Jacques Maritain Center : Elements of Moral Theology


(A psychological view of the passions of the human soul belongs to our subject only so far as it is necessary for a clear understanding of our moral relations. For if good and evil have in any way those passions for their subject, it is evident that we cannot understand our proper theme unless we have first clearly seen what man is in these powers which may he corrupted. Knowledge of the corruption implies knowledge of that which is corrupted, But our space allows of only a rapid glance at that which S. Thomas endeavors to analyze and consider in detail.)

§. 1. General view.

The word "passion" indicates that the soul is rather acted upon than exerting its spontaneous activity, while at the same time it undoubtedly reacts upon the external stimulus. But, in feeling, the soul is acted upon through the bodily frame which is united with it, the body itself, first and chiefly its nerve-centres, undergoing a mysterious alteration. Passions are closely connected with desires, for these desires are the peculiar reaction of the soul towards that which is presented to it through the passions.

And what distinguishes these passions and desires from the higher nature of reason and will, is that the former are directly conditioned by bodily (nervous) alteration.

The (Aristotelian) division of passions into the concupiscible and the irascible is serviceable for our purpose. The object of the former is the sensible good (simply such) as pleasurable or painful. But sometimes the soul undergoes difficulty or conflict in obtaining some such good, or avoiding some such evil. And so the same good or evil, with the added quality of special difficulty, is the object of the irascible passions. To the former class belong such passions as joy, sorrow, love, hate, and the like; to the latter class, courage, fear, hope, etc.

Are moral good and evil found in the passions?

We may consider these passions in themselves, or as they are subject to the dominion of reason and will. In themselves they are motions of irrational appetite. So viewed, there is neither moral good nor moral evil in them, for these require reason as their basis.

It is quite otherwise if we view those passions as under the dominion of reason and will. For as the motions of the bodily members are good or bad, morally speaking, so as they are voluntary, so and much more so the motions of the passions, which are nearer to the higher nature than the body is. Acts of passions are voluntary either because they are commanded by the will, or because they are not prohibited by it.

Here is the common ground of man and brute. Both have these passions. But in the brute there is no spiritual reason which can command them. Therefore the brute's life is not a moral life.

But in man passions and desires are, in a certain way, rational, because it is one human being who possesses the reason and is affected by the passions.

Is every passion of the soul morally bad?

The Stoics seem to say that they are so. But they do not distinguish between will and desire, between sensibility and reason. Therefore every rational exertion of desire they call will, and every act which transcends the limits of reason they call passion. So viewed, passions are diseases of the soul. But we may understand by passions every motion of sense-appetite. So viewed, if governed by reason they are not diseases, they are not evil.

It is true that they incline to sin, so far as they are outside of the domain of reason; but, as ordered by it, they are the subject of virtue.

Does passion add to, or diminish from, the goodness or the badness of our act?

According to the Stoic, every passion diminishes the goodness of our act, because that passion is a disease of our reason. But if by passions we mean all motions of sense-appetite, we see that the government of those passions by reason pertains to the perfection of human good. That good is rooted in reason, but it is more perfect the wider its power extends. No one doubts that the directing the acts of our bodily members by reason pertains to the perfection of moral good. And since the sense-appetite, also, can obey reason, the same thing is true of that. As, then, it is better that a man both will the good and produce the outward act accordingly, so it is better that a man be moved to the good not only by his will but also by his affections. So the psalm says (lxxxiv. 2), "My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God." Where, if "heart" (according to Hebrew usage) represents spiritual reason and will, "flesh" will stand for the affections of sense-appetite.

Morally viewed -- sc., looking at the object of the passion as harmonizing with reason or discordant from it -- passions may be good or bad in their own nature; e.g., envy, which is sorrow at another's good.

Which is first in the order of passions?

Love, among those of the concupiscible soul. For its object is the good, of which evil is only the privation implying the prior good. In the order of attainment first comes love, which is complacency in its object; next, desire of that good, a motion of the soul towards it; and last, joy or pleasure, which is rest in its possession. But if we speak of the order of intention, it is the reverse of this. For the pleasure aimed at causes the desire and the love.

Hope is prior among the passions of the irascible soul; for those passions are naturally prior whose object is the good. And hope is inward motion towards an absent good. This makes it first in order.

The four principal passions are joy, sorrow, hope, and fear. In present good, there is joy; in present evil, sorrow; of future gpod, there is hope; and of future evil, there is fear.

§ 2. On Love.

