The Catholic University of America

Christopher K. Gross Defense

Final Examination of

Christopher K. Gross

for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Monday, April 22, 2013

1:00p.m., Caldwell Room 125


Men and Women Becoming Virtuous:  An Examination of Aquinas’s Theory of Virtue in Light of a Contemporary Account of Sexual Difference

Christopher K. Gross

Director:  John S. Grabowski, Ph.D.


Recent years have seen a renewed interest in virtue theory, particularly in the thought of Thomas Aquinas.  Despite the resurgence of Thomistic virtue ethics, relatively little attention has been paid to the relationship between his philosophy of woman and his theory of virtue.  The majority of scholars have simply overlooked or dismissed Aquinas’s view of women, because he appears to adopt Aristotle’s antiquated androcentric biology, which places him at odds with the modern emphasis on the equal rights and dignity of women and men.  However, Aquinas’s view of sexual difference seems to give rise to internal inconsistencies within his own account of virtue that cannot be addressed by merely discounting his reliance on Aristotelian biology. 

Therefore, this study maintains that in order to resolve some of the internal inconsistencies between his theory of virtue and his philosophy of woman, Aquinas needs an account of sexual difference, such as the one offered by Carol Gilligan, that focuses more on the experience of women and upholds their equality with men even while recognizing the differences between the sexes.  It also argues that this new account has implications for the acquisition and exercise of the virtue of chastity.  

The first chapter of this study offers a brief overview of Thomistic virtue ethics as well as Aquinas’s philosophy of woman, focusing specifically on how sexual difference affects the acquisition of virtue according to his moral theory.  The second part summarizes the salient points in the work of Carol Gilligan and situates her account more broadly within the feminist discussion of sexual difference.  In addition to summarizing the criticisms of her theory by feminists and scholars in other fields, this part examines some of the findings from other disciplines that confirm her account.  While the third chapter of the study explores places in Aquinas’s work that leave room to incorporate Gilligan’s insights, the fourth part will suggest some ways in which Aquinas’s treatment of chastity and lust might be refined in order to include the experience of women more fully.  This study concludes by posing some questions for further exploration, including how sexual difference affects the acquisition and exercise of the cardinal virtues.