Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXXVII.: OF THE CAUSE OF SIN ON THE PART OF THE SENSITIVE APPETITE. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION LXXVII.: OF THE CAUSE OF SIN ON THE PART OF THE SENSITIVE APPETITE. - 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 CAUSE OF SIN ON THE PART OF THE SENSITIVE APPETITE.
Article I.—Is the will moved by passion that is in the sensitive appetite?
R. Since all the powers of the soul have their root in the one essence of the soul, it must be that when the activity of one power becomes intense, the activity of another must grow slack, or be wholly stopped, because every energy becomes less at any given point for being scattered in several directions. Thus by a sort of distraction, when the movement of the sensitive appetite becomes strong in passion, the proper motion of the rational appetite, which is the will, must be retarded, or hindered entirely.1
Article II.—Can reason be overcome by passion so far as to go against its own knowledge?2
R. It was the opinion of Socrates that knowledge could never be overcome by passion: hence he made out all virtues to be habits of knowledge, and all sins to be acts done in ignorance. In this he was to some extent right: for since the will is of good or apparent good, the will never travels towards evil, except where what is really not good, still makes some appearance of good to the reason; and therefore the will never can tend to evil except with some attendant ignorance or error of reason. Hence it is said: “They err that work evil.”1
But because experience shows that many men act in the teeth of truths of which they have knowledge—and the same is confirmed by divine authority, according to the texts: “That servant who knew the will of his lord and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes;”2 and “To him who knoweth to do good and doth it not, to him it is sin”3 —Socrates’s assertion is not absolutely true, but needs distinguishing. For whereas there are two sorts of knowledge directing man to right action, namely, general and particular knowledge, the failure of either is sufficient to hinder the rectitude of the will and of the work. Sometimes then it happens that one has knowledge in general of such a truth as that fornication ought never to be committed, and yet does not know in particular that this act, which is fornication, ought not to be committed; and this ignorance is sufficient to keep the will from following the general knowledge of reason. Again, we must observe that a thing may very well be known habitually, and yet actually be not considered; and then there seems no difficulty in a man acting contrary to what he actually does not consider. This case of a man not considering in a particular instance what he habitually knows, arises sometimes out of mere want of concentration of mind, as when a man who knows geometry does not apply himself to consider geometrical conclusions which, if he did apply himself, would readily occur to him. At other times it is some supervening obstacle, such as exterior occupation or bodily infirmity, that prevents a man from considering what he has habitual knowledge of. In this way it is that under the influence of passion a man does not consider in particular what he knows in general, the passion hindering such consideration.
This hindering is done in three ways. Sometimes it is by distraction,1 sometimes by contrariety, because passion commonly inclines to the contrary of what the general knowledge directs; sometimes again by physical change in the body, which hampers the soul, and hinders its act from having free vent. And thus passion draws the reason to judge in a particular instance contrary to the knowledge which it has in general.
§ 3. For any one to have together in act knowledge or true opinion of a universal affirmative, and a false opinion of a particular negative, would be impossible; but it is quite possible to have habitually a true knowledge of a universal affirmative, and at the same time in act a false opinion of a particular negative; for an act is not the direct contrary of a habit, but of an act.
§ 4. Having general knowledge, a man is hindered by passion from subsuming under that general knowledge and arriving at a conclusion; but he subsumes under another general proposition, which the inclination of passion suggests, and under that he draws his conclusion. Hence the Philosopher says that the syllogism of the incontinent man has four propositions, two particular and two general. One of these general propositions is given by reason, as that fornication ought never to be committed; another is given by passion, as that pleasure must be run after. Passion then hampers reason so that it may not subsume and conclude under the former proposition: hence, while passion lasts, reason subsumes and concludes under the second.
§ 5. As a drunken man may sometimes utter words that signify profound ideas, which however his mind is quite incapable of appreciating, because drunkenness hinders it: so though a man under passion utters the declaration with his lips that such and such a thing ought not to be done, still in his inward heart he is of opinion that it is a thing to do.
Article IV.—Is self-love the beginning of all sin?
R. Every act of sin proceeds from an inordinate craving after some temporal good. This again proceeds from an inordinate love of self; for to love any one is to wish him good. Therefore inordinate love of self is the cause of all sin.
§ 1. There is a well-ordered self-love, due and natural, whereby a man wishes for himself the good that befits him; but the love that is set down as a cause of sin is an inordinate self-love, leading to a contempt of God.
