[4.9.12] St Thomas Aquinas on Emotions

St Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274 AD), in his works Summa Theologiae II-1.22–48 presents a theory of emotions (passiones animae), according to which:

  • Emotions are reactions, changes of the state of the subject initiated by the presence of an object.
  • Aquinas locates emotions in the lower level of the soul, in the sensory appetite (see [4.9.7]).
  • Emotions have a hylomorphic structure (see [1.3.5] and [1.3.7]), where the appetitive reaction is the formal, and the physical reaction is the material element.
  • Aquinas divides emotions into irascible and concuscible sub-kinds and identifies eleven of them.

Aquinas’s model of emotions is represented in the following OntoUML diagram:

Aquinas on emotions
ClassDescriptionRelations
Reaction“In mediæval philosophical jargon, an emotion is a potency whose principle of actualization is external to its subject; in contemporary terms, an emotion is a reaction.” (King)
AppetitiveReaction“In the emotions […] the formal element is an appetitive reaction.” (Aquinas)
“’the lower appetitive power does not naturally tend to anything until after that thing has been presented to it under the aspect of its proper object’ […], since in the case of animals ‘the sensitive appetite is apt to be moved by the estimative power, as when a sheep esteems a wolf as inimical and is then afraid’ The sensitive appetite, as a passive power, is reduced from potency to act when it ‘inherits’ objectual content from the evaluative response-dependent concept (which is the actualization of the estimative power). That is to say, the sheep has an act of the sensitive appetite directed at the wolf, which is presented to the sensitive appetite as a hard-to-avoid imminent evil.” (King)
inseparable part of Emotion; inherits from Reaction
PhysicalReaction“In the emotions […] the […] the material element a physical reaction.” (Aquinas)
Physical reactions can be like: tightness in the chest,
flushing of the face, perspiring etc.
inseparable part of Emotion; inherits from Reaction
EmotionEmotion, according to Aquinas, is an objectual non-volitional affective
psychological state. […] For an emotion is a passio animae, literally something that the soul ‘undergoes’ or ‘experiences’ — a capacity for being in a given psychological state — rather than something the soul ‘does’ (the way it reasons, for instance). In mediæval philosophical jargon, an emotion is a potency whose principle of actualization is external to
its subject; in contemporary terms, an emotion is a reaction.
First, if an emotion is a reaction, it is therefore passive as regards whatever brings it about, that is, whatever prompts the reaction. (King)

“In Aquinas’ theory there is a conception of passion [emotion] which permits him to deal with passions as single events: the hylomorphic approach. At times he deals with it directly: ‘In the emotions […] the formal element is an appetitive reaction and the material element a physical reaction. There is a certain ordered arrangement between the two, in which the physical reaction reproduces (secundum similitudinem) the characteristics of the appetitive reaction’ It would be wrong to concentrate on either side of a passion, to the exclusion of the other. If we try to reduce them to the material side, we will be left with the physiological aspects of emotion, while if we ignore that dimension, passion will have become a quasi intellectual ‘point of view’ which we would take up in a detached style, without any involvement on our part. If we take St. Thomas’ approach and successfully blend the two, then we find that there is a union rather like that between the formal and material side of the subject of the passion, and the various aspects of the emotion will all point, together, at the good of the individual. This union reflects the hylomorphic theory of soul and body; but the passion itself has this structure of matter and form for Aquinas. The material or generic considerations correspond to what is common to all the passions, notably the fact that they involve alteration or exchange of forms and are corporeal; the specific consideration has to do with the identity of each individual passion. This permits Aquinas to say that passions are acts of the sense appetite but also passions of the soul. In St. Thomas’ brief introduction to his treatise on the passions he stresses that he will be studying the ‘passiones animae’, not merely passions of the body. And of course they are passions of the soul, since they belong to the matter soul composite, and so, per accidens, they belong to the soul.” (Gorevan)
has Object; inherits from Reaction
ObjectEmotios have objects, theí are “initialized” by external objects.
“emotion involves a ‘conquest’ of the subject by its object in passion and that this is at home in the appetite, since the appetite acts by being drawn or moved to its object.” (Gorevan)
IrascibleEmotionirascible emotions are directed at objects insofar as they present
something good or evil that might be hard to achieve or to avoid.” (King)
“Aquinas emotion follows perceptual cognition and is definitely evaluative; this is particularly noticeable in the irascible emotions, which are distinguished from one another in terms of intending the object as a good or as an evil.” (Gorevan)
subkind of Emotion
Hope, Despair Hope, Despairsubkind of IrascibleEmotion; are contraries
Courage, FearHope, Despairsubkind of IrascibleEmotion; are contraries
AngerAngersubkind of IrascibleEmotion
ConcuscibleEmotionconcupiscible emotions are directed at objects insofar as they appear to be good or evil” (King)subkind of Emotion
Love, HateLove, Hate
“Cognition is not drawn to things as they are in themselves, but aims rather to generate within us representations of external things. The known, in fact, is drawn to the knower and comes, intentionally, to have the mode of being of the knower. This is why love can achieve greater objectivity, or more exactly, a more complete identity with the being of the object than knowledge can, for it undergoes the influence of things precisely as they are in reality. Love can reach things which cannot (because of the knower’s condition here and now) be known in themselves” (Gorevan)
subkind of ConcuscibleEmotion; are contraries
Desire, AversionDesire, Aversionsubkind of ConcuscibleEmotion; are contraries
Pleasure, PainPleasure, Painsubkind of ConcuscibleEmotion; are contraries

