Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Wanting Something for Someone: Aquinas on Complex Motions of Appetite

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Wanting Something for Someone: Aquinas on Complex Motions of Appetite

Article excerpt

IN SUMMA THEOLOGIAE I-II, Q. 46, A. 2, Aquinas argues that the object of anger is double, consisting of something bad, namely the offender, and something good, namely the just retribution to be exacted. The argument is an important element in his account of anger, but it also touches on more general considerations concerning human relations, and it is these more general considerations that I would like to discuss.

I

The argument begins with a principle that runs deeply in Aquinas's thought, one that occurs, in various formulations, several times in his work. It is that appetite follows apprehension or cognition. He understands the term appetite broadly, as including blind inclinations to motion in unknowing natural things as well as conscious desires in animals and human beings. In the former case, appetite follows from cognition that is outside what has the appetite, in nature's creator and governor, but in the latter, appetite follows from sensitive or intellectual cognition within the same animal or human being as has the appetite. (1) The principle implies in animals and human beings a natural and necessary order between the two most important kinds of powers of soul: the apprehensive or knowing powers by which we are capable of awareness and the appetitive or "seeking" powers by which we are capable of wanting. According to this order the soul "takes things in" before it "goes out" towards them in its inclinations. Wanting, in short, presupposes awareness.

The commonplace character of the principle is suggested by Aquinas's appeal to it as axiomatic near the very outset of his career, towards the beginning of his early commentary on the Book of Sentences. There, with reference to enjoyment of the beatific vision, he maintains that enjoyment is an act of will, not intellect, but an objection argues as follows. The noblest act is the act of the noblest power; the highest power in man is intellect; therefore, since enjoyment of the vision of God, because it places man in his last end, is the most perfect or complete (perfectissimus) human act, it seems to be an act of intellect. (2) "Noblest," "highest," and "most perfect or complete," as well as "best" and "ultimate," are interchangeable terms in this discussion. Aquinas answers that appetite always follows cognition. Just as the lower part of the soul has sense-power and the appetite made up of irascible and concupiscible powers, so the highest part has intellect and the kind of appetite called will, of which intellect is higher with respect to origin, but will is higher secundum perfectionem, with respect to perfection or completion. He says that the same order obtains in the habits of these powers and in their respective acts of vision and love. He means the beatific vision and the correlative love of charity, but other kinds of seeing-and-loving illustrate the general point equally well, for in any such case the seeing stands out as the origin of the loving, and the loving as the completion of the seeing. The theme suggests erotic love and the phrase "love at first sight," which, even while speaking of near simultaneity of apprehending act and appetitive reaction, acknowledges that sight comes first, that there is a sequence from apprehension to appetite, from origin to perfection, from beginning to completion. Aquinas thinks that the best human activity, which is also the ultimate human happiness, is the highest case of seeing-and-loving. From the point of view of its origin it is an act of intellectual vision and from the point of view of its completion it is the act of will called enjoyment. (3)

In the article on anger's object Aquinas states the principle this way: motion of appetitive power follows an act of apprehensive power; motus appetitivae virtutis sequitur actum virtutis apprehensivae. "Acts"--that is, actualities or actuations--of apprehension are apparently quiescent, but they are followed by "motions"--that is, "emotions"--in appetite. …

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