Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION VI.: OF THE VOLUNTARY AND THE INVOLUNTARY. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION VI.: OF THE VOLUNTARY AND THE INVOLUNTARY. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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OF THE VOLUNTARY AND THE INVOLUNTARY.
Article I.—Is there anything voluntary in human acts?
R. There must be a voluntary element in human acts. In evidence of this position, we must consider that, in order to anything being done for an end, there is requisite some sort of knowledge of the end. Whatever agent, therefore, acts from an intrinsic principle with a knowledge of the end before it, has in itself the principle of its own action, not only to act, but to act for an end. On the other hand, when an agent has no knowledge of the end before it, then, though there be in it a principle of action, still there is in it no principle of acting for an end; but that resides in some other being from whence it receives a determination to move towards an end. Hence such things are not said to guide themselves, but to be guided by others: whereas beings that have a knowledge of an end before them are said to guide themselves, because there is in them the principle not only of action, but of action for an end. And therefore, since their acting and their acting for an end are both from an intrinsic principle, their movements and actions are said to be voluntary. This is the meaning of the word voluntary, that the movement and action is of the agent’s own inclination. Hence the voluntary is defined to be not merely “that the beginning of which is within the agent,” but the addition is made, “with knowledge.” Hence, as man especially knows the end of his work, and sets himself in motion thereto, it is in his acts especially that the voluntary element is found.
§ 1. Not every beginning is a first beginning. Though therefore it is of the essence of a voluntary act that its beginning be within, yet it is not against the essence of a voluntary act for that internal beginning to be caused or started by some external principle: because it is not of the essence of voluntariness that the intrinsic principle be the first principle. A principle of motion may be the first principle of its kind without being the first absolutely. Thus then the faculty of knowledge and desire, which is the intrinsic principle of a voluntary act, is the first principle of its kind, as a principle of a motion of desire, albeit it is moved according to other species of motion by something exterior.
Article II.—Is there anything voluntary in the behaviour of dumb animals?
R. To the notion of the voluntary it is requisite that the act be originated from within, with some knowledge of the end. Now there is a twofold knowledge of the end, perfect and imperfect. Perfect knowledge of the end is when there is apprehended, not only the thing which is the end, but also the fact of its being the end, and the bearing of the means upon the end; and such knowledge is within the competence of a rational nature only. Imperfect knowledge of the end is that which consists in the mere apprehension of the end, without any idea of the end as such, or of the bearing of the act upon the end; and such knowledge of the end is found in dumb animals. Perfect knowledge of the end is attended by voluntariness in its perfection, inasmuch as from apprehension of the end a man can deliberate about the end and the means thereto, and so bestir himself or not, to gain the end. Imperfect knowledge of the end is attended by voluntariness of an imperfect sort, inasmuch as the agent apprehending the end does not deliberate, but suddenly sets itself in motion towards it. Hence voluntariness in its perfection is within the competence of the rational nature alone, but in an imperfect sort of way it is within the competence even of dumb animals.
§ 1.Will is the name of the rational appetite; and therefore in creatures devoid of reason there can be no will. But the term voluntary may be extended to agents in which there is some approach to will: and in this way voluntariness is attributed to the actions of dumb animals, inasmuch as they are guided to their end by a sort of knowledge.
Article III.—Can there be voluntariness in total inaction?
R. That is said to be voluntary which is from the will. One thing is said to be from another in two ways: in one way directly, as proceeding from the action of another thing; in another way indirectly,1 as arising from something else not acting, as the sinking of a ship is said to arise from the steersman ceasing to steer. But we must observe that what follows from a thing’s not acting cannot always be set down to that thing as a cause, but only in the case when the agent can and ought to act. For if the steersman could not control the way of the ship, or if the steering of the vessel were not entrusted to him, the sinking of the ship for lack of a steersman would not be imputed to him. Since then the will by willing and acting can hinder not willing and not acting, and sometimes ought to hinder it, this not willing and not acting is imputed to the will as proceeding from it. Thus there may be voluntariness in inaction, sometimes with exterior inaction joined to an interior act, as when one wills to remain inactive: at other times, where the inaction extends to the interior as well, as when one has no will to act.
Article IV.—Can violence be done to the will?
R. There is a twofold act of the will, one immediately belonging to and elicited by the will itself; another commanded by the will and exercised through the medium of some other power, as walking and speaking, which are commanded by the will and exercised by means of the motive power. As regards then acts that are commanded by the will, the will can suffer violence, inasmuch as the exterior members may be impeded by violence from fulfilling the behest of the will. But as regards the proper act of the will itself, no violence can be done it. It is contrary to the essential notion of the act of the will, that it should be forced or violent. A man may be dragged by violence, but his being so dragged of his own will is inconsistent with the idea of violence.