§ 4. Augustine says that “self-love reaching to contempt of God makes the city of Babylon.”
Article V.—Are the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life appropriately assigned as causes of sins?1
R. Good is the object of the sensible appetite in two ways: in one way absolutely, as it is the object of the concupiscible part; in another way under an aspect of difficulty, as it is the object of the irascible part. And there is a twofold form of craving, one physical, of objects whereby nature is kept up, as well that of the individual as that of the race; and the inordinate craving after these objects is called the concupiscence of the flesh: another craving there is that is psychical, of the things that are delightful to imagine, as money, fine clothes, and the like; and this psychical craving is called the concupiscence of the eyes. But the inordinate craving after difficult good belongs to the pride of life, pride being an inordinate craving after excellence. Thus to these three heads may be reduced all the passions that are a cause of sin: for to the two first are reduced all the passions of the concupiscible faculty, to the third all the passions of the irascible.
§ 2. The concupiscence of the eyes does not mean here the concupiscence of all things that can be seen with the eyes, but only of those things in which there is not sought any delight of the flesh that comes by sensible contact, but solely the delight of the eye, that is, of any apprehensive faculty.
Article VI.—Is passion an extenuating circumstance of sin?
R. Sin essentially consists in an act of free choice, which is a function of the will and of the reason. Passion is a movement of the sensitive appetite. Now the sensitive appetite may stand to free-will either antecedently or consequently. Antecedently, inasmuch as a passion in the sensitive appetite draws or inclines the reason or will. Consequently, inasmuch as the movements of the superior powers, if they are vehement, redound upon the inferior: for the will cannot move intensely towards any object without the excitement of a passion in the sensitive appetite. Passion considered as preceding the act of the will must necessarily diminish sin. For an act is a sin so far as it is voluntary and existing in us. Now a thing is said to be in us through reason and will. Hence when reason and will act of themselves, not under any impulse of passion, the act is more voluntary and more truly existent in us. And thus passion diminishes sin by diminishing voluntariness. Consequent passion however does not diminish sin but rather increases it, or rather is a sign of its magnitude, inasmuch as it shows the intentness of the will upon the act of sin. And thus it is true that the greater the lust or concupiscence with which one sins, the greater the sin.
§ 1. To the objection that passion is a cause of sin, and that an augmentation of the cause augments the effect, it is to be said that passion is a cause of sin in respect of the turning to the good that perishes. But the gravity of sin is measured rather in respect of the turning away from the good that perishes not, which turning away follows upon the turning to incidentally, that is, beside the intention of the sinner. Now effects are not heightened by the incidental augmentation of causes, but only by their ordinary proper augmentation.
§ 2. A good passion following the judgment of reason augments merit; but if it forestalls that judgment, so that the man is moved to well-doing rather by passion than by the judgment of reason, such a passion diminishes the goodness and credit of the act.
§ 3. Though the motion of the will is more intense when it is urged on by passion, nevertheless the motion is not so proper to the will as if it were moved to sin by reason only.
Article VII.—Is passion a complete excuse from sin?
R. An act bad of its kind can be totally excused from sin only by being rendered totally involuntary. Hence, given a passion that renders the act that follows upon it totally involuntary, there is a total excuse from sin: otherwise the excuse is not total. A thing may be voluntary either in itself or in its cause. Again, a thing may be voluntary directly or indirectly. That is directly voluntary to which the will goes out and tends: that is indirectly voluntary which the will might have prevented and does not. Passion then is sometimes so great as totally to take away the use of reason, as in those who go mad through love or anger. In that case, if the passion was voluntary to begin with, the act is imputed as sinful, because it is voluntary in its cause. But if the cause was not voluntary but physical, as when one from sickness or other such cause falls under a passion which totally takes away the use of reason, the act is rendered entirely involuntary and is totally excused from sin. But sometimes the passion is not so great as totally to bar the use of reason; and then reason can shut out the passion by turning aside to other thoughts, or may hinder the passion from taking effect in action, seeing that the limbs are not set to work without the consent of reason: hence passion of this sort does not totally excuse from sin.
[1 ]This reads not unlike Hamilton’s “inverse relation between sensation and perception.” (Trl.)
[2 ]See above, q. 58. art. 2.; and Ethics and Natural Law, pp 70—76. (Trl.)
[1 ]Prov. xiv. 22.
[2 ]St. Luke xii. 47.
[3 ]St. James iv. 17.
[1 ]Art. 1.
[1 ]1 St John