"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.

CH46: HUMAN ACTS [1011]

Article One: Psychology Of Human Acts [1012]

Human acts are the acts of the will directed by reason. They are either elicited, that is, produced by the will itself, or commanded, that is, produced by some other faculty under the influence of the will. Elicited acts are concerned either with the end or with the means.

Three acts are concerned with the end:

a) simple velleity, [1013] not yet efficacious.
b) efficacious intention of the end; [1014].
c) joy in the end attained. [1015].

Two acts are concerned with means:

a) consent, [1016] which accepts means.
b) choice of a determined set of means. [1017].

Each of these five acts of the will is preceded by a directive act of-the intellect. Simple velleity, by the knowledge of the good in question; [1018] intention, by a judgment that this end should be attained; [1019] consent, by counsel; [1020] choice, by the last practical judgment which terminates deliberation. [1021].

After voluntary choice there follows, in the intellect, the act called imperium, which directs the execution of the means chosen, ascending from lower means to those higher and nearer to the end to be obtained, in order inverse to that of intention, which descends from the desired end to the means which come first in execution. [1022].

After the intellect's imperium there follows in the will the act called active use, which sets the other faculties to work. These acts of the other faculties, called passive use, are, properly speaking, commanded acts of the will. And the will's last act is that of joy in the possession of the end obtained. The end, which was first in the order of intention, is the last in the order of execution. [1023].

The next question is that of morality, which is studied in general, [1024] in the interior act, [1025] in the exterior act, [1026] and in its consequences. [1027].

The morality of a human act derives primarily from its specific object, secondarily from its end and circumstances. [1028] Thus an act may have a double goodness or a double malice. An act, good in its object, can be bad by its end, almsgiving, for example, done for vainglory. Hence, although there are acts which in their object are indifferent, as for example, walking, there is nevertheless no deliberate concrete act which is indifferent in its end, because, unless it is done at least virtually for a good end, it is morally bad. [1029] All the good acts of a just man, therefore, are supernaturally meritorious, by reason of their relation to the last end, which is God.

By the term "interior act" St. Thomas often means an act which does not arise from a previous act, the first act, for example, of willing an end. By opposition, then, "exterior act" often means not only the act of the corporeal members, but also an act of the will itself, if this act arises from a preceding act, as when, for example, we will the means because we already will the end.

Here we must remark, further, that a human act, voluntary and free, is not necessarily preceded, if we speak precisely, by a discursive deliberation, but may be the fruit of a special inspiration, superior to human deliberation. But, even here, the act is free and meritorious, because the will consents to follow the inspiration. Here lies the difference between the virtue of prudence, which presupposes discursive deliberation, and the gifts which make man prompt and docile to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. These latter acts, free but not in the proper sense deliberate, are the fruit, as we shall see later, not of cooperating grace, but of operating grace. [1030].

Article Two: Conscience And Probabilism

Probabilism is a question which has been often discussed since the sixteenth century. Solution of the question depends on the definition of opinion.

"Opinion," says St. Thomas, "is an act of the intellect which inclines to one part of a contradiction with the fear that the other part is true." [1031] Hence, to have a reasonable opinion, the inclination to adhere to it must outweigh the fear of error. Hence, if Yes is certainly more probable, No is probably not true, but rather probably false, and therefore, as long as Yes seems more probable, it would be unreasonable to follow No. In other words, against an opinion probable enough to obtain the consent of wise men, there can be only an improbable opinion, which we should not follow.

This position is in accord with the teaching of St. Thomas [1032] on prudential certitude, which rests on conformity with right desire. Where we cannot find the truth with evidence, we should follow that opinion which is nearest the truth, i. e.: is most in harmony with the inclination of virtue. The virtuous man judges by his inclinations to virtue, not by the inclination to egoism.

Bartholomew de Medina [1033] proposed a theory quite different from that just now outlined. It does not seem, he says, that it is wrong to follow a probable opinion, even when the opposed opinion is more probable. But, in order to close the door against laxism, he adds: An opinion does not become probable by the mere support of apparent reasons and the fact that some maintain it, otherwise all errors would be probable. An opinion is genuinely probable only when it is supported by wise men and confirmed by excellent arguments.

But the position of Medina, even thus safeguarded, is not the less open to criticism, because he gives to the word "probable" a moral meaning which is not in harmony with its philosophical meaning, contained in the definition of opinion as given by St. Thomas. Medina's theory amounts to saying that, with sufficient justification, we may uphold both Yes and No on one and the same object of the moral order.

