Treatise on Virtue
Taxonomy of virtues in relation to the passions
Question 55: The essence of the virtue
See ad 2: "The act of a virtue is nothing other than the good use of free choice." That is, every virtue as a determined power is ordered toward a good use of free choice. The fact is, of course, that because the rational soul has various powers, there will be many habits (virtues) so ordered.
55,3: Human virtues are good habits that (i) perfect the powers in which they are seated and (ii) effect the good for those powers.
55,4: Definition of properly human virtue: A good quality--specifically, a good habit--of the soul, by which one lives (acts) well and never badly. The last two points distinguish virtue both from vice and from a habit which can be directed either toward the good or the evil, e.g., a skill or art.
[Note the reference to infused virtue, which God "effects in us without us"; and also note ad 3: Virtue can exist in the non-rational part of the soul only insofar as that non-rational part participates in reason.]
56,2: A single virtue cannot have more than one power as its principal subject. However, a single virtue can, while seated principally in one power, yet "extend itself to other powers in the manner of diffusion [insofar as the power in question moves another] or in the manner of a disposition [insofar as the power in question receives or presupposes something from another]." For example, prudence has the intellect as its principle subject, and yet since it presupposes rectitude of the will and of the sentient appetite, it is in the will and sentient appetite in the manner of a disposition.
56,3: A habit is ordered toward good action in two ways: (i) by providing one with a facility for good acts and (ii) by not only providing a facility for good acts but by making it the case that one is using that facility correctly. The moral virtues have both (i) and (ii). That is, to exercise a moral virtue is to act well, absolutely speaking, whereas this is not necessarily true for other habits.
More specifically, the
intellect has proper habits that meet
(i), viz., knowledge (in
the strict sense), wisdom,
and various arts or skills. These can be had without (ii), i.e.,
any essential ordering to the will as morally rectified. So
use these intellectual habits in a morally bad way. Of the
intellective faculties, a rectified will must be in play in order for
to be a habit that meets both conditions; and faculties other than the
will can have virtues in the strict sense only insofar as they are
by the will. So the intellect, taken by itself and without reference to
the will, can have virtues properly speaking only in an extended sense.
However, insofar as a virtue's act involves or presupposes a rectified
movement on the part of the will, the intellect can have virtues
speaking, e.g., faith
(speculative intellect as moved to assent
by a rectified will) and prudence
(practical intellect as
by rectitude of will).
This point has a deep and significant consequence, viz., that those lacking rectitude of will cannot generally be expected to perceive all the facts about a practical situation in the same way as those who do have rectitude of will. Hence, epistemic disagreements can have deep moral roots.
Note obj. 3: only the rational part of the soul can be the subject of virtue because it is the soul that rules the body in the way that the rider rules the horse. But St. Thomas distinguishes between the way the soul rules the body and the way it rules the sentient appetite. Because the sentient appetite, unlike the body, does not obey the soul spontaneously, it must be taught or trained to act well in a way analogous to that in which potentially rebellious subjects are taught or trained by the wise ruler.
Also, see ad 4: "The
fact that one has a correct intending
of the end
with regard to the passions of the soul arises from the good
of the irascible and concupiscible parts." Thus, St. Thomas associates
(i) the virtues of the
sentient appetite with good
ends associated with the passions and (ii) prudence
of means to the end. If we do not have temperance and fortitude, we
find ourselves adopting inappropriate ends.
56,6: The will is the subject of virtues, since its own nature is not sufficient for acting well with respect to God and one's neighbor, which constitutes the fulfillment of the two great commandments of the law. So virtues which order our affections toward God or our neighbor (chiefly, charity and justice) are in the will as a subject. Here is what St. Thomas says in ad 3: "Some virtues are ordered to the good of a moderate passion, which is proper to this or that human being. And in such cases it is not necessary that there should be a virtue in the will, since the nature of the faculty is sufficient for this. Rather, this is necessary only in those virtues that are ordered to some extrinsic good." That is, we naturally will our own good, and so we don't need a special habit of the will in order to will that which we perceive as our own good; however, we do need virtues in the concupiscible and irascible appetites in order to have a non-distorted notion of what is in our own good. Without temperance and fortitude, we end up intending disordered ends. By contrast, we do need special habits of the will in order to will the good for others, both God (charity and the part of justice related to God) and neighbor (charity and the part of justice related to neighbor).
57,4-5: Prudence is right (practical) reason with respect to what is doable, and it gives not only facility but correct use, since it is moved by appetitive powers that have rectitude. In this it is unlike an art. (An artisan who does a bad job on purpose is more praiseworthy qua artisan than one who does a bad job unwittingly, whereas the opposite is the case with prudence, precisely because prudence presupposes rectitude of appetite.) Prudence is especially necessary for living well, since it is required not only that what we do is right, but also how we do it, e.g., that we act from choice and not just by impulse or out of passion. But rectitude of choice requires both (i) a fitting end and (ii) means that are appropriately ordered to that end. (i) requires virtues of the appetitive parts of the soul, while (ii) requires prudence.
