Repository logo

Virtue and the Philosophical Life in the Thomist Tradition at the University of Padua, from Aquinas to Cajetan (1225-1534)

Change log


Waldorf, Steven Douglas 


This dissertation examines the place of the philosophical life at the University of Padua in the late Middle Ages. Scholars like Alain de Libera have addressed the question of whether arts faculty members in other medieval university contexts, especially Paris prior to 1277, believed that a life of purely philosophical contemplation, uninfluenced by Christian revelation, constituted the ultimate, complete, and self-sufficient good for human nature. De Libera concluded that the 1277 condemnations drove this conception of the philosophical life out of the university context entirely. However, if we consider a closely related question concerning the virtues, we find that, in the understudied context of Padua, the philosophical life persisted in the Thomist tradition. That question is the nature of the relationship of the acquired, natural virtues to the infused virtues of Christian revelation. If the acquired virtues are complete in themselves, not requiring supernaturally infused virtue for their full perfection, then the life to which acquired virtue orients us—namely, the life of purely philosophical contemplation—is a complete and self-sufficient good. By contrast, if the acquired virtues are intrinsically incomplete until they are ordered to a supernatural end by the infused virtues, it follows that there is something intrinsically imperfect about the philosophical life.

Accordingly, I compare Cajetan, the foremost representative of the Thomist tradition at Padua, with Aquinas himself on the question of the relationship of acquired to infused virtue, concluding that Cajetan diverged from his master in a way that led to a conception of the life of purely philosophical contemplation as man’s highest good. I then analyze the source of this divergence, attributing it to a distinctive view of human nature. This view of nature, in turn, is the result of a differing understanding of the relationship of philosophy to theology, an understanding that arose in fourteenth-century Paris and was transmitted to Cajetan via Capreolus. Furthermore, the Aristotelianism of Cajetan’s Paduan context also shaped his view of human nature. Identifying Aristotelian philosophy with philosophical truth as such and reading the Stagirite in isolation from preoccupations arising from revelation were both widespread intellectual trends at Padua during Cajetan’s time there, and they exercised significant influence on his theory of human nature and the virtues. Finally, I reflect on the extent to which Cajetan was conscious of the implications of his understanding of human nature and the virtues for the philosophical life, concluding that the textual evidence, though sparse, suggests that he was indeed aware of these implications.





Brett, Annabel


Cajetan, nature, Aquinas, Padua, virtue, Thomist


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge