Nature as Determinatio ad Unum:
The Case of Natural Virtue
It is a matter of common experience that there is such a thing as natural virtue, and that it is a good thing (after all, it is called "virtue"). For instance the novelist P.D. James says:
I think there is badness in all of us. Yes. I would take the religious view that we are all in need of divine grace, but I don't think we are all capable of murder, and I do think there are people who seem to be naturally good. I've met them and they seem to be born generous, kind, stoical, self-effacing, loving, just generally rather good. Others torture animals from childhood; they take pleasure in cruelty from really quite an early age. They seem to be born with a greater propensity to evil than the rest of us.(1)
Aquinas says something very similar in a number of places, e.g., in the Commentary on the Ethics he notes:
That however it is granted that there is natural virtue, which is presupposed to moral virtue, is manifest through this that particular habits [mores] of virtue or vice appear to exist in some men naturally; for certain men immediately from birth seem to be just, or temperate, or brave on account of natural disposition, by which they are inclined to the works of virtue.(2)
Both James and Aquinas also mention natural vice, an inborn disposition inclining one to perform bad acts.
If natural virtue is good, it is at first sight surprising that Aquinas is critical of it, as when he says:
For someone is able to have a natural inclination to the act of some virtue without prudence; and the greater an inclination they have without the habit of virtue, the worse it is, and the more it is able to push someone to action without prudence: as is manifest in the person who has natural courage without discretion and prudence.(3)
The reason behind this critical evaluation is elaborated on when Aquinas addresses the difference between natural virtue and true virtue:
Whether Virtue is in Us by Nature: In both ways, however, virtue is natural to man according to a certain imperfect beginning. Certainly according to the nature of the species insofar as there are naturally in human reason certain principles that are naturally known, both of things knowable (scibilium) and of things to be done, which are certain seeds of the intellectual and moral virtues; and insofar as in the will is a certain natural appetite of the good that is according to reason. According to the nature of the individual, [virtue is natural to man] insofar as from the disposition of the body certain are better or worse disposed to certain virtues, according as namely certain sensitive powers are the acts of certain parts of the body, from the disposition of which the powers in question are aided or impeded in their acts, and consequently the rational powers which the sensitive powers of this sort serve. And according to this one man has a natural aptitude for science, another for courage, another for temperance. And in this manner both the intellectual virtues as well as the moral virtues are according to something in us by nature. Not, however, the completion of them. Because nature is determined to one; the completion, however, of virtues of this sort is not according to one mode of action, but in diverse modes according to the diverse matters in which the virtues operate, and according to diverse circumstances.(4)
The nature which pertains to natural virtue is not that of the species, but of the individual, i.e., his or her personal physical constitution. Indeed, natural virtue can be defined as an inborn inclination to moral virtue which follows from the physical make-up proper to the individual.
Moral virtue has to operate in regard to diverse matters and in diverse circumstances, and thus natural virtue's shortcoming is that the inclination that proceeds from it is determined to one. It is good to face danger for a worthy cause, but not just for thrills. It is good to be truthful, but not to the point of indiscretion. Natural virtue inclines one to operate in only one manner because it is a function of one's physical make-up, something which is "determined to one."
The expression "nature is determined to one" applies in the first instance to the observed limitation of the motions of the simplest forms of natural things, those that are non-living. Iron tends to move down, and oxygen tends to move up under the conditions found on earth. They do not tend to move in the opposite directions. "Fire burns both here and in Persia;"(5) fire does not cool in Persia, but in all places burns. The very etymology of nature "nasci" "to be born" (In Greek, "physis," "birth") signifies something determinate, namely, like coming from like.
Non-living natural things are very limited in their activities. They are much more acted upon than acting; they show no autonomy or initiative in what they do. Thus Aquinas will often say that the forms of inanimate natural things are immersed in the matter, for things act in virtue of their form, and they undergo in virtue of their matter.
