Augustine and Aquinas Views On Ethics – Compare And Contrast Essay


The views of the philosophers Augustine and Aquinas about the human nature; these two philosophers have tremendous exploration in the moral philosophy and have great contribution about the human nature, their ability to know and exploit the good. However, their views are so contrasting with minimal similarities; evidently Augustine has a pessimistic view as compared to Aquinas who has an optimistic view of human nature.

We will begin with looking at the Augustine view on the same subject; human nature.  The Augustine’s vie of human nature is seen to have major roots from the Plat that referred to the human nature/self as just but an immaterial soul capable of thinking. According to this philosopher, the human nature is controlled largely by the acts of the first parents, Adam and Eve.

Augustine says that in the beginning the humans had equal ability to choose for evil and good this is much controversial from now that the humans are more pulled towards the evil than the good.  The satisfaction of human pleasures and the material things have gathered priorities to the humans. Humans strive to satisfy these desires regardless of whether they are doing good or evil. Augustine believe that this has been inherited from the fast parents Adam and Eve who went as far as disobeying God just to satisfy their immediate need of taste(Johnson, 1978).

All humans according to Augustine have fallen short of glory and grace according to Augustine. Humans can however avoid their grandparents’ sinful nature could they receive the unmerited favor from God; grace. According to Augustine, grace is just for the chosen few, the saintly humans those who rationally reason and repent after sin. He says that the most relevant part of the human is the inner person; not the intellect but the persons will. He has mentioned the role of the social institutions in shaping the human nature.

On the other hand, Aquinas also had some concerns and philosophy on the human nature that was very contradictory to that of Augustine. Aquinas suggests that the human nature has a composition of the human body and soul it is borrowed much from the Aristotelian philosophy. He talks about the unity that exists between the body and soul. He suggests that the human brain has undergone sufficient development by what he describes as the round mid-gestation and therefore supports intellect operations unlike in the case of the Augustine. The soul is indeed a subsistence form; it is a form of the body which he described as being immaterial, incorruptible and most so subsistent. He dwelt much more at comparing the souls of the human and non-human animals. The basic difference is that the humans have an intellect soul as opposed to animals. The soul therefore posses a material explanation of actions and so does it have an explanation for the behaviors of human nature(Abel, 1992).

These two philosophers also have different accounts about the ability of the humans to know the good. Aquinas suggests that the human’s ability to know the good is mostly governed by the human’s intellect. He claims that everybody has the ability for knowledge. He believes that humans have natural desires for knowledge. He goes ahead giving five justifications that science can explain the existence of God. In summary Aquinas unlike Augustine, took a scientific account to human knowledge(Johnson, 1978).

Augustine on the other hand had a belief about the human’s deplorable natural desire for the knowledge. He explains man’s defect of always wanting to know as the origin of corruption observed in man. He highlights curiosity, lusts of the eyes and the nefarious chains of necessity to be the driving forces behind man’s ability to know. In summary man’s ability to know have its roots from the first parents Adam and Eve. Augustine believes that the true knowledge originates from God and only the few seeks it. Humans are only controlled by their dying satisfaction of their immediate earthly desires.

Augustine view of the ability of humans to do what is good has direct origin from the first parents; Adam and Eve who were inclined by their own selfish desires and perception of what is good and evil. Controlled by their own counsel against that of God about the good and evil, they chose to do the evil believing that that very evil was the good. Augustine therefore believes that man is controlled by the satisfaction of materials and selfish desires. This affects their ability to do the good; they are all pulled towards the evil. On the other hand Aquinas on the other hand does not believe that the sins of the parents can be transmitted to the descendants. According to Aquinas, ability of the humans to do good is govern by the effect of good laws. Reasoning as an intrinsic principle governs the human’s ability to do well.

Critiques to the philosophers are as follows; in Augustine philosophy on human nature, he describes everything mage by God to be perfectly good. If that is so then how could the human beings who are the fundamental creatures from God inherit evil? Augustine claims that the human inherit the evil from the first parents. This is contradicting his opening statement that tall the creation of god is perfectly good. Aquinas philosophy on the other hand has critiques. He explains that we can explain God’s existence by empirical knowledge. The fact is God is trans-human. He is above the human understanding; by just empirical perspective we may not understand his existence.  Among the two philosophers I tend to agree more with Aquinas than Augustine. Human intellect and ability to reason has a major contribution to his morals. The knowledge of the truth and ability to do good all have their roots in the power of intellect and the ability to reason as postulated by Aquinas.


Abel, D. C. (1992). Theories of human nature: Classical and contemporary readings. New York: McGraw-Hill.

In Johnson, O. A. (1978). Ethics: Selections from classical and contemporary writers. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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