JMC : Classification of Desires / by Henry Ignatius Smith, OP

Chapter IV.

Objective Classification of Desires in St. Thomas and in Small.

Professor Small's classification is found in the textbook which he published jointly with Dr. Vincent, "Introduction to the Study of Society," 1894. It appears in its most developed form in Small's "General Sociology," 1905, passim and in particular from pages 443-481. Pages 718-727 contain a suggestive elaboration of fundamental human interests as the achievement of them might be described in American civilization.

It is to be noted that Small offers this classification without attempting to elaborate a whole system of philosophy as is done by Ward and by St. Thomas. He makes his study simply as a work of social observation without paying any attention to metaphysical implications. "Our purpose . . . is not to propose psychological, and still less metaphysical, solutions. We shall simply schedule, with scant illustrations, certain components of the real individual which are to be reckoned with whenever we try to understand human affairs. Psychological analyses and metaphysical hypotheses have their own competence with respect to these elements, but all sane social theory must first accept certain crude facts as part of its raw material . . ." (General Sociology, 444).{1}

Small uses three terms: desire, want, interest. "An interest is an unsatisfied capacity, corresponding to an unrealized condition, and it is predisposition to such rearrangement as would tend to realize the indicated condition" (433). "Human interests, then, are the ultimate terms of calculation in sociology. The whole life-process, so far as we know it, whether viewed in its individual or in its social phase, is at last the process of developing, adjusting, and satisfying interests. . . . Interests in the sociological sense, are not necessarily matters of attention and choice. They are affinities, latent in persons, pressing for satisfaction, whether the persons are conscious of them generally or specifically, or not; they are indicated spheres of activity which persons enter into and occupy in the course of realizing their personality." (ibid.) Professor Small finds that each of these interests has a subjective and an objective aspect. These interests pass from the latent subjective unconscious state to the active objective conscious form. The difference in meaning between interest, want, and desire, is not worked out because of the complex relations among them and the various meanings in which the words are used. In a footnote (436), Professor Small says: "We might reserve the term 'interest' strictly for the use defined above, applying the term 'desire' to the subjective aspect of choice, and 'want' to the objective aspect, i.e., the thing desired. Precisely because the term 'interest' is in current use for all these aspects of the case, we prefer to retain it." "For our purpose in this argument we need not trouble ourselves very much about nice metaphysical distinctions between the aspects of interest, because we have mainly to do with interests in the same sense in which the man of affairs uses the term." (436.)

Taking interests as these unsatisfied capacities of man and recognizing his tendency toward the satisfaction of these capacities, Professor Small holds that there are six fundamental human interests which explain all desires and, therefore, all of the activities of man. "Interests are the simplest modes of motion which we can trace in the conduct of human beings." (426.) These fundamental interests are health, wealth, sociability, knowledge, beauty and rightness. "Sociology might be said to be the science of human interests and their workings under all conditions." "Our systematized knowledge of the human process, will be measured by the extent of our ability to interpret all human society in terms of its effective results" (442).

St. Thomas' view of appetency and of its different forms which he described as natural, sensient and rational comes to expression substantially in the following from Professor Small: "It is evident that human beings contain one group of interests which are generically identical with the factors that compose plants and animals. . . . They exist in trees and fishes and birds and quadrupeds and men alike. . . . These forces are incessantly displaying themselves in the movements that arrive at certain similar types of result." (426.) The "interests" described by Small, generically at least, are identical with the bona or goods described by St. Thomas. The resemblances and differences will be seen by a comparison of the two systems of classification.

THE HEALTH INTEREST. -- Professor Small's understanding of the health interest will appear from the following: "The primary interest of every man, as of every animal, is in sheer keeping alive." "A universal form of the primary interest is the food interest." (196.) "Again, the food interest is merely foremost in a group of interests that are in the most intimate sense peculiar to the body, the animal part of them." "In this group the sex interest is usually made coordinate with the food interest." (197.) "I venture to call all the other positive types of bodily interests by the general name 'the work-interests.' . . . I mean by it all the impulses to physical activity for its own sake. I mean the impulses to physical prowess and skill, that vary from the pranks of childhood to the systematized trial of skill among athletics." The explanation is summarized as follows: "The three species of interest which I call food, sex, and work make up one genus of human interest to which I give the name the health interest. By this phrase I mean all the human desires that have their center in exercise and enjoyment of the powers of the body." (197.)

