The Catholic University of America

Final Examination of

John Makdisi

for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy


The Object of the Moral Act: Understanding St. Thomas Aquinas Through the Work of Steven Long and Martin Rhonheimer

Director: William Mattison III, Ph.D.


In the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor Pope John Paul II stated that the “morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the ‘object’ rationally chosen by the deliberate will.”  Since that time the interpretation of the moral object has garnered increased attention among Thomist scholars.  Yet it remains a source of dispute.  Two scholars who take rather opposed views on what Aquinas means by the moral object are Martin Rhonheimer and Steven Long.  The purpose of this dissertation is to elucidate the account of Aquinas’s doctrine through a comparison of the interpretations of each of these scholars with Aquinas’s own work.  Part 1 will elaborate the work of Steven Long and Martin Rhonheimer in order to identify the areas of disagreement between the two.  Part 2 will summarize the work of Aquinas’s precursors in order to provide the context in which Aquinas developed his own doctrine and then examine Aquinas’s own work as it relates to the areas of disagreement between our two scholars.  Part 3 will compare each scholar’s work with Aquinas’s texts in order to evaluate the accuracy of each account and the insights each has to offer.  This analysis of two clearly opposing views in the post-Veritatis Splendor debates, informed by a critical reading of Aquinas’ texts, offers to provide a deeper understanding of the moral object as elaborated by Aquinas.


More about Makdisi

John Makdisi graduated from Harvard College in 1971 and the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1974.  After doing doctoral studies in Islamic law, he received an S.J.D. degree  from Harvard Law School in 1981.  From 1981 to the present he has taught law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, the University of Tulsa College of Law, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and St. Thomas University School of Law.  He also served as Dean at the last three of these law schools and published extensively in Islamic law and American property law.  In 2007 he began formal studies in moral theology, receiving an M.A. from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in 2009 and then beginning his doctoral studies at The Catholic University of America.  John Makdisi is married to June Mary Makdisi, also a professor of law, and has four married children and four grandchildren.