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Thomas Aquinas’ and Emanuel Kant’s Moral Philosophy Essay


There have been various philosophies concerning the manner in which human beings ought to live in society. Many philosophers consent that there is an Absolute Being who influences human beings to act and behave morally. However, some philosophers refute this claim, because many people have held different opinions concerning what morals are and how to behave morally. This paper examines how Thomas Aquinas and Emanuel Kant present their philosophical views concerning morality.

Aquinas morality

Thomas Aquinas views that morality is part of natural law, which concerns human decisions that could be realized through natural reasoning (Davies 57). Natural law entails self-evident facts that are prompted by the use of reason. When human beings use reason, they will always get the goodness that they seek. Natural law is known to each person. Thomas Aquinas perceives that morality is naturally inherent within each human person. Self-determination and rationality are vital aspects that enhance moral acts. Morality is an absolute reality that human beings must embrace.

Aquinas claims that a virtuous person is morally upright because natural law leads him to be morally upright. This means that people who are morally upright, achieve a happy life. Aquinas affirms that people should acquire knowledge in order to achieve the highest good (eudemonia). “Human beings need to satisfy their desire to achieve the highest happiness; they should know philosophy that goes concurrently with theology” (Fairbanks 7). However, this might not be easy since philosophy sometimes contradicts theology. Aquinas resolves this by claiming that divine being guides human beings in a correct path, provided that people seek the absolute best.

Aquinas held that human beings exist for an end (telos); there is a reason why human beings exist in life. Aquinas views that the main objective of why people exist in life is to be virtuous. Nevertheless, people have various views concerning what entails goodness. Aquinas explains that people have natural capability to reason while other creatures had not such capacity. “This natural capability enables human beings to behave freely and knowingly when handling issues in life” (Mendus 23). This natural capability permits people to do their duties appropriately, which are acceptable as reasonable.

Aquinas asserts that utmost excellence is naturally implanted by God in human life. Aquinas opines that human beings can acquire this theological virtue through virtuous habit. God governs eternal law that controls life in the universe according to his ideal justification. Since human beings have rationality that is generated from God, they possess natural law that enables them to perceive what is morally acceptable. “Aquinas emphasizes that human acts should be based on reason which is intrinsically given through God’s will” (Davies 58). Human beings are intrinsically rational that enable them to control their instincts to lead a moral life.

Kantian morality

Emanuel Kant claims that morality depends on pure reason. Kant opposes philosophers who perceive that morality is engrained within self interest of individuals. Morality is based on reason, but not on self interest, feelings or experience. Kant claims that moral values are not empirical. Morality gives crucial facts that put every rational creature together. Morality could not be derived from empirical facts but on pure reason. “Morality is an a priori fact that could only be attained through thinking, but not on empirical experience and self interest” (Davies 56). Kant believes that human beings require “a priori” morality; he presents that empirical motives and self-interest violate human responsibility. Self interest hinders ethical worth is the highest motive of human responsibility.

Morality is based on the good will; a good that is always good without qualification. A good will act from responsibility (duty) but does not conform to responsibility (duty). For instance, a shopkeeper who gives appropriate change from a just intention, and not from fear that he would be caught, possesses a good will. Kant explains that reason should not be used to attain happiness (this is a poor means of an end). Reason provides a will that is an intrinsic good without qualification. “Kant explains that happiness, which satisfies all human needs, is too indefinite to be an ultimate end of morality” (Fairbanks 5). Kant views that good will is the highest good and is the provision merit that acquire happiness. However, good will is not a complete good.

Happiness is attained when good will is incorporated with complete good

Kant perceived that rationality posses its own independent laws. Kant claims that human beings are rational partly. That is why people experience such independent laws as restraints (as imperatives which they ought to conform to). Such imperatives are valid and known by all rational creatures. Imperative can either be hypothetical (if an individual wish to fulfill objective R, then he ought to perform G) or categorical (an individual ought to perform G). “Morality that concerns hypothetical imperative is termed as heteronomous because it entails conforming to laws stipulated by certain individuals” (Mendus 21). On the other hand, categorical imperatives are not easy to be comprehended, but their contents are clear. Categorical imperatives are based on the principles that human beings ought to act on values which they can will to all individuals. Morality is based on categorical imperatives that are independently generated because people develop and use their own rules.


Kantian morality is more correct and applicable than Aquinas philosophical speculation. Morality is based on duties that ought to be done by human beings. Morality is not inclined within peoples’ self interest as Aquinas claims. Aquinas perceives that divine being (God) is the creator of everything in the universe. Aquinas believes that Human beings seek God to discover the implication of life in order to attain happiness. Kant contradicts Aquinas argument that human beings emulate goodness of the divine being (God). Kant explains that morality is intrinsically self-contained, which is independent of any external bond. Kant joins free will with morality. This is true as it opposes what Aquinas claims, “human beings could only attain their end when they conform to the expectations of the metaphysical souls and what the divine being has a plan for them”. Aquinas views that:

Human beings are naturally rational; thus able to do moral acts. God governs human life; hence people have to conform to the divine goodness. Human beings naturally possess morals to enable them to attain happiness. People strive for an end (eudemonia), which is goodness.

Though Aquinas’ justification is sound, it is inadequate because morality is based on free will, but not on determinism. A free person conforms to his own rational values, but not on what people expect him to do. Kant claims that people, who act freely, use their own legislations, which turn out to be universal laws. This shows that morality and freedom are compatible. Rational beings are free to act morally because they have higher intelligibility than other creatures. Kantian philosophical justification of morality is correct.

Works cited

Davies Brian. Thomas Aquinas: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Fairbanks, Sandra J. Kantian Moral Theory and the Destruction of the Self. Bouldre: Westview Press, 2000. Print.

Mendus Susan. Impartiality in Moral and Political Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

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"Thomas Aquinas' and Emanuel Kant's Moral Philosophy." IvyPanda, 4 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/thomas-aquinas-and-emanuel-kants-moral-philosophy/.

1. IvyPanda. "Thomas Aquinas' and Emanuel Kant's Moral Philosophy." September 4, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/thomas-aquinas-and-emanuel-kants-moral-philosophy/.


IvyPanda. "Thomas Aquinas' and Emanuel Kant's Moral Philosophy." September 4, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/thomas-aquinas-and-emanuel-kants-moral-philosophy/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Thomas Aquinas' and Emanuel Kant's Moral Philosophy." September 4, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/thomas-aquinas-and-emanuel-kants-moral-philosophy/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Thomas Aquinas' and Emanuel Kant's Moral Philosophy'. 4 September.

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