Rational Appetite (Will)

The existence of the will.

The existence of the will depends on the existence of the intellect. If the human being had no cognitive powers other than the senses, there would be no need to admit the existence of the will. If there is a cognitive power superior to the senses which we call “intellect,” then we must admit the exis­tence of a superior appetite which follows the apprehension of the intellect:

All things in their own way are inclined by appetite towards good, but in different ways. Some are inclined to good by their natural inclination, without knowledge, as plants and inanimate bodies. Such inclination toward good is called a natural appetite. Others, again, are inclined toward good, but with some knowledge, not that they know the aspect of goodness, but that they apprehend some particular good; as the senses which know the sweet, the white, and so on. The in­clination that follows this apprehension is called a sensitive appetite. Other things, again, have an inclination towards good, but with a knowledge whereby they perceive the aspect of good­ness; this belongs to the intellect. This is most perfectly inclined towards what is good. Such inclination is termed “will”.

ST I, 59, 1, co.

The distinction between will and intellect.

Will and intellect are two different powers because their objects are formally different:

The diversity derived from the notion of good and true suffices for the difference of intellect and will.

ST I, 59, 2, ad 2.

The good is the object of any appetite and the truth is the object of the intellect. To this another reason can be added:

Knowledge comes about insofar as the object known is within the knower; consequently, the intellect extends itself to what is outside it, according as what, in its essence, is outside it is disposed to be somehow within it. On the other hand, the will goes out to what is beyond it according as by a kind of inclination it tends in a manner to what is outside it. Now it belongs to one faculty to have within itself something which is out­side it, and to another faculty to tend to what is outside it. Consequently, in every creature intellect and will must necessarily be different powers.

ST I, 59, 2

The same material object, of course, can be considered in different ways by intellect and will:

Because the good and the true are really convertible, it follows that the good is apprehended by the in­tellect as something true; while the true is desired by the will as something good.

ST I, 59, 2, ad.3

The object of the will.

The will tends towards objects apprehended as “good” by the intellect. Accordingly, the formal object of the will is the “good in general”. (ST I-II, 10, 1, co.; ad 3.) Since the will tends always towards real existing goods, the good in general is realized concretely in individual existing beings:

The good apprehended by uni­versal reason moves the will only through the mediation of a particular apprehension, …since acts are perfected in individual cases.

De ver. 22, 9, ad 8. Cf. ST I, 60, 2, ad.3.

This idea is very important regarding practical and concrete behavior, because universal reasons, no matter how good they may be, do not move unless these universal reasons are materialized in concrete ideals and goals. For this reason, Aquinas, commenting on Aristotle’s De anima (III, 2 (434a 16-23)), says:

He (Aristotle) explains which reason it is that initiates movement. It is not the speculative reason, for this remains quiet and still and makes no decisions about tending to or away from anything, as we have seen. And as for the practical reason, it is either universal or particu­lar. By the universal practical reason, I judge that certain persons ought to do certain things, e.g., that children ought to honor their parents. By the particular practical reason, I judge what things apply to me as a particular person, e.g., that I am a son and I ought here and now to show honor to my parents. Now, it is this latter judgment that moves to action, not the other universal one; or, if both move, the universal moves as a first unmoving cause and the particular moves as a proximate cause which is somehow closely accommodated to motion. For deeds and move­ments are concerned with particulars, and so if any movement is actually to take place, the uni­versal opinion must be applied to the particular things.

In de anima III, lect. 16, n. 845-846.

Concrete means help to achieve abstract and remote goals. The cogitative power helps the judgment of the practical intellect and the sense appetite helps the will. It is man who loves and moves. Now does the object loved exist in the will? Augustine says that it is very difficult to explain it. Aquinas says:

For as when a thing is understood by anyone, there results in the one who understands a conception of the object understood, which conception we call “word,” so when anyone loves an object, a certain impression results, so to speak, of the thing loved in the affection of the lover; by reason of which the object loved is said to be in the lover.

ST I, 37, 1. Cf. De ver. 4, 2, ad 7.

