Fighting for the Common Good Essay

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Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas Aquinas were two of the most influential philosophers of their respective times. Aquinas’s theological ideas on politics, ethics, and natural law have influenced have been a great influence western civilization and he is also held in high regard within the Catholic faith tradition, being honored as a saint. Gandhi was an influential leader in the movement for India’s freedom from British rule. He preached a philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience and is held as the inspiration for civil rights leaders and non-violent activists around the world. Both philosophers sought to instruct others on how to live a virtuous life and help contribute towards the common good of all people. However, Aquinas and Gandhi hold different views on how their shared goal is to be met. When comparing the two philosophies, one finds that Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy of natural law is superior to Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha since it allows individuals and countries a way to justifiably defend themselves against those who wish to do them harm.
Thomas Aquinas held the view that violence was necessary when it was justified and meant to ensure the common good. Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy can be broken down into one easy to remember phrase, ““Good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided.” All other precepts of the natural law are based on this” (Aquinas I-II.94.2). Aquinas’s bases his entire philosophy around the simple idea that evil should be shunned from individual’s lives and they should instead focus on the good. Yet, Aquinas did foresee that in certain cases, violence and war were necessary to ensure the common good, “Therefore, if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good” (Aquinas II-II.64.2-3). Aquinas even gave detailed instructions on when war was to be pursued. In order for this to occur, three conditions had to be met. The war must be declared by a sovereign authority, it must have a just cause, and the war must advance the common good. Helen Hayden further develops Aquinas’s just war theory as she writes, “Subsuming war under the obligations of neighborly love…requires wars to be undertaken in order to defend one’s own common good as well as the common good of those too powerless to act” (2). Aquinas thought that above all, good must be pursued and evil must be avoided, however, he concluded that violence was sometimes necessary in extreme cases in order to prevent evil.
Gandhi held the view that violence was never justifiable and that in order for one to be victorious over evil, one must be willing to die in order that the enemy can learn the truth. Gandhi took a clear stance on the use of violence, “Whereas the former (Satyagraha) has been conceived as a weapon of the strongest, and excludes the use of violence in any shape or form” (Gandhi 112). Gandhi also stated that one cannot...

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