Socrates and Thomas Aquinas on Morality


Socrates and St Thomas considered what it is to be a good person.  They wondered if good needs gods to make it good or if it is just good no matter what a god thinks.  Both agreed that human nature is good.  Aquinas held that human nature is good but original sin attacks that like a parasite. 




Socrates felt that evil and immoral acts only happen because you have become ignorant of the right thing to do.  This does not ring true for those who do evil and say they knew it was evil.  Socrates said however that knowing it is bad and being captive to ignorance are compatible.  How?  You need to make a mistake to get around the knowledge you have that the act is bad.  It is true that a wide range of factors are involved in all our deliberations about what we are going to do.  Socrates still blames the ignorance for the evil.  You cannot do the wrong without it.  That assumes you are naturally a really amazing good person.  It is just that you have made the assumption that doing the bad thing will be worth it for some benefit when in fact you have no way of knowing that.


It is easy to do evil as evil just because you are ignorant of exactly what it will do to the other person.  You are the one who is not suffering.  They are suffering.  Socrates would need to verify the notion, "We are all so good that we are meant to be brothers and sisters and we have a major need for each other therefore you cannot hurt somebody else unless something clouds your mind.  Ignorance comes in."  You cannot say evil is ignorance and caused by ignorance without presupposing that.  Anyway the notion does not ring true either for human nature has to battle its urge to have its own way all the time.


Some go too far and think evil is not real in human beings for they cannot do wrong or harm voluntarily.  They are blinded and then they harm.  The blindness is the problem not them.  Gnostic circles in early Christianity went as far as to say that all evil is JUST ignorance.  That turns all punishment into revenge for it says all people need is education.


While all who regard evil as a dark malicious force affirm that ignorance is involved, they say evil is more than just ignorance. To exaggerate the ignorance is to lose sight of the darkness and the malevolence.  It helps evil thrive for it is being seen as stupidity when it is more than that.  Stupidity and evil are not the same thing.  Those who equate evil with ignorance are very confident that they are some kind of elite and so smart while the evildoer is stupid.  That is far from humility as you can imagine and will only make the evil more eager to do evil.  It's uninspiring and off-putting.

Socrates said that if you measure the divine against some standard that says it is good then you can praise the the divine as good. But this view asserts that the divine is not as important as the standard. It would not really be divine.
He argued that an act is not inherently good. It is some standard that shows it is good. Goodness is not innate to the act. This made Socrates support the independent standard view. An act can never be good because any god however great and good says it is.

St Thomas Aquinas led Catholicism into the doctrine that since we are created by God and his property, that he can do what he wants with us. Fairness does not come into it for we are clay in the hands of the potter. It is fair however for him to treat us as he pleases but he is under no obligation to treat us fairly or make us happy. He can make murder or adultery right if he wants to. God owns all things in the universe so nobody really owns what they say they own. Thus there is no problem with God commanding you to burgle your neighbour.
Aquinas like Abelard and Bonaventure put forward the doctrine that life is all and only about obedience to God. If you obey God's command to love others it is not the love that matters but the obedience.
Aquinas softened the dangers of his doctrine by saying that God rarely commands things that would ruin our society. He tells us to be community people and very rarely allows murder.
He said that God's commands are mostly non-arbitary for they endorse what is best for us as human beings. To be moral we have to understand what our potential is and our human nature is. Human nature wants to survive and thus God commands that we must not murder.


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