Will and Personhood

Any being we could consider to be a person would, of course, have to be characterized by mind. But mind or, more precisely, intellect—especially as conceived of along the lines traced in Chapter Six—seems not to be enough for personhood. When intellect is conceived of as primarily a faculty of cognition, and intellective cognition is conceived of as primarily the acquisition of intelligible forms, the concept of intellect may fall short even of the concept of mind. For mind involves at least occasional states of full consciousness, which involve attention. And attention, at least in finite minds, involves selection and direction, which are not essential to cognition generally. Nobody would be tempted to consider an electronic traffic-counting device a person, even though it provides a close analogue to abstractive intellective cognition by interpreting the electrical impulses it receives as the passing of vehicles with various numbers of axles and recording its results in those terms.

The standard view of persons requires that beings that count as persons be quite a lot like the being who takes that standard view—that they be entities that are typically if not always fully conscious, self-directed, responsible, free agents that are capable of certain attitudes toward and relationships with other beings of this sort: personifying relationships and attitudes, such as wronging or loving. Every component of the standard view, from full consciousness to loving, involves not only intellect but also will. Moreover, intellect and will do, I think, constitute jointly sufficient conditions of personhood.

What about emotion? Intellect and will don't include emotion, and it may seem that emotion counts as a third necessary condition, especially in connection with the attitudes and relationships that help to specify a person. An essentially emotionless person would quite rightly be called inhuman, but nothing in the standard view of end p.197

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com)

© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved the nature of persons restricts the application of the concept of a person to human beings, or even to corporeal beings. If our concept were restricted in that way, we wouldn't create or be able to understand fairy-tales, ghost stories, or the kind of science fiction in which extra-terrestrials play a part. And leaving emotion out of the mix leaves out less than might at first be supposed. Whether or not only persons can be wronged, certainly only a person can do the wronging, and certainly emotion is not a prerequisite for i immoral action.

1 Wronging of course includes permitting bad things to happen as well as perpetrating them. If a natural disaster is one whose central event involves only natural forces and no personal agent at all, then its victims are not wronged. Victims of a natural disaster may be said to have been wronged only if some person or persons, human or otherwise, perpetrated the 'natural' disaster; or knowingly permitted it to occur when he, she, or they could have prevented it; or knowingly permitted the victims to be in harm's way when he, she, or they could have warned, removed, or protected them.

On the contrary, unemotional human wrongdoing is at least prima facie worse than the kind that stems from rage or jealousy. Human loving, even when being in love is left out of account, is of course typically emotional. But, as we'll see in Chapter Eight, loving as an essentially personifying relationship needn't be emotional. Love's association with emotion diminishes as its association with will grows stronger.

Since intellect and will are conceptually distinct, and since intellect without will would not constitute a person, showing that personhood must be attributed to reality's ultimate principle, a process that began in arguing that it must be intellective, remains incomplete until it can be shown to be characterized essentially by will as well.

Now, showing that God must be characterized by will may seem to be absurdly easy, given Aquinas's relational method, founded on the extensive aspect of universal perfection. For, as we saw in Chapter Six, he uses that method in establishing intellectivity as a divine attribute on the basis of its occurring as a perfection specific to human beings; and, as we'll see in this chapter, he takes will to be essentially associated with intellect. None the less, will's status as a specific human perfection is not a basis on which he ever argues for will in God, as far as I know. I suspect that this apparently easy line of reasoning is left out of the array of argumentation he offers in support of attributing will to God just because our will's relationship to our intellect leaves will as we know it looking far less like a end p.198

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com)

© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved specific perfection than human intellect does. What weakens will's claim to the status of a specific perfection has nothing to do with its role as the source of moral imperfection. It stems, rather, from the fact that Aquinas's account of will leaves it looking like an appendage to intellect, not a specific

perfection in its own right.

2 There may be a hint of this status in the transitional passage with which Aquinas begins his investigation of will in SCG 1.72.617: 'Having dealt with matters that pertain to the divine intellect's cognition, it now remains for us to consider God's will.' He does observe, at least once, that 'among other perfections of things, intellect and will stand out' (CT 1.33.66); but I'm inclined to read this as if the outstanding perfection had been identified as intellect-and-will, the personifying perfection. Of course, if he had actually given that composite the status of a specifying perfection in his theory, he clearly would have provided himself with a very short argumentative route to the establishing of will as a divine attribute.

So, before considering ways Aquinas does argue for will in God, I want to say a few things about his conception of will generally, at least about those aspects of it that strike me as most relevant to my concerns here.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Study Aid

Study Aid

This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Getting A Scholarship And Financial Support For Your Studies.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment