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Passions and Virtue

Passions and Virtue

Translated by Benedict M. Guevin
Foreword by Michael Sherwin
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Passions and Virtue
    Book Description:

    This book, the last that noted moral theologian Servais Pinckaers, OP, wrote before his death, was conceived as a follow-up to his previous work Plaidoyer pour la vertu (An Appeal for Virtue) (2007) Pinckaers' aim in Passions and Virtue was to show the positive and essential role that our emotions play in the life of virtue. His purpose is part of a larger project of renewing moral theology, a theology too often experienced as an ethics of obligation rather than as a practical guide to living virtuously. To this end, Pinckaers sketches a positive psychology of the passions as found in the biblical tradition, in the writings of the Fathers of the Church, in pagan authors and, especially, in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2752-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Michael Sherwin

    After several years of relative inactivity because of ill health, Father Servais Pinckaers experienced a renewed sense of energy, the first fruit of which was his bookA Plea for Virtue(Parole et Silence, 2007). What strikes the reader about this veritablevade mecumon the virtues is its brilliance and serene style, which bespeaks an open and yet deep look. Scarcely had he completed that book when Father Pinckaers quietly began this study on the passions and the virtuous life. Conceived as a follow-up toA Plea for Virtue,this is the work of a master who shares his...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    We think with our intellect, which expresses itself in a multiplicity of ideas and words. We act with our will, which brings together body and soul in the unity of the act that we perform. The virtue that makes us act cannot therefore exist in us without the participation of our senses and even our bodies. This is why, after having studied the virtues, we must once again show how our intellect and will are in harmony with our passions and feelings. Must we do battle with our senses to acquire the virtues? Or can feelings contribute to virtue and...

  5. 1 Virtue and the Passions
    (pp. 1-6)

    We must first deal with the question of vocabulary. The word “passion” poses difficulties in terms of its current usage, as it is sometimes used pejoratively. One dictionary defines it as an “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling.” But according to Descartes, passion is “any affective state or phenomenon.” It is in this sense that Saint Thomas Aquinas understood it. Understood like this, the term “passion” corresponds more or less to “sentiment” or “emotion,” an enduring affective state. This is how we will use these words.

    In fact, hidden behind this question of vocabulary is the more basic question about the...

  6. 2 List of Passions
    (pp. 7-12)

    Our passions, feelings, and emotions are multiple. What are the principal passions? How can we order them among themselves and establish their moral quality?

    Our passions are clearly determined by their object. The fear of God is quite different from our fear of an enemy or a storm. Different, too, are the pleasure we experience when eating and the pleasure we enjoy with a family member or a friend. Nonetheless it is the subjective tendency that they have that is the essential characteristic of the passions. Even though they have the same object, there is a difference between love and...

  7. 3 Love and Hate
    (pp. 13-20)

    We dedicated a chapter to love in our bookPlaidoyer pour la vertu. In this chapter we will speak of love and hate as a reaction of the senses, as a passion or a feeling, keeping in mind that we experience them in our whole being. Thus we say: I love or I do not love, concerning a taste or a sound or a person. Likewise, hate is normally directed at someone, but it can also be understood in the sense of an aversion: I hate spinach. We will also speak of a taste for or disgust with a thing...

  8. 4 Mercy and Pity
    (pp. 21-29)

    We are a little skittish about mercy and pity. On one hand, we reprove those who lack pity and show no mercy to others. But on the other hand, we do not want to feel the need for others to show us mercy, and we especially do not want to be pitied. Are these things reserved only for others? Yet in the liturgy we often implore God’s mercy, as in theKyrie eleison,which means “Lord, have mercy.” The purpose of this is to form in us a characteristically religious attitude, that of piety, whose name in Latin is at...

  9. 5 Concupiscence and Hope
    (pp. 30-38)

    Concupiscence does not have a good press among moralists and spiritual writers. In their minds it denotes an excessive desire for pleasure, for wealth, and is considered to be a consequence of original sin. It has as its parent covetousness, which is defined as the immoderate desire to possess.

    Yet, the term “concupiscence” originally meant something less negative. According to Cicero, for example, it meant an ardent desire. Similarly, Saint Thomas understands it as a desire for a pleasure that involved both body and soul together, properly speaking a passion. That is why, among the passions, Aquinas examines concupiscence after...

  10. 6 Delectation, Pleasure, and Joy
    (pp. 39-47)

    First, a word about vocabulary. For Saint Thomas, the termdelectatiohas a general meaning denoting the pleasure that one takes in a good, whatever it happens to be, as opposed to sorrow or sadness. He can, therefore, classify under delectation all forms of pleasure. For us, delectation has a more restricted meaning. To experience delectation means to savor a pleasure, to delight in it. The accent is on the intensity of the feeling. The word “pleasure” can also be used to translatedelectatioto the extent that it means taking pleasure in a good. It can also mean the...

