Human Rights Theory Rooted in the Writings of Thomas Aquinas

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Anthony J. Lisska


This essay is an analysis of the theory of human rights based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas, with special reference to the Summa Theologiae. The difference between a jus naturale found in Aquinas and the theory of human rights developed by the sixteenth century scholastic philosophers is articulated. The distinction between objective natural rights—“what is right”—and subjective natural rights—“a right”—is discussed noting that Aquinas held the former position and that later scholastic philosophers beginning with the Salamanca School of the Second Scholasticism developed the latter position. The subjective theory of rights evolved into the modern and contemporary account of individual human rights. The essay ends with an argument suggesting that Aquinas’s theory of objective human rights can serve as the ontological foundation for a robust theory of both positive and negative subjective natural rights.
Author Biography

Anthony J. Lisska, Denison University

Anthony J. Lisska
Maria Theresa Barney Professor of Philosophy
Philosophy, Denison University
100 West College St.
Granville, Ohio 43023

Anthony J. Lisska is Maria Theresa Barney Professor of Philosophy at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, USA. Lisska received his undergraduate degree from Providence College and his PhD from The Ohio State University. His Aquinas’s Theory of Natural Law: An Analytic Reconstruction was published by the Clarendon Press of Oxford University Press (1996, 2002). Recently Lisska has published several articles, book chapters and book reviews on both medieval and contemporary theories of natural law. At Denison University, he has served as Chairperson of the Philosophy Department on three occasions, Academic Dean of the College, and founding Director of the Denison Honors Program. Lisska was the 2006 national president of the American Catholic Philosophical Association and received the Carnegie Foundation United States Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year award. Lisska regularly teaches courses in contemporary natural law theory and jurisprudence.


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How to Cite
LISSKA, A. Human Rights Theory Rooted in the Writings of Thomas Aquinas. Diametros, n. 38, p. 134-152, 1 dez. 2013.