McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Aquinas, children, emotion, moral agency, moral formation, virtue
This dissertation makes the case that children are moral agents engaged with the morality of their communities without being morally accountable as adults. Contemporary Christian theological anthropology holds that children are fully human and in the image of God, and that they are already encountering good and evil in the world. Childhood is viewed as an essential part of human life and as something that perdures throughout a person's existence. Through their emotions, children are able to engage with, make meaning of, and respond to their surroundings, and these early emotional experiences help to shape each person for the whole of that person's life.
Philosophical and theological theories of emotion that include a cognitive component help make the case for emotions' part in moral development and moral agency. After examining some of these theories, the dissertation turns to Thomas Aquinas's theory of emotions for a robust description that integrates--while maintaining the distinction between--thought and passion in the complex, multilayered experience that we call emotion. Aquinas views reason and emotion as mutually informative and as having a cumulative effect on one another. Early passional experiences are the building blocks of what will become virtuous emotions, and emotion is necessary for an action to be truly virtuous, according to Aquinas. Aquinas's model allows us to attribute moral agency to children because children have emotions through which they engage the world and that partially motivate their actions. At the same time, because their rational powers are inchoate, their accountability is limited.
Vinski, A. (2015). A Constructive Account of Children's Moral Agency Drawing on Thomas Aquinas's Theory of Emotions (Master's thesis, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1314