Volume 95, Issue 2, Spring 2021
What’s the Good of Perfected Passion?
Thomas Aquinas on Attentiveness and the Filiae Luxuriae
I raise a difficulty for Thomas’s views on the passions I call the instrumentalizing problem: Can well-ordered passions contribute to good human activity beyond merely expressing or rendering more effective the independent work of intellect and will? If not, does that not raise the risk that we are merely handicapped angels? I develop a response by examining Thomas’s discussion of the filiae luxuriae, intellectual and volitional flaws arising from lust. I draw on Thomas’s understanding of one filia, blindness of mind, to help sketch an account of the good habits it opposes: the acquired virtue I term attentiveness and the corresponding Spiritual gift of understanding. These good habits, I argue, render their bearers responsive to natural and supernatural reasons that guide them in the conduct of life. By partly constituting these habits, well-ordered passion makes an indispensable contribution to human activity at its best.