Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Thomas Aquinas and the Limitations of Law

"In the Treatise on Law in his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas explains (citing Augustine) that not all vices should be punished by the law. Human law should chiefly forbid those things that cause direct physical harm to others; Aquinas offers murder and theft as examples. With regard to practices that do not physically harm or defraud others (whatever other intangible grief they made cause), it can be necessary to tlerate them if prohibiting them would lead to still further evils...

"What is more, the law cannot make a wicked person virtuous. According to Aquinas, God's grace alone can accomplish such a thing. The law is simply incompetent here. What the law can do is provide the peace and order within which men can conduct their affairs. But so much of what is important in human life takes place far removed from law, and in the domain of civil society, families, and communities. These salutary influences, apart from the state, have a responsibility to improve the moral conduct of individuals. We ought not to shirk our own responsibility by looking to politicians - who are not exactly known for living beyond moral reproach themselves - to carry out so important a function." Ron Paul, The Revolution, pp. 126-127.

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