Concupiscence in Augustine and Aquinas Why are human beings evil The Judaeo-Christian explanation is in terms of original sin. The notion oforiginal sin comes from the biblical story in Genesis of how Adam and Eve lived in paradise, yet how they freely chose todisobey God, and how they were punished by God by being cast out of paradise. This casting out was not the only punishment, however. In the biblical story, the woman is specifically punished by God in that her childbearing will now be painful, and also in a loss of equality with her mate, who will now “rule over” her. In turn, the man is also punished, in that now he must laboriously work the soil inorder to gain any food from it. Yet all of these punishments from the biblical story give no inkling of why it is humanbeings are inclined toward evil.
Many early commentators onthe biblical story, however, began to see how this first oforiginal turning away from God, who is good, is the first instance of evil. They then argued that it must be on account of this first evil or original sin that human beings are inclined towards evil. Yet few ever attempted to explainhow the punishment for original sin affected this inclination. In the Christian tradition, the first thinker to attempt coherent explanation in this regard was Augustine of Hippo. Augustine felt that the punishment for original sin was visited first upon the will, by weakening it and thus inclining it towards evil, since it was through this freewill that God had given them that Adam and Eve chose todisobey and turn away from God.
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Through the will, theeffects of original sin are visited upon the mind and the body as well, making the whole person inclined towards evil. Together, the effects of original sin on the will, mind and body are covered by modern theologians in the term ” concupiscence.” The task of the chapter one, then, will beto provide the background against which Augustine came tothe conclusions concerning concupiscence. In the second chapter, the Augustinian conception ofconcupiscence will be more rigorously analyzed. The first task will be to cut away all the religious entailmentsunderlying concupiscence since they are philosophically problematic.
In the end, concupiscence will be redefined isthe inclination toward evil. Yet, since Augustine’s view ofevil as privation, which is presented in the first chapter, is also problematic because of its religious entailments, amore coherent view of evil to underlie this leaner definitionof concupiscence will be discussed. This view is that evilis unjustified harm inflicted on human beings. Another problem with Augustine’s view of concupiscence that will be presented is that it conflicts in a major way with his moral theory. Augustine believed that only chosenactions were morally culpable. Yet his view thatconcupiscence entails a radical weakening of the will seems to point to a lack of free will, and thus, to a lack of freely chosen actions.
In choosing the view entailed by concupiscence as the more plausible, it will be argued that unchosen actions, and even the unchosen concupiscence from which these unchosen actions flow, are morally culpable. In the third chapter, Aquinas subtle reinterpretation ofAugustine’s notion of concupiscence will be presented and analyzed. Aquinas thought, with Augustine, that human beings were inclined toward evil after the Fall. Yet Aquinas differed with Augustine as to the degree of damage originalsin inflicted on humanity. Aquinas felt that concupiscencewas compatible with human beings being inclined also toward the good.
Thus, for Aquinas concupiscence, after once again cutting away all the indefensible entailments, will be presented as the pool of all human desires, which can be either good or evil. This view of concupiscence is even moreplausible than Augustine’s, in that it acknowledges theprevalence of evil in the world, yet also recognizes thepossibility for human goodness. CHAPTER 1: AUGUSTINE ON CONCUPISCENCEAs G. R. Evans points out, Augustine was preoccupied withthe problem of evil for most of his life. Indeed, much ofthe early chapters of the autobiographical Confessions is concerned with cataloguing the stirrings of evil in the young Augustine.
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Yet, one might wonder, knowing Augustine as oneof the major Christian philosophers in history, why it took him so long to turn to the Christian faith he had been raised with in trying to grapple with this problem. Part of the explanation is that he knew the Christian faith through his mother Monica only “superficially” and thus, when he left his native town of Thagaste to study rhetoric in the big city of Carthage, he did not feel strong loyalty to Christianity. Instead, as a student, Augustine became enamored of the philosophy of Cicero, of whom he says: “the one thing that delighted me in Cicero’s exhortation was the advice ‘not to study one particular sect but to… seek and…
strongly embrace wisdom itself, wherever found’.” Thus startedAugustine’s journey as a philosopher. One of the first places Augustine thought to look for wisdom was in the Scriptures of the religion which he had been brought up with. Yet, the Bible disappointed Augustine’s search for pure philosophical wisdom, since “it seemed to me unworthy in comparison with the dignity of Cicero.” He thought that the Bible was “a text lowly to the beginner” and “Augustine disdained to be a little beginner” since he was now a man of letters. So, Augustine began to search for an alternative to Christianity in the pantheon of Carthage that would satisfy both his religious and his newly found philosophical longings.
Augustine soon found an answer to these longings in the unorthodox Christian sect called the Manichees. As has beensaid, one of the major stumbling blocks for Augustine concerning Christianity was the “lowly” or crude nature ofthe Scriptures. The crudity of expression is perhaps even more evident in the colorful human stories of the Hebrew Scriptures which also form the bulk of the Christian Bible. One reason the Manichees were attractive to Augustine was that they rejected the Hebrew Scriptures and only focused onthe “Christian” scriptures or New Testament. Other factors about the Manichees also attracted Augustine, namely, the idea that God gives direct illumination to the “enlightened” which, of course, appealed to Augustine’s newly found enthusiasm in his search for “wisdom.” The fact that this wisdom could only be found by the enlightened, as opposed tothe “lowly”, made Manicheism tantamount to an intellectual elitism. This also appealed to Augustine, who, as has been seen, did not wish to be counted among the lowly, especially the intellectual lowly.
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These ideas are what drew Augustine to the Manichees. What kept him with them, however, was their explanation ofthe problem of evil, which was, as has been seen from his memory of events in his early childhood, a nagging yet perhaps, up until that time, subliminal problem. TheManichees held what might be mockingly called a “dual dualism.” The first dualism was a dualism in reference to God. For the Manichees, there were two primary entities, one good (that is, God) and one evil. This dualism flows fromthe idea “that nothing but good could come from God.” It may be asked here whether the Manichees held that God, in addition to being the cause of good, was identical with the good, such that God was in everything that is good. Yet there are no indications that the Manichees were pantheists of this sort.