The presence of the object loved in the will of the lover is “by way of inclination.” This sen­tence, however, is very mysterious and difficult to understand. We know better the operations of the in­tellect than those of the will. This is natural, for the will is not cognitive; we know the operations of the will through the intellect inasmuch as they are rooted in the same soul.

Acts of the will.

There are many acts of the will which are analyzed in the Ethics. The direct acts of the will are called elicited acts of the will. But the will is capable of moving other powers to their acts, for the objects of other potencies are particular goods, and are therefore included in the object of the will. When any potency is moved by the will, the act which is executed is called a commanded act – e.g., I move my arm when by my will I wish to do so. For more detail about the acts of the will, see the notes for Voluntary Action.

The freedom of the will.

Perhaps the only direct proof of the existence of freedom of the will lies in introspection. We are fully aware that we can act or not act; that we can choose this or that thing, and so forth. The problem of the freedom of the will is posed as a consequence of personal experience – the experience of freedom.

“Man has free will,” Aquinas says “otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, re­wards and punishments would be in vain.” (ST I, 83, 1.) What he is saying is that, without freedom, human behavior makes no sense. Such behavior only makes sense if we assume our freedom. Freedom presupposes control over our own actions. (SCG II, c. 48, n. 2.) And since freedom and necessity are opposed, we must first see if the will de­sires something of necessity. That which must be or that which cannot be otherwise is necessary. But necessity has many meanings:

That a thing must be, may belong to it by an intrinsic principle: either material (as when we say that everything composed of contraries is of necessity corruptible), or formal (as when we say that it is necessary for the three angles of a triangle to be equal to two right angles). And this is natural and absolute necessity. In another way, that a thing must be, belongs to it by rea­son of something extrinsic, which is either the end or the agent. On the part of the end, as when with­out it the end is not to be attained or so well attained; for instance, food is said to be necessary for life, and a horse is necessary for a journey. This is called necessity of end, and sometimes also util­ity. On the part of the agent, a thing must be, when someone is forced by some agent, so that he is not able to do the contrary. This is called necessity of coercion.

ST I, 82, 1.

What kind of necessity corresponds to the will? The necessity of coercion is altogether repug­nant to the will. For the movement of the will is an inclination to something; and no external coercion can change that inclination. A criminal can be taken to jail “by force,” but if he had his ‘druthers, he would probably not be inclined to go along.

The necessity of end is not repugnant to the will when the end cannot be attained except in one way. Thus, if we have to cross the sea, the necessity arises in the will of having a plane, a ship, or some other means by which to get across.

There is no material necessity regarding the will since the will is immaterial.

There exists a natural or formal necessity regarding the will as nature, but not regarding the will as will. Aquinas explains this necessity:

There must be found in the will not only what is proper to the will, but also what is proper to nature. Hence, even in the will there is a certain natural ap­petite for the good. In addition to this, the will may also have a tendency to something according to its own determination, and not from necessity. This belongs to it inasmuch as it is the will…

De ver. 22, aa. 5-8.

In other words, the will may be considered first according to its nature and then specifically as will. According to nature, the will is not free regarding either

  1. its last end (beatitude) or
  2. its general tendency toward the good (its object).

As the intellect of necessity adheres to the first principles, the will must of necessity adhere to the last end, which is happiness; since the end is in practical matters what the principle is in speculative matters. For what befits a thing naturally and immovably must be the root and principle of all else appertaining thereto, since the nature of a thing is the first in every­thing, and every movement arises from something immovable.

ST I, 82, 1.

The the will is not free regarding

  1. the final end and
  2. the general desire for happiness.