57,6: Good inquiry or deliberation (eubulia) and good judgment (gnome and synesis) are potential parts of prudence (good command).
58,4: Moral virtue cannot exist without intellectual virtue, viz., without understanding (intellectus) with respect to practical principles or without prudence--the latter because good choices cannot be consistently made without prudence, and the moral virtues have to do with making good choices. Pay special attention to obj. 2 and the reply to it.
58,5: Intellectual virtue in general can exist without moral virtue, but prudence cannot exist without the moral virtues because the moral virtues are necessary if one is to be related correctly with respect to the particular principles of doable things, viz., particular ends. But these principles, correctly intended only by one with moral virtue, are the starting point for the sort of deliberation and judgments that prudence involves. (Read the response.)
59,3: Contrary to what the Stoics held, bad things can happen to the wise, and so moral virtue can exist along with pain, sadness, and sorrow. A wise man can be saddened by certain evils: by physical evils, even more by one's present venial sins and one's past sins, and also by the sins of others.
59,4-5: Some, but not all, moral virtues have the passions as their object. The others could exist in the absence of the passions--though in our present state acts of, say, justice can make us joyful to such an extent that this spills over into the sentient appetite as sensed delight.
Even though every moral virtue has certain good
as an effect,
not every virtue has good operations as its primary
object. Thus we can distinguish
moral virtues that in themselves
to do with operations
from those that in themselves have to do
For there are some operations, e.g., buying and
in which goodness and badness attend the operations themselves,
of the agent's affective state with respect to them. These operations
in general to justice, which has the will as its subject. However,
are other operations in which the goodness and badness attend the
affections, i.e., their goodness or badness depends on whether or not
agent has the appropriate affections. These pertain in general to
60,5: For a rough taxonomy of moral virtues according to diverse objects of the passions, see below.
b. their subjects, i.e., the powers or faculties in which they inhere:
62,2: Even though they have as their subjects the same faculties that the moral and intellectual virtues perfect, they perfect them in a supernatural way (see above). So they are distinct from the moral and intellectual virtues, given that they have for their object God insofar as God exceeds the grasp of natural reason.
The theological virtues in themselves:
Faith is an intellectual virtue by which supernatural principles are given to us, viz., speculative and practical principles which are grasped by a certain divine light illuminating our intellects--just as natural speculative and practical principles are known to us by the natural light of reason.
Hope is a virtue of the will by which our will is ordered toward our supernatural ultimate end in the manner of intending that end as something possible to attain.
Charity is a virtue of the will which brings about a certain spiritual union through our being conformed to that end. Charity is the measure of our participation in the inner life of the Triune God. As St. Thomas later puts it, "This fellowship (societas) of man with God, which is a sort of intimate living (familiaris conversatio) with Him, begins here in the present through grace and will be perfected in the future through glory" (q. 65, art. 5).
Natural faith and natural hope fall short of being natural virtues, since natural faith is less perfect than knowledge (scientia) and prudence, whereas hope falls short of possession of the good hoped for. However, supernatural faith and supernatural hope exceed all natural virtue. But faith and hope, even though prior in the order of generation, will not last in the beatific vision, where the ultimate end is known and possessed. Only charity remains. And hence charity is in this sense prior to and more perfect than faith and hope. Also, faith and hope must be "informed by" charity in order for them to be virtues in the strict sense.
Question 63: The cause of virtue
63,2: Habituation: Human acts cause virtues that are ordered to that good which is regulated by the rule of human reason insofar as they proceed from reason. According to an interesting suggestion by Brian Shanley, O.P. ("Aquinas on Pagan Virtue," The Thomist 63 (1999, 553-577), these acquired "pagan" virtues are ordered to the good of a life of political virtue within the polis. This means that the key acquired virtue is "general (or legal) justice," i.e., an habitual inclination toward righteousness, and so the deep motivation for all the moral virtues is to make us fit participants in the life of the community (or fit for friendship, one might say) and persons who see the good of the community (the common good) as constitutive of their own good as individuals. (This is similar to what Socrates means in the Republic by diakosune, which is probably best translated as 'moral uprightness'.)
However, human acts cannot
virtues which order
us to the
good insofar as that good is included under divine law as a standard
under human reason as a standard.
63,3-4: Infusion: The really interesting claim here is that in addition to the theological virtues, there are infused moral virtues which accompany the theological virtues and which orient those in the state of grace toward their supernatural end vis-a-vis the subject matters of the acquired moral virtues. In general, St. Thomas's claim is that the three theological virtues stand to the infused moral virtues as natural principles inclining us toward the good stand to the acquired moral virtues, i.e., they serve as the "seeds" or sources of these virtues. Hence, the infused moral virtues bring to perfection in our actions and passions the seeds planted by the theological virtues. (They do this with the help of the Holy Spirit, whose promptings we are disposed to discern and follow by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.) These are virtues in the most proper sense of the term, according to St. Thomas.
