Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 40, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2020

Ryan Darr
Pages 3-20

The Virtue of Justice and the Justice of Institutions
Aquinas on Money and Just Exchange

Justice, according to Thomas Aquinas, is a personal virtue. Modern theorists, by contrast, generally treat justice as a virtue of social institutions. Jean Porter rightly argues that both perspectives are necessary. But how should we conceive the relationship between the virtue of justice and the justice of institutions? I address this question by drawing from Aquinas’s account of the role of the convention of money in mediating relations of just exchange. Developing Aquinas’s account, I defend two conclusions and raise one problem. The conclusions are: (1) Aquinas does presuppose the need for just institutions in just relations; (2) Aquinas highlights the importance of an underappreciated consideration: the way institutions mediate just or unjust relationships. The problem, which naturally arises from bringing together the virtue of justice and the justice of institutions, is whether and how individuals can act justly in a context of structural injustice.