There is an interesting agreement between the bona corporis of St. Thomas and the health interests thus described by Professor Small. Self-preservation is the first law of nature. Corresponding to the food, sex and work interests as phases of the health interest in Professor Small's classification we find enumerated by St. Thomas among the goods of the body, food, sex, health, beauty, strength, activity, integrity. The following indications facilitate the comparison: Con. Gen. 3, c. 32; ibid., c. 33; 2-2ae, Q. 65, ad. 3.

THE WEALTH INTEREST. -- Dr. Small describes this interest as follows: "We recognize, alongside of health, this second factor which enters into complete personal realization, viz., that lordship over things which is founded upon direct mastery of natural forces." (454.) "Lordship over things in this sense is an essential social function." (455.) Dr. Small recognizes the great range of unlike motives which may inspire the quest of wealth. "The fact that most of the things deemed desirable in highly developed society are to be accomplished only with the aid of wealth, obscures more than it reveals the intimate nature of the wealth desire proper." (450.) Our author understands by lordship over things the conquest of nature and its subjection to human uses. It is the wealth interest as understood by economic science distinct from the popular identification of money with wealth. "It is part of complete human personality to exercise lordship over things." (451.) "Real wealth is not appreciated by men who know nothing intimately of the difficulties of creating wealth. Wealth as the measure and as the realization of man's mastery over things is neither too highly nor too generally valued in our civilization. Wealth as the mere accumulation of things that others have mastered is both too highly and too generally valued." (454.) "Wealth is man's first realization of independence among the world-forces." "The individual is incomplete and monstrous, unless the power and the practice of the direct lordship of things are evident in him." (45Sf.) "Lordship over things . . . is the satisfaction appropriate to the wealth desire." (456.)

St. Thomas includes among external goods, those of the body and those of the mind. Among the external goods of the body, he places things and persons. Among them he enumerates meat, drink, clothing, houses. Here again, is an interesting agreement between our two authors. It extends even to the use and abuse of wealth. St. Thomas' distinction between natural wealth, or goods, and artificial wealth, or money, is repeated fundamentally in the text of Small. In his treatise on avarice (2-2ae, Q. 118; 1-2ae, Q. 84), he works out some interesting aspects of misguided love of wealth or money into which we need not for the moment enter. One point may be mentioned. Natural riches are desired for the preservation of life. Artificial riches, or money, is desired because by means of it, natural wealth, or necessaries can be obtained. The desire for artificial riches is without limit (1-2ae, Q. 2, a. 1, ad. 3). There is, however, a fundamental difference in the treatment of the two authors. As St. Thomas conceives of these things, they are strictly and literally subdivisions of the health-interest. As Small treats them, they are a form of lordship over things. St. Thomas touches upon that aspect of the matter by telling us that things were made for the dominion or lordship of men (2-2ae, Q. 66, a. 1), and that lordship over things is natural to men (1 Polit., lec. 5).

SOCIABILITY. -- Dr. Small describes the sociability-interest as including "appetites for personal intercourse of a purely spiritual sort, without conscious reference to physical contact or material exchange" (457). "The fact is, that all men tend normally to desire contacts with other men of a sort to gratify their pure sense of personality. We mean by sociability, then, those elements in the relations of persons which correspond with this desire" (458). "It means assertion of right to have feelings respected and opinions weighed and judgments considered on their merits, instead of having them summarily quashed at the dictation of other men's interests" (459). Closely related with this instinct of personal integrity, and intimately involved in its realization, is a social claim which may be called, in the absence of a better term, the craving for reciprocal valuation" (461). "No one has made it evident that there is an important section of life made up of conditions in which personality pure and simple reacts upon personality, and immediately assists or retards normal satisfaction" (458). "Assertion of personality in distinction from other personality, and exchange of recognitions of persoual valuation, are as proper incidents of human satisfaction as supply of the bodily demand for food and air" (461).

St. Thomas treats these matters as external goods of the mind. "The principal external goods satisfying intellectual cravings are fame, honor, glory" (1-2ae, Q. 2, a. 3). "Men desire to be recognized and honored" (ibid). "These spiritual goods are necessary to fit us for our daily duties" (2-2ae, Q. 73, a. 2, ad. 3). "No one has a right to take from us our reputation or glory" (ibid.).

