Volume 94, Issue 2, Spring 2020
Thomas Aquinas on Natural Inclinations and the Practical Cognition of Human Goods
A Fresh Take on an Old Debate
Thomas Aquinas’s thought on how human natural inclinations relate to the cognition of basic human goods has been and continues to be highly disputed. Pointing out the weaknesses of both old and new natural law interpretations, I offer an interpretation that is highly sensitive to Aquinas’s language in key texts on this issue and in addition draws upon texts where Aquinas explicates the relationship between inclination and selective attention. I argue that the natural inclinations primarily play a directive role in drawing an agent’s attention to naturally apprehend basic human goods. This directive role is both externalist and reliabilist—the agent need not be aware of the inclinations and cognitive features that reliably direct her attention. Following a principle he inherits from Aristotle, I claim that for Aquinas, as human beings are by nature, so do the basic human goods seem to them.