Beyond a Dichotomy. Aquinas’s Theory of Natural Law as a Form of Autonomous Theonomy

Due to his theory of natural law, it is easy to take Thomas Aquinas, in a simplistic reading, as the champion of moral heteronomy, as Kant is that of moral autonomy. If, following Kant, we take as autonomous only a system that justifies moral duty by means of reasons internal to the transcendental structure of the practical agency — i. e. a system that roots morality in maxims that can be deemed universal, and makes no reference to the individual’s particular contingent experience (ethical formalism) — there is obviously no way to assume the presence of an autonomous reason in Aquinas’thought. However, if we take a slightly broader account of autonomy than Kant’s, as the capacity to deliberate and to give oneself the moral law,1 rather than merely heeding the injunctions of others, we can claim Aquinas’practical reason not to be heteronomous, since it states the validity of the precepts of natural law by itself.

The thesis of my paper is that there are at least two main strategies to foster a non-heteronomous reading of Aquinas’s theory of natural law and practical reason. The first, that I consider a weaker strategy, amounts to a «evolutionary» reading of his moral theory, aimed at showing that most of the heteronomous claims we can find in it belong to a juvenile period of his work, characterized (as we will see in a moment) by a philosophical and theological frame, influenced by St. Augustine and St. Anselm, focused on the idea of participation in the divine rectitude. However, according to several scholars, Aquinas’latter works are based on a significantly different paradigm, which emphasizes Aristotelian practical reason, taken in its autonomous power of deliberation and command. The second strategy is quite stronger. It is aimed at criticizing those who read mature Aquinas as a proponent of moral heteronomy, and thus it consists in deepening the very concepts of moral autonomy and heteronomy, as well as those of practical reason and natural law, so to show the intrinsic possibility of an autonomous reading of Aquinas’s major works. To develop such an attempt, I will hark back to a very influential interpretation, namely, that proposed by the Swiss philosopher and theologian Martin Rhonheimer. According to his reading, Thomistic moral law is called «natural» not insofar as it mirrors an external natural order, but as it emerges from a reason which is integral part of human nature.2 Thus, the theory of natural law is to be seen, according to Rhonheimer, as a theory of practical reason that leaves large room to autonomy and to the non-deductive character of moral experience.

1. Questioning the Priority of Synderesis

In the present section, I shall outline a brief sketch of the first strategy, namely, that of following Aquinas’path from the paradigm centered on the priority of synderesis (the intellectual knowledge of the first practical principles) to a much more complex account of the interplay between practical reason, virtues and first principles of the natural law. As I have anticipated, natural law is often taken to be one of the most heteronomous moral theories on the market. What I want to show in what follows is that, in his intellectual path, Aquinas moves from a less to a more autonomous account of morality: that is, from a primacy of synderesis, conceived as a habit that participates in the divine truth, to a supremacy of the cooperation between first principles, natural inclinations and prudence, so to develop an account that is based on a notion of practical reason as seen in its fundamentally affective orientation.

As it has been very convincingly showed by Giuseppe Abbà in a very influential work, it is possible to envisage a significant evolution in Aquinas’moral theory, both for what concerns its very structure, and, more specifically, for the way it accounts for the transition from the universal knowledge of the first principles of morality to their concrete implementation. I won’t offer here a detailed analysis of such an evolution.3 To put it briefly, Aquinas’juvenile works (a label by which I refer mainly to Scriptum super Sententiis, De veritate, Summa contra Gentiles) perform two main characters of moral life: God, conceived as the exemplary model of rectitude, and as the giver of an eternal and universal law, and the human being, whose free will should be subdued to God’s law. The human being’s task, in this perspective, is that of making the effort of adapting to the image of human being located in the divine mind; and such a challenging enterprise is made even more difficult by the burden of the many inclinations of her sentient appetite.4 According to this reading, the paradigm that dominates this group of works is the Augustinian-Anselmian one, focused on the notion of participation in the divine rectitude. This paradigm is based on a direction-execution frame: reason can adequately direct agency only insofar as it comes to know, in virtue of several cognitive habits, the divine rules it has to instill in the appetitive powers. That’s why, within Aquinas’juvenile conceptual framework, while the knowledge of the end of an action by the first principles is due to synderesis, the implementation of such a knowledge into actual agency is the peculiar task by conscience and free will, even if early references to prudence also occur.

Before moving to the conscience-prudence problem, let’s analyze for a moment the first step, namely, that of knowing the ends of actions. As I mentioned before, in the Scriptum and in the De veritate such knowledge is expressed almost exclusively in the language of synderesis, a word that indicates the habit by means of which human intellect knows the first practical principles. The term itself has almost certainly an accidental origin, but it is clearly used to point to a real distinction among intellectual powers; i. e., to detach knowledge specifically directed to the first principles, which is one and the same for all human beings, to the way such a knowledge is variously applied to actual agency by human beings.5 The habit of synderesis, insofar as it depends directly on the communication of the divine truth, cannot be erased from the human being’s heart, and can neither lie nor be mistaken, as it is expressed clearly both in the Scriptum and in the De veritate6. According to both works, moving from the very general knowledge afforded by synderesis, reason finds out the best concrete action to perform through a process where it is ultimately the only human power involved. Virtue, according to this account, has no other role than the negative one of governing the appetitive component of human soul, namely getting rid of potential obstacles that could prevent reason from easily picking out the best course of action to undertake. We can see the process as it is presented in this group of works if we give a look to a description of how the (so called) practical syllogism works. I choose a reference from the De veritate, since it is quite explicit in describing how the process works and in assigning a precise role to each power of the soul:

«[…] through conscience the knowledge of synderesis and of higher and lower reason are applied to the examination of a particular act. However, since the act is particular and the judgment of synderesis is universal, the judgment of synderesis can be applied to the act only if some particular judgment is used as the minor premise. Sometimes, higher reason furnishes this particular judgment; sometimes, lower reason does. Thus, the act of conscience is the result of a kind of particular syllogism. For example, if the judgment of synderesis expresses this statement: I must not do anything which is forbidden by the law of God and if the knowledge of higher reason presents this minor premise: Sexual intercourse with this woman is forbidden by the law of God, the application of conscience will be made by concluding: I must abstain from this intercourse»7

According to this account of how the practical syllogism operates, both the two premises and the conclusion are posited either by reason or by an intellectual habit. At this point of Aquinas’elaboration, there is no explicit role for the appetitive dimension of agency. Such a dimension comes only into play at the moment of electio, namely, choice. It is reason that posits the major premise of the syllogism through synderesis or faith, and the minor one through ratio superior (i. e., referring to the divine truth directly) or ratio inferior (i. e., making use of human criteria); finally, it is again reason that draws the conclusion by means of conscientia or prudentia; and it is only from now on that a vicious appetite can interfere dramatically, leading reason to draw a wrong conclusion or to an electio that contradicts the judgment of conscience (iudicium conscientiae).

As it is summed up by Abbà, reason issues its right judgment by itself, insofar as it is improved by its several habits (synderesis accounts for the knowledge of the first principle; the wisdom of ratio superior for the divine law and its precepts; the science of ratio inferior for human and political matters; finally, conscience and prudence for the concrete implementation of the right reason into agency). Thus, in order for a choice (iudicium electionis) to be morally good, according to the Scriptum nothing else is required on the part of moral virtues but preventing the passions from interfering with the autonomous right functioning of practical reason. To put it briefly, in Aquinas’first works, the universal ends of actions (and the respective principles) are grasped by an intellectual habit, synderesis, whose reliability depends directly from the participation in the divine truth. Synderesis is therefore infallible. Much less attention is given to the natural inclinations we are about to analyze, that represent the affective counterpart of the intellectual apprehension of the first principles.

In Aquinas’s mature works things change quite radically, as it is significantly showed by the more infrequent use of the couple of terms synderesis-conscience. Although both terms are still present (in the Summa, e. g., synderesis is mentioned in De homine, I, q. 79 art. 12 and 13; at q. 94, art. 1 of the I-II, and at q. 47 of the II-II at art. 6. Conscience is also extensively present, even if unsystematically), the dominant paradigm is based on a new couple, namely that of natural law and prudence. Let us then examine the account of natural law — which is the universal side of the story, that is, the one concerned with the apprehension of the end — that Aquinas proposes in his mature works. When analyzing the process that leads to action — a pre-moral analysis, since it concerns the structure of every action,8 regardless of its virtuousness — Aquinas advocates the following claim: the general ends of action are at human beings’disposal in terms of the entanglement of cognition and affection, i. e., intellectus and voluntas9. Aquinas works out the properly moral description of virtuous agency within the same framework. Now, the synergy among the two component becomes extremely evident.

The fundamental passage to explore is ST I-II, q. 94. This question is located in the broader context of the so-called De lege treatise (I-II, qq. 90-105), and is entirely devoted to the issue of natural law. After stating in art. 1 that natural law is an intellectual habit, and identifying it with synderesis, Aquinas starts spelling out its first principles in the fundamental art. 2:

«The precepts of the law of nature bear the same relation to practical reason that the first principles of demonstration bear to speculative reason. For in both cases they are principles that are known per se (per se nota). […] Now there is a certain ordering among those things that fall within everyone’s apprehension. The first thing to fall within apprehension is being, a grasp of which is included in everything that anyone apprehends. […] Now just as being is the first thing to fall within apprehension absolutely speaking, so good is the first thing to fall within the apprehension of practical reason, which is ordered toward action. For every agent acts for the sake of an end, which has the character of a good. And so the first principle in practical reasoning is what is founded on the notion good, which is the notion (quod fundatur supra rationem boni quae est): The good is what all things desire. Therefore, the first precept of law is that good ought to be done and pursued and that evil ought to be avoided. And all the other precepts of the law of nature are founded upon this principle — so that, namely, all the things to be done or avoided that practical reason naturally apprehends as human goods are such that they belong to the precepts of the law of nature»10

Up to this point, the account of natural law Aquinas is outlining seems pretty similar to the one seen above. However, a more attentive look on the very structure of the II Pars of the Summa, enables to appreciate a very significant evolution, from the centrality of the law to the key role assigned to virtue. This change of paradigm is quite evident also in the way Aquinas characterizes the intellectual grasp of the first principles of practical reason: while in the previous works it was an exclusive task of reason, in the Summa we can see that reason and the appetitive sphere need to interact in order to discover the universal principles of action. Indeed, immediately after the passage just quoted, Aquinas states:

«For since what is good has the character of an end and what is bad has the character of the contrary of an end, it follows that all the things man has a natural inclination toward are such that (a) reason naturally apprehends them as goods and thus as things that ought to be pursued by action and (b) reason naturally apprehends their contraries as evils and thus things that ought to be avoided. Therefore, there is an ordering of the precepts of the natural law that corresponds to the ordering of the natural inclinations. First, man has an inclination toward the good with respect to the nature he shares in common with all substances, viz., insofar as every substance strives for the conservation of its own esse in accord with its own nature. And what belongs to the natural law in light of this inclination is everything through which man’s life is conserved or through which what is contrary to the preservation of his life is thwarted. Second, man has an inclination toward certain more specific [goods] with respect to the nature that he shares in common with the other animals. Accordingly, those things are said to belong to the natural law which nature teaches all the animals, i. e., the union of male and female, the education of offspring, etc. Third, man has an inclination toward the good with respect to the rational nature that is proper to him; for instance, man has a natural inclination toward knowing the truth about God and toward living in society. Accordingly, those things that are related to this sort of inclination belong to the natural law, e. g., that a man avoid ignorance, that he not offend the others with whom he has to live in community, and other such things related to this inclination»11

The very same synergy between reason and appetitive powers is expressed in another very important mature work, namely, the Sententia Libri Ethicorum, where Aquinas finds a convincing way to integrate his own views with Aristotle’s ethical thinking.12 When commenting on Aristotle’s famous passage on natural virtues,13 Aquinas hints at the first principles of natural law, and links them both with the natural movement of the will and with that of the sentient appetite.14 Consequently, moving from the universality of the first principles to their actualization, we can now see a preponderant role of the Aristotelian perspective: not only do moral virtues curb passions; they also actively guide prudence by disclosing the ends of the action and making them affectively present to the agent. Thus, they direct deliberation.

In this very brief outlook of Aquinas’moral thought in its evolutionary development I have tried to summarize a complex and articulated path. Let’s ask now: what is the relevance of this change of paradigm to the issue of moral autonomy/heteronomy? According to my intuition, it is a first, fundamental way to account for the role practical reason plays in actualizing the first principles of agency. It is not matter of being a loudspeaker, i. e. repeating received orders. On the contrary, the centrality of prudence, as well as the description of the interplay between reason and natural inclinations, point to the evidence that, at this stage of Aquinas’thought, reason is conceived as a faculty that, together with the appetitive component, produces normativity by grasping the fundamental ends of agency. However, in order to argue more strongly in favour of this power of establishing norms assigned to reason, we need to move to the second strategy, focused, as anticipated, on the reading of natural law and practical reason given by the philosopher and theologian Martin Rhonheimer.

2. Natural Law as Autonomous Theonomy

In order to understand what it means to endorse a stronger strategy for attributing autonomy to Aquinas’account of natural law, we must, first, sum up the different positions of a vibrant and complex debate over the relationship between a) theoretical and practical human reason; b) these faculties and the first principles; c) nature and reason; d) finally, metaphysics and ethics. Up to this point, I have shown the evolutionary development of Aquinas’thought, so to claim that a huge distance divides his juvenile from his mature works. However, many interpreters tend to read also the Summa and most other mature works as the expression of an heteronomous account, thus denying the autonomy of practical reason. I will set forth these interpretations in terms of, so to speak, “increasing attribution of autonomy” to Aquinas.

Some claim that the genuine ground of Aquinas’s theory of natural law is to be found not only in his metaphysical perspective, but also in an explicit reference to God as a lawgiver. Among these scholars, we can count F. Di Blasi,15 C. Kaczor,16 S. A. Long,17 S. Theron18 e J. Porter.19 Contrasting with such a view, other scholars claim that in order to understand Aquinas’s theory of natural law we do not need theology, but philosophical anthropology, i. e., a basic inquiry into the ontology of human nature. Let me recall here among them at least S. L. Brock20 and L. Dewan.21

Finally, theorists adhering to the New Theory of Natural Law (NTNL) deny even the philosophical-anthropological approach to the foundations of ethics. Main proponents of NTNL are G. Grisez, J. Finnis, R. George and J. Boyle. Finnis moves from a disagreement with the Neo-Scolastic account of natural law. According to such an account, natural inclinations parallel the objective order of human nature created from God (see, e. g., Lottin, Sertillanges, Maritain). On the contrary, Finnis’view is that practical reasoning does not require a conceptual view from nowhere of what human nature is. Rather, human beings access directly their moral nature by their possession of natural inclinations. The goods these inclinations are directed to, represent the first principles of practical reasoning, principles whose normativity (the «ought») is self-evident, i. e. cannot be inferred from any «is» (not even from God’s will). Thus, they are pre-moral principles, at work both in virtuous and vicious practical deliberations.22 Starting from these pre-moral principles, one can develop a system of natural law by making use of the so-called «requirements of practical reasonableness», such as: cohesive life plan; no arbitrary preference among values or persons; detachment from personal plans; attention to the consequences of one’s actions; attention to the requirements of the common good; following one’s own conscience. According to this view, Aquinas’s main conceptual category is that of reasonableness, naturalness being a speculative consequence of reasonableness. Thus, ethics is proved to be independent from metaphysics and the dependence of practical knowledge on the speculative one is denied. As a consequence, the objection from the naturalistic fallacy argument (or Hume’s law) falls. Defending the inference from ought to is, R. McInerny23 argues for the claim that knowing some facts of the world is not irrelevant for practical reason, and therefore that the «ought» depends on the «is» both from an ontological and an epistemological point of view. According to McInerny, Grisez’s and Finnis’attempts to avoid the charge of naturalistic fallacy lead them to overstress the separation of practical reasoning from theoretical, in a way that results incompatible with Aquinas’and Aristotle’s position. Both of them, indeed, think of the good not primarily as what everyone desires (quod omnia appetunt), but in terms of a perfection, theoretically acknowledgeable and ascertainable. In line with NTNL’s main ideas, even if with some important divergences, we find the position of M. Rhonheimer.24 His aim is indeed that of overcoming the deductivism shown by many neo-scholastic positions, and of working out accordingly a theory of practical reason in its autonomy from theoretical reason. Like Grisez and Finnis, Rhonheimer claims that practical judgments do not follow from theoretical ones, but, rather, from the appetite of practical goods. Thus, metaphysics is not the ground of ethics. Rather, ethics arise from an independent practical experience, non-derivable from any previous knowledge. This experience of the natural law grounds (rather than being grounded by) philosophical anthropology, conceived as a metaphysics of the human being.25

As it should be evident from what I have been saying so far, according to many readings, Aquinas’theory of natural law is conceived as an heteronomous moral account. One of the most relevant positions questioning such a reading is that put forward by Rhonheimer. In what follows, I will set forth and comment on his argument so to highlight: i) what features of Aquinas’theory are subject to an heteronomous reading and ii) what reasons can be provided against this reading. I shall begin with focusing on the main strategies used to attribute heteronomy to Aquinas, that are the critical target of Rhonheimer’s work, and I will concentrate mainly on two such readings. I name the first «naturalistic heteronomy», the second «theonomic heteronomy».

3. Dualistic Fallacy and Naturalistic Heteronomy

The first heteronomous reading of Aquinas’thought consists in claiming that it is inhabited by a fundamentally naturalistic heteronomy, that is, a position denying autonomy on the basis of the dependence of normativity on nature, conceived as an order independent on reason and — so to speak — sovereign over it. Rhonheimer attributes this view to a «dualistic fallacy», that is, to a dichotomous account of the relationship between nature and reason, objectivity and subjectivity.26 This implies conceiving natural law as an order of nature every human being can come to know and that, once known, imposes itself as the norm of morality. In other terms, such a reading relies on a dualistic account that sharply separates nature and the natural order on the one hand (the objective side), from reason and moral knowledge on the other (the subjective side). Thus, according to this view, natural law concerns nature, whereas it is the reason’s task to read the natural order implicit in nature and choose it freely. The meaning of the proposition that the natural law is written in the heart of human beings is, therefore, only that it is known by human beings and actualized by subjects.27

However, according to Rhonheimer, accounting for the natural law in these terms contradicts the authentic Thomistic theory of lex naturalis, that takes natural law not only to be a natural order the subject can know, and that can be thus internalized (i. e., written in its heart), but a peculiar form of moral knowledge, namely, a natural knowledge of good and evil. In this perspective, natural law has a fundamentally cognitive character: being written in the heart means that the intellectual power of knowing good and evil produces rules for human agency. And since this power is natural and develops naturally, it can be defined a natural law. If we characterize natural law in these terms, we can say it is genuinely subjective, in so far as it is to be found on the subject’s part. What, then, about its objective value? In Rhonheimer’s view, it is guaranteed by the fact that natural law, despite being subjective in the way I have just explained, reveals the truth of subjectivity.28

In Aquinas’s mature perspective, it is not mere nature that counts as a law, for such a law is always aliquid pertinens ad rationem,29 as he clearly states in question 90, 1 of the I-II, answering the question whether law is something that belongs to reason:

«Law is a certain rule and measure of acts in accord with which one is either induced to act or restrained from acting. For ‘law’ (lex) is derived from ‘to bind’ (ligare), since law obligates (obligare) one to act. Now the rule and measure of human acts is reason, which, as is clear from what was said above (q. 1, a. 1), is the first principle of human acts. For it belongs to reason to order things to their end — where, according to the Philosopher, the end is the first principle in matters of action (in agendis). But in every genus, that which is the principle is the measure and rule of that genus. For instance, one is the measure in the genus number, and the first movement is the measure in the genus movement. Hence, it follows that law is something that belongs to reason».

Thus, what dualistic fallacy disregards can be summarized as follows: i) that both reason and subjectivity constitute parts of human nature, and therefore cannot be opposed to it in a dualistic fashion; ii) that the actuality of laws requires a legislator, since law is always issued by a subjectivity.30 Such as every other law, natural law is established by reason: it is a work of reason.

4. Theonomic Heteronomy

According to the principle of dependence of laws on subjectivity, if heteronomy was located in nature (conceived as a legislator issuing commands via the natural law), we should conclude that there is no heteronomy in Aquinas’thought, since he accounts for law as something pertaining to reason. However, there is a second way of attributing heteronomy to his works; namely, by claiming that heteronomy is grounded on the participatory character of natural law, which — despite being discovered by human reason — is not issued by it, normativity being dependent on God’s reason, in his role of legislator. So, one could agree with Rhonheimer in denying naturalistic heteronomy, and nonetheless argue for the presence in Aquinas’thought of a second form of heteronomy: i. e., a theonomic one. We have already taken this possible reading into account when sketching the evolutionary path of Aquinas’moral thought; such a reading does not involve only working out the relationship between eternal and natural law, but also that between theoretical and practical reason, and, what is more important, solicits an explanation of the meaning of participation.

Rhonheimer’s proposal is to adopt the interpretive lens of «participated theonomy». Surely, the authority of reason depends on a higher authority, to which it is subordinated, to the degree that natural law, which participates in eternal divine law (see ST I-II, 91, 2), is one of the ways by which God reveals his divine providence. However, this does not imply that, in order to know good and evil, human reason must be directly instructed by God, by a revelation. Rather, eternal law is revealed by natural law, since the latter is the same eternal law when it becomes known by the human being. Rhonheimer claims that this participated theonomy represents for human beings a genuine form of autonomy,31 since being subordinated to a superior wisdom neither limits practical reason in any way as for its normative role of establishing and prescribing the good, nor makes necessary any explicit reference to God in order to know the human good. Practical reason, such as the theoretical one, knows the truth, and thus knows the good inasmuch as it is true; so, in order to account fully for the fact that knowing a good is compulsory, it is not necessary at all to appeal to the fact of being subordinated to God’s reason: what constrains is the good, known as true by human intellect. In line with this claim, Rhonheimer reinterprets natural law’s locus classicus, at I-II, 94, 2, by claiming that natural law: i) is a work of practical reason, that does not derive its principles from theoretical reason; ii) is a practical and prescriptive knowledge of the human good; iii) includes the goods and the ends of natural inclinations as they are confirmed in their character of being constitutive of the human good by practical reason, that regulates and orders them.

We have just seen that being aware of the participative subordination to the eternal law does ground neither the imperative character of practical reason nor the known good’s normativity. What is, then, the significance of such awareness? According to Rhonheimer, understanding the participative character of practical judgments means for the human being coming to see his autonomy as the expression of a theonomy. And this, in turn, is a significant chance offered to reason to «bear in mind», so to speak, that being autonomous does not mean being the creator of value, and to remember its own limits and its need for humility.