The content of the term "sociability" in Small's classification is substantially identical with what St. Thomas calls external goods of the mind.

KNOWLEDGE. -- Professor Small looks upon knowledge as "good both as a means to other goods, and also as an activity of the person, without reference to any ulterior end" (462). In representing knowledge as a means to other elements of living he indicates that the knowledge needed by an individual is such as to "insure the persistence of the social process at the point where the given individual functions. One is not a well-working socius unless one has the knowledge necessary to provide for self-conduct of one's own part of the social process" (462f). "On the other hand, knowledge as an achievement by itself calls for a going out in thought as far as possible from the thinker's personal function, and a discovering of the content and meaning of as much as possible of the whole life-process, within which the thinker occupies a place" (463). "Knowledge as a means of maintaining the standard of life is practically desired by everybody. Knowledge as vision of the meaning of life, and of what the standard of life should be, is needed by everybody, but is in far less general demand" (463). Our valuations of knowledge tend to scale up and down from the meaning of the nearest details of our individual lives, at the one extreme, to the largest correlations of the total lifeprocess, past, present, and future, at the other" (463). "The whole social process thus realizes itself through the intelligence of the individual, while the individual process, in its intellectual phase, realizes itself through progressive mental representation of the whole social process" (464).

We see from the above that there are included in the knowledge interest, all phases of practical and theoretical knowledge in as far as the former is needed for the practical social efficiency of the individual, and the latter is needed in completing the problem of understanding and interpreting the social universe. The range of this interest, therefore, is from the smallest practical detail of life out to its ultimate philosophy. Thus it includes all sciences, methods of research, coordination of social forces to promote research, all technological sciences, and as well the knowledge element in ethics and theology (General Sociology, 724).

St. Thomas describes three kinds of knowledge: that of things to be believed, things to be desired, things to be done (Opus., IV). Unfortunately he does not develop the thought here.

Of course, the fundamental desire of man to know the truth is not neglected by St. Thomas (Opus., 73). In the distinction between speculative and practical knowledge, which constantly recurs in St. Thomas, we find phraseology and content practically alike in our two authors. He recognizes the necessity of knowledge in order that man may fulfill his duties to God, neighbor and self (la, Q. 13). These relate to man's moral social efficiency, evidently a wider concept than Dr. Small has. He seems to confine the term to the social efficiency of the individual. The detailed explanation of St. Thomas' understanding of the knowledge element as a fundamental human interest is found on pages 27, 28. He has an interesting observation on the pleasure that is derived from knowing things for the first time (1-2ae, Q. 32, a. 8, ad. 3).

BEAUTY. -- Dr. Small's discussion of the beauty-interest is somewhat brief. His essential thought is that "life, at its largest, involves feeling of the aesthetic type, and conduct aimed at satisfaction of the feeling. In this case again the element in question is both a means to other elements of life, and an activity to be regarded as having a distinct and self-sufficient value in the scheme of factors that compose the individual" (464). Dr. Small registers the interest without any attempt whatever at analysis of it. He suggests on page 726, the line along which the detailed study of the beauty interest in social life might lead us. It explains the attempt of literature, sculpture, painting, music, architecture, landscape architecture, and the minor arts. Thus understood, the beauty interest seems to become a collective rather than an individual interest, since all of these are collective social creations. St. Thomas appears to have consulted brevity in his dealing with the subject. We are familiar with the fundamental principle of St. Thomas that all men desire the good. "The beautiful is the same as the good and they differ only in point of view. The nature of the good is that which calms desire, while the beautiful is that which calms desire whose vehicle of expression is eye or ear. Thus we speak of beautiful sights and sounds, but not of beautiful tastes and odors. The good appeals to the appetite; the beautiful adds to this something pleasant to the apprehensive sense" (1-2ae, Q. 27, a. 1, ad. 3). In the classification of goods of the body, our author uses the term "beauty" to indicate symmetry of physical proportions in the individual. Probably this symmetry is desirable as causing pleasure to one who contemplates one's own beauty, and satisfaction in being esteemed or regarded as beautiful by others. If this be true, the meaning of St. Thomas becomes rather an aspect of sociability in Small's sense (Polit., 8, lec. 1; la, Q. 39, a. 8; Quol., L. 6, a. 1; la, Q. 5, a. 4). At any rate, St. Thomas does not make beauty a fundamental human interest. It is an aspect of sensile appetency as exercised through the two organs of sight and hearing.

