Narrative, Casuistry, and the Function of Conscience in Thomas Aquinas

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Stephen Chanderbhan


Both the function of one’s conscience, as Thomas Aquinas understands it, and the work of casuistry in general involve deliberating about which universal moral principles are applicable in particular cases. Thus, understanding how conscience can function better also indicates how casuistry might be done better – both on Thomistic terms, at least. I claim that, given Aquinas’ descriptions of certain parts of prudence (synesis and gnome) and the role of moral virtue in practical knowledge, understanding particular cases more as narratives, or parts of narratives, likely will result, all else being equal, in more accurate moral judgments of particular cases. This is especially important in two kinds of cases: first, cases in which Aquinas recognizes universal moral principles do not specify the means by which they are to be followed; second, cases in which the type-identity of an action – and thus the norms applicable to it – can be mistaken.


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How to Cite
Chanderbhan, Stephen. 2016. “Narrative, Casuistry, and the Function of Conscience in Thomas Aquinas”. Diametros, no. 47 (March):1-18.
Special Topic - Thomas Aquinas' Theory of Conscience and Contemporary Debates on Conscientious Objection
Author Biography

Stephen Chanderbhan, Canisius College

Dr. Stephen ChanderbhanAssistant ProfessorDepartment of PhilosophyCanisius College2001 Main StreetBuffalo, NY 14216United States of AmericaPhone (Office): 1-716-888-2223

E-mail: chanders@canisius.eduAlternative E-mail:

Stephen Chanderbhan is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Canisius College (Buffalo, NY, USA).  His research interests include medieval philosophy (specifically, the thought of Thomas Aquinas), moral psychology, philosophy of religion, and Catholic social thought.  He is the author of “Does Empathy Have Any Place in Aquinas’s Account of Justice?” (Philosophia 41.2 (2013)) and “The Shifting Prominence of Emotions in the Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas” (Diametros 38 (2013)).  In addition, he is the Director of the Be the Light Youth Theology Institute at Canisius College, which is part of the Lilly Endowment’s Theology Institutes for High School Youth Initiative.

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