Aids and Hindrances to Observance of Moral Order

Author: Rev. William Poland, S.J.

Source: Fundamental Ethics, Chapter VI, Article I

261. What aids have we for the more ready observance of the moral order?

The passions.

262. But are not the passions evil? Are they not always spoken of as incentives to wrong-doing, in fact, as bad passions but never as good passions ?

These questions show that there is a great misunderstanding regarding the true nature of a passion. A passion may, indeed, be misused just as one of our faculties may be misused; as sight, hearing, the powers of speech and movement may be employed for ill. The hand may be commanded by the will to do theft or murder. But the hand is not therefore evil. So, also, the passions are not evil, though they may be used for evil as for good.

263. What then do we mean by a passion?

A passion is that emotion, feeling, exaltation, which manifests itself in our sensitive nature upon the apprehension of good or evil.

264. Is passion then something of the purely sensitive order?

Passion is something of the purely sensitive order, and is found in the mere animal as well as in man. But in man a passion may be, as it should be, an aid or an instrument to the ready action of the will proper to man, the spiritual will.

265. How can passion be an aid to the action of the spiritual will or be used by it as an instrument?

This will explain itself by an example. Take, for instance, the state of anger or the state of hope or of any passion in which any one may be. These are not in the will. But they have a relation to attitudes the will takes towards good and evil as seen in various phases and so presented by the intellect to the will. These phases of good or evil are, that they are present, absent, attainable, avoidable, etc. For each of these phases, as presented by the intellect, we say there is an attitude of the will ; and for each attitude of the will there is a possible corresponding exaltation, emotion in the sensitive nature, that is, a corresponding passion. Now, when the passion of hope or of anger is roused, as corresponding respectively to the attitude of the will towards good (presented as being attainable) or evil (as being unbearable), the position taken by the will is fortified, the continuance of the position or act of the will becomes easier, and the act itself is intensified, since the whole man, soul and body, is roused to the same effort.

266. Why then is it said to be wrong to follow passion ?

Because our guide is reason and not passion.

267. Can the passions be awakened independently of the act of the will ?

Yes; because being of the sensitive order they may, in us as in the mere animal, be awakened by the sensitive perception of sensible good or evil.

268. Is it wrong to follow passion in this case?

It is always wrong to follow passion as a guide. It may be, however, that passion in this case shall happen to be directed to the real good of man. This, reason will decide. And then, though we may act according to the passion, still we will not be following passion but reason.

269. How is it that the passions are commonly called bad?

This comes simply from the fact that passion, being something of the sensitive order, may indeed be roused, independently of and prior to the act of the free will. It may be thus roused at the mere perception of some partial and purely sensible good which the free will, acting under the guidance of the intellect, should reject as not being conducive to the good of the whole man taken as a unit. When passion is thus roused, it is easy to see that the will, besides having to reject the partial and apparent good apprehended, has also to make a special effort to overcome the tendency made active by the rousing of the passion. Thus it is that passions are called “bad,” because it is wrong to follow them as the guide of human conduct, and because, when passion accompanies, the movement of the will towards evil is readily intensified. But we must remember, that with passion accompanying, there are the same conditions established for increase of intensity in the movements of the will towards good.

270. How many passions are there?

It would not be easy to enumerate them all with any kind of precision. There are combinations, complexities of sensible emotion, which it is not always easy to analyze or to designate by a specific name, and which respond to varying attitudes of the spiritual will towards good and evil apprehended in various phases, as attainable, as present, as difficult to reach or to avoid, etc.

271. Can we nevertheless distinguish some primary or elementary passions?


272. Are there some that we can regard as fundamental, as leading to or forming an element in all the others ?


273. Which are they?

Love and its contrary, hatred.

274. What is love?

Love is the passion that arises on the mere contemplation of good.

275. What is hatred?

Hatred is the passion that arises on the mere contemplation of evil.

276. What passions directly follow love?

Desire and delight.

277. What is desire?

Desire is the tendency or inclination to possess the good which has been apprehended as absent.

278. What is delight or joy?

Delight is the actual pleasure consequent upon the possession of good.

279. What passions directly follow hatred?

Abhorrence and sadness.

280. What is abhorrence?

Abhorrence is the tendency, the inclination, to be separated from the evil that has been apprehended and regarded with hatred.

281. What is sadness?

Sadness is the pain or suffering consequent upon the actual union with, possession of, the evil apprehended.

282. Are there other passions readily discernible and easily analyzed as being immediately associated with the preceding?


283. Which are they?

Hope and despair; fear and daring (courage); anger.

284. What is hope?

Hope is the passion which arises when a good desired is seen to be difficult yet possible to attain, or when an evil that is abhorred is seen to be difficult yet possible to avoid. It corresponds to the attitude which the will takes on, when the good or evil is thus presented by the intellect, with special prominence given to the possibility of attaining or avoiding — with special light thrown upon this possibility.

285. What is despair?

If in the previous case the intellect is occupied chiefly with the difficulties, makes them prominent, puts them in a strong light, neglects the consideration of the possibilities, the will takes on a different attitude, and the corresponding passion is despair.

286. What is daring or courage?

Courage is the passion that follows hope. It arises when we go out bravely to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of our attaining the good or avoiding the evil.

287. What is fear?

Fear is the opposite of courage or daring. It is the shrinking at the view of the obstacles to be encountered in an attempt to reach the good or escape the evil.

288. What is anger?

Anger is the rising up against present evil which is upon us, which has overtaken us.