TREATISE ON HUMAN ACTS: ACTS PECULIAR TO MAN (Questions -21)
QUESTION 6: OF THE VOLUNTARY AND THE INVOLUNTARY
Since therefore Happiness is to be gained by means of certain acts, we
must in due sequence consider human acts, in order to know by what acts
we may obtain Happiness, and by what acts we are prevented from obtaining
it. But because operations and acts are concerned with things singular,
consequently all practical knowledge is incomplete unless it take account
of things in detail. The study of Morals, therefore, since it treats of
human acts, should consider first the general principles; and secondly
matters of detail.
In treating of the general principles, the points that offer themselves
for our consideration are (1) human acts themselves; (2) their
principles. Now of human acts some are proper to man; others are common
to man and animals. And since Happiness is man's proper good, those acts
which are proper to man have a closer connection with Happiness than have
those which are common to man and the other animals. First, then, we must
consider those acts which are proper to man; secondly, those acts which
are common to man and the other animals, and are called Passions. The
first of these points offers a twofold consideration: (1) What makes a
human act? (2) What distinguishes human acts?
And since those acts are properly called human which are voluntary,
because the will is the rational appetite, which is proper to man; we
must consider acts in so far as they are voluntary.
First, then, we must consider the voluntary and involuntary in general;
secondly, those acts which are voluntary, as being elicited by the will,
and as issuing from the will immediately; thirdly, those acts which are
voluntary, as being commanded by the will, which issue from the will
through the medium of the other powers.
And because voluntary acts have certain circumstances, according to
which we form our judgment concerning them, we must first consider the
voluntary and the involuntary, and afterwards, the circumstances of those
acts which are found to be voluntary or involuntary. Under the first head
there are eight points of inquiry:
(1) Whether there is anything voluntary in human acts?
(2) Whether in irrational animals?
(3) Whether there can be voluntariness without any action?
(4) Whether violence can be done to the will?
(5) Whether violence causes involuntariness?
(6) Whether fear causes involuntariness?
(7) Whether concupiscence causes involuntariness?
(8) Whether ignorance causes involuntariness?
Article 1: Whether there is anything voluntary in human acts?
Objection 1: It would seem that there is nothing voluntary in human acts. For
that is voluntary "which has its principle within itself." as Gregory of
Nyssa [*Nemesius, De Natura Hom. xxxii.], Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii,
24), and Aristotle (Ethic. iii, 1) declare. But the principle of human
acts is not in man himself, but outside him: since man's appetite is
moved to act, by the appetible object which is outside him, and is as a
"mover unmoved" (De Anima iii, 10). Therefore there is nothing voluntary
in human acts.
Objection 2: Further, the Philosopher (Phys. viii, 2) proves that in animals
no new movement arises that is not preceded by a motion from without. But
all human acts are new, since none is eternal. Consequently, the
principle of all human acts is from without: and therefore there is
nothing voluntary in them.
Objection 3: Further, he that acts voluntarily, can act of himself. But this
is not true of man; for it is written (Jn. 15:5): "Without Me you can do
nothing." Therefore there is nothing voluntary in human acts.
On the contrary, Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii) that "the voluntary
is an act consisting in a rational operation." Now such are human acts.
Therefore there is something voluntary in human acts.
I answer that, There must needs be something voluntary in human acts. In
order to make this clear, we must take note that the principle of some
acts or movements is within the agent, or that which is moved; whereas
the principle of some movements or acts is outside. For when a stone is
moved upwards, the principle of this movement is outside the stone:
whereas when it is moved downwards, the principle of this movement is in
the stone. Now of those things that are moved by an intrinsic principle,
some move themselves, some not. For since every agent or thing moved,
acts or is moved for an end, as stated above (Question , Article ); those are
perfectly moved by an intrinsic principle, whose intrinsic principle is
one not only of movement but of movement for an end. Now in order for a
thing to be done for an end, some knowledge of the end is necessary.
