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St. Thomas Aquinas - Philosophy, Learning and EthicsSt. Thomas Aquinas - Philosophy,Learning and Ethics


St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)


Italian philosopher (pictured right) who introduced Aristotle’s (pictured right below) work into Christianity.

His philosophy is called Thomism.

 St. Thomas Aquinas - Philosophy,Learning and Ethics

His most famous book is...

Summa Theologica (Summary of Theology), written 1265-74.


What did he say about learning and ethics?


1. Learn from your experience and intellect

Everything you learn comes firstly from:

  • your senses (hearing, seeing, etc)
  • experience (e.g. a dog has four legs).

Then your mind (or intellect)

  • works out general rules and concepts (e.g. all dogs have four legs)
  • distinguishes them from specific characteristics (e.g. the dog is owned by your mother).

This is called abstraction.

General rules, or laws, are particularly important in science.

Your salvation depends on knowledge of what you believe, desire and do.


2. Reason explains religion

Reason (the critical analysis and questioning of relevant facts) can help you understand God.

But belief in God can explain things that you can’t understand.

 St. Thomas Aquinas - Philosophy,Learning and Ethics

God (pictured right in Michelangelo's painting in the Sistine Chapel) exists because someone must have:

  • created the universe (the cosmological argument for God).
  • designed it with order and purpose (the teleological argument).


Obeying and loving God shouldn’t stop you learning as much as possible.

“Beware the man of one book”, Thomas said.


A quote from Psalm 4 in the Bible is very important to him:

“The light of your face, Lord, is stamped on us”.

This means that you must do what God wants but your intellectual reasoning isn't enough to do this.

You must also:

  • fear and love God
  • act upon his commands in the Bible (particularly to love one another).


3. Question your ideas

He always questioned the truth of his ideas by discussing three of the strongest arguments against it.



4. Do good and avoid evil


Important are:


a) action

Knowing what is good is useless, if you don’t do it.

 St. Thomas Aquinas - Philosophy,Learning and Ethics

b) duty

(what you should believe, desire and do).


c) virtues

Plato’s virtues (prudence, temperance or moderation, justice or fairness, and courage)

Christian virtues (faith, hope and love).

You must live by these virtues. 


d) not being bad

You shouldn’t do anything bad, even if you have good intentions.

So even white lies are out!

 St. Thomas Aquinas - Philosophy,Learning and Ethics

5. Enjoy yourself and relax

Music, in particular, makes you happy.

“Good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine” will reduce your worries!


6. The “just war”

War is only justified if three things happen:

  • Just cause (war is fought for the right reasons).
  • Proper authority (the people declaring war must have it).
  • Right intention (war should achieve something good or destroy evil).


7. A “just price

Prices should be fair balancing the interests of:

  • sellers (keeping them in business).

  • buyers (avoiding exploitation and greed) 


Key quotes on ethics

Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.

One cannot use an evil action with reference to a good intention.

Evil denotes the absence of good.


Key quotes on happiness 

Happiness is secured through virtue.

The things that we love tell us what we are.


Key quote on leadership

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.


Key quote on God and religion

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.


Key quote on learning and motivation 

All human beings by nature desire to know.

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