The will necessarily wishes to be happy. Its object is the good, not evil. No one can desire not to be happy. Although the will necessarily wills the last end, this does not imply coercion (external force), but natural inclination:

Although the will wills the last end by a certain necessary inclination, it is nevertheless in no way to be granted that it is forced to will it. For force is nothing else but the inclination of some violence. According to the Philosopher, a thing is said to suffer violence when the princi­ple of its motion is outside it and when it contributes nothing to that motion. But seeing that the will is an inclination by the fact of its being an appetite, it cannot happen that the will should will anything without having an inclination to it. Thus it is impossible for the will to will anything by force even though it does will something by a natural inclination. It is there­fore evident that the will does not will anything necessarily with the necessity of force; yet it does will something necessarily with the necessity of natural inclination (which is its formal necessity).

De ver. 22, 5.

Therefore it is obvious that there exists no freedom of the will in heaven. If we see God as he is, we necessarily have to wish him since the total good, which is the object of the will, is found in God. In this life, however, there are many who do not know that object (God). And even those who know him by faith are free to choose him as the final end:

There are some things which have a necessary connection with happiness, by means of which things man adheres to God, in whom alone true happiness consists. Nevertheless, until through the certitude of the Divine Vision the necessity of such connection be shown, the will does not adhere to God of necessity, nor to those things which are of God. But the will of a man who sees God in his essence necessarily adheres to God, just as now we necessarily desire to be happy.

ST I, 82, 3.

We will the end (happiness) by necessity.

In practical matters, the end stands in the position of a principle, not of a conclusion, wherefore the end as such is not a matter of choice.

ST I-II, 13, 3.

Where there are several proximate ends, or several means to the last end, there can be freedom of choice.

There is but one last end… Accordingly, wherever there are several ends, they can be the subject of choice, insofar as they are ordained to a further end.

ST I-II, 13, 3, ad.2.

Our human freedom is not with respect to the end (which we will by necessity) but with respect to the means (which we will freely).

The freedom of the will may be considered through a certain analogy with necessity and contin­gency in the intellect:



As the intellect of necessity adheres to the first principles, so the will naturally adheres to the last end. But there are things which are not necessarily connected with the first princi­ples, such as contingent propositions, and those the intellect does not assert of necessity. It is the same with the will. There are individual goods which do not have a necessary connection with happiness because without them a man can be happy, and to such things the will does not ad­here of necessity. her things have a necessary connection with happiness and regarding these the will is not free.

ST I, 82, 2.

What is the psychological root of this distinction? The psychological root of freedom, according to Aquinas, lies in the fact that we are rational:

The root of liberty is the will, as the subject thereof; but it is the reason as its cause. For
the will can tend freely towards various objects, precisely because the reason can have various perceptions of good. Hence philosophers define free will as being a free judgment arising from reason, implying that reason is the root of liberty.

ST I-II, 17, 1, ad.2.

So we say that the subject of liberty is the will. The will is the subject of freedom. But the cause of that freedom lies in the judgment of the intellect that sees in the different objects only par­tial goods, not the total common good which is the object of the will.

The intellect apprehends not only this or that good, but good itself, as common to all things… It follows that the will of an intellectual substance will not be determined by nature to any­thing except the good as common to all things. So it is possible for the will to be inclined to­ward anything whatever that is presented to it under the aspect of good, there being no natural determination to the contrary to prevent it. Therefore, all intellectual beings have free will, resulting from the judgment of the intellect. And this means that they have freedom of choice, which is defined as the free judgment of reason.

SCG II, c. 48, n. 6.

No partial good (i.e., no created good) contains the whole object of the will (the common good). So no partial good moves the will of necessity – only God who contains all good.

In all particular goods, the reason can consider an aspect of some good, and the lack of some good, which has the aspect of evil. And in this respect, it can apprehend any single one of such goods, as to be desired or to be avoided. The perfect good, which is happiness, cannot be appre­hended by the reason as an evil, or as lacking in any way.

ST I-II, 13 6.