Therefore, whatever so acts or is moved by an intrinsic principle, that
it has some knowledge of the end, has within itself the principle of its
act, so that it not only acts, but acts for an end. On the other hand, if
a thing has no knowledge of the end, even though it have an intrinsic
principle of action or movement, nevertheless the principle of acting or
being moved for an end is not in that thing, but in something else, by
which the principle of its action towards an end is not in that thing,
but in something else, by which the principle of its action towards an
end is imprinted on it. Wherefore such like things are not said to move
themselves, but to be moved by others. But those things which have a
knowledge of the end are said to move themselves because there is in them
a principle by which they not only act but also act for an end. And
consequently, since both are from an intrinsic principle, to wit, that
they act and that they act for an end, the movements of such things are
said to be voluntary: for the word "voluntary" implies that their
movements and acts are from their own inclination. Hence it is that,
according to the definitions of Aristotle, Gregory of Nyssa, and
Damascene [*See Objection 1], the voluntary is defined not only as having
"a principle within" the agent, but also as implying "knowledge."
Therefore, since man especially knows the end of his work, and moves
himself, in his acts especially is the voluntary to be found.
Reply to Objection 1: Not every principle is a first principle. Therefore,
although it is essential to the voluntary act that its principle be
within the agent, nevertheless it is not contrary to the nature of the
voluntary act that this intrinsic principle be caused or moved by an
extrinsic principle: because it is not essential to the voluntary act
that its intrinsic principle be a first principle. Yet again it must be
observed that a principle of movement may happen to be first in a genus,
but not first simply: thus in the genus of things subject to alteration,
the first principle of alteration is a heavenly body, which is
nevertheless, is not the first mover simply, but is moved locally by a
higher mover. And so the intrinsic principle of the voluntary act, i.e.
the cognitive and appetitive power, is the first principle in the genus
of appetitive movement, although it is moved by an extrinsic principle
according to other species of movement.
Reply to Objection 2: New movements in animals are indeed preceded by a motion
from without; and this in two respects. First, in so far as by means of
an extrinsic motion an animal's senses are confronted with something
sensible, which, on being apprehended, moves the appetite. Thus a lion,
on seeing a stag in movement and coming towards him, begins to be moved
towards the stag. Secondly, in so far as some extrinsic motion produces a
physical change in an animal's body, as in the case of cold or heat; and
through the body being affected by the motion of an outward body, the
sensitive appetite which is the power of a bodily organ, is also moved
indirectly; thus it happens that through some alteration in the body the
appetite is roused to the desire of something. But this is not contrary
to the nature of voluntariness, as stated above (ad 1), for such
movements caused by an extrinsic principle are of another genus of
Reply to Objection 3: God moves man to act, not only by proposing the appetible
to the senses, or by effecting a change in his body, but also by moving
the will itself; because every movement either of the will or of nature,
proceeds from God as the First Mover. And just as it is not incompatible
with nature that the natural movement be from God as the First Mover,
inasmuch as nature is an instrument of God moving it: so it is not
contrary to the essence of a voluntary act, that it proceed from God,
inasmuch as the will is moved by God. Nevertheless both natural and
voluntary movements have this in common, that it is essential that they
should proceed from a principle within the agent.
Article 2: Whether there is anything voluntary in irrational animals?
Objection 1: It would seem that there is nothing voluntary in irrational
animals. For a thing is called "voluntary" from "voluntas" [will]. Now
since the will is in the reason (De Anima iii, 9), it cannot be in
irrational animals. Therefore neither is there anything voluntary in them.
Objection 2: Further, according as human acts are voluntary, man is said to be
master of his actions. But irrational animals are not masters of their
actions; for "they act not; rather are they acted upon," as Damascene
says (De Fide Orth. ii, 27). Therefore there is no such thing as a
voluntary act in irrational animals.
Objection 3: Further, Damascene says (De Fide Orth. 24) that "voluntary acts
lead to praise and blame." But neither praise nor blame is due to the
acts of irrational minds. Therefore such acts are not voluntary.
On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. iii, 2) that "both
children and irrational animals participate in the voluntary." The same
is said by Damascene (De Fide Orth. 24) and Gregory of Nyssa [*Nemesius,
De Nat. Hom. xxxii.].
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), it is essential to the voluntary
act that its principle be within the agent, together with some knowledge
of the end. Now knowledge of the end is twofold; perfect and imperfect.
