Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Schools and Centres

Philosophy and Theology

First Supervisor

Dr. Peter Black, C.Ss.R.


This is a comparative study of the moral significance of emotions in Catholic Moral Theology. It is done with reference to Thomas Aquinas, to selected Manualist authors immediately prior to Vatican II, to representative Catholic theologians 1960-1990 and to a sample of contemporary writers from other disciplines. The project argues five points. Firstly, Aquinas sees emotions as designed to have a necessary and constructive significance in moral reasoning and moral development. In their habituated form as affective virtues, they enable a person to have the right emotional responses in terms of their object and intensity. Secondly, the Manualists, by a selective use of Aquinas’ material and by restricting their discussion to emotions considered as impediments to the human act, distort Aquinas’ treatment. Despite a positive approach to the affective virtues, the Manualists’ ambivalent attitude to the emotions (ranging from uncomfortable to hostile) results in an inconsistent and, at times, incoherent account. Thirdly, authors such as Haring, Peschke, Grisez and Maguire, representing renewing Catholic Moral Theology after Vatican II, combine two strands. One is retrieval, from within the Catholic tradition, of the positive moral significance of emotions together with the affective character of primordial moral awareness. The other strand is discovery, from within modern thought, particularly of insights from personalism and axiological ethics. This is especially evident in Haring, for whom the human person is a relational being whose emotions are responses to value (in its various forms) and have social and religious significance. Fourthly, contemporary Moral Philosophy (Oakley), Psychology and Developmental Psychology (Callahan, Gilligan, Dominian, McDargh) generally confirm and, at times, supplement the understanding of emotions found in Aquinas and renewing Catholic Theology. Shelton and Gelpi (from within the Catholic tradition) use such sources to examine the place of empathy and affective Conversion in moral existence. Finally, closer investigation reveals that regrettably, within the period 1960-1990, Catholic Moral Theology, in general, seems to have failed to recognise or failed to have capitalised on the expanding understanding and appreciation of the moral significance of the emotions retrieved from Aquinas or developed by modern scholarship within and beyond the Catholic theological tradition.

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