We say that we have a free will because we can take one thing while refusing another; and this is to choose… Two things concur in choice; one on the part of the cognitive power, the other on the part of the appetitive power. On the part of the cognitive power, counsel is required, by which we judge one thing to be preferred to another; and on the part of the appetitive power, it is required that the appetite should accept the judgment of counsel. Therefore Aristotle (Ethic. vi, 2) leaves it in doubt whether choice belongs principally to the appetitive or the cognitive power: since he says that choice is either “an appetitive intellect or an intellectual appetite.” But he inclines to its being an intellectual appetite when he describes choice as a “desire proceeding from counsel” (Ethic. iii, 3). And the reason for this is because the proper object of choice is the means to the end: and this, as such, is in the nature of that good which is called useful: wherefore since good, as such, is the object of the appetite, it follows that choice is principally an act of the appetitive power. And thus free will is an appetitive power.

ST I, 83, 3.

Judgment, as it were, concludes and terminates counsel. Now counsel is terminated, first, by the judgment of reason; secondly, by the acceptation of the appetite: whence the Philosopher (Ethic. iii, 3) says that, “having formed a judgment by counsel, we desire in accordance with that coun­sel.” And in this sense choice itself is a judgment from which free will takes its name.

ST I, 83, 3, ad.2.

In summary, we can say that with respect to the will as nature, we are not free as regards our desire for happiness nor as regards the determination of our last end (God in whom we find our ultimate happiness). With respect to the will as will, we are free in two ways. First, we are free either to will or not will (freedom of exercise). Secondly, regarding finite goods or proximate ends, we are free either to will this or that (freedom of specification).

Freedom is a gift. It is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. We must accept freely the objects which lead us to happiness and reject those objects that do not lead us to happiness. In other words, the truly free man freely accepts the good means to the end.

The evil will is not freedom or any part of it, though it is a sign of freedom, as Dionysius says.

De div. nom. V, 5 (PG 3, 819)

Freedom does not mean indifference or stupidity. We often choose the greater good, which is nat­ural. Sometimes, however, we may choose evil, against the speculative judgment of our intellect, because of our passions. Freedom only means that we choose not by necessity, but by self-determination. We could have chosen to act otherwise.

Go here for more on the Freedom of the Will.

Influence of the will upon the passions and of the passions on the will.

The will has an influence on the passions:

Every act of a power that uses a corporeal organ, depends not only on that power of the soul, but also on the disposition of that corporeal organ: thus the act of vision depends on the power of sight, and on the condition of the eye, which condition is a help or a hindrance to that act. Consequently, the act of the sensitive appetite depends not only on the appetitive power, but also on the disposition of the body.

Now, whatever part the power of the soul takes in the act, follows apprehension. And the apprehension of the imagination, being a particular apprehension, is regulated by the apprehension of reason, which is universal… Consequently in this respect the act of the sensitive appetite is subject to the command of reason. On the other hand, the condition or disposition of the body is not subject to the command of reason: and consequently in this respect, the moment of the sen­sitive appetite is hindered from being wholly subject to the command of reason.

ST I-II, 17, 7.

Aristotle says that reason governs the irascible and concupiscible appetite not by a despotic supremacy, which is that of the master over the slave; but by a politic and royal supremacy, whereby the free are governed, who are not wholly subject to command.

There is no direct influence of the passions upon the will. Indirectly, the passions may affect the will by impeding the proper movement of the will or by causing the judgment of reason to see a merely apparent good as truly good for the individual. (ST I-II, 77, 1. Cf. I-II, 9, 2; Q.10, 3; Q.77, 2.) As Aristotle says, “According as a man is, such does the end seem to him.” (Aristotle, Ethics III, 5.)

That which is apprehended as good and fitting moves the will by way of object. Now, that a thing appear to be good and fitting, happens from two causes: namely, from the condition either of the thing proposed, or of the one to whom it is proposed. For fitness is spoken of by way of rela­tion; hence it depends on both extremes… Now it is evident that according to a passion of the sensitive appetite man is changed to a certain disposition. Wherefore according as man is af­fected by a passion, something seems to him fitting, which does not seem so when he is not so af­fected: thus that seems good to a man when angered, which does not seem good when he is calm. And in this way, the sensitive appetite moves the will on the part of the object.

ST I-II, 9, 2. Cf. De malo Q. 6; In eth. III, lect. 13, n. 520.
%d bloggers like this: