Tuesday, October 10, 2017

John of St. Thomas and the Verecundia Problem

I've noted before that there are some puzzles about Aquinas's treatment of verecundia as an integral part of the virtue of temperance. I noticed, recently reading John of St. Thomas's Introduction to the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas (as translated by Ralph McInerny), his interpretation of it:

He treats modesty first, whereby one fears to be confused or tested by the base. It differs from penance because penance grieves for sin as such as offensive to God, but modesty flees the baseness of sin insofar as it fears its dishonor and disorder. Thus this does not pertain to the perfect man, nor is it a virtue, but rather a laudable passion, since it does not directly seek the good but flees evil because of the dishonor of it. Thus modesty is not a component part of temperance but disposes to it.
[John of St. Thomas, Introductionto the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, McInerny,tr. St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN: 2004) p. 129.]

This is a very reasonable interpretation; verecundia

(1) is counted as a quasi-integral part of temperance;
(2) is not a virtue because it is inconsistent with complete virtue;
(3) is instead a laudable passion.

The major problem with putting these together is that temperance itself is required for complete virtue, and we have the puzzle of how temperance can be required for complete virtue when one of its integral parts is inconsistent with complete virtue. This is handled by the next point,

(4) verecundia is not a component part of temperance but dispositive to it.

This resolves the complete virtue puzzle completely: verecundia disposes to temperance, but is not required for temperance as such. Aquinas says as much at ST 2-2.144.4ad4. But it raises questions of its own.

This very neat and clean summary makes it easier to identify the verecundia problem. An integral or quasi-integral part of virtue is "in likeness to integral parts," that is, in the sense that wall and floors are parts of the whole that is a house, "so that the things which need to concur for the perfect act of a virtue, are called parts" (ST 2-2.44.1). Therefore, it seems that:

(a) if verecundia is a quasi-integral part, it should not be merely dispositive;
(b) if verecundia is inconsistent with complete virtue, it cannot be required for the perfect act of temperance.

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