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Journal of Learning in Higher Education

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Centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas noted that “human reason must proceed from the precepts of the natural law as from certain common and indispensable principles to other more particular dispositions” (ST I-II, 91, 3) He said that “because of the uncertainty of human judgment, especially in contingent and particular matters, it happens that different decisions are made about different human acts so that laws are often divergent and even contradictory.” (91, 4) To the casual reader, Thomas might be endorsing a position akin to ethical relativism but Thomas finds little to endorse about that position: “the truth is the same for everyone but it is not equally known by everyone.” (94, 4) Further, he noted somewhat optimistically that “reason may cause laws to be changed because it seems to be the nature of human reason to progress by stages from the less perfect to the more perfect.” (97, 1) In his remarks, Thomas anticipates the psychological research of Lawrence Kohlberg into moral development, the research of William Perry into intellectual development, and the students in the integrated ethics-law class at Butler University (and, I dare say, students in college ethics/law classes across America). A brief foray into the research and the course will demonstrate as much.


This article was originally published in Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 2005, Volume 1, Issue 1.