American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 92, Issue 1, Winter 2018

Steven J. Jensen
Pages 73-95

Aquinas’s Original Discovery
A Reply to Barnwell

According to Michael Barnwell, Aquinas’s explanation of the first cause of moral evil is inadequate. Against Barnwell’s criticisms, this article defends Aquinas, according to whom the first cause of moral evil is the failure to consider the moral rule. According to Barnwell, the ignorance found within Aquinas’s explanation must remove moral responsibility; Barnwell also points out that the failure to consider the moral rule does not explain the sinfulness of the action. Underlying Barnwell’s criticisms are certain presuppositions and oversights. First, he fails to distinguish between explaining how a sinful choice is possible (Aquinas’s concern) and what makes the choice to be sinful (part of Barnwell’s concern). Second, he supposes that an awareness of one’s own ignorance must include detailed awareness of the content of that ignorance. Finally, he supposes that an initial causal defect can be voluntary only when there is full knowledge concerning it.