Wednesday, March 8, 2000

St. Thomas Aquinas and Karl Marx

Political philosophy can best be understood as the philosophical approach to governing our societal, political, and economical lives. In this paper I will compare and contrast St. Thomas Aquinas and Karl Marx, two contributing political philosophers. I will concentrate on the views of these two famous philosophers specifically answering the question “what is the good society”?
St. Thomas Aquinas was born around 1224 in the city of Naples. He studied at the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino and the University of Naples. In 1245 he went to study in Paris, studying with Albert the Great and Augustine. Upon completion of his studies he returned to the University of Naples to be a Professor. St. Thomas Aquinas at the age of 49 died in 1274 (Deutsch, Fornieri, 2009).
St. Thomas Aquinas believed that it is natural for human beings to live in society but they need some sort of regulation. Due to the importance of regulation he believed that there needs to be someone or a group of individuals assigned to keep peace. This body of people he called the role of the state.  This group needs to be directed by a magnanimous (which he described as a great-souled person) and one who believes in God. He believes that tyranny should and can be avoided by appointing competent Kings and the structuring body. His thoughts were that one ruler in society will be able to keep the peace and flourish as a community. He did not believe that tyranny had any place in the role of the state. He believed that any tyrant should be removed from the state. To ensure transparency he created a set of preconditions that could indeed warrant revolution against anyone who is perceived to be a tyrant (Deutsch, Fornieri, 2009).
St. Thomas argues that the foundation of natural law, man’s natural inclinations, along with intellect connects them to eternal law. He believes that natural law is not born to man but rather inclinations and perceptions spontaneously formulate the concepts of natural law (Elders, 2006). 
St. Thomas Aquinas view on ethics is based on good and bad. He compares the good and bad and relates them ethically. First in identifying the goodness of things is their essential form. Material objects are related to the obligations of man. He also believed that the activities that we engage in agree with us and that certain activities are good. Moral qualifications of our actions indeed have influence on the good or bad of the acts that we perform. An act that is considered to be good can in fact turn bad due to circumstances that are presented. St. Thomas Aquinas looks at the conscience as practical in the speculative intellect (Elders, 2006). 
Karl Marx was born May 5, 1818 in Trier, Prussia. He studied at the University of Bonn and then continued his studies at the University of Berlin. In Berlin he became a part of a group of theorists called Young Hegelians. Upon completion of his studies he first became an editor and then travelled to Paris to begin work on essays that are known as “the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1944”. From Paris he settled in Brussels and then moved to London in 1849. All of these moves are a result of Marx fleeing the countries due to his voiced beliefs.  In 1883 Karl Marx died in London (Deutsch, Fornieri, 2009).
            When I think of Karl Marx the word capitalism comes to mind.  Capitalism is the economic system in which the means of production as well as the distribution are owned by private parties or by corporations and are in existence for profit. Social contract is an agreement, entered into by individuals, those results in the formation of the state or of organized society, the prime motive being the desire for protection, which entails the surrender of some or all personal liberties (Deutsch, Fornieri, 2009).
Karl Marx’s theories about society, politics, and economics, states that human societies struggle through class conflict. These beliefs are widely known as “Marxism.” His thoughts envelop the beliefs that the owner class and the labor class are always at conflict. He believed that capitalism was the result of the upper class running business for their own benefit. He furthered believed that capitalism was the foundation for internal tension.
Socialism was seen by Marx as idealistic. He believed that the ideal society would consist
 of future and new trends, not existing trends. He firmly believed that individuals should be compensated related to the equity of the amount of labor that is performed. Further thoughts of Marx’s include the abolition of separating physical labor from mental labor in reference to the pay scale. He didn’t believe that a top level professional sitting at the executive desk should have the right to take home a larger salary than the laborer who was actually performing the hard, physical work. As far as leadership goes - Marx believed that the dictators should be the individuals doing the actual labor.  
Karl Marx was known as an economist. He felt as though human history is dependent on economics. Part of that economist belief was that everything should be equal. His views on economics included thoughts such as concentrating on wealth, profit rates decreasing, and value related to labor (Deutsch, Fornieri, 2009).
            Karl Marx was adamant that private ownership of capital goods was considered wrong and evil. His view as stated in the textbook is this: “ the correct means by which human beings can gain control of their lives and the universe is by working creatively to produce the necessary ingredients for survival” (Deutsch, Fornieri, 2009).
            Karl Marx’s work has been viewed by followers as an ethical act. His work is based on proof that he collected scientifically. His teachings were inspired by the real-life occurrences that were being seen in the development of the capitalist tendencies. His theory was introduced to the poorest of classes in an effort to provide education to them (Rubel, 1982).
            While researching these two philosophers it became very apparent to me the differences of their views associated to the times in which they lived. St. Thomas Aquinas’s beliefs were the foundation to what we know today as the governing body or government. His beliefs were basic in nature and I feel were a good start to what we know now.  Karl Marx on the other hand has built upon St. Thomas Aquinas’s beliefs and restructured them to envelop his own way of thinking. I see our society slowing moving in the direction of Karl Marx philosophy however in the end I do believe there will always be the gap of classes and social structure that has existed for many years and continues to exist today. While we would all like nothing more than to live in a perfect society we have to realize that isn’t a reality. What is reality though is that we have the ability to make our lives what we want them to be.

Deutsch, K., Fornieri, J. (2009). An invitation to political thought. St. Thomas Aquinas, Chapter 4, 105-142. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Deutsch, K., Fornieri, J. (2009). An invitation to political thought. Karl Marx, Chapter 12, 417-439. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Elders, L. J. (2006). THE ETHICS OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Anuario Filosofico, 39(2), 439-463.  Retrieved November 8, 2013, from
Mezhuev, V. M. (2012). The Idea of World History in the Doctrine of Karl Marx. Russian Studies In Philosophy, 51(2), 9-43. doi:10.2753/RSP1061-1967510201. Retrieved November 8, 2013 from
Peterson, G. (1994). Karl Marx and His Vision of Salvation: The Natural Law and Private Property. Review Of Social Economy, 52(3), 377-390. Retrieved November 8, 2013, from
Rubbel, M. (1982). The Ethical Work of Karl Marx. Retrieved December 15, 2013, from

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