American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 89, Issue 2, Spring 2015

Michael Barnwell
Pages 277-291

The Problem with Aquinas’s Original Discovery

Jacques Maritain asserted that Aquinas’s explanation of sin’s origin is “one of the most original of his philosophical discoveries.” In this explanation, Aquinas traces the origin of sin back to the will’s defect of failing to consider or use the rule of divine law. To succeed, Aquinas must show how this defect is both voluntarily caused by the agent and non-culpable despite its serving as the origin for sin. (If it were culpable, a non-explanatory regress would ensue.) Aquinas’s “original” solution hinges on his claim that the will is not always morally obligated to consider or use the rule. When Aquinas’s texts are closely examined, it becomes apparent that his explanation admits of two different interpretations. In this paper, both interpretations are scrutinized and found to be problematic. Despite its originality and courage in addressing what many consider inexplicable (namely, sin), Aquinas’s attempt seems not to be a successful discovery.