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Goodness and Rightness in Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae

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This appraisal of two of the most fundamental terms in the moral language of Thomas Aquinas draws on the contemporary moral distinction between the goodness of a person and the rightness of a person’s living. Keenan thus finds that Aquinas’ earlier writings do not permit the possibility of such a distinction. But in his mature works, specifically the Summa Theologiae, Thomas describes the human act of moral intentionality, and even the virtues in a way analogous to our use of the term moral rightness. To Thomas, only the virtue of charity expresses moral goodness. And, although Thomas describes vices and sin as wrong conduct, he never really develops a description for moral badness.

Keenan compels us to carefully examine Thomas’ central moral concepts and to measure them against contemporary standards for meaning and correctness. As a result, any student of Thomas will find here a forceful argument that his notion of the good is considerably different from ours. Similarly, ethicists and moral theologians will find in the Thomas presented here a consistent-virtue ethicist concerned with descriptions for right living. Any student of theology will also find here a Thomas whose critical and concrete thinking enabled him to develop and even abandon earlier positions as his comprehension of the good evolved.

This analysis prompts a re-examination of our own concepts. Measuring Thomas’ standards against our own, Keenan obliges us to ask whether we sufficiently understand rightness and moral intentionality. He also asks whether we correctly describe what it means to will or to desire something. He further questions whether we have surrendered our understanding of the virtues to the voluntarism and subjectivism which Thomas relentlessly critiqued. This historically sophisticated reading of the Summa Theologiae both allows Thomas to speak again as he once did, and affords us the chance to evaluate the way we describe ourselves and one another as being good and living rightly.

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  • Revives the ideas of Aquinas by framing them within contemporary concepts
  • Analyzes the central concepts of Aquinas’ moral theology
  • Provides a clear definition of moral goodness, and examines moral intentionality
  • Part I: Goodness and Rightness
    • The Distinction between Goodness and Rightness
  • Choosing the Summa Theologiae
    • Difficulties before the Prima Secundae
    • A Shift and a Distinction
    • Specification and the Object
    • The Moral Virtues
  • Being Good
    • Charity: Moral Goodness?
    • The Evaluation
This clear and cogently argued work will engage not only theologians and medievalists, but moral philosophers as well. . . . Keenan’s careful analysis of the texts, coupled with his obvious mastery of the contemporary discussion, make this a particularly valuable work.

—Joan Franks

[The author] shows a sure mastery of both contemporary moral theology and of the sources of the Catholic Tradition. He should be one of those who shape the next generation of American Catholic moral theology.

—John P. Langan, Rose Kennedy Professor of Christian Ethics, Georgetown University

  • Title: Goodness and Rightness in Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae
  • Author: James F. Keenan
  • Publisher: Georgetown University Press
  • Publication Date: 1992
  • Pages: 224
  • Christian Group: Catholic
  • Resource Type: Monograph
  • Topic: Theology

Jim Keenan has been a Jesuit of the New York Province since 1970, and an ordained priest since 1982. RESEARCH INTERESTS Fundamental moral theology; history of theological ethics; Thomas Aquinas; virtue ethics; HIV/AIDS; Genetics; Church Leadership Ethics TEACHING Fundamental Moral Theology Virtue Ethics Twentieth Century Catholic Moral Theology New Testament and Ethics The Church and Ethics: Contemporary and Historical Cases The Human Body The Ethics of Thomas Aquinas Ethical Issues of HIV/AIDS Genetics Seminar PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES AND AWARDS Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh. Fellow, Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton Grant and Faculty Fellowship, Association of Theological Schools, Tuohy Chair, John Carroll University; Gasson Chair, Boston College, Department of Theology Alpha Sigma Nu National Book Award (2002) Catholic Ethicists on HIV/AIDS Prevention Consultant to National Conference of Catholic Bishops for the Revision of the Ethical Guidelines for Catholic Health Care Institutions 1988-1995 Editorial Board Member of Theological Studies. 1991- Series Editor, Moral Traditions, Georgetown University Press 1993- Chair, Catholic Theological Coalition on HIV/AIDS Prevention, 1997- Board of Trustees, John Carroll University, 1999-2002 Group Leader, Surgeon General’s Task Force on Responsible Sexual Conduct 2000-2002 Advisor, Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, 2000- Board of Directors, Society of Christian Ethics, 2001- Chair, Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church, 2003- Adjunct Professor, Gregorian University, Rome: Loyola School of Theology, Manila.

Save on St. Thomas Aquinas in January!


Digital list price: $31.99
Regular price: $25.99
Save $7.80 (30%)