The Personalist Project

Comments (7)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jan 28, 2012 12:20pm

Thanks for this helpful explication, Scott.

For myself, I never imagined for a moment that the teaching "love is an act of the will"—as it is all too often given—was anything like a true representation of St. Thomas' views.  (Nor have I ever heard it attributed to St. Thomas.)  It is impossible that a thinker and saint (and poet!) so great as St. Thomas could be so stupidly unreal and reductive.

My own difference with the Thomistic account that you here sketch out is in its ommission of the heart. I think von Hildebrand has immensely enriched the Catholic intellectual tradition by showing that the heart is a spiritual faculty on a rank with the intellect and the will.

I bet St. Thomas (now) would agree. :)

The die-hard Thomists I know usually counter that the heart is fully accounted for in Thomas' meaning of the will.  And on that point I think they're mistaken.  Von Hildebrand's analysis of the heart really does add something to the philosophia perennis that had been missing, or at least underdeveloped.

Jules van Schaijik

#2, Jan 28, 2012 7:35pm

It seems to me that the "love is an act of the will" view Katie is criticizing is Kantian in ethos, not Thomistic.

Kant had a deep aversion to anything that was not perfectly rational and in control. But love, especially during the "season of singing," has a tendency to sweep us of our feet. It disrupts our plans. It makes us vulnerable. For Kant, as for the stoics, this sort of thing threatens our moral autonomy and personal dignity.

Scott Johnston

#3, Jan 29, 2012 4:18am

I agree, Katie.

It's relevant to note that in St. Thomas' day, the categories of thought and the language used to philosophize in a deep and focused way about the interior subjective life of the person (as well as compelling reasons to do so) didn't exist. It wasn't a big interest or concern for them at that time. Whereas these things are very much more so issues of interest for us.

It's certainly possible that St. Thomas might have been intrigued by and appreciative of DVH's understinding of the heart.

I do think that Thomas' understanding of the will is far more complex and subtle than is sometimes assumed. But, it's probably stretching things too far to say it fully incorporates all that DVH means by the heart.

Scott Johnston

#4, Jan 29, 2012 4:26am

Jules, that makes a lot of sense. I think you're right. In light of this very good point, I would also suggest that the sort of individual (perhaps an "ultra-traditional" sort of Catholic?) who is eager to make the sort of argument as the apologist Katie mentioned in the courtship portal (putting an overemphasis on a rather cold, cramped idea of love as exclusively an "act of the will") probably thinks in some vague way (without having a clear notion of how) that they are channeling the teaching of St. Thomas. When, as you say, in reality, they are actually and in fact probably being much more influenced by Kant, yet without even knowing this.

Ann B

#5, Feb 1, 2012 4:57pm

I found this article immensely interesting. I have such an allergy to the phrase "love is an act of the will." To me that sounds very cold, calculating and condescending. I suppose I too had the Kantian version of it in mind. I have been struggling to understand what this off-putting sentence really means.

Katie, could you explain briefly what you think Dietrich von Hildebrand's analysis of the heart added to Thomas' understanding of the will, or where I should start reading on it? I have read a little of DVH, but not much.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Feb 1, 2012 5:08pm

Ann, the best thing to do is to try to get your hands on von Hildebrand's short book, The Heart.  It's philosophy, but approachable, accessible philosophy.  Or, you could join the courtship class. :)  

In last night's lecture I touched on the issue briefly.  I develop it more fully in the next class, on Valentine's Day.

Meanwhile, here are two articles I've written that at least start to address the question.

Conjugal Love is not an Act of the Will

A Catholic Critique of a Current Notion of Courtship

Ann B

#7, Feb 1, 2012 10:25pm

Katie van Schaijik, Feb. 1 at 5:08pm

Or, you could join the courtship class. :)

Done! I can't wait! Thanks very much for the articles, too.

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