Plants move themselves by growing, etc., and thus they have a higher form than inanimate natural substances. Aquinas says that "the action of the soul transcends the action of nature operating in inanimate things; but this(6) happens in two ways, namely as to the mode of acting and as to what is done." He goes on to point out that the forms of plants only transcend those of inanimate natural things in their mode of activity. Both plants and the inanimate remain in being for some period of time. However, plants unlike inanimate things, preserve themselves in being though their own activities. Notice how Aquinas speaks of the soul in opposition to nature ("the action of the soul transcends the action of nature operating in inanimate things"). Plants manifest an incipient form of autonomy that the non-living lack. They are not entirely determined to one. The De Anima also contrasts nature with the soul on the grounds that the soul is the principle of an activity that is not determined to one:
It is manifest that this principle [i.e., of growth and decrease] is not nature, but the soul. For nature does not move to contrary places: however, the motions of growth and decrease are according to contrary places. For all vegetables grow, and not only upwards or downwards, but it both ways. It is manifest therefore that the principle of these motions is not nature, but the soul.(7)
When plants are compared to animals, however, their activities are seen to be more natural. If one pours water in a dog's dish, it might get up to drink some, but then again it might not. Animals, while not capable of choice, do perform "voluntary"(8) actions, i.e., actions that are conscious and unforced. Plants have no indetermination of this sort. Their nutritive processes are determined by physical and chemical factors, e.g., the roots of certain plants grow naturally in the direction of water - they have no other option. In comparison to the inanimate, then, plants show activity that is not simply natural, whereas in comparison with animals, their activities are much more determinate, and therefore natural. Thus, Aquinas on the one hand says of both plants and animals that "the action of the soul transcends the action of nature operating in inanimate things," whereas on the other hand he separates plants from animals, attributing to plants (along with the inanimate natural things) only natural appetite, whereas to animals he also attributes elicited appetite.(9)
Beings that are knowers are still less determined to one. As Aquinas puts it:
...there are other higher actions of the soul that transcend those of natural forms even as to what is done insofar as namely all things are apt to come to be in the soul according to an immaterial [mode of] being. For the soul is in a certain manner everything according as it is sensing and understanding.(10)
The sentient and rational being is not limited to being itself, but in a certain way can be all other things as well. These beings are capable of taking on the forms of other things while retaining their own form. The immaterial mode of reception of knowing beings is what underlies the indetermination of their action. As Aquinas explains:
Certainly there is agreement [between natural things and intelligent beings] in that in natural things form is present which is the principle of action, and inclination following the form which is called natural appetite from which action follows: but there is a difference in that the form of a natural thing is a form individuated by matter; whence even the inclination following it is determined to one, but the understood form (forma intellecta) is universal under which many can be comprehended; whence since acts regard singulars which are in no way adequate to a universal potency, it remains that the inclination of the will stands indeterminately to many: just as if an artisan were to conceive the form of a house in the universal, under which are comprehended diverse shapes of houses, his will would be able to incline to this that he make a square house or a round house or one of some other shape.(11)
The intellect is not the act of any bodily organ, and therefore it receives the forms of things in an entirely immaterial way, abstracting both from matter and the conditions of matter. Its object is the universal truth, and the inclination or appetite arising from this knowledge has as its object the universal good.(12) Since no particular good has a necessary connection with the universal good or in this life is know with certitude to have such a connection, the will is not determined to choosing any particular good.(13) Rather than being determined to one it is "ad utrumlibet", i.e., open to opposites.
As for knowers endowed with sense knowledge, Aquinas has the following things to say in regard to their determination. First in regard to their knowledge he points out that:
One grade [of immateriality] is according as things are in the soul without their proper matter, but nevertheless according to their individuality [singularitatem] and individual conditions which follow upon matter. And this grade is that of sense which is receptive of the forms of individuals without matter, but nevertheless in a bodily organ.(14)
The type of receptivity that is characteristic of sense defines the determinacy of the sense appetite:
The active principle in brute animals is intermediary between the two [i.e., nature and reason]. For the form apprehended through sense is individual, as is the form of a natural thing; and therefore from it follows an inclination to one act as in natural things, but nevertheless the same form is not always received in the sense as it is in natural things, for fire is always hot, but now one form, now others [are received] e.g., now a pleasurable form, now a saddening form; whence now it [the appetite] flees and now it pursues; and in this it agrees with the human active principle.(15)
Animals through sensation are able to receive the forms of other things. However, since the sense does not receive in an entirely immaterial mode, it perceives the individual as individual. The intellect not only knows things, but it knows what it means to know; and so it can think about it own act of knowing. The sensitive being knows sensible particulars. It is conscious; it knows when it is awake and sensing. However, the sense cannot go beyond the particular knowledge that it has so as to be able to understand its own act. It can makes judgements, but it cannot judge its own judgements. As Aquinas puts it:
But the judgement [that animals are capable of] is in them from natural estimation, not from some process of putting two and two together [non ex aliqua collatione], since they are ignorant of the reason for their judgement; on this account their judgement does not extend to all things as does the judgement of reason, but only to certain determinate things. ... A consequence of the fact that their judgement is determined to one is that their appetite and action is determined to one.(16)
...through appetite they [animals] are inclined to something of themselves, insofar as they desire something from the apprehension of that thing; but that they incline or not incline to the thing that they desire is not something subject to their disposal.(17)
Animals cannot say to themselves: Why am I doing this? They cannot evaluate the reasons for their actions, for they do not grasp universal principles in terms of which such evaluations are made.(18) Because their judgements are fixed by nature, they are more moved than they are movers.
Matter, then, results in a determination to one which amounts to a limit in autonomy. The more a form is immersed in matter, the less the being of which it is the form is able to act on its own. The more a form is free from matter, the more the being of which it is the form is capable of directing itself, rather than being determined to one by something other than itself.
A human being is a body, a living thing, a sensitive being, and a rational being. The substantial form of man is one, and it is immaterial in the strict sense. However, the various powers of man show the different levels of determination to one just mentioned. For the soul is not present according to its whole power in all the parts of the body because the various parts of the body are not properly disposed for every power of the soul; e.g., the eyes are not properly disposed for hearing.(19) Now, in man the potencies of matter which in other beings are actualized by lower forms, more specifically by the forms that belong to non-knowers, do not fall directly under the control of the rational soul. However, the sensitive powers are not so immersed in matter, and thus to some extent they can be influenced by reason.
