Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Thomas Williams, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Michael DeJonge, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Colin Heydt, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brook Sadler, Ph.D.


Aquinas, Developing Virtue, Moral Psychology, Psychological Skill


Over the past twenty years, virtue ethics has seen a resurgence of interest in understanding how virtues are cultivated. Philosophers are now teaming up with psychologists to better understand how psychological research on skills can inform us about the relevant kinds of skills that aid in cultivating virtue. However, this promising line of research rests on a heavily-debated philosophical foundation. To what extent are the moral virtues like and/or cultivated by certain kinds of skills? One group of scholars, referred to as the “proponents of the moral motivation objection,” argue that the moral virtues are motivational dispositions that skills not only lack but also cannot cultivate. This objection challenges the idea that skills are a helpful way to understand virtue and its development. In working through this objection, it becomes evident that the discourse around this objection lacks clarity about what moral motivation is and how it relates to different kinds of psychological skills. As a result, the discourse faces an impasse in understanding the viability of skills. This project aims to remove the impasse in contemporary literature by providing a detailed account of moral motivation and its relation to psychological skills. Aquinas’s moral psychology provides ample resources for understanding moral motivation, its development, and the relevant kinds of psychological skills that are useful in cultivating virtue. In this way, Aquinas’s perspective enables us to reimagine the relationship between skills and virtue, while providing new insights into the kinds of skills that aid in cultivating virtue. Aquinas’s work helps to sharpen the contemporary literature and inform the philosophical foundation on which it is based.