Thus, in the thinking of the Manichees, if only good can come from God, then evil must have another origin, independent of God. Although this explanation preserves the goodness of God, it poses a real problem for God’s omnipotence. If evil is independent of good, then it seems unlikely that the good (God) could be totally unaffected by or be in total control over the principle of evil. Yet omnipotence requires such total control. Thus, it would seem that, for a dualist ofhis sort, God cannot be omnipotent. Evans says as much when she states that Augustine “came close to believing that God could be affected by evil.” Augustine recalls that what attracted him most about this dualism was that it was “more acceptable to say your [God’s] substance suffers evil than that their own [the Manichees, including himself] substance actively does evil.” In other words, rather than taking responsibility for the evil he caused, Augustine preferred to place the source of evil on the cosmic level, away from himself.
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This cosmic dualism is only one of the two dualism theManichees espoused. The second concerns the constitution ofhuman beings. It is the classic philosophical dualism which holds that the human being is constituted of both body and soul. Yet this dualism flows from the aforementioned cosmic dualism, in that the soul is identified with good, whereas the body is identified with evil.
Furthermore, the soul, as identified with the good, is “divine”, and thus, the goal forthe Manichee is to transcend the evil passions of the body and to focus instead on the direct illumination of the soul by God. One can see here why this type of theory would be attractive for Augustine in its emphasis on the intellectual, which can be here identified with the spiritual. The best explanation of this identification is that Greek philosophy was beginning to have an impact on the Christian tradition, of which Manicheism was a part. For Plato, the soul has three parts, one of which is the “rational” part, which resembles the divine and is immortal. Many Christian thinkers in the intervening period between Augustine and the writing of the New Testament began to see similarities between the Platonic and the Christian conceptions of an immortal soul. Thus, through a process of syncretism, the Christian conception of the soul, which previously saw no connection between the soul and rationality, came to adopt this Greek identification of the immortal soul with that which is rational or intellectual.
Augustine remained a disciple of the Manichees for nine years. Yet, in that time, ever the philosopher, he did not give up his search for wisdom. Indeed, his readings of philosophy while in Carthage raised many questions in his mind concerning Manicheism, questions he hoped would be answered by the leading Manichee bishop of his time named Faustus. Their long awaited meeting proved to be a huge disappointment. As Augustine relates: “When I put forward some problems which troubled me, I quickly discovered him tobe ignorant of the liberal arts”, and thus Faustus “modestly did not even venture to take up the burden” of answeringAugustine’s questions. Thus began Augustine ” s disillusionment with the Manichees.
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Shortly after this incident, he left Carthage, and with it, his enthusiasm for Manicheism. This whole discussion of Augustine’s Manichee period maya t first glance seem pointless since it is a position thatAugustine ultimately abandoned. Yet, as shall be seen, although Augustine did indeed abandon, vehemently, the first cosmic dualism that the Manichees espoused, it is a matter of some debate in Augustinian scholarship whether he ever los this affinity for the second dualism that the Manichees held. As an example of this difficulty, Evans points out that much has been written about the preoccupation Augustine seems tohave had even after his Manichee period with the evil he felt was involved in the pleasure gained from human sexual intercourse. On the surface, one can interpret this as anexample of how Augustine still perhaps held to the Manichee dualism that sees the body as evil and the soul as good. Evans contends, however, against some critics, that inAugustine’s position here “there is no evidence that he became obsessed with the matter.” Augustine’s opinion about sex is the logical outcome of his overall thought it, and itis balanced by his concession that the sexual act had a proper place in marriage in that it is procreative.
Yet, Evans is willing to grant that “there persisted, however, a lingering association between matter and evil which Augustine never quite severed.” Thus, it would seem that although there might be some evidence to support the argument thatAugustine never abandoned the anti-body tendencies of Manicheism, his position is sufficiently different from theManichee’s. In order to show this, however, one must now turn to the positive post-Manichee teaching of Augustine onevil. After the beginning of his disillusionment with Manicheism, Augustine began to cast about searching once again for wisdom and answers to questions that Faustus could not provide. He seems to have found answers in the Neo-Platonic philosophy of Plotinus, from which he gained new insight into problem of evil. The major impact of this philosophy was to enable Augustine to see an alternative tothe cosmic dualism of the Manichees. The foundation of this alternative is pointed out by Henry Chadwick, who, in his translation of the Confessions, notes that Augustine often uses the Platonic dictum that “existence is a good.” ForAugustine, this dictum is based on the biblical truth that ” our God has made ‘all things very good’ (Gen.
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1: 31) .” Thus, to put these two thoughts together, since God made everything good, then everything that exists must be good. Yet, this emphasis on existence as good has further implications as can be seen when Augustine states that ” whatever things exist are good, and the evil into whose origins I was inquiring is not a substance, for if it were asubstance, it would be good.” Therefore, to conclude the line of argument “all things that are corrupted suffer privation of some good.” Thus, in contrast to Manicheism, where good and evil were separate, independent entities, in this new theory evil is a privation, a negation of the good. To flesh out this argument more, everything that is created by God and therefore exists is good. Further, everything that exists is a substance, or a part of asubstance, or a relation between substances, and therefore, every substance is good. Evil, then, in general terms, is turning away from or a falling short of the goodness which inheres in substances. This turning away or falling short is thus a privation or a negation of goodness.
To put this another way, when substances are good they are fully substantial. Evil takes away from this substance in its privation or falling short of full goodness. Further, the opposite of existence in substance is nothingness. Thus, inthe end, evil, in its privation of substance, tends towards nothingness. Finally, since normally evil negates the goodness of existing substances, making them tend toward nothingness by privation, evil, in and of itself, is nothing. This view is not without its problems, though.
Does it mean that all such privations tend towards nothingness and are thus, in and of themselves nothing For example, is insanity, as the privation of sanity, nothing IfAugustine’s line of reasoning is to remain consistent here, then he would indeed have to say that insanity is nothing. In other words, sanity exists and is good, and therefore insanity, as privation of that sanity, is nothing. Yet, this seems to be intuitively wrong, in that insanity certainly seems to be something that does exist in the insane person. Even so, this line of argument is not essential to the defense of Augustine’s view of concupiscence to which this chapter has been leading, and which the next chapter will focus on. What is essential is that Augustine’s view on evilis a privation is one of the building blocks from which Augustine constructs his treatment of concupiscence.
