The Passivity and Activity of a Human Being as Revealed in the Passions of the Soul in Thomas Aquinas
Passion is peculiar in that it allows us to experience both passivity and activity. In a state of passion we sometimes feel helpless and other times feel in control of our action. This dissertation strives to resolve this apparent contradiction through Aquinas’s doctrine of the passions. Although Aquinas’s view of the passions has been discussed a great deal, the dual dimension of the passivity and activity of the passions has not been sufficiently explored. This dissertation examines this peculiar paradoxical character of the human passions. According to Aquinas, the passivity of the passions is attributed to a passive power of the soul, i.e., the sensitive appetite. For him both sense and appetite, which constitute the seat of the passions, are passive. The passivity of the sensitive appetite is contrasted with the relative activity of the apprehensive and vegetative parts. The passivity of the passions can also be explained by the passivity of the body. According to Aquinas, the soul and body are related to the passions as the formal and material constituents respectively. In this hylomorphic view of the passions, the body accounts for the passivity of the passions. However, the passions take on an active character due to their participation in the life of reason in human beings. Among the passions the irascible passions are more active and closely associated with reason. Also, among the irascible passions, anger is particularly close to reason in that it requires a rational act of comparing the injustice done to a person with the justice to be done. The activity of human passions is even more evident in the case of “consequent passions,” i.e., those passions that result from rational judgment. Consequent passions arise either when the intensity of the will “overflows” into the sensitive appetite, or when a person “chooses” to have certain passions. Aquinas's notion of the consequent passions can explain the paradox of the human passions, i.e., the more passive a person is, the more active he becomes.
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