Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
The basic procedure was simple. The topic would be announced in advance so that everyone could prepare an arsenal of clever arguments. When the faculty and students had gathered, the professor would offer a brief introduction and state his thesis. All morning long an appointed graduate student would take objections from the audience and defend the professor's thesis against those objections. (And if the graduate student began to flounder, the professor was allowed to help him out.) A secretary would take shorthand notes. The next day the group would reassemble. This time it would be the professor's job to summarise the arguments on both sides and give his own response to the question at issue. The whole thing would be written up, either in a rough-and-tumble version deriving from the secretary's notes or in a more carefully crafted and edited version prepared by the professor himself. Records of such academic exercises have come down to us under the title ‘disputed questions’.
The present text offers translations of some disputed questions on ethical topics presided over by Thomas Aquinas (1224/6–74), probably during the period of 1271–2, when he was for the second time the Dominican Regent Master in theology at the University of Paris. They examine the nature of virtues in general; the fundamental or ‘cardinal’ virtues of practical wisdom, justice, courage, and temperateness; the divinely bestowed virtues of hope and charity; and the practical question of how, when, and why one should rebuke a ‘brother’ for wrongdoing.