One might also be able to detect here some evidence relevant to the question of whether Augustine really abandoned the anti-body tendencies of Manicheism. That is, if all existing things are good, then human bodies can not be evil in and of themselves since they were created by God. Human bodies thus must be intrinsically good. However, this evidence by no means settles the question at hand, in that there is still plenty of evidence of Augustine’s propensity to see the body as evil. More will be said on this subject shortly, but one should note that there is another problem that crops up as a result of Augustine’s contention that evilis merely a privation. If God is the creator of all, then Augustine’s teaching concerning evil as a privation could also lead one to the uncomfortable conclusion that God is also the creator ofevil.
However, Augustine, in keeping with what has beensaid, could say that if evil is nothing, then there is no problem of evil. Yet Augustine was too painfully and personally aware of the presence of evil in the world to accept this conclusion. What this whole argument against evil as a privation assumes is that only God can be responsible for evil. However, to avoid the Scylla of holding that God is responsible for evil, and the Charybdis of holding that there is no evil, Augustine staked out a middle ground, namely that human beings are themselves responsible for the evil they commit. Evans calls this a”man-centered” solution to the problem of evil as opposed tothe “God-centered” approaches that have been discussed. Yet, in order to make this view work, Augustine must explainhow it is that God is not responsible for evil and humanbeings are.
Augustine first attempts to flesh out this view concerning human responsibility for evil in his treatise De Libero Arbitrio, here translated as The Free Choice of theWill. The work starts out, in Platonic fashion, as a dialogue between Augustine and his friend Evodius who asks ” Tell me please, whether God is not the cause of evil.” The answer to this is, of course, “no”, for reasons that have already been discussed. Instead, Augustine and Evodius come to the conclusion “that nothing else can make the mind the companion of evil except its own will and free choice.” The reason for this is, as Evans points out, that it seems to Augustine and Evodius “that the common factor in all evil acts is lust in some form… or that misapplication of thewill which makes a man want what he should not want.” Thus, human beings are themselves the cause of the evil they commit, not God, and the reason they are the cause is their misuse of the freedom of their will. Yet, if human free will is the source of evil, it leads to the question, which Evodius asks at the end of Book I ofThe Free Choice of the Will: whether he who created us should have given us that very freedom of choice…
For without this power, we apparently would not have been capable of sinning, and there is thus reason to fear that God will be adjudged the cause even of our evil deeds. In response, Augustine states in Book II that “we must not suppose that because a man can also sin by his free will that God gave it to him for that purpose.” He reasons that God gave human beings free will because “if man were without freechoice of the will, what would become of the good called justice whereby sins are punished and good deeds are honored.” As Evans comments, if one “had made no contribution of his own to his actions, both punishment and reward would be unjust.” Put more generally, God gave humanbeings free will so that they could freely choose God andthus not be predestined automatons. After the discussion of whether God should have given human beings free will in The Free Choice of the Will, Evodius still has several questions concerning evil and freewill. His questions concerning free will revolve around resolving how God’s omniscience seems to entail some sort of determinism, yet this topic would take the discussion too far afield, and thus the focus will be on the question concerning “the cause of that movement by which the will itself turns from the unchangeable good… towards… all kinds of transitory goods.” In the De Libero Arbitrio, Augustine tries to answer this question by again emphasizing the freedom of the will in turning towards evil.
Thisquestion is one Augustine would return to again and again throughout his life, partly because of the new heresy being propagated by Pelagius. Pelagius took Augustine’s own words from the De Libero Arbitrio concerning how evil begins in thefree will, and extrapolated to make the claim that, since thewill is free, human beings can also make themselves good. During the long period after completing De Libero Arbitrio, Augustine had been made a Catholic priest and then bishop. It is as a teacher and pastor that he again takes up the question of why the will is inclined towards evil inthe treatise De Natura et Gratia (On Nature and Grace).
The general question that Evodius had posed before concerning why the will is inclined to evil is secondary here, since the major question Augustine is trying to answer is: “‘How could that which lacks substance [evil, which is nothing] weaken or change human nature'” Augustine answers this Pelagian question with a powerful analogy: “To abstain, then, from food is not a substance; and yet the substance of our body, if it does altogether abstain from food… is…
impaired by broken health… In the same way sin is not asubstance.” Thus, Augustine shows how it is that evil, which is a privation, and therefore not a substance, can affect human nature which is a substance, albeit spiritual. Yet, as has been said, Augustine also returns in a roundabout way in On Nature and Grace to this question of howthe will is inclined towards evil. He states: Man’s nature, indeed, was created at first faultless and without any sin; but that nature of man in which every one is born from Adam, now wants the Physician, because it is not sound. All good qualities… which it still possesses in its make…
it has of the Most High God, its creator and maker. But the flaw, which darkens and weakens all those natural goods… it has not contracted from its blameless Creator- but from that original sin, which it committed by free will. In this statement one can see several facets of Augustine ” teaching that have been discussed: that human nature is goods created by a good God, and that the source of human evilis in the free will. Yet what is new in this exposition is that the human will is inclined towards evil on account oforiginal sin. The notion of original sin comes from the biblical story in Genesis of how Adam and Eve lived in paradise, yet freely chose to disobey God, and were thus punished by God by being cast out of paradise.
Augustine thus goes on to argue thatthe punishment visited upon Adam and Eve by God has weakened human nature. In particular, the punishment for original sinh as weakened the very will by which it was engendered. Yet, there is a problem here which Evans points out concerning howthe effects of original sin were passed on from Adam and Eve to their descendants. By making the will the locus of humanevil, Augustine cannot explain the transmission of theeffects of original sin as happening bodily by procreation, since the will is a faculty of the mind or soul. Unfortunately, Augustine never came to any conclusion on thisquestion preferring “to keep an open mind” on the matter. This, however, is only a minor problem compared to several major ones that Augustine must face concerning his teaching on original sin.