[T]o the extent that some act is more immaterial, to that extent it is more noble, and more subject to the command of reason. Whence from the very fact that the vegetative powers of the soul do not obey reason it appears that they are the least of these powers.(20)
There is found a certain gradation in forms. For there are certain forms and powers that are completely imbedded [depressae] in matter, every action of which is material; as it manifest in the forms of the elements. The intellect, however, is completely free from matter; whence even its operation is without communion with the body. The irascible and concupiscible stand in a middle mode. For the bodily change which is connected with their acts shows that they use a corporeal organ; that further they are in a certain mode elevated from matter is shown through this that they move by the command of reason and that they obey reason. And thus there is virtue in them, i.e., insofar as elevated above matter, they obey reason.(21)
One might question whether the rational faculties have no control over physical make-up or at least over certain aspects of one's physiology. Certainly one can make choices about one's diet, and diet has more or less definite ties with one's health. Some people who eat a healthy diet become seriously ill, while others who eat a poor diet live long lives. But generally the opposite is the case. At any rate, the rational faculties do not directly control health, but can command actions that have a predictable indirect effect in many cases. One can also take drugs in order to improve one's emotional state. Aquinas was not ignorant of the effects that alcohol has on feeling.(22) However, one does not directly control how one's body will react to drugs. Medicine is an art that ministers to nature. What then about different type of meditation techniques, biofeedback, etc. which allow people to gain control over their heartbeat, temperature, or other motor functions which in turn often affect the vegetative functions? These techniques also do not involve direct control. It is not directly by thinking about heartbeat that one lowers it, but thought (or the absence of thought) affects the emotions which cause the release of certain chemicals which have an effect on the functions in question, or something of this sort occurs. Nowadays we do even have some control over our physical make-up through gene therapy, but this control is also indirect.
Granting that what control we have over our physiology is indirect, the question arises whether it is worthwhile trying to facilitate the acquisition of virtue by adjusting our physiology by various indirect means such as meditation, drugs, etc. Or should we limit ourselves to what must be done in any case if we are to acquire virtue, namely, train our sense appetites by exercising rational control over them? This is a hard question, and time does not allow us to take it up here.
Let us now consider in more detail the consequences of natural virtue being determined to one. Note that natural virtue and natural vice share this in common. The reason why natural virtue is called virtue, and often passes for genuine virtue, is because it motivates one to perform acts in accord with the extreme that is closer to the mean. The extreme closer to the mean is the one the acts of which are more similar to the acts of virtue, and it is also the one that people in general are less inclined to. If a person is timid by disposition, he will not often perform acts like to those brave people perform. Whereas if he is fearless, he will more often than not perform acts like those brave people perform. If a person had only a moderate natural disposition, he would not perform the type of acts most associated with being brave, and one would not call him naturally brave. Since natural virtue then is fixed towards an extreme, and does not adapt itself to circumstance, the person acting according to natural virtue will make frequent mistakes.(23)
Aquinas often points out that in the absence of prudence, the stronger the inclination of natural virtue, the worse it is and the more damage it can do, using comparisons such as "the more vigorously a blind person runs, the greater his injury when he strikes a wall."(24) The more naturally fearless one is, the more likely one is to engage in activities such as daredevil stunts that may lead to injury or death. The more naturally generous one is, the more quickly one is liable to end up in debt. The more naturally abstemious one is, the more likely one is to suffer the consequences of inadequate diet.
Natural virtue does not only cause problems due to its inflexibility to circumstance, it also causes problems when it comes to acts of virtues which require a motion of the appetite opposite to that to which natural virtue inclines. Here we are referring to the familiar phenomena "the virtues of our vices" and "the vices of our virtues". As Aquinas explains:
[T]here may be a natural inclination to those things which pertain to one virtue. But there may not be an inclination by nature to those things which pertain to all the virtues; for instance, the person who is disposed by nature to courage which lies in pursuing difficult things is less disposed to meekness which consists in restraining irascible emotions. Whence we see that animals that are naturally inclined to the act of some virtue, are inclined to the vice contrary to another virtue; as the lion is naturally audacious, but also naturally cruel.(25)
Examples of the virtues of one's vices and vices of one's virtues abound. There are people who are extremely truthful and honest, but then are also unduly frank. People who set high goals for themselves are often intolerant of others mistakes ("he was hard on others, and hard on himself"). Whereas people who don't set high goals for themselves are often indulgent when it comes to the failings of others. People who are diligent and conscientious can also be humorless. P.D. James mentioned people who take pleasure in cruelty from early childhood. However, the up side is that such a person would be more likely to protect a friend attacked by a gang or a pack of dogs than would the kindly natured person who was incapable of murder .(26)
That natural virtue is not virtue only reveals itself plainly when virtuous action demands that we go against the natural flow of feeling, and we consequently fail. In the meanwhile, we are seduced into thinking that we are virtuous because our actions are mostly good, when really, even when they are good, they are not virtuous in the strict sense, since they proceed more from feeling than from a habit involving reason. This illusion is at the basis of thinking that it is possible to have one virtue without having all the others. When we act chiefly according to natural virtue, we are doing mainly what we feel like doing, rather than acting out of a rational judgment that looks to the good of the person as a whole. As a result, we are both failing to act in a truly virtuous manner and we are cultivating vice at the same time. As Aquinas puts it:
[T]here are certain virtues which order man in those things which happen in human life such as temperance, justice, meekness, and things of this sort; and it necessary in regard to these that man, when he exercises himself in the act of a given virtue, at the same time exercise himself in the action of the other virtues, and then he will acquire every habit of virtue at the same time; either that or it will be the case that he does well in regard to one [virtue] and badly in regard to the others, and then he will acquire the habit contrary to another virtue, and the consequence of this is the corruption of prudence without which no disposition which is acquired through the act of some virtue has properly the notion of virtue....(27)
The more one is simply yielding to a natural tendency to honesty, generosity, etc., the more one is habituating oneself to acting according to that feeling apart from the judgement of reason, and thus in other situations one is then even more liable to act according to the vices of one's virtues. So it is not just when natural virtue leads us manifestly awry that it is bad. In a more subtle way it can be just as bad and maybe even worse when it leads us to perform acts of virtue. For we are liable to think that we are truly virtuous, when in fact we are simply doing what comes natural to us, all the while fostering other vices.