Love of beauty and desire for pleasure which its contemplation affords, has to do primarily with sense perceptions as a source of knowledge. The two senses involved are those of sight and hearing. The fine arts arose because of the human impulse leading men to seek the particular kind of pleasure that results from seeing or hearing certain things done in certain ways. After satisfying a need in the crude manner usually associated with beginnings, man has always endeavored to advance by satisfying the need in such a way as to associate the satisfaction of the sense of beauty while satisfying a need. A plain, well-constructed hut will satisfy the need for shelter. The whole science of architecture results from the endeavor to assemble around the hut and in its construction such forms, harmonies, proportions, contrasts and masses as furnish to the eye a constant stimulus around pleasurable sensations. This is true of architecture, painting, sculpture. The appeal to the sense of hearing passes likewise from the realm of bald utility to the contemplative attitude in which beauty is perceived. The love of the human ear for concord of sweet sounds, rhythm, polished expression, reveals that deeper longing for accessory pleasurable sensations added over and above to the process of communication among men.

Esthetic enjoyment is a social experience which develops sympathy and the impulse to the exchange of views and impressions. The cultivation of beauty and of art gives new emotional experience, new forms of expression, widening our sympathies. Thus by its very nature it is social. Undoubtedly the quest for beauty deserves a place among the fundamental human interests. The scope of this study hinders us from going beyond the actual treatment found in our two authors. (See article on Esthetics in the Brittanica, 11th edition.){2}

RIGHTNESS. -- The last of the fundamental human interests to which Dr. Small would reduce all social life is that of rightness. In explaining it, he takes care to avoid metaphysical and theological implications, confining himself to the domain of observed facts. He discovers activities not identical with the five types already explained. He observes that "men always manifest some species of premonition of a self somehow superior to their realized self, or of a whole outside of themselves with which it is desirable to adjust the self" (466). "The real individual is at last, in one fraction of his personality, a wistfulness after that other self, or a deference to that inscrutable whole" (466). Dr. Small finds as a matter of fact that "the feeling of oughtness, or conscience, as a meaning factor in men's activities" (466) operates by means of this premonition of a superior self. "It is not at all necessary to an understanding of the human individual up to date to decide whether there is an actual realm for rightness apart from conduct in the spheres where men gain health, wealth, sociability, knowledge, and beauty satisfactions" (468). "To most men, whether they merely acquiesce in authority, or reason for themselves, rightness is an activity with a content as peculiarly its own as the realm of the health activities" (468).

In describing the field of rightness as an object of fundamental human desire, Dr. Small repeatedly warns us that he is observing the action of human desires and not stating doctrines or implications. His exposition locates rightness as a coordinate fundamental interest and not as a feature of all conscious human behavior whatever. His developed tables of details under each of the fundamental interests permit us to see that he has in mind the group of phenomena relating to religion. In fact, the title implied in that division of his general table, 727,

"Achievement in Religion," identifies the two fields.

The following headings make that clear:


A. In defining standards of religious authority.

B. In shifting center of religious interests from another life to present life.

C. In enlarged religious tolerance, with distinction between religion and theology.

D. In definite religious tendencies, promoted by the example of eminent religious men of the century; e.g., Pope Leo XIII, Cardinal Newman, Phillips Brooks, Spurgeon, Moody, General Booth, etc.

E. In federation of religious effort.

F. In religious extension.

G. In local, national, and international enlargement of the sphere of religious activities.

St. Thomas discusses rightness under the name of virtue. Virtue is a habit of right action. The rightness of action is determined by its harmony with or departure from the law of God, relationship to the law of God being direct or indirect. The proximate rule and ideal of life is right reason or conscience (1-2ae, Q. 19, a. 5; la, Q. 79). The remote rule and ideal is God the eternal law. A right life is one that is faithfully guided by the law of God known through conscience. St. Thomas differs fundamentally from Dr. Small in not finding a separate field for rightness as an object of human desire. The former constantly describes rightness as an aspect of all human conduct and by no means as a distinct department of it. The details of the Thomistic view may be found on pages 28, 29. The sharpness of the distinction between the two views is somewhat blunted by recalling that Dr. Small is describing the facts of life as he observes them, while St. Thomas is laying down the laws for the direction of life, the guidance of the sense of oughtness in human conduct.