The main issue concerns clarifying the effects oforiginal sin on the will. Clearly, for Augustine, if humanevil begins in the will, then the effect of original sin isto weaken this will. One should point out here thatAugustine is making a perhaps unwarranted assumption, which will be discussed more fully in the next chapter. What needs to be emphasized here is that there are other effects of the weakening of the will, namely, that the body and the mind both become subject to the whims of the will. The mind becomes “clouded” and the body “is swept easily away by lusts.” With this nexus of effects visited upon the will, mind and body as a result of original sin, the topic ofconcupiscence is finally broached. According to modern theologians, concupiscence is the effect of original sin ofhuman nature, including the will, mind and body.
In otherwords, original sin is the crime, and concupiscence is the punishment. One should immediately point out, however, that thisdefinition is broader than what Augustine meant by the word ” concupiscentia.” As Gerald Bonner points out, As a very general principle it may be said that when Augustine wishes to speak of lust in the sense of sexual desire, libido and concupiscentia are virtually interchangeable; but when any other lust is mentioned… libido is the word used. This quotation would seem to indicate that the word concupiscentia is used by Augustine to refer only to sexual lust. This hypothesis is supported by the fact thatAugustine often uses the word concupiscentia in conjunction with the word carnal is, to indicate that he is indeed speaking of fleshly or sexual desire. Thus, one must infer from this that it is only after Augustine that this term took on a more general meaning.
To review the conclusions reached in this chapter, one should first note that Augustine was preoccupied with theproblem of evil for much of his life. He was attracted bythe Manichees dualistic explanation, which made evil an independent principle, and which saw the body as evil and the soul as good. To the question of whether Augustine ever really gave up the belief that the body is evil, the answers both yes and no. The answer is yes, in that Augustine believed that human nature, as created by a good God, is good. Yet, original sin spoiled this nature, and thus thefree will which enabled human beings to become evil, became itself weakened as a punishment for originally turningtowards evil. Thus, the will is weakened and thus the mind is clouded and the body is lustful on account of the whims ofthe will.
Therefore, the answer to the question of whether Augustine ever gave up his Manichee belief that the body is evil is also no, in that after original sin the body also was inclined towards evil. Yet, one should note that this teaching is different from the Manichee teaching, in thatAugustine felt that the will, mind and body were all inclinedtowards evil, whereas the Manichees saw the body as evil, andthe soul as good. The focus of this chapter has been thus to explain the background concerning Augustine’s teaching onevil, coming in the end to an understanding of what is now called concupiscence. The next chapter will begin by analyzing the Augustinian conception of concupiscence inorder to discover what implications of it are defensible. After this, further implications of its defensible elements will be drawn out. CHAPTER 2: AN ANALYSIS OF AUGUSTINIAN CONCUPISCENCE To examine more rigorously the modern conception ofconcupiscence which flows from Augustine, one should begin with its underlying conception of evil.
As was shown in the previous chapter, Augustine’s definition of evil as privation is not without its problems. One major problem is that thisdefinition is, of itself, merely formal, and it tells one nothing about what particular actions are evil. Yet, if definition of evil is to have moral relevance, it must be able to identify particular instances of evil, especially a sit is caused by and affects human beings. What such a definition might be will be discussed shortly. In the meantime, one should note that theAugustinian definition, implies that evil is a negation of that which is good.
Evil is thus a turning away from God, who is for Augustine all-good. This makes evil coextensive with sin. Sin is a religious concept, however, and thus is not very useful, unless one is willing to accept what religious belief entails, namely that there is a God, and that there is some standard by which one can determine what constitutes a turning away from God. Of course, not everyone is willing to accept these entailments because of their obvious and often stated philosophical problems. Therefore, a more inclusive definition of evil is needed in place of theAugustinian one. Another problem is that if one accepts Augustine’s view in De Libero Arbitrio that the effects of original sin are first felt in the will, one is confronted with a major inconsistency.
If the will has been weakened as an effect oforiginal sin, then the freedom of the will is also weakened. In fact, according to the Augustinian view, the will is radically weakened, and therefore the extent to which thewill is free must be radically diminished. This is contrary to the whole spirit of Augustine’s work entitled The FreeChoice of the Will. Indeed, this fact leads to a major incoherence, since for Augustine, as for most Christian moralists after him, only freely chosen actions are morallyculpable or praiseworthy. Unfortunately, Augustine never fully appreciated this inconsistency. He felt that, on account of these effects oforiginal sin, the only way one could perform good actions was with the grace or help of God.
In his earlier writings, particularly De Libero Arbitrio, he also allowed for the cooperation of the will in this endeavor, yet by the end ofhis life he was convinced that it was by the grace of God alone that one could do good, which by his definition, would involve doing those things in accordance with the good, God. What this amounts to is a kind of religious occasionalism, in which God steps in at the occasion of human beings doing good deed and enables them to carry their actions through. Putting this religious occasionalism aside, however, he never realized the inconsistency of holding, on the one hand, that only chosen actions are properly praised and blamed, and onthe other, that concupiscence radically diminishes the capacity of the will to choose any action freely. One must now take stock of what remains of theAugustinian conception of concupiscence.
Concupiscence, asw as stated in the first chapter, is the effect of originalsin on the will, mind and body. As has been said, the underlying definition of evil as privation must be left behind because it is not sufficiently inclusive due to its religious implications. One should point out here that thesame is true of the part of the definition that deals with original sin. Original sin is another religious concept that carries with it a lot of unneeded entailments. What is then left of the Augustinian definition of concupiscence Nothing, it would seem, except possibly a very general claimthat concupiscence is an inclination toward evil. One might object here that this definition is so denuded as to be void of all content.
This seemingly vapid claim, however, is precisely what will be the base upon which one can start to examine the entailments that flow from the philosophically more plausible notion of Augustinianconcupiscence. Before beginning this examination, however, it is obvious that the first task will be to try to come to abetter understanding of evil in itself, since the negative task of clearing away the religious entailments of Augustinian concupiscence has shown that Augustine ” definition of evil is inadequate. The aim of the discussion, then, is to find a definition of evil which, while not strictly Augustinian, remains faithful to the spirit ofAugustine, and at the same time does not openly contradict his intentions. As a first step towards providing such a definition ofevil, one that will serve as a base for seeing concupiscenceas the inclination toward evil, one might begin with the concept of harm. If evil can be seen as connected with harm, then the next question to ask is, what harms what And here one comes back to a distinction that was alluded to earlier, namely the distinction between what is often called human or moral evil and “natural” evil. One obvious way to parse this distinction is to see human evil as involving only human beings, that is human beings harming human beings.