Sometimes, then, one is accidentally better off suffering from natural vice than possessing natural virtue, namely, insofar as one is less likely to have illusions about one's virtuousness. Indeed others generally quickly let a person know that he is a grouch or cheapskate or chicken, etc. Thus the person suffering from natural vice is more likely to recognize that he needs to make an effort to acquire virtue than is the person of natural virtue who tends to feel good about the way he is behaving and who receives approbation from others. In this line Aquinas observes that:
And according to this [i.e., amount of sunlight received according to geographical location] certain [people] are hot, certain are cold, certain are temperate, and they are inclined to those things to which these conditions dispose them. Accordingly it would be of the natural inclination of the Greeks to be by nature more temperate in disposition and to attain more...to spiritedness and understanding in a proportionate way, and to be more able to govern and to rule others; the Northerners [by nature] are higher spirited, while being short on intelligence, whereas in the area of Asia the contrary is the case. Whence it can happen that although someone from heavenly influence or natural disposition is inclined neither to governing nor to the works of intellect or of virtue, if nevertheless through choice they set themselves to the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue, they will turn out to be people of understanding and ones that govern well. Whereas just the opposite will happen if those who are well born as to these things let themselves become lazy and give themselves over to the practice of bad works: they will become foolish and govern badly, and will become the slaves of others.(28)
People who are prone to lust generally know they have a problem. People who are naturally chaste, on the other hand, may not realize that they are not truly chaste until caught off guard the first time they experience a moderate physical attraction for someone. People who are naturally cowardly generally do not think that they are brave. It is the naturally brave who sometimes fail to realize that they are not truly virtuous until faced with a difficult situation demanding courage over and above what they are naturally disposed to.
There is another reason why a person is sometimes better off possessing a natural vice rather than a natural virtue. While natural vice per se is not conducive to living a morally good life, some natural vices have better natural virtues associated with them than others do. For example, people who are excessively candid tend to be forthright and truthful, and people who are phony and who lie tend to be diplomatic as well. Truthfulness is a better virtue than diplomacy. To this extent one is morally better off possessing the natural vice of excess candor than the natural vice of lying. Correspondingly, the possession of certain natural virtues may end up being more detrimental than beneficial to the acquisition of true virtue when the attendant natural vices of these virtues are more serious.
We see the importance of recognizing our natural virtues as natural. However, it might then seem that once one has recognized this, one can really do nothing about it. For to the extent that we cannot or will not try to adjust our physiology, it seems then that natural virtue is a permanent handicap to the acquisition of virtue since it sometimes results in inclinations contrary to what is rational, either due to its inflexibility to circumstance or to the "vices of one's virtues" effect. While there is some truth in the claim that inborn dispositions are a permanent source of interference with right moral action, still natural virtue is not an insuperable obstacle to the acquisition and practice of true virtue.
Recall that the principal purpose of our emotions is to allow us to execute rational decisions more promptly and efficiently.(29) The deliberate activities involving emotion center around things needed for personal survival or for the continuation of the species.(30) For example, in situations of danger such as coming across an angry dog or horned cattle in a pasture the adrenaline rush that accompanies fear contributes greatly to our ability to leap the fence. We could make ourselves schedules for when we ought to eat as is done for unconscious patients, but it is much easier to remember to eat because we feel hungry. Virtue then does not involve the eradication of emotion, but rather "perfects us to following in a fitting manner the natural inclinations [i.e., the irascible and the concupiscible appetites] which pertain to natural law."(31)
Natural virtue again is the individual's inclination to moral virtue which arises from the physical make-up underlying the concupiscible and irascible appetites.(32) All humans have a concupiscible and irascible appetite naturally ordered to reason, but some individuals' appetites are better disposed to following reason than are others'. Even in those whose appetites are better disposed, however, the determination to one of their natural virtue sometimes results in emotional responses inappropriate in a given situation. Now in order to be virtuous it is not enough that untoward emotions be overcome by reason, the emotions themselves must possess some perfection according to which they readily follow reason.(33) But it seems that one cannot do anything directly about the emotions one feels due to one's physical make-up. And so it would seem that one could never become virtuous. Aquinas raises a very similar question in an objection in the De Veritate:
the motions of sensuality are passions of the soul to which determinate dispositions of the body are required, as Avicenna determined; hot and subtle blood is required for anger, and temperate blood for joy. But the disposition of the body is not subject to reason. Therefore neither is the motion of sensuality.(34)
the disposition of the body which pertain to the make-up of the body, is not subject to reason; but this is not required for this that the said passions exist in act, but the only thing required is that a man be capable of them. The actual transmutation of the body, e.g., the rising of blood around the heart, or something of this sort, which is concomitant with the act of passions of this sort, follow imagination, and on this account are subject to reason.(35)