Love is one species of inclination or appetite for the good. In nature we find such an inclination without apprehension of its object. In brutes we find it (apparently) accompanied by apprehension of its object. We call it instinctive love. But there is another kind of seeking for the object of love, which is rational and according to free choice. In each there is a principle of motion towards the desired end. Sense-love, then, is complacency in the good of sensitive appetite; as spiritual love is complacency in the good of reason and will. The sole cause of love is the good, because that is the object of love. Evil is never loved except it be apprehended as good, because it is a good secundum quid. Man is said to love iniquity, inasmuch as by it he expects to obtain some good, as pleasure or money.

We speak, indeed, of a love for the beautiful. But this is the good in another and special point of view. For the good is what all things seek, and rest in when obtained. But to the idea of the beautiful it pertains that desire rests in the outward or inward contemplation of it. And so the beautiful adds to the notion of the good a certain relation to our cognoscitive power. That is simply good which pleases desire; but that is beautiful whose apprehension pleases.

Knowledge, at least partial knowledge, is a pre-requisite and cause of love. But since cognition pertains to reason, its perfection reqaires a completeness of intellectual apprehension which is not needed for perfect love. This requires that the thing be loved so far as it is apprehended. Consider, in this regard, our love of God.

§ 3. Hate.

As in animal or in rational appetite love is a certain agreement of the desire with that which is apprehended as harmonizing with self and beneficial to self, so to that which is repugnant and injurious to well-being is felt the passion of hate. This repugnant and injurious thing is evil, and so evil is the object of hate. All hate springs from love; for nothing is hated except as it is opposed to that which is regarded as good.

Can one hate himself?

Properly speaking, this is impossible. For each thing naturally seeks its own good, and can desire nothing for itself except as good. Evil is always opposed to the will. But to love any one is to will the good for him. Hence, self-love is a necessity of nature. But still, one may be said (per accidens) to hate himself, for two reasons: (1) He may seek what is, secundum quid, a good for himself, while it is simply evil; (2) He may chiefly regard his animal nature, and love himself according to his own estimation of himself. But he hates that which he most truly is, in willing what is contrary to reason. In both ways, he who loves iniquity hates not only his soul, but himself.

Even the suicide apprehends his death as a good thing; viz., the cessation of pain or misery.

Can any one hate the truth?

The Good and Being and the True are one in essence, but differ in our thought. For the Good adds the idea of what is desirable; but not so the Thought of Being or of the True. And, therefore, the Good as good cannot be hated, neither universally nor in particulars. But Being and the True cannot be hated in their general notion, because disagreement is the cause of hate, and the opposite is the cause of love. But Being and the True are common to all things. But, in particulars, nothing prevents a certain being and a certain truth from being hated, inasmuch as it contains the idea of contrariety and repugnance. For these are not opposed to the idea of Being and of the True, as they are to the idea of the Good. (1) Man may will that not to be true which is so; and so he may hate the truth. (2) Truth in his cognition may hinder his attaining what be loves, and so it is hated. So one may will not to know the verity of the faith in order that be may freely sin. Thus we read in the book of Job (xxi. 14), that the wicked said unto God, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways." (3) Some particular truth may be repugnant and be hated, as it exists in the mind of another, as when one wishes to continue in his sin, and hates that another know the truth concerning that sin.

§ 4. Concupiscence.

I mean by concupiscence the desire of pleasure, not in the good of reason, which desire belongs to the soul alone, but in the good of sense, which belongs to the creature compounded of body and soul. Such desire is in sense-appetite. It is a special passion, springing from love and tending towards pleasure.

Some condupiscences are natural; some are not.

In two modes is anything pleasurable and desired. First, as in accordance with the animal nature, as food, drink, etc.; desire of these is natural concupiscence. In another mode anything is pleasurable, according to apprehension of it (i.e., to the soul viewing it). Desire of this is not "natural" (in the same sense of the word), and may be called cupidity. The natural concupiscences are common to man and brute (since they have the same animal nature). But the non-natural are peculiar to man, since it is his peculiar gift to consider something as good and suited to himself beside what nature requires.

But the same thing may be sought for by natural appetite, and by cupidity when it is contemplated by the mind as a good.

Natural concupiscence cannot be actually infinite, for it is only of what nature requires, though it may be indefinitely prolonged, since corporeal goods fail, and need to be renewed. But the non-natural, since it follows reason which has no bounds, is unbounded. He whose cupidity is directed to riches, has no limit to his desire. If, indeed, riches were the means to another end -- say, the necessities of life -- there would be a limit to the desire of them. But if riches are the end itself, there can be no limit.

§ 5. Pleasure.

Pleasure is an emotion or passion of the soul following upon the good attained. It is, indeed, a sort of rest of the soul in that good, but not an inactive rest.

Pleasure is not always joy. For as there are certain natural concupiscences and certain ones non-natural, so there are natural pleasures, and others which follow reason. These latter are what we call joy. Hence we do not (properly) attribute joy to brutes, but only pleasure. We may, indeed, have joy in natural pleasures, but not conversely. Pleasure, therefore, is a word of wider extent than joy.