5. Conclusion

Let me now make some remarks over the meaning of Rhonheimer’s proposal of reading Aquinas’s theory of natural law as a form of autonomous theonomy. Besides its value as an original interpretation of Aquinas’thought, I think its significance is to be found mainly in its analysis of the meaning of autonomy, which is worth stressing at the end of this paper. In Rhonheimer’s view, Kant’s legacy is a wrong account of autonomy as a self-affirmation of reason, and thus a misleading contrast between autonomy and heteronomy. Due to such a dichotomy, two competing interpretations of Aquinas’moral thought arose. The first conceives it as an «ethics of being», that is, as identifying morality with consenting to the natural order, without any constitutive role assigned to practical reason as for the formulation of moral laws. Practical reason, according to this interpretation, merely «translates» the acknowledged natural order into moral precepts, and is therefore heteronomously determined. It is the loudspeaker of nature’s order, an organ responsible for reading the structures of being.32 In Rhonheimer’s view this interpretation amounts to an erroneous naturalism; however, it would be equally wrong trying to dismantle it by adopting the opposed view, namely, the one that identifies autonomy with reason’s capacity for self-affirmation. Rather, the right way to avoid naturalistic reductionism is to stress that reason belongs to the very same natural order of being, but has in itself the capacity of overcoming the naturally given order and to employ a regulative function, in light of its natural capacity of knowing the good and being open to it. The natural knowledge of the good possessed by reason is grounded in a natural order, and at the same time is what allows the agent to govern it, so to transform the «is» in a «ought».

In conclusion, the creatural and dependent character of human reason is not to be intended as a heteronomous subjection, but, as we have seen, as a theonomous (that is, participated) autonomy.


  • Abbà, G. (1983), Lex et virtus, Studi sull’evoluzione della dottrina morale di san Tommaso d’Aquino, Roma: LAS.
  • Anscombe, G.E.M. (1958), “Modern Moral Philosophy”, Philosophy, 33, pp. 1-19.
  • Brock, S.L. (2005), “Natural Inclination and the Intelligibility of the Good in Thomistic Natural Law, Vera Lex, 6(1-2), pp. 57-78.
  • Brock, S.L. (2011), “Natural Law, the Understanding of Principles and Universal Good”, Nova et Vetera, English Edition, 9(3), pp. 671-706.
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  • Dewan, L. (2007), Wisdom, Law, And Virtue: Essays In Thomistic Ethics, New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Kaczor, C. (2002), Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition, Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press.
  • Long, S.A. (2002), “Providence, liberté et loi naturelle, Revue Thomiste, 102, pp. 355-406.
  • Lottin, O. (1948), “Sindérèse et conscience au XIIe et XIIIe siècles”, in Id., Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles, Louvain & Gembloux, Mont César & Duculot, pp. 101-349.
  • McInerny, R. (1980), “The Principles of Natural Law”, The American Journal of Jurisprudence, 25, pp. 1-15;
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  • Rhonheimer, M. (2002), Natur als Grundlage der Moral. Die personale Struktur des Naturgesetzes bei Thomas von Aquin: Eine Auseinandersetzung mit autonomer und theologischer Ethik, Innsbruck & Wien: Tyrolia Vg, 1987; by E. Babini, Legge naturale e ragione pratica. Una visione tomistica dell’autonomia morale, Roma: Armando Editore.
  • Theron, S. (2002), Natural Law Reconsidered: The Ethics of Human Liberation, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
  • Vendemiati, A. (2009), “Orientamenti di ricerca sulla legge naturale negli ultimi trent’anni”, in L.Congiunti & G.Perillo, eds., Studi sul pensiero di Tommaso d’Aquino. In occasione del XXX anniversario della SITA, Roma: LAS, pp. 71-100.
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  1. As it should be evident from this definition of autonomy, I am among those who think it possible to take Kant as a kind of moral realist, rather than espousing a constructivist reading of his moral thought. ↩︎

  2. Cf. Rhonheimer (2001), p. 16. ↩︎

  3. A valid contribution to deepen the topic of natural law in Aquinas’s works is the book by Vendemiati (2011). ↩︎

  4. See Super Sent., lib. 2 d. 24 q. 2 a. 3 co.; cf. Abbà (1983) p. 86. ↩︎

  5. Cf. Super Sent., lib. 2 d. 24 q. 2 a. 3 co. for a history of the word synderesis, see Lottin (1948), t. 2, pp. 101-349. ↩︎

  6. Cf. Super Sent., lib. 2 d. 39 q. 3 a. 1 co. and De veritate, q. 16, art. 2, co. ↩︎

  7. De veritate, q. 17, art. 2, co. ↩︎

  8. See ST I-II, 6-17. ↩︎

  9. See, e.g., ST I-II, q. 9, a. 1, co.: «Bonum autem in communi, quod habet rationem finis, est obiectum voluntatis. Et ideo ex hac parte voluntas movet alias potentias animae ad suos actus, utimur enim aliis potentiis cum volumus. Nam fines et perfectiones omnium aliarum potentiarum comprehenduntur sub obiecto voluntatis, sicut quaedam particularia bona, semper autem ars vel potentia ad quam pertinet finis universalis, movet ad agendum artem vel potentiam ad quam pertinet finis particularis sub illo universali comprehensus; sicut dux exercitus, qui intendit bonum commune, scilicet ordinem totius exercitus, movet suo imperio aliquem ex tribunis, qui intendit ordinem unius aciei. Sed obiectum movet, determinando actum, ad modum principii formalis, a quo in rebus naturalibus actio specificatur, sicut calefactio a calore. Primum autem principium formale est ens et verum universale, quod est obiectum intellectus. Et ideo isto modo motionis intellectus movet voluntatem, sicut praesentans ei obiectum suum». ↩︎

  10. ST I-II, q. 94, art. 2, co. ↩︎

  11. ST I-II, q. 94, art. 2, co. ↩︎

  12. It must be noted that surely, reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and commenting extensively on it, has been one of the main sources for the elaboration of a moral thought focused on virtue and on a synthesis between different human powers; in short, Aristotle has probably played a key role in the evolution of Aquinas’s moral thought we are mentioning. ↩︎

  13. See NE VI, 13, 1144b 1-32. ↩︎

  14. SLE VI, l. 10, 2-3. ↩︎

  15. Di Blasi (1999). ↩︎

  16. Kaczor (2002). ↩︎

  17. Long (2002). ↩︎

  18. Theron (2002). ↩︎

  19. Porter (2004). ↩︎

  20. Brock (2005) and Id. (2011). ↩︎

  21. Dewan (2007). ↩︎

  22. As it is remarked among others by Vendemiati (2009), p. 73. ↩︎

  23. Cf. McInerny (1980); Id. (1997). ↩︎

  24. Rhonheimer (1987). ↩︎

  25. Cf. Rhonheimer, (2002). ↩︎

  26. Such a vision is partly rooted in the Stoic tradition, that conceived natural law as an order immanent to nature; in the words of Cicero, even more radically, we «tear law off nature». ↩︎

  27. Cf. Rhonheimer (2002), p. 84. ↩︎

  28. Cf. Rhonheimer (2002), p. 85. ↩︎

  29. P. 87. ↩︎

  30. It can be noted, by the way, that Elizabeth Anscombe’s trenchant critic to modern moral philosophy is based on the very same consideration. See Anscombe (1958). ↩︎

  31. Rhonheimer (2002), p. 88. ↩︎

  32. Cf. Rhonheimer (1987), pp. 186-189. ↩︎