Even the mildest mannered person is capable of getting angry. Even the most forthright person is capable of biting his tongue. Thus regardless of the emotional response to which nature disposes one, one is still capable of acquiring moral virtue because one can elicit the appropriate emotions whether one is naturally prone to them or not.(36) Persons of all temperaments are capable of applying the general remedy for vice, including the vices of one's virtues.(37) This remedy consists in repeatedly aiming for the other extreme, eventually habituating the appetite both not to tend so vehemently in what is generally the wrong direction, and to readily obey reason.(38) Training the sense appetite is somewhat like training a dog. The dog has its natural inclinations, e.g., to run after certain other animals. One trains it not to, pulling it back on its leash, because generally such behavior is not desirable. In some cases it may be desirable; one might want to set the dog chasing after some animal. Thus, one does not only train the dog to stay back, one also trains the dog to listen to one, so that when it is appropriate it will chase. The interaction between reason and the sense appetite is more intimate and more complex.(39) However, the similarity is that one wants first and foremost to train the appetite to readily listen to reason, while at the same time recognizing that if this is to be the case one may need to train the appetite so that its response is no longer that which was natural to it, but in a direction that will more often be in accord with reason. The direction in which the appetite will tend, once trained, is determinate. The appetite's tendency to readily obey reason will also become determinate. However, since reason does not always dictate the same responses, the sense appetites, to the extent they are trained to listen to reason, share something of its indeterminacy.(40)
The general remedy for the failure of natural virtue due to circumstance is much easier. Nature has given to one person what another is only able to acquire through diligent application, namely, a tendency towards emotions that in the greater number of cases are in accord with the mean determined by reason. Now all this person has to do is get this tendency to obey reason, instead of moving unchecked, so that in those circumstances where it is inappropriate it is easily suppressed. Thus, while one person after a protracted battle gets himself to the point that he desires to eat an appropriate amount, at the appropriate time (and so forth), a person with a high metabolism does so without any great effort. While one person after diligent practice finally manages to overcome his fears of speaking in public, a person who never felt nervous to start with readily does so. If the latter two act with the deliberate understanding that what they are doing is appropriate, with repetition they will come to possess moral virtue, and it sure will have been a lot easier for them to come by it, than it would have been for those of sensual or timid temperament.(41)
The fact remains, however, that inclinations proceeding from temperament, including natural virtue, can be an obstacle to the acquisition and exercise of moral virtue.
Every act of virtue, however, using a bodily organ, depends not only on the power of soul, but also on the disposition of the bodily organ, as sight on the power of vision and on the quality of the eye, through which it is aided or impeded. Whence also the act of the sense appetite depends not only on the appetitive power, but also on the disposition of the body. That which is on the side of the power of the soul follows apprehension. The apprehension of imagination, however, since it is particular is ruled by the apprehension of reason which is universal as particular active power by universal active power. And therefore in this regard the act of the sense appetite is subject to reason. However, the quality and disposition of the body is not subject to the command of reason. And therefore in that regard that the motion of the sense appetite be totally subject to the command of reason is impeded.(42)
Again this is not to the point that we cannot acquire moral virtue. But Aquinas is realistic as to how far human virtue can go. He does not think that the sense appetite can ever be made perfectly subject to reason, not even in the virtuous: "passions inclining one towards evil are not totally destroyed neither through acquired virtue nor through infused virtue, unless perhaps by a miracle."(43) Through habituation such inclinations can be made less vehement, but they cannot be entirely eradicated.(44) The fact is that if one is human, then one has to have a body and sense appetites, and the body will have its dispositions and the sense appetites will react to their proper objects the sensed or imagined good (or difficult good) even when this is not the good according to reason.
[F]or the integrity of human nature not only reason is required, but also the lower powers of the soul, and the body itself. And therefore from the condition of human nature left on its own its arises that something rebelling reason is in the lower powers of the soul, so long as the lower powers of the soul have their proper motions.(45)
As we have seen part of the reason for the rebellion of the lower appetites in some cases is rooted in the inclination that stems from the physical disposition of the organs of these appetites.
In conclusion: To the extent that matter predominates in a thing, to that extent the thing is limited in what it does. To the extent that form predominates in a thing, to that extent it is less determined and more determining of what it does. Thus inanimate natural things the forms of which are entirely material are the most determined to one, whereas animate things the forms of which are less immersed in matter are less determined to one, human beings, in virtue of their immaterial souls, being least determined to one. In human beings, however, the full power of the rational soul is not realized in every part of the body, but that power is realized that accords with the disposition of the part. In human beings the vegetative powers are so much a function of the body that the rational soul has no direct control over them. The sensitive powers, since they are not so material, are apt to be directed by reason. The vegetative powers are responsible for one's bodily make-up (material coming from the parents is, of course, required). Since the rational powers lack direct control over the vegetative powers, they consequently lack direct control over one's actual physical make-up, and also over the inclinations to emotion which may follow upon one's make-up. Now, in some individuals these inclinations are in the line of true virtue, However, since these inclinations are determined to one, they lack the flexibility to circumstance requisite for true virtue, and they also bring with them vices when there are other types of situations where the opposite movement of appetite is generally needed. Indeed, in some cases one is ultimately better off not possessing certain natural virtues because of the gravity of the natural vices associated with them. For natural virtue to develop into moral virtue, reason must first recognize natural virtue for what it is. Doing so can be difficult since natural virtue resembles true virtue both in the acts it inclines one towards, and in the pleasure that accompanies these acts.(46) Once a person has recognized natural virtue for what it is, reason must take charge so that the sense appetite becomes habituated to responding to reason, rather than simply moving in keeping with its natural disposition.
