The Purpose of Government: Analysis of Philosophical Ideas of St. Augustine and St. Aquinas

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. St. Augustine and St. Aquinas on the purpose of government
  3. Conclusion

Introduction

Throughout history, philosophers have been influenced by many things. Previous philosophers and ideas, as well as their current environment and situations are examples of what impact an individual’s ideas and beliefs. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas were affected by all of these conditions. St. Augustine lived during a time when Christianity was becoming very popular as the Roman Empire was collapsing. Augustine used many of Plato’s ideas, such as humanity’s ability to reach true knowledge and Plato’s theory of the Forms, as a base for Augustine’s own ideas. St. Aquinas experienced the end of the Crusades and the height of the church, two major influences in his ideology. Aquinas also lived during the Revival of Aristotle which allowed Aquinas to explore Aristotle’s ideas on virtue and reason and how government's main purpose is to create the best conditions for happiness. Due to their experiences and circumstances, Augustine and Aquinas had a more pessimistic view on politics compared to other philosophers. Both St. Augustine and St. Aquinas were influenced by Plato and Aristotle which can be seen in their ideas on epistemology, human nature, and government. Augustine and Aquinas also had a more negative outlook on politics compared to previous philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. This essay will discuss the purpose of government from St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas' points of view.

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St. Augustine and St. Aquinas on the purpose of government

While many of St. Augustine’s theories were influenced by religion, they were often similar to Plato’s philosophies. St. Augustine believed that all knowledge came from God. He felt that humans never can truly know everything as they are not God. In Plato’s teachings, he believed that humans cannot perceive true knowledge by senses or in nature. In this example, part of Augustine’s beliefs on the limit to human knowledge mirror Plato’s belief as both philosophers feel true knowledge is beyond human comprehension. Part of Augustine’s epistemology included that the mind of God is the Truth, which is why humans would never be able to understand all knowledge. This example could be a reference to Plato’s theory of the Forms. Plato believed that the Forms were the ultimate truth and that they existed in a spiritual realm. Augustine’s ideas on human knowledge as well as his theory of the Heavenly City could have been inspired by the theory of the Forms. Human nature?

Due to Aquinas living through the Revival of Aristotle, many of Aristotle’s theories can be seen in Aquinas’ theories. One of Aquinas’ main beliefs was that reason gave way to natural truth, but faith could still be preserved. While Aquinas added a more religious tone to his epistemology, there were still many hints of Aristotelian philosophy. Aquinas also believed in hylomorphism. Hylomorphism is the idea that physical objects are the composite of form and matter. His theory on matter and form, as well as substance and accidents, centered around the idea that an object is made from matter which can not be taken from that object. Similar to Aristotle, he believed that humans were political animals. Aquinas believed that a monarchy was the best type of government, as long as the ruler is just. He believed that the main purpose of government is to provide conditions for people to practice their faith. Aristotle had a similar view on the role of government. He felt that it was the government's job to create an environment in which people could be happy and flourish. In this example, Aristotle’s belief on the role of government can be seen in Aquinas’, although Aquinas added a more religious purpose to the government. The purpose and creation of laws according to Aquinas, is similar to what Aristotle believed as well. Aquinas felt that laws were made with reason and to help the common good of the people. Aristotle also believed that laws should be made with reason and help people achieve eudaimonia.

Conclusion

Augustine and Aquinas both had a more pessimistic view on politics compared to Plato and Aristotle. Both Plato and Aristotle felt that the government was there to help the people, however Augustine believed that the government was there as punishment for human sin. Aquinas also believed that the ruler had complete control as he felt that the ruler was like a god on earth. This meant that whatever the ruler wanted could be done, no matter how detrimental it might be to the people. In addition to their views on government, Augustine and Aquinas’ views on humans and human nature is less optimistic. Augustine viewed the human body as corrupt and that people would choose sin and themselves over God. Aquinas witnessed the end of the Crusades which showed him how violent humans can be which influenced some of his philosophies.   

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The Purpose of Government: Analysis of Philosophical Ideas of St. Augustine and St. Aquinas. (2023, July 10). WritingBros. Retrieved June 18, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/the-purpose-of-government-analysis-of-philosophical-ideas-of-st-augustine-and-st-aquinas/
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