Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION XIX.: OF THE GOOD AND EVIL OF THE INTERIOR ACT OF THE WILL. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION XIX.: OF THE GOOD AND EVIL OF THE INTERIOR ACT OF THE WILL. - 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 GOOD AND EVIL OF THE INTERIOR ACT OF THE WILL.
Article II.—Does the goodness of the will depend on the object alone?
R. The goodness of the will depends on that alone which of itself makes goodness in act; and that is the object,1 and not the circumstances, which are mere accidents of the act.
§ 1. The end in view is the object of the will, though not of the other powers. Hence, so far as the act of the will is concerned, the goodness that is of the object does not differ from the goodness that is of the end.
§ 2. On the supposition that the will is fixed on good, no circumstance can render the volition evil.2 When it is said then that one wishes for something good at a time when he ought not, if that circumstance when is referred to the thing wished for, the will in that case is not fixed on good: because to wish to do a thing at a time when it ought not to be done, is not to will what is good.
Article IV.—Does the goodness of the will depend on the Eternal Law?1
R. In all causes subordinate one to another, the effect depends more on the first cause than on the second cause, because the second cause does not act except in the strength of the first cause. But it is from the Eternal Law, which is the Divine Reason, that human reason has the gift of being the rule of the human will and measure of its goodness. Hence it is said:2 “Many say, Who showeth us good things? The light of thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us:” as though he said: The light which is in us can so far show us good things and regulate our will, inasmuch as it is the light of thy countenance, that is, derived from thy light. Hence it is manifest that the goodness of the human will depends much more on the Eternal Law than on human reason; and where human reason fails, we must have recourse to the Eternal Reason.
Article V.—Is it an evil will that is at variance with an erroneous reason?
R. It is one and the same thing to inquire whether the will, when it is at variance with anerroneous reason, is evil, as to inquire whether an erroneous conscience is binding. On this matter some have drawn a distinction of three sorts of acts. Some acts are good of their kind; some are indifferent; some are evil of their kind. They say then that if reason or conscience tells us to do anything which is good of its kind, there is no error: in like manner also if it tells us not to do something which is evil of its kind. But if reason or conscience tells any man that he is bound by precept to do things which are evil of themselves, or forbidden to do things that are good of themselves, that, they say, will be an erroneous reason or conscience; as also if reason or conscience tells any one that what is in itself indifferent, as to pick up a straw from the ground, is forbidden or commanded. They say then that an erroneous reason or conscience touching indifferent matters, whether in the way of precept or of prohibition, is binding, so that a will at variance with such an erroneous reason will be evil and sinful; but that an erroneous reason or conscience commanding things that are of themselves evil, or forbidding things that are of themselves good and necessary to salvation, is not binding: so that in such cases a will at variance with an erroneous reason or conscience is not evil.
But this exposition is devoid of reason. For a will at variance with an erroneous reason or conscience in indifferent things is evil in some way on account of the object—not, to be sure, on account of the object as that object is in its own nature, but as it is accidentally apprehended by reason as good or evil, as a thing to do or to avoid. And because the object of the will is that which is set before it by reason, once a thing is set forward by reason as evil, the will tending thereto receives an impress of evil. But this happens not only in indifferent things, but in things of themselves good or evil. For not only what is indifferent may receive a character of good or evil accidentally, but even what is good may receive a character of evil, or what is evil a character of good, reason so apprehending it. Thus to abstain from fornication is good, yet the will tends not to this good except inasmuch as it is set forth by reason. If therefore it comes to be set forth as evil by an erroneous reason, the will tends to it in the light of an evil thing. Hence the will will be evil, because it wishes evil, not indeed that which is evil of itself, but that which is evil accidentally, reason so apprehending it. And in like manner to believe in Christ is of itself good and necessary to salvation; but the will does not tend to it except inasmuch as it is set forth by reason. Hence if it chances to be set forth by reason as an evil thing, the will will tend to it as to evil, not that it is evil in itself, but because it is evil accidentally, reason so apprehending it. Hence we must say that absolutely every will at variance with reason, whether right or erroneous reason, must always be an evil will.1
§ 2. To Augustine’s remark that “the precept of an inferior power does not bind, if it is contrary to the precept of a superior power; as if the Proconsul were to command something which the Emperor forbids,” it is to be said that the observation holds good when it is known that the inferior power is commanding something contrary to the precept of the superior power. But if one believed that the precept of the Proconsul was the precept of the Emperor, in contemning the precept of the Proconsul he would be contemning the precept of the Emperor. And in like manner, if a man knew that human reason was dictating something against the precept of God, he would not be bound to follow reason; but then reason would not be totally in error. But when an erroneous reason proposes something as the precept of God, then it is the same thing to despise the dictate of reason as to despise the precept of God.
§ 3. Reason, when it apprehends anything as evil, always apprehends it under some aspect of evil, e.g., as contrary to a divine command, or as a scandal, or something of that sort; and then the said evil will is reducible to the said species of malice.
§ 4. Conscience is nothing else than the application of knowledge (science) to a given act. But knowledge is in the reason. A will therefore at variance with an erroneous reason is against conscience. But every such will is evil; for it is said: “All that is not of faith is sin,”1i.e., all that is against conscience.
Article VI.—Is it a good will that is in agreement with an erroneous reason?
