Is God a Moral Agent?

Brian Davies has a new book out from Oxford University Press bearing the title Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil. My August 30 post dealt with another book of Davies being published by OUP, a volume he edited together with Eleonore Stump called the Oxford Handbook of Aquinas.

While the Handbook has yet to hit bookstores, Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil became available not long ago.

For several years now Davies has been defending the (for some) provocative thesis that, for Aquinas, God is not a moral agent. One argument that Davies offers in favor of this claim is that moral agents, as Aquinas understands them, are under obligation to a moral law. Since in Aquinas’s view God is not subject to any law, it is wrong to think of his God as a moral agent. (Please do not take my quick summary as the best account of this particular argument of Davies. Read him for yourself if you’re interested.)

If God is not a moral agent, Davies says, this makes a lot of the so-called “problem of evil” disappear because God can’t be expected to behave as human beings do.

Not only does Davies attribute this understanding of God and moral agency to Aquinas, he also thinks that it’s the right understanding to have, as is evident from The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil and some of Davies’s earlier writings.

In The Thomist Tradition (2002) Brian Shanley objects to Davies’s interpretation of Aquinas on this point and Davies responds to Shanley in The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil (2006).

I see that Davies takes up this thesis once again in Thomas Aquinas on God and EvilIf questions about God, goodness, and evil exercise you, you might consider giving Davies’s new book a read.