1. First Things Feb. 2001, 75 (quoting a Spectator interview).
2. NE #1276.
3. Quod. 12.22.
4. I-II 63.1.
5. Aristotle, NE 1134b27.
6. Cf. DQDA 1.13.
7. DA #257.
8. Cf. NE #427 and #435.
9. Cf. I 80.1 necesse est ponere quandam potentiam animae appetitivam. Ad cuius evidentiam considerandum est quod quamlibet formam sequitur inclinatio; sicut ignis ex sua forma incinatur in superiorem locum, et ad hoc quod generet sibi simile. Forma autem in his quae cognitionem participant, altiori modo invenitur quam in his quae cognitione carent. In his enim quae cognitione carent, invenitur tantummodo forma ad unum esse proprium determinata unumquodque, quod etiam naturale uniuscuiusque est. Hanc igitur formam naturalem sequtiur naturalis incliantio, quae appetitus naturalis vocatur. In habentibus autem cognitionem sic determinatur unumquodque ad proprium esse naturale per formam naturalem, quod tamen est receptivium specierum aliarum rerum; sicut sensus recipit species omnium sensibilium, et intellectus omnium intelligibilium, et sic anima hominis scit omnia quodammodo sec. sensum et intellectum.... Sicut igitur formae altiori modo existunt in habentibus cognitionem supra modum formarum naturaliium, ita oportet quod in ei sit inclinatio supra modum inclinationis naturalis, quae dicitur appetitus naturalis. Et haec superior inclinatio pertinet ad vim animae appetitivam, per quam animal appetere potest ea quae apprehendit, non solum ea ad quae inclinatur ex forma naturali. Sic igitur necesse est ponere aliquam potentiam animae appetitivam.
10. DQ de Anima unicus 13.
11. De Malo 6.1. Cf. DV 23.1: Material things in which whatever is in them is as bound to and made concrete in matter do not have a free ordination to other things, but [their ordination to other things] is from the necessity of their natural disposition. Whence these material things are not themselves the causes of this ordination, as if they themselves ordered themselves to that to which they are ordered, but are ordered by someone/thing else.... In immaterial and knowing substances there is something that is absolutely not concretized and bound to matter; but this [varies] according to the grade of their immateriality; and therefore from this they are ordered to things by a free ordination, of which they themselves are causes, as ordering themselves into that to which they are ordered. And therefore it belongs to them to do something or desire something voluntarily and spontaneously.
12. Note that in a sense both the intellect and the will are determined to one. Both the intellect and the will are in a certain way natures. All men desire knowledge, and all desire happiness. Cf. DV 22.5: "However nature and the will are ordered in this way that the will itself is a certain nature; because everything that is found in things [omne quod in rebus invenitur] is called a certain nature. And therefore it is necessary to find in the will not only that which is of the will, but even that which is of nature."
13. Cf. I 82.2 and ad 1: "Whether the will wants all that it wants from necessity."
14. DQDA Unicus 13.
15. De Malo 6.1.
16. DV 24.2.
17. DV 23.1
18. Cf. I 59.3 Free will and angels: quaedam sunt quae non agunt ex aliquo arbitrio, sed quasi ab aliis acta et mota, sicut sagitta a sagitttante movetur ad finem. Quaedam vero agunt quodam arbitrio, sed non libero, sicut animalia irrationalia; ovis enim fugit lupum ex quodam iudicio, quo existimat eum sibi noxium; sed hoc iudicium non est sibi liberum, sed a natura inditur. Sed solum id quod habet intellectum, potest agere iudicio libero, inquantum cognoscit universalem rationem boni, ex qua potest iudicare hoc vel illud esse bonum. Unde ubicumque est intellectus, est liberum arbitrium.
DV 24.1 Unde recte consideranti apparet quod per quem modum attribuitur motus et actio corporibus naturalibus inanimatis, per eumdem modum attribuitur brutis animalibus iudicium de agendis; sicut enim gravia et levia non movent seipsa, ut per hoc sint causa sui motus, ita nec bruta iudicant de suo iudicio, sed sequuntur iudicium sibi a Deo inditum. Et sic non sunt causa sui arbitrii, nec libertatem arbitrii habent. Homo vero per virtutem rationis iudicans de agendis, potest de suo arbitrio iudicare, in quantum cognoscit rationem finis et eius quod est ad finem, et habitudinem et ordinem unius ad alterum: et ideo non est solum causa sui ipsius in movendo, sed in iudicando; et ideo est liberi arbitrii, ac si diceretur liberi iudicii de agendo vel non agendo.
19. DQ de Anima 1.11 ad 20: granted that one and the same soul is sensitive and vegetative, it is nevertheless not necessary that the operation of the one appears in any operation whatsoever of the other on account of the diverse disposition of the parts. From which it also happens that neither are all the operations of the sensitive soul exercised through one part; but sight through the eyes, hearing through the ears, and so forth.
Cf. also DQ de Anima 1.10 If one take 'wholeness' as to virtue and power, then the whole is not in every part of the body, nor even the whole in the whole, if we speak about the human soul. ...But as to other operations [those] which are exercised through bodily organs, the whole virtue and power of the soul is in the whole body; not however is it in any part of the body, because diverse parts of the body are proportioned to diverse operations of the souls. Whence according to that power only so much is in the bodily part which regards the operation which is exercised through that part. Cf. also I 76.8 ad 3.
20. I-II 17.8 ad 1
21. De Virtutibus in Communi 1.4 ad 4.
22. Cf. I-II 45.3 "And in the same place he [Aristotle] says that 'lovers of wine are more confident on account of the heat of the wine'; whence above it was said that drunkenness also contributes to the goodness of hope; for the warmth of the heart repels fear and causes hope on account of the extension and amplification of the heart."