The following table indicates references in St. Thomas where Small's thought is discussed in its place in the system of the former:

Professor SmallSt. Thomas
Health: Individual Integrity (1a, Q.78, a.2; Q.11, a.1; 2-2ae. Q.25, a.5; Q.64. a.5, a.7; Q.142, aS. ad.2)
Health: Work (2-2ae, Q.65, a.3; Q.168, a.4, ad.1; Opusc. 43, a.5)
Health: Sex (Con. Gen. S.c 32, c 33; Supp. De Matr.)
Wealth: Lordship over things (2-2ae, Q.66, a.1; I Polit. lec 5)
Wealth: Mere accumulation (la. Q.63, a.2; l-2ae, q.2, a.1, ad.3. Opusc. 73, c 4)
Knowledge: Practical (la, Q.14, a.16; De Verit. Q.2. a.8; Meta. lec. 2)
Knowledge: Philosophical (la, Q.14, a.16; 2-2ae, Q.51. a.2, ad.3; Meta. lec. 1. lec. 3)
Beauty (Polit. L.8. lec. 1; la, Q.39, a.8; 1-2ae, Q.27, a.1, ad.3, la, Q.5, a.4. Quol. 6, a.1)
Sociability: Recognition (1-2ae, Q.2, a.2; 2-2ae, Q.1O3, a.1; a.1; De Malo Q.9, a.2)
Sociability: Reciprocal Valuation (2-2ae. Q.113; Q.114)
Rightness (1-2ae, QQ. 1-6; ibid. QQ.18-22)

The purpose of Small in excluding all metaphysics and higher interpretations from his concrete description of fundamental human interests, is made evident throughout his entire text. He constantly reminds us that his effort is to look upon human life, to discover and describe the central objects around which human activities are gathered. Hence, there are no differences of philosophy, of understanding of free will, of the philosophy or psychology of desire, to be noted between our two authors. They are largely alike in the substance of their thinking, the chief differences come in logical arrangement and in the point of approach. Possibly the work of Small emphasizes Tarde's thought as to the message of the old theologians to the newer sociology, more emphatically than even Ward. At any rate, a comparative study gives abundant confirmation of the thought of Tarde to which reference has already been made.

{1} All references in this Chapter, not otherwise specified, are to Small's General sociology.

{2} From Baldwin's Dictionary of Philosophy, we take the following, from the definition of Beauty, vol. I. "Beauty in its ultimate or metaphysical character is an expression, a shining forth of spirit in some particular form or shape. The ground of esthetic pleasure is that the soul perceives in the beautiful object a trace of its own nature as rational, participating in 'form' or 'idea.' Unity in variety is thus pleasing because the soul is such a unity. Bodily beauty is, however, inferior to beauty of soul and this in turn receives its charm from reason. Hence symmetry is quite inadequate as explanation of beauty. Beauty consists rather in the light, the life that streams forth in connection with sympathy: and this in turn derives its value from its ultimate source, the good.

"This general conception of beauty as a manifestation of the good under sensuous conditions was influential with medieval writers. Thomas Aquinas names as its objective characteristics, 'clearness or brightness of color,' 'symmetry,' 'brilliance of form,' in addition to materials proportionally divided or to diverse forms of action, harmony and diversity."

Vallet in his Praelectiones Philosophicae ad mentem S. Thomae, vol. II, p. 47 ff, speaks as follows, quoting St. Thomas. "Ratio pulchri, in universali, consistit in resplendentia formae super partes materiae proporitionatas, vel super diversas vires, vel actiones."

Baldwin appears to have used the same source in the definition just quoted. Unfortunately, he does not indicate the source in St. Thomas from which he draws his reference. Vallet indicates his source as an Opusculum de Pulchro. A careful search of all of St. Thomas' writings, a careful study of Mandonnet (Ecrits de S. Thomas d' Aquin), which is the latest critical review of the genuine and apocryphal writings of St. Thomas fail to locate any treatise de Pulchro.

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