St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
(from Summa Contra Gentiles III, Chapter XXX)
- What arguments does Aquinas offer for his conclusion that the accumulation
of wealth is not the purpose of human life?
(from Summa Contra Gentiles III, Chapter CXXXIII)
- What is the proper purpose of wealth in human life, according to Aquinas?
- Under what circumstances is the possession of riches something good?
- Under what circumstances is the possession of riches an evil?
- Under what conditions may poverty be good, according to Aquinas?
- Under what circumstances is poverty an evil?
(from Summa Theologiae, Question 66)
- What distinction does Aquinas make between "sovereign dominion"
and "natural dominion" (92)? What is his objection to the rich
man's attitude toward his possessions?
- What does Aquinas think of those who condemn private property?
- What justifications does Aquinas offer for private property? What are
the benefits to society of individuals being entitled to private property?
How do Aquinas's points draw both on Genesis and on Aristotle?
- Does Aquinas's defense of private property consitute an endorsement
of the accumulation of property? Does it represent a fundamental rejection
of all forms of common property? According to Aquinas, what aspect of "external
things" is owned in common, even if they are privately owned? In that
sense, what are the obligations of the rich?
- Does Aquinas consider private property to be a dictate of natural law?
(Watch for the justification of private property that John Locke will offer).
(from Summa Theologiae, Question 77)
- On what basis does Aquinas argue that it is wrong to sell something
for more than it is worth? What rule does he invoke in his argument? Can
this be related to definitions of justice in the Republic? How might
the definition of justice quoted from Ambrose (97) relate to the discussion
in the Republic?
- According to Aquinas, what should be the purpose of buying and selling?
How does this purpose relate to more obvious purposes of commerce such
as making money? (see the definition of trade quoted from Cassiodorus in
the Septuagint (100)).
- Why does Aquinas also consider it wrong to buy a thing for less
than its worth? What is the buyer obligated to do in such a situation?
- Under what circumstance does Aquinas suggest that someone should perhaps
pay more than a thing is worth?
- What are the differences between exchanges "in friendship"
and "in buying"? What rules apply to each? What does such a distinction
imply concerning values and the state of society in Aquinas's time? Are
there two sets of values in place? Is anyone of them more compelling or
prevalent than the other?
- How is the worth of something determined? Is it something that can
be ascertained exactly? Is Aquinas aware of the laws of supply and demand?
(consider the case of the seller of wheat who knows many other sellers
will be coming to market soon after his arrival). What does Aquinas think
of the seller of wheat who has such knowledge and reveals it to the buyers?
How do different sets of values interact in that situation? Does Aquinas
see a possible harmony between ethical and commercial imperatives?
- What does Aquinas think of the human tendency to "buy for a song
and sell at a premium" (96)? If such is human nature, how does he
propose to deal with it?
- How does Aquinas object to the seller's concealment of defects in things
sold? How does this argument relate to the objection to selling something
for more than its worth? What is the common principle covering the different
cases? What happens in cases when the seller is unaware of the defect?
What are the obligations of the seller in the various cases? Can defective
things be sold at all?
- What does Aquinas think of the production and sale of artificial products?
- How does he respond to the argument that weights and measures may vary
from region to region according to local customs?
- What is Aquinas's overall assessment of trade? If it is wrong to sell
something for more than it is worth, how could you justify any set of exchanges
that involved selling something for more than had been previously paid
for it? Does Aquinas move away from one of Aristotle's criticisms of "retail
- What responsibilities do sellers have toward buyers, and why?
- What is Aquinas's position on ecclesiastics engaging in commercial
activities? How does this relate to Aristotle's comments on philosophers'
possible involvement in money-making?
(from Summa Theologiae, Question
78, "Of the Sin of Usury")
- What is usury?
- What is Aquinas's chief argument against usury? Who in particular needs
to be protected against usury?
- What is his point about selling things and selling the use of things?
- What is the proper purpose of money according to Aquinas? How do his
arguments relate to the points made by Aristotle regarding money and usury?
- How does Aquinas deal with the use of commercial language in the biblical
text to refer to spiritual issues? (102-103).
- What view of others does Aquinas favor in his objection to usury?
- What distinction does Aquinas make between matters of "counsel"
and matters of "precept'? How do these relate to his discussion of
- Under what circumstances does Aquinas accept the payment of an amount
over the face value of the money lent? How does this relate to his arguments
on selling something for more than its worth?
- What can a lender legitimately expect to receive in exchange for a
- On his own principles, could Aquinas justify usury in the case of loans
which are used to invest rather than for purposes of personal consumption?In
his reply to Objection 5 (on p. 107), Aquinas argues that investors can
rightfully expect more in return for their investment. Is this a defense
of usury after all? Who bears the risk of the investment in such cases?
- According to Aquinas, should the time of payment (before delivery,
after delivery) affect the price of the goods sold? What happens if it
- Explain Aquinas's distinction between a "debt of justice"
and a "debt of friendship." Does this distinction imply that
we are always involved in a sort of double economy?
(from Summa Theologiae, Question 100, "On Simony")
- What is simony? What is wrong with it according to Aquinas?
- Technically speaking, why can't ecclesiastics sell spiritual things?
- What sins are incurred in such sales?
- What constitutes a sin "against the Holy Ghost" (109)? Does
simony constitute such a sin? Why?
- How does Aquinas respond to the use of commercial language in Christian
doctrine and scriptures? (108-109).
- How does Aquinas respond to those who would call simony an "exchange"
instead of "buying" and "selling"?
- How does Aquinas see the pope's involvement in simony?
- What can ecclesiastics legitimately expect in return for their spiritual
- What are the implications of reported cases of ecclesiastics refusing
baptism to a dying child unless paid? How does Aquinas suggest to deal
with such cases?
- How does Aquinas think of the case of payment for absolution after
excommunication? Is this an exceptional case?
- Is Aquinas making an exception in cases of customary "stipends"?
(112). Why? Is this defensible?
- What are the implications of Aquinas's admonition to beware of the
"appearance of simony or avarice"?
- What does Aquinas think of the use of money to fight opponents in a
competition over an ecclesiastical office?
- Why does Aquinas justify payment to the Church in exchange for marriage
- When does Aquinas justify exacting a payment "after the spiritual
things have been freely bestowed"? Is this contradictory?
- How does Aquinas characterize the "temporal things" (114)
which preachers receive? How are they justified?
- What is the object of preaching? How do Aquinas's arguments relate
to Socrates's discussion of the proper objects of the arts and crafts?
- Is the issue of simony restricted to religious practices and offices
for Aquinas? Can you think of secular instances of simony in today's world?