>From here, natural evil can be seen as involving natural forces causing harm for human beings. Examples of natural evil, then, would be a volcano erupting and killing everything in its path, or cancer afflicting a human being. To relate this distinction to the Augustinian definitionof evil as privation, one should note that, although, as hasbeen mentioned, this is a purely formal definition that has not been made explicitly morally relevant, when one realizes that implicitly this definition of evil is equivalent to human being turning away from God or sin, one can see thatthe Augustinian definition of evil does not explicitly account for natural evil. Evans says as much of Augustine when she states that “animal pain, disruptions to the natural order such as earthquakes, traffic accidents”, that is, natural evil, is seen by Augustine as a subset of his belief that the “problem” of evil is “man-centered.” What is mean there is that Augustine, as has been seen, really believed that evil came into the world as a result of the Fall, brought about by human free choice. Before the Fall, the world was paradise where there was neither natural nor moral evil. After the Fall, the world itself also became hostile to human beings as part of God’s punishment.
Thus, forAugustine, natural evil must be the result of human evil. Once again, this view is problematic because of its religiousentailments. That is, one must accept that natural evil isthe result of the punishment meted out by God for human evil. If one does not accept this, Augustine’s explanation of natural evil is inadequate.
In any case, to return to the issue at hand, one must ask oneself whether the definition of evil that is under construction here needs to take natural evil into account. If one were giving a full account of evil, the answer to thisquestion would obviously be yes, but since the task here isto give an account of evil in keeping with the definition ofconcupiscence as the inclination toward evil, the answer should be no. The reason for this is that for Augustine concupiscence as an inclination toward evil refers to humanbeings. With this stipulation, one can now say that evil as harm means human beings harming human beings. The next question one might ask, however, is: is it possible to imagine asituation in which harm might be justified, and thus, might not be considered evil Causing someone physical harm by throwing him out of the way of a speeding car might be such asituation. It is clear in this case that although physical harm was indeed caused by this action, it is justified in that this person is better off with the slight physical harm caused by being thrown out of the way of the car than if hehad been hit by the car, in which case grave physical harm would have been the result.
Another example is that psychological therapy often requires potentially painful or harmful realizations about one’s self. Yet, this psychological harm is justified in that the ultimate goal is overall better psychological health. Thus, since there are clearly cases in which causing harm might be justified, one might adjust the definition to include this distinction. Thus, evil is unjustified harm inflicted on human beings by human beings.
Before moving on, however, one must ask what does harm mean In answer, it should be noted that for harm to constitute evil, the harm caused must be serious. Further, harm is serious when it prevents its victim from normal functioning for an extended period of time. Next, one might say that this damage can be physical or psychological. Another words, the definition of harm can not just include physical harm, there must be a recognition that there is also psychological harm, such as humiliation or exploitation.
A full account of evil would require further analysis. The task here, however, is not to give such an account, button provide an adequate and compatible basis on which the idea that concupiscence is the inclination toward evil can be considered. The next step in that direction is to consider whether this notion of concupiscence has any plausibility of itself. Are human beings inclined toward evil As a first attempt to answer this question, one might note theprevalence of evil in the world as an indication that humanbeings are inclined towards evil. The ruthless slaughter of millions by Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the cruel authoritarian dictatorship of Stalin, the violent ethnic hatred in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, rampant crime in large urban areas; these are all examples of how prevalent evil isin the world.
What Augustine’s view of concupiscence also seems to entail, however, is that human beings are fundamentally evil. One can see how this might follow from the fact that humanbeings are inclined toward evil, yet the two are not synonymous. Being inclined toward evil seems to imply potentiality, whereas being fundamentally evil seems to imply that this potentiality has been actualized. However, it seems that, for Augustine to remain faithful to the Christianity he had embraced, the only way for this potentiality not to be actualized is for the human being tohave sufficient freedom to overcome this inclination towardevil.
Yet, as has been pointed out earlier, this is precisely what is inconsistent in the Augustinian view. Ofthe inclination toward evil radically weakens the will, the nit would seem that concupiscence radically diminishes one ” freedom. Thus, it would seem that it is impossible for on eto overcome this potentiality for evil and in the end, theinclination toward evil inexorably leads one to become fundamentally evil. Yet the view that human beings are fundamentally evil is problematic, as will be argued at the end of this chapter. It is time now to examine more closely this fundamental inconsistency in the Augustinian treatment of concupiscence. If concupiscence radically diminishes one’s freedom, then why does Augustine ignore this fact in his moral theory and believe that only actions which are freely chosen are morallyculpable The most likely reason for this is that he was not aware of this inconsistency.
Yet, if these views are inconsistent, then one must choose one of them over the other. To do this reasonably one must ask which is moreplausible. In answer to this question, it should be clear that since this whole thesis is about concupiscence, and not about Augustine’s moral theory, the viewpoint that is entailed by concupiscence will be chosen as the moreplausible. In trying to say why the view entailed by concupiscenceis more plausible, one might begin by examining the moralimport of both viewpoints.
In the view entailed byAugustine’s moral theory, only chosen actions have moralimport. In the view entailed by concupiscence, on the other hand, the inclination towards evil is itself unchosen, or, put another way, it is part of human nature, and leads to actions that are unchosen. Unfortunately, this fact seems to tell one nothing about the moral import of these unchosenactions. The fact, however, that concupiscence is aninclination toward evil, indicates that the evil actions which flow unchosen from this unchosen inclination do indeed have moral import. Thus, if one follows the implications of what concupiscence entails, then in this view unchosenactions have moral import. In distinguishing the two views in this way one is led to an interesting question that runs parallel to the questionof which view is more plausible, that is, are only chosenactions alone morally culpable, or are there grounds for including unchosen actions within the domain of moralculpability In answer to this question, one might consider the example of Oedipus.
