"As one infirm, I approach the balm of life": Psychiatric medication, agency, and freedom in the psychology of St. Thomas Aquinas

Published

Journal Article

© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press, on behalf of The Journal of Christian Bioethics, Inc. All rights reserved. People often take psychiatric medication in order to obtain both freedom from painful experience and freedom for relationships and vocation. Thomas Aquinas' account of agency and freedom offers resources for using medications wisely. For Aquinas, bodily health is only the beginning of freedom. True freedom-always realized imperfectly in this life and perfected only with the assistance of grace-emerges when the acting person consistently pursues life-giving ends and develops habits to act for these ends with ease and pleasure. Psychiatric medications can encourage agency and freedom by correcting pathological processes, by relieving incapacitating suffering, and perhaps by lowering barriers to habituation in virtue, but they can also discourage agency and freedom by inhibiting morally salient emotional responses, by facilitating avoidance of pathological social contexts, and by reinforcing biological determinism. Psychiatric medications must be used only in ways that attend to social context and that encourage the cultivation of healthy agency.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Kinghorn, W

Published Date

  • October 26, 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 24 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 265 - 287

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1744-4195

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1380-3603

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/cb/cby008

Citation Source

  • Scopus