Jennifer A. Frey - June 2016 Group Meeting Topic

Aquinas on Sin and Self-Love

This paper explores Aquinas’s account of sin from a philosophical perspective.  For Aquinas, sin is just bad action, but sin in the sense of moral fault or failure is action that is against right reason with respect to human life as a whole.  Aquinas argues that sins are acts against right practical reason, and that the cause of sin is inordinate self-love.  Aquinas understands this self-love in terms of a general pride and covetousness that is the root of sin.  Aquinas sees that even the virtuous sin, whether from ignorance, weakness, or even clear-eyed malice.  Vicious action, however, is sin par excellence, because vice is a settled disposition that inclines the will to sin with ease and pleasure—without regret or compunction.

In this paper, I will argue that Aquinas was correct to identify selfishness as the ultimate source of much human unhappiness, as inordinate self-love impedes the full realization of our human nature.   I argue that whereas the virtues orient us to living well (or human happiness) by relating our individual good to the common good, the vices orient us to think, act, and feel in ways that give the individual good an undue pride of place in practical reasoning and the vision of the good life.  Vice, like sin in general, is selfish and ultimately self-destructive, because the deeper meaning and purpose of human life is to achieve communion with others.