  11. 7 Suffering, Pain, and Sadness
    (pp. 48-57)

    Saint Thomas adds to his study of delectation five questions on pain and sadness, which are delectation’s contraries and which demand a remedy.¹ To our desire for happiness he opposes the feeling of sadness. In doing so, he addresses the problem of suffering, which includes all the forms of evil that we suffer.

    The question of suffering is crucial for all people. No one can avoid or escape it, and it is decisive for the meaning that we give to our lives as well as to our actions. Suffering has given rise to numerous and characteristic answers in philosophy and...

  12. 8 The Virtue of Humor
    (pp. 58-63)

    We love humor, we appreciate humor; but how does humor accord with virtue? Virtue is serious, focused on its work; it turns the eyes away from what would distract it. By all appearances, virtue cannot waste time with humor and laughing. Virtue takes things seriously, while humor points out their pleasant side. How do we reconcile virtue and humor? How do we show the solemn face of the virtuous person lightened by humor? But what is a virtue that does not know how to laugh? Could virtue not be more closely tied to humor than we normally think? Could not...

  13. 9 The Virtue of Silence
    (pp. 64-73)

    Ethicists no longer speak of silence. One can write a lexicon on Christian morality or a dictionary of theology without devoting a single article to this subject. The old manuals of morality did not do so either. Saint Thomas himself does not make silence the object of study in his work. Must we therefore pass over silence in silence? Does silence not raise any problem, or have any particular interest for morality?

    Yet silence concerns a properly human act inasmuch as we are rational beings, namely, the spoken word. Is it therefore not necessary for us to discern when we...

  14. 10 Anger and Virtue
    (pp. 74-88)

    There is something about anger that can make one angry. Indeed, many ethicists, both in philosophy and in theology, consider anger to be a fault, an illness of the soul, and therefore deny its capacity to contribute to virtuous living. Anger is one of the principal passions and shares their condition and is thereby considered to be contrary to reason. Is the ideal to live without anger, as without passion? But what would a virtue become if it were robbed of both energy and fire?

    Anger is a part of our everyday lives. A small contradiction, an object that strikes...

  15. 11 Piety
    (pp. 89-100)

    In a study of the human passions, we must make room for piety as a feeling that leads us to God and that gives us a taste for religion and its practices. Of course, religion has an object that surpasses the sensible order, but it has modes of expression that move our feelings and stimulate our imagination. Piety can become a strong passion, even pervasive, as is the case with impiety. Thus, piety is a sentiment that is of both the spiritual and the sensible kind, in which one or the other may predominate.

    Just as feelings and ideas have...

  16. 12 Work and Virtue
    (pp. 101-110)

    What is the connection between work and virtue? Does there exist a feeling or a passion that pushes us to work; or rather does work repulse us because of the toil that accompanies it? We are not in the habit of counting the taste for work among human passions, but does not work favor the exercise of virtue? Can it not also become excessive and invasive, as well as failing, as well as paralyzing action? In any case, work plays a large part in human life. Must we not work hard in order to earn a living? Is there nothing...

  17. 13 Rest and Leisure
    (pp. 111-118)

    After work, it is normal to speak about rest and leisure, in Latinquiesandotium. The first gives us the words “quiet” and “quietude.”

    The theme of rest no longer seems to be of interest to modern authors of theological or philosophical dictionaries, or of books on morality. Most do not treat of it at all. Still, we can find an article on rest in theVocabulaire de théologie bibliqueand another, more historical, in theDictionnaire de spiritualité. Apparently, moralists do not feel concerned about rest except in the case of the prohibition against work on Sunday, an...

  18. 14 Virtue and Sports
    (pp. 119-123)

    Moralists have not written much about sports. Are sports not a free activity and of secondary importance that cannot be the object of a general precept, of a legal obligation? This is what the very etymology of the word means. Of English origin in its actual use, the word comes from the Old Frenchdesport,“deport,” meaning amusement. To “deport oneself” means to play. One could thus say that sports are a sort of dessert in the task of the moralist.

    Still, sports can unquestionably occupy an important place in human life and can give rise to a veritable passion....

  19. 15 Psychology and the Virtues
    (pp. 124-129)

    Psychology presents itself to us today as the scientific study of human psychic facts, feelings, ideas, and behaviors with regard to oneself and others. Consequently, we can ask ourselves what will be the relationship between that science and the virtues. Must science deal with them and, if so, how?

    We have clearly noticed the problem with the reading of Pierre Daco’s bookLes prodigieuses victoires de la psychologie moderne.¹ The book is very good. It defines psychology as a science—and an art—of human behavior in all of its forms, both normal and abnormal, in relation with the other...

  20. 16 Of the Usefulness of the Useless Servant
    (pp. 130-136)

    When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’ ” (Lk 17:10). At first glance, such an appraisal seems praiseworthy. Still, who likes to hear that they are useless servants? Do we not rather expect to be praised for a work accomplished, and told that we have done our best? Is it not a question of justice? This word of the Lord hits us right in the chest when we apply it to ourselves.

    Nevertheless, the shock is necessary in order to make us reflect and...

  21. Index
    (pp. 137-139)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 140-140)