On the surface it seems thatOedipus is unjustified in condemning himself for the horrible crimes of patricide and incest that he has committed, since he was ignorant that the man he killed was his father, or that the woman he married was his mother, and in fact, he made every attempt to avoid these actions. Yet, if one goes deeper than the level of whether he freely chose to commit these actions, one will see thatOedipus was indeed right in condemning himself. Oedipus must see these actions as morally culpable since they flow from defect in his own character, as a result of which he habitually goes against his moral tradition by asserting his individuality. In other words, Oedipus had at the core ofhis personality an inordinately headstrong pride which continuously made him go against the limits of his moral tradition. This defect was partially unchosen in that his character was formed to a certain extent by forces that were beyond his control, like his upbringing, which gave him certain moral outlook. What should be noted in this example is that the partially unchosen defect in Oedipus’ character has led him to unchosen actions that are nonetheless morally culpable.
At this point one might distinguish between this unchosen defect which is part of Oedipus’ character as a moral agent, and the unchosen actions which flow from this feature of his moral agency. Oedipus is culpable for both his unchosen character and the unchosen actions of killing his father and marrying his mother which flow from it. Is this a defensible position In answer to thisquestion, one might ask how is it that Oedipus can commit these horrible crimes and still not be morally culpable Inone sense it seems that the very nature of these crimes cries out for some sort of culpability. In other words, Oedipus because of these crimes is in a very different position from those who have not committed such crimes.
And indeed, Oedipus himself felt culpable for the heinous nature of his crimes and acted on it by gouging out his eyes. Oedipus saw that there was something in the objective nature of what hehad done that was evil and morally culpable. To return to the definition of evil provided earlier, Oedipus had caused unjustified harm to human beings, and on that basis felt morally culpable for his actions, even though they were unchosen. One should note that this answer to the question of whether Oedipus should be held culpable has up toth is point dealt with his unchosen actions and why it seems right that Oedipus was morally culpable for these actions. Yet, as has been said, Oedipus is also morally culpable forthe partially unchosen character defect from which these unchosen actions flowed.
The reason for this is precisely because these objectively evil and therefore morally culpable acts flow from this defective character. In the end, one must realize that if one is to be amorally committed agent, then one must be committed to the minimization of evil. People, like Oedipus, who habitually cause evil are morally culpable, even if the defective characters that they have are unchosen, and even if the characteristically evil actions which flow from such defective characters are unchosen. However, one must realize that what is at issue here is the appropriateness of moralculpability, not the degree of moral culpability.
In otherwords, it may very well be that those who choose to have defective characters and those who choose to do evil may be even more morally culpable than those who do not so choose, yet that is not the issue being discussed here. The issue here is that moral culpability is appropriate, in some degree, for those who have unchosen defective characters and who perform unchosen evil actions. How does this case relate to the issue at hand concerning concupiscence It would seem that, as in the Oedipus case, concupiscence is an unchosen defect of the moral agent that carries with it moral import. Here the defect is not in the character of a certain individual, but is an overall defect of human nature.
This defect, namely the inclination toward evil, leads to unchosen actions for which the moral agent is culpable, precisely because they are objectively evil, that is, causing unjustified harm to humanbeings. Furthermore, to return to the larger issue raised earlier, if the unchosen defect in human nature known as concupiscence leads to unchosen actions that are morally evil, then it is clear that this view flowing from concupiscence is to be preferred over the view fromAugustine’s moral theory that only chosen actions are morallypraiseworthy or culpable. What this treatment leaves out, however, is the questionof whether the view entailed by concupiscence rules out thepossibility that there are any freely chosen actions at all. This must be left as an open question precisely because ofthe inconsistency of Augustine’s views.
If taken to its logical conclusion, the fact that concupiscence radically weakens the will entails that there are no freely chosenactions. Yet the very fact that he has posited another view which is inconsistent with this one leads one to think thatthe was struggling with this issue in such a way that he perhaps implicitly wanted to capture something of value in both views, even though he may have been unaware of their inconsistency. Thus, since Augustine left this, perhaps unwittingly, an open question, this treatment of the clear entailments of Augustine’s treatment of concupiscence must leave this question open as well. Yet there is one major problem with Augustinianconcupiscence that remains. The problem is that the moral entailments which flow from concupiscence as the inclination toward evil necessarily focuses on the negative task of the ” minimization of evil” while ignoring the positive “good-producing” task of morality.
In other words, such a view ofhuman nature leads to a morality which is focused mainly on avoiding evil, but pays little attention to trying to dogood. For Augustine, one might point out that his view that one can perform good actions only with the grace of God isthe good-producing aspect of his morality. Yet these religious claims are not philosophically defensible, and thus one is left with the view that human beings are inclinedtowards evil, and thus with a view of morality that focuses too heavily on the avoidance of evil. The next chapter will consider a subtle reinterpretation of concupiscence, based ona modern reading of Thomas Aquinas, to see if the moral consequences that follow from it suffer from the same defect as those that follow from the Augustinian conception. CHAPTER 3: AN EXPOSITION AND ANALYSIS OF THOMISTIC Concupiscenceis examining Aquinas’ conception of concupiscence, the detail that was exhibited in putting forth Augustine’s vie WWI ll not be duplicated here, since Aquinas is largely building on the work of Augustine.
To begin with, then, itwasn’t until this century that anyone fully appreciated how Aquinas “slightly shifts” Augustine’s prior conception ofconcupiscence. What this slight difference entails is succinctly explained by Karl Rahner, widely regarded as oneof the greatest Catholic theologians of this century, although Rahner did not explicitly mention Aquinas as the impetus for his new treatment of concupiscence. Rahner feels that there are two distinct traditions in Christianity concerning concupiscence. As he states it: On the one hand concupiscentia must be seen as… a power weighing down on man, with all the shattering impetus attested to by… St.
Augustine and Luther… If from this first point of view concupiscentia appears as a power oppressing man in his very depths and driving him on to moral transgression, from the second point of view it presents itself as something immediately given with human nature, and so really a matter of course… indeed almost necessary. The first view spoken of here, is the one dealt with in thefirst and second chapters of this thesis, namely Augustine ” view that concupiscence is the inclination toward evil which drives one to “moral transgression.” Yet this second view of concupiscence, as “immediately given” and somewhat “necessary”, is one which Conan Gallagher correctly links originally to Aquinas.