23. Cf. De Virtutibus in Communi unicus, 8: "There is however a certain incipient or incomplete [inchoatio] virtue which follows from the nature of the individual, according as a given person is inclined to the act of some virtue from his natural make-up or from the impression of the heavenly bodies. And this inclination is a certain incomplete [inchoatio] virtue.... For if someone were to follow this sort of inclination without the discretion of reason, they would frequently err."
24. De Virtutibus in Communi unicus 6 ad 4. This comparison is drawn from Aristotle NE 1144a11. Cf. De Vir. Card. unicus 2.
25. De Virtutibus in Communi unicus, 8 ad 10.
26. It is arguable that the ancient equation of virtue with "virtus" or manly courage is an instance of mistaking natural virtue for moral virtue. For the natural virtue of the male is to overcome competitors and other enemies and to father offspring. Accordingly, while courage was highly regarded, chastity was not.
27. De Vir. Card. 1.2 ad 9. Cf. NE #1286: For we see that the same man is not inclined to every virtue, but one to liberality, another to temperance, and so forth. For it is easy for everyone to arrive at that to which they are naturally inclined. It is however difficult to attain something contrary to natural impulse. Therefore it follows that the man who is naturally disposed to one virtue and not to another knows, i.e., attains this virtue to which he is naturally disposed....but he never attains the virtue to which he is not naturally disposed. #1287 What was just said is verified in regard to natural virtue, not however, in regard to moral virtue according to which someone is said to be good simply. And this therefore because no one of the virtues can be had without prudence, nor prudence without them, as has been show. And thus when prudence, which is one virtue, is present in someone, at the same time there will be present with it all virtues, none of which would be if prudence did not exist.
28. Pol. #1121-23. Aquinas makes the same point in regard to synesis: "[R]ight judgement consists in this that the cognitive power apprehend the thing according to what is in the thing. Which certain comes from the right disposition of the cognitive virtue; just as if a mirror is well disposed, the forms of bodies are impressed in it according as they are; but if the mirror were badly disposed, then there would appear there images that were distorted and awry. However, that the cognitive power is well disposed to receiving things as they are is due radically to nature, but in its completion to practice or the gift of grace. And this in two ways. In one way directly, from the side of the the cognitive virtue itself, for instance, that it is not seeped in bad conceptions, but in those that are right and true; and this pertain to synesis according as it is a special virtue. [I take this to mean, for instance, that one has chosen to avoid watching dirty and/or violent programs that would deaden one's natural "sensibilities."] In another way, indirectly, from the good disposition of the appetitive power, from which it follows that a man judge rightly about what things are to be desired. And thus the good judgement of virtue follows upon the habits of the moral virtues, but in regard to ends; synesis is concerned rather with those things that are ordered to the end." (II-II 51.3 ad 1)
29. Cf. DV 26.7 "[W]hen the will chooses some through the judgement of reason, it more promptly and more easily does it if along with it emotion is aroused in the lower part; because the lower appetite is in closer proximity to the motion of the body. Whence Augustine says...'The motion of mercy serves reason, when one in anger approves of mercy, so that justice may be preserved.' And this is what the Philosopher says in the second book of the Ethics bringing in a verse from Homer: 'Rouse courage and intense anger'; because, namely, when someone is virtuous with the virtue of courage, the emotion of anger following upon the choice of virtue makes for a greater promptness of action; if, however, it would precede, it would perturb the mode of virtue."
30. Cf. I-II 91.6: And nevertheless if one considers the inclination of sensuality according as it is in other animals, it is thus ordered to the common good, i.e., to the conservation of nature in the species or in the individual. And this is also the case in man, according as sensuality is subject to reason. But it is called 'fomes' according as it departs from the order of reason.
31. Cf. II-II 108.2: the virtues perfect us to pursuing in a due manner the natural inclinations which pertain to natural law. ... There is, however, a certain special inclination of nature for removing things that are harmful; whence an irascible power separate from the concupiscible power is even given to animals.
32. We have been focusing chiefly on moral virtue, but do not mean to discount that there are also natural virtues which dispose one to the acquisition of intellectual virtue.
33. Cf. De Vir. in Communi 1.4 Quando igitur oportet operationem hominis esse circa ea quae sunt obiecta sensibilis appetitus, requiritur ad bonitatem operationis quod sit in appetitu sensibili aliqua dispositio, vel perfectio, per quam appetitus praedictus de facili obediat rationi; et hanc virtutem vocamus.
34. DV 25.4 obj 5.
35. DV 25.4 ad 5.
36. Cf. I-II 17.7 ad 2: "[T]he quality belonging to the body is related to the act of the sense appetite in two ways. In one way, as preceding it, according as someone is physically disposed in some manner to this or that emotion. In another manner, as consequent to it, as when someone heats up out of anger. Therefore, the preceding quality is not subject to the command of reason because either it is from nature, or it is from some prior motion which cannot immediately calm down. But the consequent quality follows the command of reason because it follow the local motion of the heart, which is moved in diverse ways according to the diverse acts of the sense appetitite."
37. Some natural virtues are accompanied by substantial natural vices. E.g., a person who is easy to get along with may have no backbone, i.e., they may be almost lacking an irascible appetite. It will be very hard for this person to acquire the virtue of courage. And all the more so to the extent that performing the act which natural vice inclines one to result in the formation of a bad habit. Then the person not only has bad natural inclinations to grapple with, but the additional inclination that comes from habit.
38. NE #375 Quia quando damus studium ad hoc quod multum recedamus a peccato, ad quod proni sumus, sic tandem vix perveniemus ad medium. Et ponit similitudinem de illis qui dirigunt ligna distorata; qui dum vount ea dirigere, torquent in aliam partem et sic reducuntur ad medium. #376 Et est hic considerandum quod haec via acquirendi virtutes est efficacissima; ut, scilicet homo nitatur ad contrarium eius ad quod inclinatur vel ex natura vel consuetudine. Via tamen quam Stoici posuerunt, est faciolior, ut sci. homo paulatim recedat ab his in quae inclinatur.... Via etima quam hic Aristoteles ponit, competit his qui vehementer desiderant recedere a vitiis et ad virtutem pervenire. Sed via Stoicorum magis competit his qui habent debilem et tepidam voluntatem.
39. Cf. DV 25.4 and I 81.3 on reason's control over the concupiscible and irascible.
40. Moral virtue itself is a "determinatio ad unum" of a certain sort. Human beings have certain natural inclinations which are determinate: to be happy, which entails living, living in harmony with others, etc. These inclinations can only be fulfilled through virtuous acts. However, we are not determined by nature to perform virtuous acts, but are open to performing vicious acts as well. The very purpose of acquiring moral virtue is to overcome this natural indetermination so that we can live happy lives. We determine ourselves to performing virtuous acts by repeatedly performing virtuous acts, thus acquiring the habit of virtue. (Cf. De Vir. in Com. unicus.9) Virtue is not open to opposites, unlike art which is "ad utrumlibet". E.g., the temperate person is not open to overeating, whereas the grammarian is open to intentionally making mistakes in grammar. (Cf. NE #315, 316) Still the "determinatio ad unum" of moral virtue is not entirely the same as that of natural virtue, since moral virtue involves reason. Virtue is a habit of choosing. Such a habit is never so fixed as to entirely preclude free choice of the opposite, though such a choice may be extremely difficult. (Cf. De Vir. in Com. unicus.1 and ad 12) Also, moral virtue is a "determinatio ad unum" as to the end, e.g., eating moderately. However, the means to this end are not fixed, but must be determined by reason. Thus the temperate person is not determined to always eating one specific quantity. Finally, insofar as certain moral virtues have their completion in the sense appetite, they are determined up to a point in that they have been trained to respond in a certain direction, and yet to the extent that they have been trained to listen to reason, they share the indeterminancy which comes from reason which is capable of discerning the means appropriate to the circumstances. As was noted above, "and thus virtue is in them [the sense appetites], i.e., insofar as they are raised above matter and obey reason" (De Virtutibus in Communi 1.4 ad 4:) Plainly a lot more could be said about moral virtue as a "determinatio ad unum" than a note allows.
41. Cf. NE #1279 Si enim aliquis habeat formam inclinationem opus alicuius virtutis moralis et non adhibeat discretione ad opus illius virtutis moralis, accidet gravis laesio, vel corporis proprii, sicut in eo qui inclinatur ad abstinentiam sine discretione, vel respectu exteriorum si inclinet ad liberalitatem: et simile est in aliis virtutibus. Sed si huiusmodo inclinatio coaccipiat in operando intellectum ut scilicet cum discretione operetur, tunc multum differt sec. excellentiam bonitatis. Et habitus, qui erit similis tali operationi cum discretione facte, erit proprie et perfecte virtus, quae est moralis.
42. I-II 17.7.
43. De Vir. in Communi 1.10 ad 14.
44. De Virtutibus in Communi 1.4 ad 7 tota rebellio irascibilis et concupiscibilis ad rationem tolli non potest per virtutem; cum ex ipsa sui natura irascibilis et concupiscibilis in id quod est bonum sec. sensum, quandoque rationi repugnet; licet hoc possit fieri divina virtute, quae potens est etiam naturas immutare. Nihilominus tamen per virtutem minuitur illa rebellio, in quantum praedicate vires assuefiunt ut rationi subdantur; ut sic ex extrinseco habeant id quod ad virtutem pertinet, sci. ex dominio rationis super eas; ex seipsis autem retineant aliquid de motibus propriis, qui quandoque sunt contrarii rationi. DV 25.7 ad 3: virtus in irascibili et concupiscibili existens non contrariatur corruptioni praedictae, unde totaliter eam non tollit; contrariatur autem superexcellentiae inclinationis praedictarum virium in sua obiecta; et hoc per virtutem tollitur. Cf. NE 239. Cf. De Vir. Card. unicus 1 ad 6.
45. De Virtutibus in Communi 1.4 ad 8. One might think that the perfect subjection of the sense appetite to the will was natural to man, and the loss of this was due to original sin. Aquinas maintains, however, that just as death is natural, so too conflict between the appetites is natural: DV 25.7 For that man in the original state was so constituted that reason completely contained the lower powers, and the soul the body, was not from the virtue of natural principles, but from the virtue of original justice superadded through divine liberality. When this justice was removed due to sin, man returned to the state suited to him in virtue of his natural principles.... Just as therefore man naturally dies, nor can be lead to immmortality except by way of miracle; so to the concupiscible naturally tend towards what is pleasurable, and the irascible to what is difficult, outside of the order of reason.
46. The morally virtuous person does the right thing with pleasure, except in instances such as acts of courage where it suffices that the virtuous person perform them without pain.