Volume 51, Issue 3, September 2011
Angela McKay Knobel
Aquinas and the Pagan Virtues
Although scholars agree that Aquinas believed the pagan could possess “true but imperfect” virtues, there is deep disagreement over the question of how these “true but imperfect” virtues should be understood. Some scholars argue that Aquinas believed the pagan’s imperfect virtues are nonetheless ordered to a genuinely good end (his natural good) and are connected by acquired prudence. Other scholars argue that Aquinas believed that any virtues that the pagan possesses are considerably more limited: they are more akin to dispositions than habits, and they are not connected. This paper argues that this latter position is incoherent. If one is willing to concede that the pagan can perform genuinely good actions, then one must concede that the pagan can possess genuine (albeit imperfect) virtues that are connected by acquired prudence.