Perfect knowledge of the end consists in not only apprehending the thing
which is the end, but also in knowing it under the aspect of end, and the
relationship of the means to that end. And such knowledge belongs to none
but the rational nature. But imperfect knowledge of the end consists in
mere apprehension of the end, without knowing it under the aspect of end,
or the relationship of an act to the end. Such knowledge of the end is
exercised by irrational animals, through their senses and their natural
Consequently perfect knowledge of the end leads to the perfect
voluntary; inasmuch as, having apprehended the end, a man can, from
deliberating about the end and the means thereto, be moved, or not, to
gain that end. But imperfect knowledge of the end leads to the imperfect
voluntary; inasmuch as the agent apprehends the end, but does not
deliberate, and is moved to the end at once. Wherefore the voluntary in
its perfection belongs to none but the rational nature: whereas the
imperfect voluntary is within the competency of even irrational animals.
Reply to Objection 1: The will is the name of the rational appetite; and
consequently it cannot be in things devoid of reason. But the word
"voluntary" is derived from "voluntas" [will], and can be extended to
those things in which there is some participation of will, by way of
likeness thereto. It is thus that voluntary action is attributed to
irrational animals, in so far as they are moved to an end, through some
kind of knowledge.
Reply to Objection 2: The fact that man is master of his actions, is due to his
being able to deliberate about them: for since the deliberating reason is
indifferently disposed to opposite things, the will can be inclined to
either. But it is not thus that voluntariness is in irrational animals,
as stated above.
Reply to Objection 3: Praise and blame are the result of the voluntary act,
wherein is the perfect voluntary; such as is not to be found in
Article 3: Whether there can be voluntariness without any act?
Objection 1: It would seem that voluntariness cannot be without any act. For
that is voluntary which proceeds from the will. But nothing can proceed
from the will, except through some act, at least an act of the will.
Therefore there cannot be voluntariness without act.
Objection 2: Further, just as one is said to wish by an act of the will, so
when the act of the will ceases, one is said not to wish. But not to wish
implies involuntariness, which is contrary to voluntariness. Therefore
there can be nothing voluntary when the act of the will ceases.
Objection 3: Further, knowledge is essential to the voluntary, as stated above
(Articles ,2). But knowledge involves an act. Therefore voluntariness cannot
be without some act.
On the contrary, The word "voluntary" is applied to that of which we are
masters. Now we are masters in respect of to act and not to act, to will
and not to will. Therefore just as to act and to will are voluntary, so
also are not to act and not to will.
I answer that, Voluntary is what proceeds from the will. Now one thing
proceeds from another in two ways. First, directly; in which sense
something proceeds from another inasmuch as this other acts; for
instance, heating from heat. Secondly, indirectly; in which sense
something proceeds from another through this other not acting; thus the
sinking of a ship is set down to the helmsman, from his having ceased to
steer. But we must take note that the cause of what follows from want of
action is not always the agent as not acting; but only then when the
agent can and ought to act. For if the helmsman were unable to steer the
ship or if the ship's helm be not entrusted to him, the sinking of the
ship would not be set down to him, although it might be due to his
absence from the helm.
Since, then, the will by willing and acting, is able, and sometimes
ought, to hinder not-willing and not-acting; this not-willing and
not-acting is imputed to, as though proceeding from, the will. And thus
it is that we can have the voluntary without an act; sometimes without
outward act, but with an interior act; for instance, when one wills not
to act; and sometimes without even an interior act, as when one does not
will to act.
Reply to Objection 1: We apply the word "voluntary" not only to that which
proceeds from the will directly, as from its action; but also to that
which proceeds from it indirectly as from its inaction.
Reply to Objection 2: "Not to wish" is said in two senses. First, as though it
were one word, and the infinitive of "I-do-not-wish." Consequently just
as when I say "I do not wish to read," the sense is, "I wish not to
read"; so "not to wish to read" is the same as "to wish not to read," and
in this sense "not to wish" implies involuntariness. Secondly it is taken
as a sentence: and then no act of the will is affirmed. And in this sense
"not to wish" does not imply involuntariness.
Reply to Objection 3: Voluntariness requires an act of knowledge in the same way
as it requires an act of will; namely, in order that it be in one's power
to consider, to wish and to act. And then, just as not to wish, and not
to act, when it is time to wish and to act, is voluntary, so is it
voluntary not to consider.
Article 4: Whether violence can be done to the will?
