Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Question 80 – The Appetitive Powers in General

Why this Question Matters

Aquinas spends quite a lot of time and effort in this treatise on the discussion of cognition and the intellect. We’ve just had the very lengthy Ia.q79 and we’ll return to the intellect in a series of questions Ia.q84-9. It’s time now, though, for a brief interlude on the appetitive powers, and in particular on the intellectual appetite, better known as the will. This short discussion may seem somewhat inadequate, but it’s important to remember that Aquinas will spend much effort in discussing individual aspects of the appetitive powers in the second part of the summa. Indeed, one could argue that the second part as a whole is a working out of the consequences of the relationship between the sentient and intellectual appetites in man.

In this question Aquinas devotes two articles to the appetitive powers considered in general. In the first he discusses whether appetite should be considered as a power of the soul separate from those that we’ve already considered; having answered this question in the positive he discusses whether the appetitive powers corresponding to the sentient and intellectual powers are distinct. Although he doesn’t make a lot of it in this question, one of the underlying themes in Aquinas’s treatment of the appetitive powers is that the existence of intellect and will in humans in addition to the sentient powers gives rise to a qualitative difference between the human appetite and the animal appetite even if the desired object is of the same class.


The Thread of the Argument

A1: Appetite and appetition describe an inclination towards or a seeking for something. We’ve already seen (Ia.q59.a1) Aquinas discuss the difference between the natural appetite, the sensible appetite and the intellectual appetite (or will) in the context of the discussion about angels; now he turns to the appetites in the context of the human soul.

Aquinas argues that appetite is a specific power of the soul. To do this he recalls that any form is associated with some sort of inclination; forms have innate tendencies towards things when instantiated in matter. The forms of things that lack knowledge have natural inclinations that are called natural appetites. In things that possess knowledge, on the other hand, the knowledge that they have inclines the knowing being towards (or away from) the objects of which they have knowledge. This inclination that surpasses the natural appetite is an appetitive power that belongs to the soul.

A2: Given that beings possessing knowledge have appetites that exceed the natural appetite, one must ask whether different types of knowledge, such as the sentient and the intellectual give rise to distinct powers in the soul. Appetites are passive powers that are moved to actuality by the forms of the things that are the objects of knowledge, and are distinguished by the nature of their relations to that knowledge. Since what the intellect apprehends is generically different from what the sentient powers apprehend, the corresponding sentient and intellectual appetites are distinct.

One might argue, as does the second objection, that the distinction between the objects of knowledge of the sentient and intellectual powers is not sufficient to distinguish the corresponding appetites, because the appetite is for something singular. We recall that intellectual knowledge is of the universal and so, in order to be inclined to the individual, knowledge retained from the sentient powers must be involved. In other words, in order to have an inclination towards a concrete individual, the intellect must revisit the sentient and the boundary between the two becomes blurred. Aquinas’s answer is that the intellectual appetite inclines to something external as a universal; it desires it because it is good, not because it is that individual. The implication of this is that the appetites of an intellectual creature such as man operate in a different order than those of other animals; the animal appetite for an external object is based purely on sense experience, but the human appetite combines the sentient and the intellectual. Even when the desired object is of the same class, a tasty morsel for example, the human desire for it is of a different order that the animal desire for it. We will see more about this is the next question (Ia.q81.a3) where the question of the relationship between the sentient and the intellectual appetites is discussed.


Handy Concepts

  • Appetite is distinct power of the soul.
  • The sentient appetite and the intellectual appetite, or will, are themselves distinct powers.




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