Human Nature and Reasons for Action: Clarifying a Thomistic Debate with Insights from Maximus the Confessor

  • Oskari Juurikkala (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


This paper argues that there is a tension in Aquinas’ theory of action that may be clarified with insights from Maximus the Confessor. The tension is reflected in the debate produced in Thomistic circles by the Grisez-Finnis ‘new natural law theory’, which proposed a novel interpretation of Aquinas’ theory of action as the basis of natural law theory. Instead of building upon metaphysical considerations of human nature and its ends, this theory claimed to identify a range of basic human goods that form basic reasons for action. Many have followed the new interpretation, while others have rejected it as misleading and unfaithful to Aquinas. The present paper suggests that part of the difficulty may lie in an ambiguity present in Saint Thomas’ conceptual framework itself. It looks at the question from the viewpoint of Saint Maximus the Confessor (580–662) who, in order to clarify the problems related to the human will of Christ, introduced subtle conceptual innovations into an otherwise Aristotelian metaphysics of human nature. I argue that although Aquinas was not directly influenced by Maximus, there are traces of his insights in Aquinas’ thinking, and the conceptual distinctions related to human action may be refined further.
Period4 Jun 2022
Event titleSymposium Thomisticum: Aquinas on Action
Event typeConference
LocationCracow, PolandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • natural law
  • iusnaturalism
  • Thomism
  • John Finnis
  • Germain Grisez
  • Maximus the Confessor