Nevertheless Medina succeeded in persuading others of the utility of his theories, and was followed by a certain number of Spanish Dominicans: Louis Lopez, Dominic Banez, Diego Alvarez, Bartholomew and Peter of Ledesma. The Jesuits, too, in general adopted this theory, which became more and more known by the name of probabilism.

But the descent was slippery. "The facility," says Mandonnet, [1034] "with which all opinions became probable since their contradictories were probable did not delay in leading to great abuses. Then, in 1656, the Provincial Letters of Pascal threw into the public arena a controversy confined until then to the schools. Faced with a great scandal, Alexander VII in that same year intimated to the Dominican general chapter his will that the order campaign efficaciously against the probabilist doctrines." From that time on probabilist writers disappeared completely among the Friars Preachers. [1035].

In 1911, a posthumous work of P. R. Beaudouin, O. P. [1036] proposed an interesting conciliation between the principles of St. Thomas and the teaching of St. Alphonsus Liguori, namely, equiprobabilism, considered as a form of probabilism. In matters where probability is permitted, St. Alphonsus, in fact, invokes "the principle of possession" in order to pronounce between two opinions equally probable. This principle seems to have priority in the system of St. Alphonsus over a second principle that "doubtful laws do not bind." Now this principle of possession is itself derived from a more general reflex principle which has always been admitted, namely, that in doubt we are to stand by the view which is presumably true. [1037].

From that time forward, Father Gardeil, following Father Beaudouin, insisted [1038] on the philosophical sense of the word "probable," so well explained by St. Thomas, from which it follows that, when Yes is certainly more probable, then No is probably not true, but probably false. In other words, when Yes is certainly more probable, then the reasonable inclination to accept that Yes prevails over the fear of error, whereas, if, knowing this, we maintain the No, the fear of error would outbalance the inclination to deny. To repeat: When affirmation is certainly more probable, negation is not probable, that is, is not probably true, but rather probably false.

St. Thomas, it is true, does cite at times other reflex principles, useful in forming conscience, for example, that in doubt we are to stand by the view which is presumably true. But if he seldom dwells on these reflex principles, it is because he holds that prudential certitude [1039] is found in that view which is nearest to evident truth, and most in conformity, not with egoism, but with the inclination to virtue.

Article Three: The Passions

The passions are acts of the sense appetite, hence are common to man and animal. But they participate in man's moral life, either by being ruled, or even aroused, by right reason, or by not being ruled as they should.

Hence man's will should reduce these passions to the happy medium where they become instruments of virtue. Thus hope and audacity become instruments of courage; sense-pity subserves mercy; and bashfulness subserves chastity. Here again St. Thomas rises above two opposed extremes: over Stoicism, which condemns passion, and over Epicureanism, which glorifies passion. God gave us sense appetite, as He gave us imagination, as He gave us two arms, all to be employed in the service of true manhood, virtue, moral good.

Passions, then, well employed, become important moral forces. Antecedent passion, as it is called, since it precedes judgment, does, it is true, becloud reason, in the fanatic, for example, and in the sectary. But consequent passion, since it follows reason clarified by faith, augments merit and strengthens the will. [1040] But if left unruled, undisciplined, passions become vices. Thus sense-love becomes gluttony or lust, audacity becomes temerity, fear becomes cowardice or pusillanimity. In the service of perversity passion augments the malice of the act.

In classifying the passions, St. Thomas follows Aristotle. Six passions, in three pairs, hate and love, desire and aversion, joy and sadness, belong to the concupiscible appetite. To the irascible appetite belong five passions, two pairs, hope and despair, audacity and fear, and one single passion, anger (ira, which gives its name "irascible" to the whole series). First among all these passions, on which all others depend, is love From love proceed desire, hope, audacity, joy, and also their contraries, hate, aversion, despair, fear, anger, and sadness.

St. Thomas scrutinizes in detail each of the eleven passions. The result is a model, too little known, of psychological analysis. Deserving of special study is his treatise on love, its causes, its effects. [1041] Here he formulates general principles which he later applies, analogically, in his study of charity, that is, the supernatural love of benevolence, just as his doctrine on the passion of hope is later applied analogically in his study of the infused virtue of hope.

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