Thomas Aquinas on Justice as a Global Virtue

35 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2011 Last revised: 1 Nov 2013

See all articles by Claus Dierksmeier

Claus Dierksmeier

Global Ethic Institute; Humanistic Management Network

Date Written: January 10, 2011


Today’s globalized economy cannot be governed by legal strictures alone. A combination of self-interest and regulation is not enough to avoid the recurrence of its systemic crises. We also need virtues and a sense of corporate responsibility in order to assure the sustained success of the global economy. Yet whose virtues shall prevail in a pluralistic world?

The moral theory of Thomas Aquinas meets the present need for a business ethics that transcends the legal realm by linking the ideas of justice and virtue in an ingenious way. While allowing for, and incorporating, the specificities of region and religion, industry and culture, Thomas’s virtue theory coordinates private and public activities through a set of context-invariant, justice-oriented norms with conceptual appeal to contemporary questions of global business ethics.

In our article, we first sketch how Thomas’s theory can be also of relevance to a non-confessional audience through its appeal to the ‘natural light of reason’. Then we explain how his theory of ‘natural law’ aligns his ideas of virtue and justice. From this vantage point, we address the tension between cultural diversity and moral uniformity in the economic sphere in general and in today’s globalized business world in particular. Throughout the article, we aim to show that by interpreting the virtue-dimension of business in light of the idea of (social) justice, Thomas’s conception of virtuous business conduct gains inter-personal and inter-cultural validity that establishes (social) justice as the global virtue of business.

Keywords: Thomas Aquinas, natural law, virtue, justice, social justice, Catholic Social Teaching, business ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, corporate citizenship, philanthropy, globalization, cosmopolitism, relativism, inter-cultural norms, human rights, UN Global Compact, Caritas in Veritate

JEL Classification: A12, A13, B11, B15, B31, D63, F01, K19, L21, L33, L51, M14, N01, P16, Z10

Suggested Citation

Dierksmeier, Claus, Thomas Aquinas on Justice as a Global Virtue (January 10, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Claus Dierksmeier (Contact Author)

Global Ethic Institute ( email )

Waldhäuser Strasse 23
Tübingen, 72076

Humanistic Management Network ( email )

St. Gallen


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