Sources

  • Aquinas, Summa Theologiae
  • King, Peter, “Aquinas on the emotions”, in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012
  • Gorevan, Patrick, “Aquinas and Emotional Theory Today: Mind-Body, Cognitivism and Connaturality”, ACTA PHILOSOPHICA, vol. 9 (2000), fasc. 1 – PAGG. 141-151
  • Knuuttila, Simo, “Medieval Theories of the Emotions”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • McInerny, Ralph and John O’Callaghan, “Saint Thomas Aquinas”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 26/11/2020

[4.9.7] St Thomas Aquinas on the Human Soul

St Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274 AD), in his works Summa TheologiaeSumma Contra Gentiles, and Disputed Questions on the Soul, elaborates on the faculties and processes working in the human soul:

  • The distinctively human vital activity (see [4.9.6]) is cognition, “and thus spiritual rather than corporeal since intellect neither is nor directly uses a corporeal organ.”
  • Cognition involves and depends on sense perception, which has corporeal organs as substrate. So, the proper objects of cognition come to the intellect only through bodily organs.
  • Some aspects of the external sensation are beyond reason’s control since reason itself has no control over the presence or absence of external things. Appetite, the natural inclination to certain external things (e.g., food, sex, etc.) depends on the presence of these external things.
  • However, internal senses are not directly dependent on external things, because with the help of the will “passions can be stirred up or calmed down by applying certain intellectively cognized universal considerations to the particular occasions or objects of the passions, and reason exercises just that sort of control.” The medium of control is phantasms, which manipulates the imaginative power.

The following UML Use Case diagram presents Aquinas’s model of the human soul:

