Article Title

Positive and negative emotions in Aquinas: Retrieving a distorted tradition

Abstract

'It is regrettable that moral theology has neglected the role that emotions play in the moral life' said William Spohn, SJ. at the start of the past decade.1 In his view, this situation seems to emerge from the influence of a rationalist natural law tradition which, unlike Aquinas, 'did not pay as much critical attention to this dimension.'2 Spohn would also concur with the impact of a negative view of the emotions fostered by the Kantian perspective of moral agency. More importantly, one must acknowledge the distorted approach of the Manualists in which the emotions are, at the least, impediments to the human act or, at the worst, its enemy. Spohn reminds us of the place of the emotions in the virtue-centred ethics of Thomas Aquinas and in contemporary philosophy's rediscovery of character and virtue. With Aquinas, these philosophers recognise that 'well-ordered affectivity guides moral decisionmaking through discerning perceptions and virtuous dispositions.'3

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