A Contemporary Evaluation of Thomas Aquinas’s Philosophy of Promising

Hannah Marie Daru, Fordham University


Current statistics, popular sentiments, and a great deal of contemporary literature might lead one to believe that making and keeping life-long promises is unwise or even impossible given our nature. This puts pressure on certain, so-called “traditional,” ideas that some promises—including those made in the context of marriage—are and must be kept as life-long. I contend that while many of the criticisms of and concerns about life-long promising raise important points that must be carefully treated, these arguments quite often fail to address all components of at least one “traditional” view, posed by Thomas Aquinas, at least in theory (but frequently also in practice). That is, the critiques and concerns rely on core assumptions that are not shared by Aquinas in his writing—at least assuming a contemporary application of his philosophy that, while recognizing historical differences between his situation and our own, does not assume entirely similar practices like arranged marriage. This project is, more specifically, a contemporary application of his ethics with an eye toward one kind of solemn promise—namely, marriage—which he happened to treat directly. My guiding questions are: “Can a ‘traditional’ account of life-long promising, such as that of Thomas Aquinas, stand up to the critiques? Or, have things changed too much since the time he wrote, making life-long marriages and other such commitments untenable?” I have here adopted the works of Thomas Aquinas as a response to the contemporary critiques for several reasons. First, the Catholic Church to which he belonged is among the few institutions that still holds to life-long marriage (and holy orders). Second, among authors within the Catholic tradition, Aquinas was not only especially prolific, but what he wrote is quite often regarded as an authoritative articulation of doctrines and the reasons for upholding them. It is notable that the assumptions and details that he includes immediately concerning solemn promises often directly address the criticisms and concerns. By examining the ethical question of life-long promising through marriage, I conclude with principles that, with further study, might guide other life-long or long-term promises. A chart created for the appendix concerning the categorization of oaths, vows, and other actions may be found in supplemental files.

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Recommended Citation

Daru, Hannah Marie, "A Contemporary Evaluation of Thomas Aquinas’s Philosophy of Promising" (2022). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI29207458.