§ 1. God, who is more powerful than the human will, can move the human will, as the text has it: “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever he will he shall turn it.”1 But if this were done by violence, it would not be with an act of the will; nor would the will itself be moved, but something against the will.
§ 3. Though that to which the will tends in sinning be in reality evil and against nature, still it is apprehended as good and suitable to nature, inasmuch as it is suitable to man in respect of some pleasure of sense or some vicious habit.
§ 1. Not only the act which is immediately proper to the will itself is called voluntary, but also the act which is commanded by the will. As regards this act commanded, the will may suffer violence; and to that extent violence causes involuntariness.
Article VI.—Does fear cause absolute involuntariness?
R. Rightly considered, actions done through fear are rather voluntary than involuntary: they are voluntary absolutely, but in a restricted sense involuntary. A thing is absolutely what it is in act, but what it is in apprehension alone it is in a restricted sense. Now what is done through fear is in act according as it is done. Acts do not take place in general, but in particular; and a particular act as such is here and now. What is done, therefore, is in act according as it is here and now, and under other individualizing conditions. It follows that what is done through fear is voluntary inasmuch as it is here and now, that is to say, inasmuch as under the circumstances it is a hindrance to a greater evil of which there was otherwise fear. Thus the throwing of merchandise into the sea comes to be voluntary at the time of the storm for fear of the danger. Hence it is manifest that the act is absolutely voluntary—voluntary, because the origin of it is within. But if what is done through fear is viewed in the light in which the act stands apart from the circumstances of the case, inasmuch as it goes against the will, such as aspect we observe is arrived at in thought only; and therefore the act is involuntary in a restricted sense, namely, when considered apart from the actual circumstances of the case.
§ 1. Things that are done through fear and things that are done through force differ not only in respect of present and future time, but also in this, that in what is done through force or violence the will does not consent, but the thing done is altogether against the motion of the will: but what is done through fear is done voluntarily, because the motion of the will is carried towards it, although not for the thing itself, but for something else, to wit, for the repelling of the evil that is feared. The idea of voluntariness is sufficiently fulfilled in that which is voluntary for the sake of something else: or in other words, in that which is voluntary as a means, though not as an end. It is clear, then, that in what is done through violence, the inner will is quiescent, but in what is done through fear the will is active. And therefore in the definition of violence, it is not merely affirmed that “the violent is that, the origin whereof is from without,” but it is added, “without any concurrence on the part of him to whom the force is applied.”
§ 3. What is done through fear is voluntary without condition, that is, according as it is actually done; but involuntary under a condition, that is, on the supposition that such a fear were not imminent.
Article VIII.—Does ignorance cause involuntariness?
Ignorance has in it to cause involuntariness, as robbing the mind of knowledge, the necessary preliminary to a voluntary act. Still it is not every sort of ignorance that robs the mind of such knowledge. Therefore we must observe that ignorance stands in three relations to the act of the will, in one way concomitantly, in another way consequently, in a third way antecedently. Concomitantly, when there is ignorance of what is done, yet so that if it were known, it still would be done. Ignorance in that case does not induce the agent to will the particular act, but the doing and the ignorance go together, as in the stock example, when some one wished indeed to kill an enemy, but killed him in ignorance, thinking to kill a stag. Such ignorance does not make an act involuntary, because the outcome of it is not against the will, but it makes an act not voluntary, because that cannot be actually willed which is unknown.
Ignorance stands consequently to the will, when the ignorance is itself voluntary; and this happens in two ways. One way when the act of the will is directed to ignorance, as when a man wishes to be ignorant, either to have excuse in his sin, or not to be withdrawn from sinning, according to the saying, “We desire not the knowledge of thy ways;”1 and this is called affected (affectionated) ignorance. In another way ignorance is said to be voluntary, when it is of that which you can and ought to know, either when you do not actually consider what you might and ought to consider, which is the ignorance of evil election, arising either from passion or from habit, or when you do not care to acquire the knowledge which you ought to have, and in this way ignorance of the general principles of law, which every one is bound to know, is voluntary, as arising through negligence. Now when ignorance is itself voluntary in any of these ways, it cannot cause involuntariness absolutely, but it causes involuntariness in a restricted sense, inasmuch as it precedes the movement of the will to act, which movement would not be, if knowledge were there present.
Ignorance stands antecedently to the will, when it is not voluntary, and still is the cause of the agent’s willing what otherwise he would not will, as when a man is ignorant of some circumstances attending his act, which he was not bound to know, and thence does something which he would not have done if he had known. Such ignorance causes involuntariness absolutely.
[1 ]For this directly and indirectly modern text-books say positively and negatively. The use of directly and indirectly in De Lugo, De justitia et jure, disp. 10, n. 125, whom the modern text-books follow (see Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 203—205), does not coincide with St. Thomas’s use of the distinction, a discrepancy worth noticing. (Trl.)
[1 ]Prov. xxi. 1.
[1 ]Job xxi. 14.