QUESTION 54: OF THE DISTINCTION OF HABITS
We have now to consider the distinction of habits; and under this head
there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether many habits can be in one power?
(2) Whether habits are distinguished by their objects?
(3) Whether habits are divided into good and bad?
(4) Whether one habit may be made up of many habits?
Article 1: Whether many habits can be in one power?
Objection 1: It would seem that there cannot be many habits in one power. For
when several things are distinguished in respect of the same thing, if
one of them be multiplied, the others are too. Now habits and powers are
distinguished in respect of the same thing, viz. their acts and objects.
Therefore they are multiplied in like manner. Therefore there cannot be
many habits in one power.
Objection 2: Further, a power is a simple force. Now in one simple subject
there cannot be diversity of accidents; for the subject is the cause of
its accidents; and it does not appear how diverse effects can proceed
from one simple cause. Therefore there cannot be many habits in one power.
Objection 3: Further, just as the body is informed by its shape, so is a power informed by a habit. But one body cannot be informed at the same time by various shapes. Therefore neither can a power be informed at the same time by many habits. Therefore several habits cannot be at the same time in one power.
On the contrary, The intellect is one power; wherein, nevertheless, are
the habits of various sciences.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Article ), habits are dispositions of
a thing that is in potentiality to something, either to nature, or to
operation, which is the end of nature. As to those habits which are
dispositions to nature, it is clear that several can be in one same
subject: since in one subject we may take parts in various ways,
according to the various dispositions of which parts there are various
habits. Thus, if we take the humors as being parts of the human body,
according to their disposition in respect of human nature, we have the
habit or disposition of health: while, if we take like parts, such as
nerves, bones, and flesh, the disposition of these in respect of nature
is strength or weakness; whereas, if we take the limbs, i.e. the hands,
feet, and so on, the disposition of these in proportion to nature, is
beauty: and thus there are several habits or dispositions in the same
If, however, we speak of those habits that are dispositions to
operation, and belong properly to the powers; thus, again, there may be
several habits in one power. The reason for this is that the subject of a
habit is a passive power, as stated above (Question , Article ): for it is only
an active power that cannot be the subject of a habit, as was clearly
shown above (Question , Article ). Now a passive power is compared to the
determinate act of any species, as matter to form: because, just as
matter is determinate to one form by one agent, so, too, is a passive
power determined by the nature of one active object to an act
specifically one. Wherefore, just as several objects can move one passive
power, so can one passive power be the subject of several acts or
perfections specifically diverse. Now habits are qualities or forms
adhering to a power, and inclining that power to acts of a determinate
species. Consequently several habits, even as several specifically
different acts, can belong to one power.
Reply to Objection 1: Even as in natural things, diversity of species is
according to the form, and diversity of genus, according to matter, as
stated in Metaph. v, text. 33 (since things that differ in matter belong
to different genera): so, too, generic diversity of objects entails a
difference of powers (wherefore the Philosopher says in Ethic. vi, 1,
that "those objects that differ generically belong to different
departments of the soul"); while specific difference of objects entails a
specific difference of acts, and consequently of habits also. Now things
that differ in genus differ in species, but not vice versa. Wherefore the
acts and habits of different powers differ in species: but it does not
follow that different habits are in different powers, for several can be
in one power. And even as several genera may be included in one genus,
and several species be contained in one species; so does it happen that
there are several species of habits and powers.
Reply to Objection 2: Although a power is simple as to its essence, it is
multiple virtually, inasmuch as it extends to many specifically different
acts. Consequently there is nothing to prevent many superficially
different habits from being in one power.
Reply to Objection 3: A body is informed by its shape as by its own terminal
boundaries: whereas a habit is not the terminal boundary of a power, but
the disposition of a power to an act as to its ultimate term.
Consequently one same power cannot have several acts at the same time,
except in so far as perchance one act is comprised in another; just as
neither can a body have several shapes, save in so far as one shape
enters into another, as a three-sided in a four-sided figure. For the
intellect cannot understand several things at the same time "actually";
and yet it can know several things at the same time "habitually."
