Description and Readings

Thomas Aquinas is regarded by more than a few scholars as one of the two or three greatest philosophers and theologians in Western history, as well as one of the most illuminating students of Augustine and Aristotle.  His Treatise on Law is the locus classicus of the natural law tradition, and indispensable for anyone seriously interested in ethical philosophy, political philosophy, jurisprudence, natural law, or the interaction of faith and reason in each of these areas.  Though it is brief, as treatises go, it is not the sort of book one can browse through an evening, and requires close reading.

Written in the form of a scholastic disputation, the Treatise takes up 19 disputed questions, for example whether there is such a thing as natural law and whether one may disobey unjust laws.  We will close study each of the first eight (qq. 90-97), as well as a few selections from the other eleven (qq, 98-108), taking them up in sequence and in context.  I say “in context” because the Treatise is but a single part of a much larger work, the Summa Theologiae, which takes up a variety of related matters including the ultimate purpose of human life, the nature of human acts, the passions, the virtues, and the vices.  I do not expect you to be familiar with the whole Summa; we will explore the connections as necessary.

The textbooks will be my own Commentary on Thomas Aquinas's Treatise on Law, which includes the entire text of the Treatise, and Companion to the Commentary, which is free online.  The Companion was originally intended to be a part of the Commentary, but the publisher, Cambridge University Press, thought that would make the book too enormous.