Objection 1: It would seem that violence can be done to the will. For
everything can be compelled by that which is more powerful. But there is
something, namely, God, that is more powerful than the human will.
Therefore it can be compelled, at least by Him.
Objection 2: Further, every passive subject is compelled by its active
principle, when it is changed by it. But the will is a passive force: for
it is a "mover moved" (De Anima iii, 10). Therefore, since it is
sometimes moved by its active principle, it seems that sometimes it is
Objection 3: Further, violent movement is that which is contrary to nature.
But the movement of the will is sometimes contrary to nature; as is clear
of the will's movement to sin, which is contrary to nature, as Damascene
says (De Fide Orth. iv, 20). Therefore the movement of the will can be
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei v, 10) that what is done by
the will is not done of necessity. Now, whatever is done under compulsion
is done of necessity: consequently what is done by the will, cannot be
compelled. Therefore the will cannot be compelled to act.
I answer that, The act of the will is twofold: one is its immediate act,
as it were, elicited by it, namely, "to wish"; the other is an act of the
will commanded by it, and put into execution by means of some other
power, such as "to walk" and "to speak," which are commanded by the will
to be executed by means of the motive power.
As regards the commanded acts of the will, then, the will can suffer
violence, in so far as violence can prevent the exterior members from
executing the will's command. But as to the will's own proper act,
violence cannot be done to the will.
The reason of this is that the act of the will is nothing else than an
inclination proceeding from the interior principle of knowledge: just as
the natural appetite is an inclination proceeding from an interior
principle without knowledge. Now what is compelled or violent is from an
exterior principle. Consequently it is contrary to the nature of the
will's own act, that it should be subject to compulsion and violence:
just as it is also contrary to the nature of a natural inclination or
movement. For a stone may have an upward movement from violence, but that
this violent movement be from its natural inclination is impossible. In
like manner a man may be dragged by force: but it is contrary to the very
notion of violence, that he be dragged of his own will.
Reply to Objection 1: God Who is more powerful than the human will, can move the
will of man, according to Prov. 21:1: "The heart of the king is in the
hand of the Lord; whithersoever He will He shall turn it." But if this
were by compulsion, it would no longer be by an act of the will, nor
would the will itself be moved, but something else against the will.
Reply to Objection 2: It is not always a violent movement, when a passive subject
is moved by its active principle; but only when this is done against the
interior inclination of the passive subject. Otherwise every alteration
and generation of simply bodies would be unnatural and violent: whereas
they are natural by reason of the natural interior aptitude of the matter
or subject to such a disposition. In like manner when the will is moved,
according to its own inclination, by the appetible object, this movement
is not violent but voluntary.
Reply to Objection 3: That to which the will tends by sinning, although in
reality it is evil and contrary to the rational nature, nevertheless is
apprehended as something good and suitable to nature, in so far as it is
suitable to man by reason of some pleasurable sensation or some vicious
Article 5: Whether violence causes involuntariness?
Objection 1: It would seem that violence does not cause involuntariness. For
we speak of voluntariness and involuntariness in respect of the will. But
violence cannot be done to the will, as shown above (Article ). Therefore
violence cannot cause involuntariness.
Objection 2: Further, that which is done involuntarily is done with grief, as
Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 24) and the Philosopher (Ethic. iii, 5) say.
But sometimes a man suffers compulsion without being grieved thereby.
Therefore violence does not cause involuntariness.
Objection 3: Further, what is from the will cannot be involuntary. But some
violent actions proceed from the will: for instance, when a man with a
heavy body goes upwards; or when a man contorts his limbs in a way
contrary to their natural flexibility. Therefore violence does not cause
On the contrary, The Philosopher (Ethic. iii, 1) and Damascene (De Fide
Orth. ii, 24) say that "things done under compulsion are involuntary."
I answer that, Violence is directly opposed to the voluntary, as
likewise to the natural. For the voluntary and the natural have this in
common, that both are from an intrinsic principle; whereas violence is
from an extrinsic principle. And for this reason, just as in things
devoid of knowledge, violence effects something against nature: so in
things endowed with knowledge, it effects something against the will. Now
that which is against nature is said to be "unnatural"; and in like
manner that which is against the will is said to be "involuntary."
Therefore violence causes involuntariness.
Reply to Objection 1: The involuntary is opposed to the voluntary. Now it has
been said (Article ) that not only the act, which proceeds immediately from
the will, is called voluntary, but also the act commanded by the will.
Consequently, as to the act which proceeds immediately from the will,
violence cannot be done to the will, as stated above (Article ): wherefore
violence cannot make that act involuntary. But as to the commanded act,
the will can suffer violence: and consequently in this respect violence
Reply to Objection 2: As that is said to be natural, which is according to the
inclination of nature; so that is said to be voluntary, which is
according to the inclination of the will. Now a thing is said to be
natural in two ways. First, because it is from nature as from an active
principle: thus it is natural for fire to produce heat. Secondly,
according to a passive principle; because, to wit, there is in nature an
inclination to receive an action from an extrinsic principle: thus the
movement of the heavens is said to be natural, by reason of the natural
aptitude in a heavenly body to receive such movement; although the cause
of that movement is a voluntary agent. In like manner an act is said to
be voluntary in two ways. First, in regard to action, for instance, when
one wishes to be passive to another. Hence when action is brought to bear
on something, by an extrinsic agent, as long as the will to suffer that
action remains in the passive subject, there is not violence simply: for
although the patient does nothing by way of action, he does something by
being willing to suffer. Consequently this cannot be called involuntary.
Reply to Objection 3: As the Philosopher says (Phys. viii, 4) the movement of an
animal, whereby at times an animal is moved against the natural
inclination of the body, although it is not natural to the body, is
nevertheless somewhat natural to the animal, to which it is natural to be
moved according to its appetite. Accordingly this is violent, not simply
but in a certain respect. The same remark applies in the case of one who
contorts his limbs in a way that is contrary to their natural
disposition. For this is violent in a certain respect, i.e. as to that
particular limb; but not simply, i.e. as to the man himself.
Article 6: Whether fear causes involuntariness simply?
Objection 1: It would seem that fear causes involuntariness simply. For just
as violence regards that which is contrary to the will at the time, so
fear regards a future evil which is repugnant to the will. But violence
causes involuntariness simply. Therefore fear too causes involuntariness
Objection 2: Further, that which is such of itself, remains such, whatever be
added to it: thus what is hot of itself, as long as it remains, is still
hot, whatever be added to it. But that which is done through fear, is
involuntary in itself. Therefore, even with the addition of fear, it is
Objection 3: Further, that which is such, subject to a condition, is such in a
certain respect; whereas what is such, without any condition, is such
simply: thus what is necessary, subject to a condition, is necessary in
some respect: but what is necessary absolutely, is necessary simply. But
that which is done through fear, is absolutely involuntary; and is not
voluntary, save under a condition, namely, in order that the evil feared
may be avoided. Therefore that which is done through fear, is involuntary
On the contrary, Gregory of Nyssa [*Nemesius, De Nat. Hom. xxx.] and the
Philosopher (Ethic. iii, 1) say that such things as are done through fear
are "voluntary rather than involuntary."
I answer that, As the Philosopher says (Ethic. iii) and likewise Gregory
of Nyssa in his book on Man (Nemesius, De Nat. Hom. xxx), such things are
done through fear "are of a mixed character," being partly voluntary and
partly involuntary. For that which is done through fear, considered in
itself, is not voluntary; but it becomes voluntary in this particular
case, in order, namely, to avoid the evil feared.
But if the matter be considered aright, such things are voluntary
rather than involuntary; for they are voluntary simply, but involuntary
in a certain respect. For a thing is said to be simply, according as it
is in act; but according as it is only in apprehension, it is not simply,
but in a certain respect. Now that which is done through fear, is in act
in so far as it is done. For, since acts are concerned with singulars;
and the singular, as such, is here and now; that which is done is in act,
in so far as it is here and now and under other individuating
circumstances. And that which is done through fear is voluntary, inasmuch
as it is here and now, that is to say, in so far as, under the
circumstances, it hinders a greater evil which was feared; thus the
throwing of the cargo into the sea becomes voluntary during the storm,
through fear of the danger: wherefore it is clear that it is voluntary
simply. And hence it is that what is done out of fear is essentially
voluntary, because its principle is within. But if we consider what is
done through fear, as outside this particular case, and inasmuch as it is
repugnant to the will, this is merely a consideration of the mind. And
consequently what is done through fear is involuntary, considered in that
respect, that is to say, outside the actual circumstances of the case.
