The History of Political Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard

3. Thomas Aquinas

The History of Political Philosophy
David Gordon

Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274, was an Italian Dominican friar and Catholic priest and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism. Thomas attempted to synthesize Aristotelian philosophy with the principles of Christianity.

Aquinas was a prodigious writer. His best known work is Summa Theologica. His treatise on law and his short work on kingship are good examples of his thinking and writing.  His unusual process is he begins with objections and then he gives arguments and then he replies to those arguments.  Aristotle’s books were available in Latin to Aquinas. He wrote that without original sin, government would not be necessary.

Aquinas distinguished four kinds of law: eternal, natural, human, and divine. Natural law is discovered by reason. The first principle is that good is to be done and promoted, and evil is to be avoided. Thomas defined love as “to will the good of another.” Aquinas clearly had a notion of rights, but he allowed that you could sell yourself into servitude.

Property had three classes: absolutely necessary that you have (you could take); property, like education, that you need to make a living; and superfluous items (you have no right to them).

Aquinas held that in an exchange there had to be equality based upon need which was reflected by the market price. Aquinas followed Aristotle on interest and usury. His views on just war included that war had to be waged with the right intention. Attacks upon innocents could not be supported. He thought the best form of government was kingship if it is not corrupt. Thus, a monarch plus an aristocratic element, plus a popular element is best.

Lecture 3 of 10 from David Gordon’s The History of Politcal Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard.