The Role of Non‐Human Exemplars in Aquinas

New Blackfriars 99 (1081):332-345 (2018)
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In this paper I discuss the role of non-humans in Aquinas’ account of moral learning. I intend to show that the entire created order can play an important role in demonstrating to us the life of virtue, and argue that non-human exemplars offer important advantages to the moral learner. I begin by addressing apparent problems with this approach, founded on the observation that human virtue, for Aquinas, is unique to humans. I resolve these by showing that Aquinas’ approach to exemplars is fundamentally analogical, meaning that exemplars point beyond themselves and need not necessarily live the good life to which they direct learners. I show that this means that Aquinas can use non-humans as moral exemplars and offer examples of him doing just that. Finally, I offer an assessment of the benefits of this approach. Among other things, it offers ethicists new ways to focus on particular virtues and provides a plausible way to include non-humans in the moral realm.

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Adam M. Willows
University of Winchester


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