Reply to Objection 1: Things done through fear and compulsion differ not only
according to present and future time, but also in this, that the will
does not consent, but is moved entirely counter to that which is done
through compulsion: whereas what is done through fear, becomes voluntary,
because the will is moved towards it, albeit not for its own sake, but on
account of something else, that is, in order to avoid an evil which is
feared. For the conditions of a voluntary act are satisfied, if it be
done on account of something else voluntary: since the voluntary is not
only what we wish, for its own sake, as an end, but also what we wish for
the sake of something else, as an end. It is clear therefore that in what
is done from compulsion, the will does nothing inwardly; whereas in what
is done through fear, the will does something. Accordingly, as Gregory of
Nyssa [*Nemesius, De Nat. Hom. xxx.] says, in order to exclude things
done through fear, a violent action is defined as not only one, "the
principal whereof is from without," but with the addition, "in which he
that suffers violence concurs not at all"; because the will of him that
is in fear, does concur somewhat in that which he does through fear.
Reply to Objection 2: Things that are such absolutely, remain such, whatever be
added to them; for instance, a cold thing, or a white thing: but things
that are such relatively, vary according as they are compared with
different things. For what is big in comparison with one thing, is small
in comparison with another. Now a thing is said to be voluntary, not only
for its own sake, as it were absolutely; but also for the sake of
something else, as it were relatively. Accordingly, nothing prevents a
thing which was not voluntary in comparison with one thing, from becoming
voluntary when compared with another.
Reply to Objection 3: That which is done through fear, is voluntary without any
condition, that is to say, according as it is actually done: but it is
involuntary, under a certain condition, that is to say, if such a fear
were not threatening. Consequently, this argument proves rather the
Article 7: Whether concupiscence causes involuntariness?
Objection 1: It would seem that concupiscence causes involuntariness. For just
as fear is a passion, so is concupiscence. But fear causes
involuntariness to a certain extent. Therefore concupiscence does so too.
Objection 2: Further, just as the timid man through fear acts counter to that
which he proposed, so does the incontinent, through concupiscence. But
fear causes involuntariness to a certain extent. Therefore concupiscence
does so also.
Objection 3: Further, knowledge is necessary for voluntariness. But
concupiscence impairs knowledge; for the Philosopher says (Ethic. vi, 5)
that "delight," or the lust of pleasure, "destroys the judgment of
prudence." Therefore concupiscence causes involuntariness.
On the contrary, Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii, 24): "The involuntary
act deserves mercy or indulgence, and is done with regret." But neither
of these can be said of that which is done out of concupiscence.
Therefore concupiscence does not cause involuntariness.
I answer that, Concupiscence does not cause involuntariness, but on the
contrary makes something to be voluntary. For a thing is said to be
voluntary, from the fact that the will is moved to it. Now concupiscence
inclines the will to desire the object of concupiscence. Therefore the
effect of concupiscence is to make something to be voluntary rather than
Reply to Objection 1: Fear regards evil, but concupiscence regards good. Now evil
of itself is counter to the will, whereas good harmonizes with the will.
Therefore fear has a greater tendency than concupiscence to cause
Reply to Objection 2: He who acts from fear retains the repugnance of the will to
that which he does, considered in itself. But he that acts from
concupiscence, e.g. an incontinent man, does not retain his former will
whereby he repudiated the object of his concupiscence; for his will is
changed so that he desires that which previously he repudiated.
Accordingly, that which is done out of fear is involuntary, to a certain
extent, but that which is done from concupiscence is nowise involuntary.
For the man who yields to concupiscence acts counter to that which he
purposed at first, but not counter to that which he desires now; whereas
the timid man acts counter to that which in itself he desires now.