Joy is found in the rational appetite, the will. It is purely in the soul; whereas sense-pleasure involves bodily transmutation.

Can any pleasure he unnatural?

What do we mean by natural? In man the word may have two meanings. Since reason and understanding are the distinctive characteristics of man's nature, we may call natural pleasures those which properly belong to man as a rational being. To take pleasure in the truth and in the practice of virtue is natural to man. But, in another way, nature may mean what is common to man and other animals, as opposed to man's peculiar gift of reason. Accordingly, what pertains to the preservation of the individual or the species may be said to be naturally pleasurable.

But, according to both meanings of the word natural, some pleasures are simply unnatural, though, in a sense, connatural. For that which is contrary to the nature of man, either as respects reason or as regards the preservation of the body (or the species), may become connatural to some individual on account of the corruption of his nature. Either body or soul (or both) may be so corrupted; and the result will be similar in both cases.

Activity is the antecedent of pleasure.

For pleasure requires the attaining of a suitable good, and knowledge of its attainment. Both of these are operations of the soul. Therefore operation is the antecedent of pleasure. Pleasure is also the result of concomitant activity. For there is a transmutation of the soul itself in the presence of the pleasurable good; that good increases its influence with its continued presence; and, thirdly, there is growing desire to know the pleasurable thing more perfectly.

Hope and memory make the past or the future to be present to the mind. Therefore they are causes of joy; and most especially hope, because there is added to apprehension of the future the possibility of obtaining the delectable good.

Even sorrow, in a certain way, may be the cause of pleasure, first, by bringing back to mind the lost pleasure, whose very presence in the memory has some pleasure connected with it. But far more is sorrow, when it is escaped, the cause of pleasure. For the very escape is itself regarded as a great good. And of the blessed in heaven it may be said that the greater the danger (and sorrow) in the battle, the greater the joy in the triumph.

The actions of others may be the cause of pleasure to ourselves, (1) when by them we obtain some good; (2) when through others we get higher estimation of our own proper good, by praise and honor; so even the flatterer is pleasurable to some; (3) love may lead us to regard the good actions of others as if they were our own.

Doing good to others may be the cause of pleasure for various reasons. (Other causes of pleasure are here omitted.)

Is every pleasure evil?

Pleasure is the rest of the soul in some good which is loved, and it follows some activity of the soul. A pleasure is good when the higher or lower desire of the soul rests in that which is accordant with reason, and evil when it rests in that which is discordant with reason and with God's law. Again, since the concupiscences of good operations are good, which desires precede action, much rather are the pleasures good which are conjoined to such operations. We conclude, then, that the pleasures of good action are good; the pleasures of bad action, evil.

It is true that pleasures which corrupt prudence and impede the use of reason are bad in general; but pleasures from the exercise of reason do nothing of this kind (but rather exalt the exercise of reason itself).

Temperance (and Sobriety) do not consist in fleeing from all pleasures, but from the immoderate ones, and those not consonant with reason.

Is every pleasure good?

As the Stoic makes every pleasure evil, so the Epicurean considers pleasure, as such, to be a good, and every pleasure good. But they should distinguish between what is simply good and that which is good, relatively, to this man or that. What is not in itself a good may be so, relatively, to the individual for two reasons: (1) His unnatural state makes that to suit his condition which otherwise would be unsuited, unnatural; (2) his false estimation of good may cause him to find pleasurable rest in that which is not truly good. (Such pleasure is evil, like its source.)

The highest pleasure in beatitude is the highest of human good things.

Is pleasure the measure and rule by which we judge moral good and evil?

These are principally found in the will. But whether the will is good or bad is known from its end. And that is esteemed as the end in which the will rests. But this rest is pleasure. And so the pleasure which a man finds in this or that is the measure by which the good or the bad man is judged to he what he is. The virtuous man is he who delights in virtuous operation; the bad man is he who finds his pleasure in evil actions.

But the pleasures of sense-appetite are not the measure of moral good and evil (since the will is not directly concerned therein).

Action is not perfectly good, unless there be pleasure in the good; for since pleasure perfects operation as an end of it, not indeed as the end for which a thing is done, but as a supervening good; and since, also, the agent who finds pleasure in action acts more energetically in consequence thereof; and since the goodness of a thing depends upon its end, in a certain way the goodness of pleasure is a cause of goodness in the action.

§ 6. Pain and sorrow.

Pain is a passion of the (sensitive) soul, following upon what injures the body, when that evil is perceived. Sorrow is a species of inward pain which is due, not to sense-apprehension, but to the inward apprehension of reason or imagination. The outward sense perceives only the present condition of the body; but the inward cognition embraces also the past and the future; therefore sorrow has wider extent than pain.

