How Much Should We Sacrifice for Others? Thomas Aquinas on Duties to Assist People in Need

Keywords: affirmative duties, beneficence, altruism, self-sacrifice, mercy, compassion, rescue in need, Thomas Aquinas


The subject of this paper is the scope and nature of duties to help others which Thomas Aquinas believes to belong to the subclass of acts of beneficence he calls eleemosyna. I consider to what extent and under which circumstances, according to his account, aid lent to people in need of support is obligatory, merely praiseworthy or even improper. In particular, I try to establish how much of our personal resources (possessions, well-being, or free time), on Aquinas’s view, we should sacrifice for others, provided they need our support.


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