Reply to Objection 3: If concupiscence were to destroy knowledge altogether, as happens with those whom concupiscence has rendered mad, it would follow that concupiscence would take away voluntariness. And yet properly speaking it would not result in the act being involuntary, because in things bereft of reason, there is neither voluntary nor involuntary. But sometimes in those actions which are done from concupiscence, knowledge is not completely destroyed, because the power of knowing is not taken away entirely, but only the actual consideration in some particular possible act. Nevertheless, this itself is voluntary, according as by voluntary we mean that which is in the power of the will, for example "not to act" or "not to will," and in like manner "not to consider"; for the will can resist the passion, as we shall state later on (Question , Article ; Question , Article ).
Article 8: Whether ignorance causes involuntariness?
Objection 1: It would seem that ignorance does not cause involuntariness. For
"the involuntary act deserves pardon," as Damascene says (De Fide Orth.
ii, 24). But sometimes that which is done through ignorance does not
deserve pardon, according to 1 Cor. 14:38: "If any man know not, he shall
not be known." Therefore ignorance does not cause involuntariness.
Objection 2: Further, every sin implies ignorance; according to Prov. 14: 22:
"They err, that work evil." If, therefore, ignorance causes
involuntariness, it would follow that every sin is involuntary: which is
opposed to the saying of Augustine, that "every sin is voluntary" (De
Vera Relig. xiv).
Objection 3: Further, "involuntariness is not without sadness," as Damascene
says (De Fide Orth. ii, 24). But some things are done out of ignorance,
but without sadness: for instance, a man may kill a foe, whom he wishes
to kill, thinking at the time that he is killing a stag. Therefore
ignorance does not cause involuntariness.
On the contrary, Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 24) and the Philosopher
(Ethic. iii, 1) say that "what is done through ignorance is involuntary."
I answer that, If ignorance causes involuntariness, it is in so far as
it deprives one of knowledge, which is a necessary condition of
voluntariness, as was declared above (Article ). But it is not every
ignorance that deprives one of this knowledge. Accordingly, we must take
note that ignorance has a threefold relationship to the act of the will:
in one way, "concomitantly"; in another, "consequently"; in a third way,
"antecedently." "Concomitantly," when there is ignorance of what is done;
but, so that even if it were known, it would be done. For then, ignorance
does not induce one to wish this to be done, but it just happens that a
thing is at the same time done, and not known: thus in the example given
(OBJ 3) a man did indeed wish to kill his foe, but killed him in
ignorance, thinking to kill a stag. And ignorance of this kind, as the
Philosopher states (Ethic. iii, 1), does not cause involuntariness,
since it is not the cause of anything that is repugnant to the will: but
it causes "non-voluntariness," since that which is unknown cannot be
actually willed. Ignorance is "consequent" to the act of the will, in so
far as ignorance itself is voluntary: and this happens in two ways, in
accordance with the two aforesaid modes of voluntary (Article ). First,
because the act of the will is brought to bear on the ignorance: as when
a man wishes not to know, that he may have an excuse for sin, or that he
may not be withheld from sin; according to Job 21:14: "We desire not the
knowledge of Thy ways." And this is called "affected ignorance."
Secondly, ignorance is said to be voluntary, when it regards that which
one can and ought to know: for in this sense "not to act" and "not to
will" are said to be voluntary, as stated above (Article ). And ignorance of
this kind happens, either when one does not actually consider what one
can and ought to consider; this is called "ignorance of evil choice," and
arises from some passion or habit: or when one does not take the trouble
to acquire the knowledge which one ought to have; in which sense,
ignorance of the general principles of law, which one to know, is
voluntary, as being due to negligence. Accordingly, if in either of these
ways, ignorance is voluntary, it cannot cause involuntariness simply.
Nevertheless it causes involuntariness in a certain respect, inasmuch as
it precedes the movement of the will towards the act, which movement
would not be, if there were knowledge. Ignorance is "antecedent" to the
act of the will, when it is not voluntary, and yet is the cause of man's
willing what he would not will otherwise. Thus a man may be ignorant of
some circumstance of his act, which he was not bound to know, the result
being that he does that which he would not do, if he knew of that
circumstance; for instance, a man, after taking proper precaution, may
not know that someone is coming along the road, so that he shoots an
arrow and slays a passer-by. Such ignorance causes involuntariness simply.
From this may be gathered the solution of the objections. For the first
objection deals with ignorance of what a man is bound to know. The
second, with ignorance of choice, which is voluntary to a certain extent,
as stated above. The third, with that ignorance which is concomitant with
the act of the will.