Final Causality in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas

Joel Johnson, Purdue University


Throughout his corpus, Thomas Aquinas develops an account of final causality that is both philosophically nuanced and interesting. The aim of my dissertation is to provide a systematic reconstruction of this account of final causality, one that clarifies its motivation and appeal. The body of my dissertation consists of four chapters. In Chapter 1, I examine the metaphysical underpinnings of Aquinas’s account of final causality by focusing on how Aquinas understands the causality of the final cause. I argue that Aquinas holds that an end is a cause because it is the determinate effect toward which an agent’s action is directed. I proceed by first presenting the general framework of causality within which Aquinas understands final causality. I then consider how Aquinas justifies the reality of each of the four kinds of cause, placing special emphasis on the final cause. In Chapter 2, I consider final causality from the perspective of goodness and explore the reasons why Aquinas thinks that the end of an action is always good. For even if one was convinced that the end of an action is indeed a cause, one might still resist attributing any normative or evaluative properties to the end, much less a positively-valenced normative property like goodness. In this chapter, I show how, given Aquinas’s metaphysics of powers and his characterization of goodness as that which all desire, it follows that every action is for the sake of some good. In Chapter 3, I consider Aquinas’s account of the relation between final causality and cognition. In many passages throughout his corpus—most famously in the fifth of his Five Ways—Aquinas advances the claim that cognition plays an essential role in final causality. In this chapter, I explore Aquinas’s account of the relation between final causality and cognition by reconstructing his Fifth Way and investigating the metaphysical foundations on which it rests. While the first three chapters of my dissertation focus on Aquinas’s account of final causality from the perspective of the ends of individual agents, in Chapter 4 I broaden my focus to consider the way in which the account of final causality developed in these earlier chapters shapes Aquinas’s philosophical cosmology. I argue that, on Aquinas’s view, when an individual agent acts for an end, it is plays a role in a larger system, e.g. a polis, an ecosystem, or the universe itself.




Brower, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Philosophy of religion|Philosophy

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