Thomas Aquinas on the role of second-order judgment in human electio

M. Denise D'Attore, Fordham University


This dissertation examines what Aquinas teaches concerning the operation and causal interaction of the human intellect and will in the volitional act that he calls "free choice." This examination proceeds by analyzing what Scott MacDonald says regarding the role that Aquinas assigns to second-order judgment in electio. In his article "Aquinas's Libertarian Account of Free Choice," MacDonald states that Thomas's doctrine concerning free choice proves libertarian in character because of the role that he ascribes to the intellect's capacity for judging its own judgments. MacDonald holds that the judgments that result from this capacity, called "second-order judgments" or "meta-judgments," open up for human agents a field of possible actions in a given set of circumstances such that the openness to alternatives is absolute, and not merely conditional on surrounding circumstances at the time of choice. We argue that MacDonald's account coheres with Aquinas's up to a point, but that it fails to reflect Aquinas's teaching insofar as it inflates the role that judgment plays in choice while discounting the role of the will. We argue that Thomas does not root freedom entirely within judgment. Rather, he roots freedom entirely within reason, a faculty that consists of both the intellect and the will. Were Thomas to account for free choice by excluding the role of the will, then he would account for all wrongful free choices only in terms of some intellectual failure. He consistently resists doing this. Rather, he accounts for sinful choice in terms of a certain contingency within the human will. We argue that the role of second-order judgment is to specify in a non-necessitated fashion, from among the multiplexity of ends and means an agent discovers through deliberation, those ends and means that fit the particular parameters of the agent's situation. It is to this judgment that determines the context-specific good end or means that a non-necessitated choice responds. Moreover, we suggest that MacDonald's interpretation proves unsatisfactory to the extent that it tries to explain, in a way that does not work, what Thomas deliberately refrains from detailing in regard to the psychological mechanism of electio .

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Recommended Citation

D'Attore, M. Denise, "Thomas Aquinas on the role of second-order judgment in human electio" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3542747.