One argument for the necessity of such infused virtues is that in the moral virtues seated in appetitive powers such as the will and sentient appetite, the mean dictated by divine revelation is different from that dictated by unaided human reason. A second argument is that the infused virtues order us toward a supernatural end, viz., sanctity (i.e., intimate friendship with the triune God and participation in God's inner life) as citizens of the heavenly kingdom, whereas the corresponding acquired virtues order us toward natural ends such as friendship within a polis and philosophical contemplation.
Question 65: The connectedness of the virtues
But it is different with the virtues, properly speaking. Now if we think of the cardinal virtues as general conditions for successful morally good actions, then it is obvious that they are connected, since any virtuous act must involve discretion, firmness, moderation, and rectitude of will. However, one can muster a strong argument even if we think of the cardinal virtues more appropriately according to their matter (the passions for temperance and fortitude, and our treatment of others for justice). The key claim is that prudence is required for every virtue, since every virtue is a habit that is ordered toward right choices--and right choices depend upon appropriate means-ends reasoning. By the same token, one cannot have prudence without the other moral virtues, since they incline us to intend good ends and thus set the context within which prudence must operate if it is to generate good choices of means. So the moral virtues are connected because of their relation to prudence.
65,2-3: The infused moral virtues are all connected not only in prudence but also in charity, because charity alone provides the correct appetitive orientation to our true ultimate end. Hence, the acquired moral virtues are virtues only in an extended sense, because they do not of themselves give us the correct affective orientation to the ultimate end, even though they might orient us toward that end per accidens, as it were. (Note the reply to obj. 2 in 65,3.) And just as prudence stands in a relation of mutual dependence with the other cardinal virtues, so charity stands in a relation of mutual dependence with the infused moral virtues, since without those virtues charity could not effect meritorious acts.
65,4-5: Likewise, the theological virtues are connected in charity, even though imperfect counterparts of faith and hope can exist without charity.
Question 66: The equality of the virtues
(a) In the first way, prudence is greater than the moral virtues because it perfects reason directly, whereas the virtues seated in the appetites do so only indirectly. Among the latter, justice is superior to fortitude and temperance because it perfects a higher appetite, viz., the will. Likewise, fortitude is greater than temperance because the perfection of the irascible appetite, as witnessed by acts of courage, is more praiseworthy than the (mere) perfection of the concupiscible appetites. Likewise, in this sense charity is the greatest of the theological virtues and wisdom is the greatest of the intellectual virtues.
(b) As for the second way, there are two senses. The second sense is the one that concerns us here. (Actually, the first sense helps St. Thomas to find a way to agree with the Stoics' insistence that moral virtue cannot be greater or lesser whereas art and science can be -- this has to do, claims St. Thomas, with the fact that a virtue had by a subject extends to all the objects it can extend to, whereas this is not the case with the art and science.) The second sense is in the intensity with which the subject has the virtue -- or, in St. Thomas's more technical language -- the degree to which the subject participates in the virtue. On this score, he insists (66,1, corpus), against the Stoics, that the virtues can be had in different degrees. Thus, it is not necessary, in order for one to be virtuous, that all virtues be possessed to the highest degree. Further, in 66,2 he claims that in any given virtuous individual, the virtues, like the fingers on one's hand, grow in proportion to one another even if some are greater, i.e., had more intensely, than others; note the last paragraph of the response.
Question 67: The duration of the virtues after this life
67,1: The moral virtues remain in the pre-resurrection life of glory to the extent that their formal element, the measure determined by reason, remains. However, their material element, i.e., inclinations toward experiencing the passions in the right way (fortitude and temperance) or acting in the right way (justice), does not remain. In the glorified life there will be no occasions for exercising these virtues as we do in this life: (a) we will not have disordered desires for food or drink or sexual pleasure, and (b) there will be no mortal dangers threatening us, either physical or spiritual, and (c) there will be no call to implement distributive or commutative justice. However, in the state of glory our reason will still have rectitude and (in the post-resurrection period -- see ad 3) our appetitive powers will move us "wholly in conformity with the order of reason in matters pertaining to that state."
67,2: In the pre-resurrection state of glory the intellectual virtues remain in the sense that we retain our intelligible species and concepts and hence are able to exercise these virtues in part.
67,3-6: These articles deal with the theological virtues. Faith is by its nature an imperfect cognition, since it is defined in part as assent to what is not evident to one. However, this does not itself settle the issue of whether faith continues to exist in the state of glory. Angels, for instance, have evening knowledge by their nature and morning knowledge through the light of glory, and both coexist in the state of glory. (Actually, what St. Thomas says here about angelic knowledge provides a key to understanding the relationship between theology and the "philosophical sciences," but I won't go into that here.)
Question 68: The gifts of the Holy Spirit
Question 69: The beatitudes
Question 70: The fruits of the Holy Spirit
An Aristotelian taxonomy of virtues in relation to the different objects of the passions (cf. Nicomachean Ethics 2):