A Comparative Study on the Ethics of John Dewey and Thomas Aquinas

Tjeng Eui-Chai,


Dewey rejects any idea of a universal good or a supreme good in his ethics. The reason is that the good is realized only in the individual situation. Thus only the individual good is real and has adverbial meaning. The idea of relatively universal good is just an idea, generalized from the individual good through the intellectual action. The idea of universal good is recognized as an instrument in solving the individual condition. Because a new situation is occurring at all times, the real good is determined in the continuing conduct of an individual situation. Good, thus, is determined in the continuing growth and not in the fixed condition.

Thomas Aquinas explains good and evil in terms of human nature. The human nature as an image of God [Imago Dei] is not changed ontologically but changed at the phenomenal dimension of self-realization in time and space, that is, environment. Therefore in the theory of ethics of Thomas Aquinas, natural law [lex naturalis], the highest (supreme) good, ultimately guide human ethics. I wish to use Aquinas to point out the weak points of Dewey’s ethics. I will also appeal to the universal elements of Confucianism and Buddhism.

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