Article 2: Whether habits are distinguished by their objects?
Objection 1: It would seem that habits are not distinguished by their objects.
For contraries differ in species. Now the same habit of science regards
contraries: thus medicine regards the healthy and the unhealthy.
Therefore habits are not distinguished by objects specifically distinct.
Objection 2: Further, different sciences are different habits. But the same
scientific truth belongs to different sciences: thus both the physicist
and the astronomer prove the earth to be round, as stated in Phys. ii,
text. 17. Therefore habits are not distinguished by their objects.
Objection 3: Further, wherever the act is the same, the object is the same.
But the same act can belong to different habits of virtue, if it be
directed to different ends; thus to give money to anyone, if it be done
for God's sake, is an act of charity; while, if it be done in order to
pay a debt, it is an act of justice. Therefore the same object can also
belong to different habits. Therefore diversity of habits does not follow
diversity of objects.
On the contrary, Acts differ in species according to the diversity of
their objects, as stated above (Question , Article ). But habits are dispositions
to acts. Therefore habits also are distinguished according to the
diversity of objects.
I answer that, A habit is both a form and a habit. Hence the specific distinction of habits may be taken in the ordinary way in which forms differ specifically; or according to that mode of distinction which is proper to habits. Accordingly forms are distinguished from one another in reference to the diversity of their active principles, since every agent produces its like in species. Habits, however, imply order to something: and all things that imply order to something, are distinguished according to the distinction of the things to which they are ordained. Now a habit is a disposition implying a twofold order: viz. to nature and to an operation consequent to nature.
Accordingly habits are specifically distinct in respect of three things.
First, in respect of the active principles of such dispositions;
secondly, in respect of nature; thirdly, in respect of specifically
different objects, as will appear from what follows.
Reply to Objection 1: In distinguishing powers, or also habits, we must consider
the object not in its material but in its formal aspect, which may differ
in species or even in genus. And though the distinction between specific
contraries is a real distinction yet they are both known under one
aspect, since one is known through the other. And consequently in so far
as they concur in the one aspect of cognoscibility, they belong to one
Reply to Objection 2: The physicist proves the earth to be round by one means,
the astronomer by another: for the latter proves this by means of
mathematics, e.g. by the shapes of eclipses, or something of the sort;
while the former proves it by means of physics, e.g. by the movement of
heavy bodies towards the center, and so forth. Now the whole force of a
demonstration, which is "a syllogism producing science," as stated in
Poster. i, text. 5, depends on the mean. And consequently various means
are as so many active principles, in respect of which the habits of
science are distinguished.
Reply to Objection 3: As the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, text. 89; Ethic. vii, 8), the end is, in practical matters, what the principle is in speculative matters. Consequently diversity of ends demands a diversity of virtues, even as diversity of active principles does. Moreover the ends are objects of the internal acts, with which, above all, the virtues are concerned, as is evident from what has been said (Question , Article ; Question , Article , ad 1; Question , Article ).
Article 3: Whether habits are divided into good and bad?
Objection 1: It would seem that habits are not divided into good and bad. For
good and bad are contraries. Now the same habit regards contraries, as
was stated above (Article , Objection ). Therefore habits are not divided into
good and bad.
Objection 2: Further, good is convertible with being; so that, since it is
common to all, it cannot be accounted a specific difference, as the
Philosopher declares (Topic. iv). Again, evil, since it is a privation
and a non-being, cannot differentiate any being. Therefore habits cannot
be specifically divided into good and evil.
Objection 3: Further, there can be different evil habits about one same object; for instance, intemperance and insensibility about matters of concupiscence: and in like manner there can be several good habits; for instance, human virtue and heroic or godlike virtue, as the Philosopher clearly states (Ethic. vii, 1). Therefore, habits are not divided into good and bad.
On the contrary, A good habit is contrary to a bad habit, as virtue to
vice. Now contraries are divided specifically into good and bad habits.
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), habits are specifically distinct
not only in respect of their objects and active principles, but also in
their relation to nature. Now, this happens in two ways. First, by reason
of their suitableness or unsuitableness to nature. In this way a good
habit is specifically distinct from a bad habit: since a good habit is
one which disposes to an act suitable to the agent's nature, while an
evil habit is one which disposes to an act unsuitable to nature. Thus,
acts of virtue are suitable to human nature, since they are according to
reason, whereas acts of vice are discordant from human nature, since they
are against reason. Hence it is clear that habits are distinguished
specifically by the difference of good and bad.
Secondly, habits are distinguished in relation to nature, from the fact
that one habit disposes to an act that is suitable to a lower nature,
while another habit disposes to an act befitting a higher nature. And
thus human virtue, which disposes to an act befitting human nature, is
distinct from godlike or heroic virtue, which disposes to an act
befitting some higher nature.
Reply to Objection 1: The same habit may be about contraries in so far as
contraries agree in one common aspect. Never, however, does it happen
that contrary habits are in one species: since contrariety of habits
follows contrariety of aspect. Accordingly habits are divided into good
and bad, namely, inasmuch as one habit is good, and another bad; but not
by reason of one habit being something good, and another about something
Reply to Objection 2: It is not the good which is common to every being, that is
a difference constituting the species of a habit; but some determinate
good by reason of suitability to some determinate, viz. the human,
nature. In like manner the evil that constitutes a difference of habits
is not a pure privation, but something determinate repugnant to a
Reply to Objection 3: Several good habits about one same specific thing are
distinct in reference to their suitability to various natures, as stated
above. But several bad habits in respect of one action are distinct in
reference to their diverse repugnance to that which is in keeping with
nature: thus, various vices about one same matter are contrary to one
Article 4: Whether one habit is made up of many habits?
Objection 1: It would seem that one habit is made up of many habits. For
whatever is engendered, not at once, but little by little, seems to be
made up of several parts. But a habit is engendered, not at once, but
little by little out of several acts, as stated above (Question , Article ).
Therefore one habit is made up of several.
Objection 2: Further, a whole is made up of its parts. Now many parts are
assigned to one habit: thus Tully assigns many parts of fortitude,
temperance, and other virtues. Therefore one habit is made up of many.
Objection 3: Further, one conclusion suffices both for an act and for a habit
of scientific knowledge. But many conclusions belong to but one science,
to geometry, for instance, or to arithmetic. Therefore one habit is made
up of many.
On the contrary, A habit, since it is a quality, is a simple form. But
nothing simple is made up of many. Therefore one habit is not made up of
I answer that, A habit directed to operation, such as we are chiefly
concerned with at present, is a perfection of a power. Now every
perfection should be in proportion with that which it perfects. Hence,
just as a power, while it is one, extends to many things, in so far as
they have something in common, i.e. some general objective aspect, so
also a habit extends to many things, in so far as they are related to
one, for instance, to some specific objective aspect, or to one nature,
or to one principle, as was clearly stated above (Articles ,3).
If then we consider a habit as to the extent of its object, we shall
find a certain multiplicity therein. But since this multiplicity is
directed to one thing, on which the habit is chiefly intent, hence it is
that a habit is a simple quality, not composed to several habits, even
though it extend to many things. For a habit does not extend to many
things save in relation to one, whence it derives its unity.
Reply to Objection 1: That a habit is engendered little by little, is due, not to
one part being engendered after another, but to the fact that the subject
does not acquire all at once a firm and difficultly changeable
disposition; and also to the fact that it begins by being imperfectly in
the subject, and is gradually perfected. The same applies to other
Reply to Objection 2: The parts which are assigned to each cardinal virtue, are
not integral parts that combine to form a whole; but subjective or
potential parts, as we shall explain further on (Question , Article , ad 4; SS,
Reply to Objection 3: In any science, he who acquires, by demonstration, scientific knowledge of one conclusion, has the habit indeed, yet imperfectly. And when he obtains, by demonstration, the scientific knowledge of another conclusion, no additional habit is engendered in him: but the habit which was in him previously is perfected, forasmuch as it has increased in extent; because the conclusions and demonstrations of one science are coordinate, and one flows from another.