In the PrimaSecundae of Aquinas’ masterwork, the Summa Theological, in the article entitled “Whether Original Sin Is Concupiscence” he begins by stating that: The whole order of original justice consists in man’s will being subject to God: which subjection, first and chiefly, was in the will… so that the will being turned away from God, all the other powers of the soul become inordinate. Here, Aquinas agrees with Augustine in that original sinfirst affects the will and from there moves to the rest ofthe faculties of the human soul. A discussion of what these specific faculties are for Aquinas is unnecessary. It is sufficient to note that what Aquinas means by the facultiesof the human soul is roughly equivalent to what Augustine meant when he said that original sin first affects the will and then through the will affects the mind and the body. Thus, Aquinas is in agreement with Augustine on this point.
As a next step Aquinas states that “theinordinateness of the… powers of the soul consists chiefly in their turning inordinately to mutable good; whichinordinateness may be called by the general name ofconcupiscence.” Here Aquinas again seems to be agreeing with Augustine, in that what Aquinas means by “turning inordinately to mutable good” is roughly equivalent to the stripped down conception of Augustinian concupiscence as theinclination toward evil. To flesh out Aquinas’ meaning here a bit more, to say that these powers of the soul are inordinate is to say thatthe are directed to the wrong goal, in this case turningtowards a mutable good, which means a good that is fleeting, such as the pleasure taken in eating, sex, or some other transitory activity, as opposed to immutable goods that have lasting value, such as learning, and are in keeping with the immutable good, namely, God. This is not to say that these mutable goods are not to be enjoyed. Mutable goods are goods, when taken in the proper proportion. The problem arises when they are turned to inordinately.
One might rightly suspect here that by turning inordinately to mutable goods, one is turning away from God as the immutable good. Turning away from God constitutes for Aquinas, as it did forAugustine, sin. Sin, as has been shown, in its turning away from the good, God, is a privation of the good and is thus, for Aquinas, like Augustine, evil. Thus, to say thatconcupiscence is turning inordinately to mutable goods is today in a basically equivalent way that concupiscence is aninclination toward evil. Up to this point then, Aquinas shares all the weaknesses of the Augustinian view that we rediscussed in the last chapter, as well as all the strengths of the Augustinian view if cut free of all its religiousentailments. Once again, up to this point, Aquinas is in agreement with Augustine.
So where is the difference between the two views Shortly after the above quoted definition ofconcupiscence Aquinas goes on to say: Since, in man, the concupiscible power is naturally governed by reason, the act of concupiscence is so far natural to man, as it is in accord with the order of reason; while, in so far as it trespasses beyond the bounds of reason, it is, for a man, contrary to reason. Such is the concupiscence of original sin. With this mention of how concupiscence is in one way ” natural” to human beings, one is confronted with the second view of concupiscence that Rahner mentioned earlier. What this statement means is that if concupiscence is in line with ” reason” or rationality, it is in this way natural, whereas if it is not in line with reason it is thus inordinate andthus inclined towards evil. Yet what does Aquinas mean by “concupiscible power ” here In answering this question, one should note that earlier on, in talking about appetites, Aquinas has distinguished between the sensitive and intellectual appetites. What he means by appetite here is any “conative potency” or, more simply, desire.
From here, then, the distinction of the sensitive and intellectual appetites roughly corresponds to the desires generated by the body (sensitive) and the mind (intellectual).
Aquinas then goes on to divide the sensitive appetite into the irascible and concupiscible powers. The concupiscible power is what is of interest here, which Aquinas defines as the power “through which the soul is simply inclined to seek what is suitable, according to the senses, and to fly from what is hurtful.” Thus, it would seem that generally speaking this concupiscible power or appetite involves desires to seek pleasure or avoid pain. To put the two thoughts together, then, any act ofconcupiscence, that is, any act that flows from desires to seek pleasure or avoid pain, is natural and good if it is in accord with reason, and inordinate and evil if it is not. At this point one must ask whether or not this new view ofconcupiscence has any plausibility.
There are two major problems with this new view as Aquinas presents it. Thefirst is with the notion that the concupiscible power is governed by reason, and the second is with the notion of concupiscible power in itself. In reference to the first problem, one might ask, does not original sin also affect a human being’s rational powers Indeed, as has been shown, Aquinas says that original sinfirst affects the will, and then it affects the other parts of the soul, one of which is the rational part. Thus, why should one think that reason should rule the other facultiesof the human being, when reason is itself infected by original sin It seems here, that Aquinas falls into thesame type of inconsistency that Augustine did, except thatAquinas’ weak point is his emphasis on reason, whereas Augustine fell into inconsistency in his emphasis on thewill. To reiterate, the inconsistency here is that Aquinas wants to give reason pride of place in ruling over other human faculties such as the will or the emotions, yet reason has been affected by original sin just as the will and the rest of the human faculties have, and thus, there seems to beno clear notion of why reason should have such pride of place.
Aquinas might try to counter this objection by saying that the effect that original sin has on reason is not as radical as the effect Augustine felt it had on the will, andthus, there is room for seeing how on some occasions reason might correctly guide the desires of the concupiscible power. Yet, on what occasions For Aquinas, those occasions would be ones in which God’s grace aids human reason to help it discern what would be in accord with God’s will. Yet this religious occasionalism is once again indefensible from philosophical point of view, and without it there seems to beno real reason to believe that reason should have any real power over the concupiscible power. If reason is in any way affected by original sin or, non-religiously, inclined towardevil or inordinate ness, it is hard to see why it should take precedence over any other human faculty. Any such precedence seems somewhat arbitrary.
To make this objection even clearer, one might consider some possible counterexamples to the view that in the normal state of affairs reason is to guide the desires of theconcupiscible appetite or power. For example, how would thisview deal with cold, calculating, rational killers like professional “hit” men One might suppose that certain of these people do not kill for enjoyment, but, on a rational level, kill because they have to, that is, it is part of their job. In fact, on the level of their desires, they may have some sort of compassion or wish that they did not have to kill anyone. In these cases, the desires have been controlled by reason. Yet, it would seem that in instances such as these, the desires of such people are more praiseworthy than their cold, calculating rationality would dictate.