Since sorrow in the soul is a motion away from its object, its object is rather the evil conjoined to the soul than the lost good. But love of that good is the cause of that sorrow for its loss. But the loss itself is apprehended as an evil.

Is all sorrow evil?

In itself it is simply an evil, for the very fact that man's desire is oppressed by present evil, is itself an evil. But, in another way, a thing is called good or evil when we assume a certain hypothesis.

Thus shame is said to be good after a base fault. If we suppose, then, some due occasion for sorrow, it pertains to goodness that one be saddened by a present evil. If it were not so, the reason would be either that the evil was not felt, or that it was not regarded as evil. And both of these are manifestly evil. "It is still a good that we grieve for lost good; for unless some good remained in nature, in penalty, there would be no pain for lost good." (S. Aug., Gen. ad lit., viii. 14.)

Can sorrow be a moral good?

The Lord said (S. Matt. v. 5), "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," which word of His answers our question. But we may examine the reasons for the affirmative answer. Sorrow is, as we have seen, a good from its containing a knowledge of evil and an aversion to it. So bodily pain attests the goodness of the nature which feels the bodily evil, and shuns what as injurious to the body. But in the inward sorrow there is sometimes right judgment of reason, and an abhorrence of evil by a well-constituted will. But all moral good comes from this rectitude of mind and will. Therefore sorrow may be a moral good.

It may be said that we feel sorrow concerning those things which happen against our will; but not to will whatever God sends is to have a will opposed to His Divine ordering; and rectitude of will requires a conformity of our will to the Divine will. But I answer that some things -- viz., sins -- happen contrary to God's will. And a will repugnant to sin is not discordant from the will of God. Penal evils happen indeed with God's consent. But rectitude of will does not require that man will those things considered in themselves, but that he do not oppose in his soul the order of Divine justice. No pain or sorrow is man's greatest evil.

For every pain or sorrow is either concerning what is truly evil, or concerning some apparent evil which is truly good. But pain or sorrow from the first is not the greatest evil, for there is another worse, which is either not judging that to be evil which truly is so, or even not avoiding it. But pain or sorrow from the second is not the greatest evil, for it would be altogether worse to be so alienated from the real good.

There is always some mixture of good in pain or sorrow; sc., a will repugnant to evil.

Passing by most of the passions of the irascible soul, we will consider lastly,

§ 7. Anger.

Anger is a passion of the irascible sensitive nature, compounded, as it were, of two opposite passions.

For whoever is angry at another seeks for vengeance on him. And so the soul's motion in anger tends towards two things; sc., first, to the vengeance which he seeks and hopes for as a good, and, secondly, anger is directed towards him from whom vengeance is sought, as towards an injurious and offensive object.

Love and hate regard one object only, the good and the evil in each case. But anger regards one object as good -- sc., the vengeance; another as evil -- sc., the injurious man, on whom vengeance is sought for.

Hate, therefore, is much graver than anger; for he that hates seeks his enemy's evil as evil, but the angry man seeks evil for the one at whom he is angry not as evil but as good, so far as he judges that evil to be just -- i.e., vengeance. And herein the virtue of justice may be exercised, if the anger be subjected to reason. (We leave out of view the Christian grace of charity.) But anger is deficient in this only, that it does not obey the command of reason in taking vengeance.

Anger may be more intense than hate; but as regards the thing desired, anger may have more of mercy in it. For hate is satisfied with no measure of evil. For those things which are sought on their own account, are sought without measure. So the avaricious seek riches without measure. But anger seeks the evil under the idea that it is just. Accordingly, when the evil exceeds due measure, then the angry man may have pity.

Vengeance seeks for penalty of wrong-doing. But penalty implies something contrary to the will, afflictive, and produced for some fault. And. therefore the angry man seeks that the injurer may perceive, and feel, and know, that that penalty is come upon him in consequence of the injury which he has done. But he that hates another cares for none of these things, because he seeks the evil of his enemy as evil. This is far worse.

The foregoing considerations will make it plain that anger can only come in where justice and injustice are concerned.

All causes of anger are reducible to low esteem or contempt of the injured man.

Aristotle (Rhet. ii. 2) very properly distinguishes three kinds of low esteem; viz., contempt, hindrance to executing our will, and contumely. This low esteem produces anger, since vengeance is sought on account of that which seems to be unjustly done.

But injury is done in three ways: through ignorance, through passion, through deliberate choice of it. And the latter, most of all, produces anger, because the injurer seems to be sinning through contempt of the injured.

Again, low esteem is opposed to the proper excellence of man. But, out of all our goods, we seek this most of all. And therefore whoever does us injury, derogating from our excellency, seems to be acting through low esteem of us.

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