Volume 88, 2014
Dispositions, Habits, and Virtues
Sorting Out Reason’s Relation to the Passions in the Moral Theory of Aquinas
This essay challenges a growing consensus among Aquinas scholars who attribute to him a pro-passion attitude, linking his virtue theory to accounts of emotion that see the emotions in a primarily positive light. There are good reasons for thinking Aquinas far more skeptical of the role to be played by emotion in the virtuous life—indeed, one can safely argue, in agreement with Aquinas, that the emotions are often threats to and so in need of control by the virtues (rather than as merely their supports). I focus on the ideal of reason’s control (IRC) over the emotions in the essay in contrast with the work of Robert Miner whose understanding of Aquinas on the passions and virtues tends to downplay the dominating role that reason plays in the moral theory of Aquinas. For Aquinas IRC is central to the normativity of the virtues that relate to the emotions. In contrast, Miner appears to minimize the need for the emotions to be controlled, which entails a certain elevation of the emotions to a nearly co-equal status with reason in Aquinas’s moral theory. Miner adopts two argumentative strategies to achieve this valorization of emotion in Aquinas, but I find both exegetically inaccurate and experientially deficient.