Aquinas on human soul
FacultyRelated use caseRelations
COGNITIVE (REASON)Second operation: acquire intellective COGNITION of the properties, accidents, and dispositions associated with the thing’s essence.
“the cognition of quiddities [essences] will partially depend on this second operation, and on reasoning as well: ‘the human intellect does not immediately, in its first apprehension, acquire a complete cognition of the thing. Instead, it first apprehends something about it – viz., its quiddity, which is a first and proper object of intellect; and then it acquires intellective cognition of the properties, accidents, and dispositions associated with the thing’s essence. In doing so it has to compound one apprehended aspect with, or divide one from, another and proceed from one composition or division to another, which is reasoning’. The resultant full-blown intellective cognition may be either theoretical or applied.”
includes First operation: acquire COGNITION of essences of things from phantasms through abstraction
COGNITIVE/ (THEORETICAL REASON)Acquire theoretical COGNITION of things.
“The resultant full-blown intellective cognition may be either theoretical or applied [practical].”
inherits from Second operation: acquire intellective COGNITION of the properties, accidents, and dispositions associated with the thing’s essence
COGNITIVE/ (PRACTICAL REASON)Acquire practical COGNITION of things.
“The resultant full-blown intellective cognition may be either theoretical or applied [practical].”
inherits from Second operation: acquire intellective COGNITION of the properties, accidents, and dispositions associated with the thing’s essence
COGNITIVEFirst operation: acquire COGNITION of essences of things from phantasms through abstraction.
“intellect’s ‘first operation’ consists in the formation (by agent intellect in possible intellect) of concepts of external objects […]. But since the proper objects of the first operation are identified as the quiddities, the essential natures [essences], of things […]
His account of intellect’s first operation depends on our recognizing that a child’s first acquisition of the concept of a star differs only in degree from the most recondite advance in astronomy’s understanding of the nature of a star. Quiddities, the proper objects of intellect’s first operation and, in just the same respect, the objects of the culminating cognition of nature may helpfully bethought of, then, as proper objects of both inchoate and culminating (alpha and omega) intellective cognition.” thought of, then, as proper objects of both inchoate and culminating (alpha and omega) intellective cognition.”
includes INTERNAL SENSES process sensory impressions; create and store phantasms
WILLWILL exercices control over appetite/emotion.
“We can see that will exercises some control of the relevant sort, because a human being, as long as he or she is not aberrantly behaving like a nonrational animal, ‘is not immediately moved in accordance with the irascible and concupiscible appetite but waits for the command of will, which is the higher appetite’.
[…] “intellectively cognized good moves will […] The kind of control exercised by a cognitive rational faculty (standardly identified in this role as practical reason, strictly speaking, rather than intellect).”
extends Acquire practical COGNITION of things
INTERNAL SENSESINTERNAL SENSES process sensory impressions; create and store phantasms. “Internalized sensory impressions, the ‘sensory species,’ are transmitted to ‘internal senses’ which store the sensory species and process them in various ways. Our principal concern with the internal senses now is with one of the roles of the one Aquinas calls ‘phantasia’: producing and preserving the sensory data that are indispensable for intellect’s use, the ‘phantasms’ […]
The likenesses that are identified as sensory species and phantasms may be literally “likenesses”: images – realizations of the material forms (colors, sounds, textures, etc.) of external objects in different matter, the matter of the external/internal sensory apparatus of the human body. And, in keeping with the formal-identity theory, the sensory species, at least, are likenesses that lose none of the detail present in the external senses themselves (which, of course, vary in sensitivity among individuals and from one time to another in the same individual […]
Phantasms are likenesses of particular material things re-realized in physical configurations of the organ of phantasia, which Aquinas located in the brain. Although the forms presented in the phantasms have been stripped of their original matter, the phantasm likeness is particularized by its details, the external object’s original individuating matter being ‘represented’ by features of the phantasm. Phantasms themselves, then, are not proper objects of intellective cognition, although they are indispensable to it.”
includes Corporeal things make physical impressions on the corporeal organs of ‘the EXTERNAL SENSES’
EXTERNAL SENSESCorporeal things make physical impressions on the corporeal organs of ‘the EXTERNAL SENSES’
which have both ‘proper objects’ (colors for sight, sounds for hearing, and so on) and ‘common objects’ (shapes for sight and touch, and so forth). […]
A sense organ is affected by a sense-perceptible thing, because to sense is to undergo something. For that reason the sense-perceptible thing, which is the agent [in sensation], makes the organ be actually as the sense-perceptible thing is, since the organ is in a state of potentiality to this [result]”
External senses are:  touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.
APPETITE/EMOTION Sensory APPETITE/EMOTION provides inclination/rejection of things.
“The human soul of course involves natural appetites [emotions, passiona] (for instance, for food of some sort), […] The appetitive power associated with sensory cognition is one we share with nonhuman animals – a cluster of inclinations (passions) to which we are subject (passive) by nature.”
extends Corporeal things make physical impressions on the corporeal organs of ‘the EXTERNAL SENSES
APPETITE/EMOTIONConcuscible appetite/emotion seeks the suitable and flees the harmful: “Aquinas, following an Aristotelian line, thinks of sensuality as sorted into two complementary appetites or powers: the concupiscible the inclination to seek the suitable and flee the harmful
(pursuit/avoidance instincts). […]
Distinct sets of passions (or emotions) are associated with each of these powers: with concupiscible: joy and sadness, love and hate, desire and repugnance.”
inherits from Sensory APPETITE/EMOTION provides inclination/rejection of things
APPETITE/EMOTIONIrascible appetite/emotion resists to the suitable or promotes the harmful: “Aquinas, following an Aristotelian line, thinks of sensuality as sorted into two complementary appetites or powers: […] the irascible – the inclination to resist and overcome whatever deters one’s access to the suitable or promotes the harmful (competition/aggression/defense instincts).
Distinct sets of passions (or emotions) are associated with each of these powers: […] irascible: daring and fear, hope and
despair, anger”
inherits from Sensory APPETITE/EMOTION provides inclination/rejection of things

Sources

  • All citations from:  The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, Edited by  Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump, 2010
  • McInerny, Ralph and John O’Callaghan, “Saint Thomas Aquinas”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 22/10/2020
Updated: 18/11/2020 added concuscible and irascible appetites and emotions