R. As the previous question is the same with that, whether an erroneous question binds; so this question is the same with that other, whether an erroneous conscience excuses. The question depends on what has been said above of ignorance, to the effect that ignorance sometimes causes an act to be involuntary, and sometimes not. It was also said above that the ignorance which is in some manner voluntary, whether directly or indirectly, does not cause an act to be involuntary. I call that ignorance directly voluntary, to which the act of the will tends, and that indirectly so, which comes of negligence, the person not wishing to know what he is bound to know. If therefore reason or conscience errs with an error that is voluntary, either directly, or indirectly through negligence, being an error touching that which one is bound to know, then such an error of reason or conscience does not excuse a man, and a will in agreement with a reason or conscience so erring is evil. But if it be such an error as to make the act involuntary; if it be an ignorance of some circumstance, an ignorance not due to negligence; that error of reason or conscience excuses a man, and a will in accordance with such an erroneous reason is not evil.
§ 3. As in syllogistic disputation, given one absurdity, others must follow, so in moral discussions, lay down one absurdity, and others follow of necessity. Thus, supposing one goes after vainglory, whether he does his duty for vainglory or leaves it undone, he will sin in either case; and yet he is not caught in a predicament, because he can lay aside his evil intention. And in like manner, supposing an error of reason or conscience proceeding from ignorance, such ignorance I mean as does not excuse, then evil must needs follow in the will; and yet the man is not caught in a predicament, because he can abandon his error, as his ignorance is vincible and voluntary.
Article X.—Is it necessary for the human will, in order to be a good will, to be conformable to the divine will in point of the thing willed?
R. The will tends to its object, according as that object is set forth by reason. But it happens sometimes that a thing is considered by reason in different ways, so that under one aspect of reason it is good, and under another aspect of reason not good. And therefore, if any one’s will wishes that thing to be according as it has an aspect of goodness, that will is good; and if the will of another wishes that same thing not to be according as it has an aspect of evil, that will also will be good. So a judge has a good will in willing the death of a robber, because it is just; while the will of another, say, the robber’s wife or child, who wills him not to be put to death, inasmuch as killing is a natural evil, is also good. But since the will follows the apprehension of reason or intellect, the good to which the will tends is more of a general good, according as the aspect of goodness apprehended is more general, as is evident in the example alleged. For the judge has care of the common good, which is justice, and therefore wishes the putting to death of the robber, which has an aspect of good in relation to the common estate: but the robber’s wife has to consider the private good of the family, and from this point of view wishes her husband, the robber, not to be put to death. But the good of the whole universe is that which is apprehended by God, who is Maker and Governor of all. Hence, whatever He wishes, He wishes in the light of the general good; and that is His own goodness, which is the good of the whole universe. But the apprehension of a creature according to its nature is of some particular good proportioned to its nature. But it happens sometimes that a thing is good under a particular aspect of reason, which is not good under a general aspect, or conversely. And therefore it comes about that a will is good in willing something from a particular point of view, which nevertheless God does not will on general considerations, and conversely. And hence it is that the different wills of different men regarding opposite conclusions may be good, according as under different particular aspects of reason they wish this to be or not to be. But the will of man is not right in willing any particular good, unless he refers it finally to the general good: since also the natural appetite of every part is directed to the common good of the whole. Now it is the end that determines what we may call the formal reason of willing that which is directed to the end. Hence in order that one may will any particular good with a right will, that particular good must be willed materially, but the general and divine good must be willed formally. The human will therefore is bound to be conformable to the divine will in point of the thing willed, formally—for it is bound to will the divine and general good; but not materially, for the reason already assigned. Still in both respects the human will is in some degree conformable to the divine will: because inasmuch as it is conformable to the divine will in the general aspect of the thing willed, it is conformable to it in point of the last end: while inasmuch as it is not conformable to it in point of the thing willed, taken materially, it is conformable to it in point of its being the efficient cause; because this special inclination following upon nature, or upon the particular apprehension of this thing, is derived to the thing from God as from an efficient cause. Hence it is a customary saying that a man’s will is conformable to the divine will in this, that he wills what God wishes him to will.
§ 1. To the objection that we cannot will what we are ignorant of; but we are ignorant of what God wills in most cases: it is to be said that we can know the general character of the thing that God wills; for we know that whatever God wills, He wills in the light of something good, and therefore whoever wills anything under any aspect of goodness, has a will conformable to the divine will in point of the thing willed. But we do not know what God wills in particular, and in this respect we are not bound to conform our will to the divine will.
§ 2. God does not will the damnation of any one under the precise view of damnation, nor the death of any one inasmuch as it is death, because He “wisheth all men to be saved;” but He wishes those things under the aspect of justice. Hence it is enough with regard to such cases that a man wishes the justice of God and the order of nature to be upheld.
[1 ]By object here St. Thomas seems to mean the thing willed—the whole complexus of end, means, and modifying circumstances, as set forth in Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 31—35. Hence in the textbooks that speak of the morality of an act as determined by “object, end, and circumstances,” the word object cannot be taken in the sense of this article. It must stand for what is called (q. 18. art. 6) “the object of the exterior act,” that is, the means. One school has found it vastly conducive to clearness to discard the word object altogether, and speak simply of means and end. (Trl.)
[2 ]See Ethics and Natural Law pp. 36, 37, n. 13. (Trl.)
[1 ]What the Eternal Law is, see q. 93; and Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 126, seq. (Trl.)
[2 ]Psalm iv. 6.
[1 ]This and the following article is of the first importance to the historian. One day we shall know what amount of the moral aberrations of mankind is excusable under the justification here alleged. See Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 136, 137, n. 4; pp. 150, 151, n. 4. (Trl.)
[1 ]Romans xiv. 23.