are the limits to that responsibility? Aristotle establishes two main limits: the family and the size of the state. Al-Farabi rejects both. Thomas Aquinas’s view of marriage as a sacrament, on the other hand, reinforces the Aristotelian position that the family is the most basic limit to public responsibility for virtue. In fact, Aquinas expands the notion of subsidiarity beyond the family. Moreover, Aquinas and Aristotle agree that political life is not only limited from “below” by the family but also from “above.” Thus, in spite of Aquinas’ views on punishing heretics and apostates, it is not the case, as Leo Strauss’ claims, that Aquinas’ Christian faith led him to increase and exaggerate political responsibility for virtue
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