Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION CXXXI.: OF AMBITION. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
Return to Title Page for Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
QUESTION CXXXI.: OF AMBITION. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 2 (Summa Theologica - Secunda Secundae Pt.2) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Article I.—Is ambition a sin?
R. Honour implies reverence paid to another in testimony of his excellence. Now regarding excellence in man there are two things to observe: first, that whatever it is that a man excels in, he has it not of himself, but as a divine gift within him; and therefore not for that is honour due to him in the first place, but to God. Secondly, it is to be considered that whatever excellence a man has, is given to him by God, to use for the service of his fellow-men: hence the testimony that other men render to his excellence ought so far forth to be matter of complacency to him, as it shows the way open to him to make himself of service to others.1
In three ways the seeking after honour may come to be inordinate. In one way, by a person seeking testimony to excellence that he has not got, which is seeking honour beyond the measure of himself. In another way, by a man desiring honour for himself without referring it to God. In a third way, by his appetite fixing on the mere honour, without referring the honour to the benefit and advantage of others. But ambition means an inordinate craving after honour: hence plainly ambition is always a sin.
§ 1. The craving after a good thing ought to be regulated according to reason: if it overpasses reason’s rule, it must be vicious. And in this way the desire of honour, not according to the order of reason, is vicious. But they are blamed who care nothing for honour as reason dictates that they should—in other words, who do not avoid transactions contrary to honour.
§ 2. Honour is not the reward of virtue in regard of the virtuous man himself, as though he ought to seek after that as his reward: the reward he rather seeks is happiness, which is the end of virtue. But honour is understood to be the reward of virtue on the part of other men, who have nothing greater to bestow on the virtuous than honour.
§ 3. As the craving after honour, duly regulated, is to some men an incitement to good and a check upon evil, so, unduly indulged, it may be to man an occasion of many evil deeds. At the same time, they who do good or avoid evil merely for honour’s sake, are not vicious, as appears by the Philosopher, where he says that they are not truly brave who do brave deeds for honour.1
§ 1. Magnanimity regards two things, one as its end in view, some great work that the magnanimous man undertakes according to his ability; and in this respect presumption is opposed to magnanimity by excess: for presumption undertakes some great work above its ability. There is another thing that magnanimity regards as the matter that it uses duly, namely, honour; and in this respect ambition is opposed by excess to magnanimity. Nor is there any difficulty in there being several excesses in different respects to one golden mean.
[1 ]A better lesson this than Atheistic Socialism can teach, of the functions of a gifted man in society. God is the giver, not society. Under God, we are all one another’s servants. (Trl.)
[1 ]Aristotle, Ethics, III. 8, distinguishes from fortitude what he calls civic virtue, the bravery of those who fight because they fear the reproach of their fellow-townsmen if they fly—after all, a more honourable motive than “the worthy Kempe of Kinfauns bending a large cross-bow,” held out to encourage Simon Glover to stay where he was on the walls of Perth. (Trl.)