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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


The Effects of Law



Is it the role of law to make men good?


It seems that it is not the role of law to make men good:


Objection 1:  Men are good through virtue, since as Ethics 2 puts it, “Virtue is what makes the one who has it good.”  But virtue comes to man only from God, since He “works it in us without us,” as was said explained in the definition of virtue (q. 55, a. 4).  Therefore, it is not the role of law to make men good.


Objection 2:  Law does a man no good unless he obeys the law.  But the very fact that a man obeys the law stems from his goodness.  Therefore, a man’s goodness is presupposed in relation to the law.  Therefore, it is not the law that makes men good.


Objection 3:  As was explained above (q. 90, a. 2), law is ordered toward the common good.  But there are some men who act well in matters pertaining to the common good but do not act well in their own proper affairs.  Therefore, it is not the role of law to make men good.


Objection 4:  As the Philosopher points out in Politics 3, some laws are tyrannical.  But a tyrant aims only at his own advantage and not the goodness of his subjects.  Therefore, it is not the role of law to make men good.


But contrary to this:  In Ethics 2 the Philosopher says, “Every lawmaker intends to make the citizens good.”


I respond:  As was explained above (q. 90, a. 1), law is nothing other than a dictate of reason which exists in the one who is in charge (in praesidente) and by which his subjects are governed.  Now, in general, the virtue of anything that is subordinate lies in its being subordinated in the right way to that by which it is governed; for instance, we see that the virtue of the irascible and concupiscible [parts of the soul] consists in their being obedient in the right way to reason.  Similarly, as the Philosopher puts it in Politics 1, “the virtue of any subject lies in his being subjected to his ruler in the right way (ut bene subiiciatur principanti).”
Now each law is ordered toward being obeyed by those subject to it.  Hence, it is clear that it is a property of law that it should lead its subject toward their own proper virtue.  Therefore, since virtue is what makes the one who has it good, it follows that a proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given good, either absolutely speaking or relatively speaking.
For if the lawmaker’s intention is directed toward the true good, i.e., the common good regulated in accord with divine justice, then it follows that through his law men become good absolutely speaking.
On the other hand, if the lawmaker’s intention is not directed toward the good absolutely speaking, but is instead directed toward a good which is advantageous or pleasant for himself or which is incompatible with divine justice, then his law makes men good not absolutely speaking, but only relatively speaking, viz., in their relation to that sort of regime.  This is the sense in which the good exists even in things that are per se evil, as when someone is said to be a good thief because he operates in a way that is appropriate for his end.


Reply to objection 1:  As is clear from what was said above (q. 63, a. 2), there are two kinds of virtue, viz., acquired virtue and infused virtue.  The regularity (assuetudo) of the actions plays a role in both kinds of virtue, but in different ways.  For this regularity is in fact a cause of acquired virtue, whereas it [merely] disposes one for infused virtue and then conserves and promotes that virtue once it is already possessed.  Since law is given in order to direct human acts, law makes men good to the extent that human acts contribute to virtue.  Hence, the Philosopher likewise says in Politics 2, “Lawmakers make men good by habituating them.”


Reply to objection 2:  It is not always the case that someone obeys the law because of his perfect goodness in virtue.  Rather, he sometimes obeys because of his fear of punishment, and at other times simply because of the dictate of reason, which, as was explained above (q. 63, a. 1), is in some sense the principle of virtue.


Reply to objection 3:  The goodness of a part is viewed in relation to its whole.  Hence, as Augustine says in Confessiones 3, “Any part that does not fit in with its whole is bad (turpis).”  Therefore, since every man is part of a polity, it is impossible that any man should be good without being related in the right way to the common good; nor can the whole consist appropriately of anything except parts that are proportioned to it.  Hence, it is impossible for the common good of the city to fare well unless at least the citizens who are the rulers are virtuous.
However, as far as the good of the community is concerned, it is enough that the other citizens be virtuous to the extent that they obey the commands of the rulers.  This is why in Politics 3 the Philosopher says, “The virtue of the ruler is the same as the virtue of the good man, whereas the virtue of a common citizen is not the same as the virtue of a good man.”


Reply to objection 4:  Since a tyrannical law is not in accord with reason, it is not a law absolutely speaking, but is instead a kind of perversion of law.  And yet to the extent that it retains something of the character of law, it aims at the citizens’ being good.  For it has nothing of the character of law except to the extent that (a) it is a dictate of someone who is in charge of the subjects and that (b) it intends that the subjects obey the law in the right way, i.e., that they be good—not absolutely speaking, but in relation to that regime.





I-II, q. 90, The Essence of Law

I-II, q. 91, The Different Kinds of Law

I-II, q. 92, The Effects of Law


Eternal law

I-II, q. 93, Eternal Law

Natural law

I-II, q. 94, The Natural Law

Human law

I-II, q. 95, Human Law

I-II, q. 96, The Force of Human Law

I-II, q. 97, Changes in Human Law

The old law

I-II, q. 98, The Old Law

I-II, q. 99, The Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 100, The Moral Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 101, The Ceremonial Precepts of the Old Law in Themselves

I-II, q. 102, The Causes of the Ceremonial Precepts

I-II, q. 103, The Duration of the Ceremonial Precepts

I-II, q. 104, The Judicial Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 105, The Nature of the Judicial Precepts

The new law

I-II, q. 106, The Law of the Gospel, called the New Law, in Itself

I-II, q. 107, The Relation between the Old Law and the New Law

I-II, q. 108, The Contents of the New Law