Thus, in such cases, if one accepts Aquinas’ claimthat reason should rule over one’s desires, one would be left in a morally more culpable position than if one had allowedone’s desires to dictate over one’s reason. In other words,” hit men” who suppress their compassionate desires and kill people in a cold, calculated and rational way because it is their job are more culpable than someone who is paid to kill someone but who allows these compassionate desires to overwhelm their cold, calculating, reason. The second problem with Aquinas new view ofconcupiscence concerns the nature of the concupiscible power in itself. Why is it that only the desires of theconcupiscible power are mentioned in this revised notion ofconcupiscence, when just shortly before this Aquinas has pointed out that all powers of the soul are susceptible to turning inordinately to mutable goods as a result of originalsin To be consistent here, it would seem that any desire, rational or sensitive, should be affected by original sin and should thus come under the heading of concupiscence. With these objections stated, what is left of Aquinas ” new interpretation of concupiscence Once again, not very much, except perhaps a very general claim that concupiscenceis the pool of all human desires, which can be inclinedtowards either good or evil, and which possesses the potential to be acted upon and thus become morallypraiseworthy or blameworthy. One might wonder at this point, however, how Aquinas in the passages cited at the beginning of this chapter was able to go from a conception ofconcupiscence that was essentially concomitant withAugustine’s to a view of concupiscence that was quite different than Augustine’s.
What one is faced with here is the use of the word ” concupiscence” by Aquinas in two different senses. Thefirst is a more general sense that accords with theAugustinian conception as an inclination of the whole humanbeings toward evil, and the second is the pool of human desires, good and evil, that flow from the concupiscible power. Yet one should notice that these two senses seem inconsistent, in that one sees concupiscence as aninclination toward evil, whereas the other sees concupiscenceas desires which can be good or evil. The only possible way to make the two usages consistent is to hold the second usages the more general one, which includes all the cases entailed by the first. In other words, one must see the second sense of “concupiscence” as including all those cases where concupiscence leads to evil actions, and, in addition, all those cases where concupiscence leads to good actions.
Yet, by making the second sense of concupiscence more restrictive, Aquinas has made any attempt at a reconciliation of the two senses seemingly impossible. In any case, it is clear that Aquinas probably meant forthe two senses to be consistent, if indeed he even realized that he was using the word in two different ways. With this in mind one must attempt to carve away the inconsistency for him, which, in effect, has been done in that the two objections raised to Aquinas’ new reading of concupiscence effectively remove the restrictive nature of the second sense of concupiscence and broaden the claim to be in the end that all human desires are inclined towards either good or evil. Thus understood, concupiscence, as has been said, includes all cases, and thus reconciles both usages. This being said, one might next wonder where the real basis of difference between the Augustinian and Thomistic views of concupiscence lies. The difference on the surface seems to be that, as has been stated, the Augustinian would state that every desire, whether it comes from the mind (rational) or body (sensitive), is inclined toward evil, whereas the Thomism would say that some desires are inclinedtowards good, and some are inclined toward evil orinordinateness.
Yet what is the basis of this difference The fundamental difference seems to be in the implied degree to which Augustine and Aquinas feel that human nature hasbeen wounded by original sin. Augustine, it would seem, is more pessimistic in that original sin radically affects all human faculties such thatthe human being is fundamentally oriented toward evil. Thisview of Augustine’s is borne out by the fact that by the end of his life, as has been said, he believed that one could dogood only if upheld in God’s grace. No cooperation of thewill is admitted here because no free will is possible. Aquinas, on the other hand seems to have a more optimistic outlook on the effect of original sin. One must grant that for him as a result of original sin all the human faculties have become disordered, yet the degree to which they have become so seems far less radical than in Augustine.
This leaves open the possibility that human beings can have desires that are inclined toward good. And just as theinclination toward evil is unchosen, the inclination toward good is in this way also unchosen. Furthermore, just as was stated in the last chapter, the unchosen actions that flow from these inclinations are morally blameworthy or praiseworthy. Thus, in the end, for Aquinas human beings are more of a “mixed bag”, with potentialities for both good and evil. Now that the problems with Aquinas view of concupiscence have been examined, and the basis of his difference withAugustine probed, it must be asked next what is right about this notion of concupiscence First of all, one should note that this Thomistic definition of concupiscence, in its realization that human beings are “mixed bags” capable of both good and evil, overcomes the problem with Augustinianconcupiscence stated at the end of the last chapter. Theproblem with Augustinian concupiscence is that one consequence of the view that human beings are fundamentally evil is that the morality thus entailed will focus too heavily on the minimization of evil.
For Aquinas, however, the moral consequences of his admission of the possibility ofhuman goodness, are that they allow for the positive “good-producing” task of morality, as well as the negative task of minimizing evil. Yet one might ask, is Aquinas right about there being instances of human goodness. In the last chapter it was pointed out that the presence of horrific evil in the world, such as in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia, makesAugustine’s view seem plausible. Yet the fact that there still exists examples of heroic human goodness, as well as horrific evil, in the world makes Aquinas’ view perhaps moreplausible. People like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are acknowledged by their faith community as having performed many good deeds during their lifetime, and as having sterling characters, such that this faith community has declared them ” saints.” Such saints are actualization’s of the potentiality of human goodness. In the beginning of this chapter Rahner was quoted assaying that, in opposition to the view of concupiscence advanced by Augustine, there was the view that concupiscencewas “natural” and “necessary.” The notion of concupiscence being natural has already been discussed, but how is one to understand the claim that it is necessary In closing this treatment of Thomistic concupiscence one might offer anexample of how seeing it as necessary can be taken in the right and the wrong way.
The example is taken from popular culture, namely an episode of the original 1960’s futuristic science-fiction television series Star Trek. In the episode entitled “The Enemy Within”, the Captain of the Starship Enterprise, James Kirk, is transported to an alien planet by process called “beaming down” in which every molecule ofthe persons body is converted to energy on a ships platform, and is then reassembled into matter at the appointed place. Unfortunately, in the process of “beaming” back to the ship from the planet, the transporting device malfunctions and sends back two Captain Kirk’s, one good and one evil. What is of interest here is that by the end of the show, the good Kirk and his crewmate’s realize that he cannot survive without being reunited 354.