Two Forms of Judgment: Judgment per modum cognitionis and per modum inclinationis

Aquinas distinguishes between two types of knowledge at the beginning of the Summa Theologiae that correspond to two modes of judging. The first is judgment by cognition (per modum cognitionis), the second is judgment by inclination (per modum inclinationis):

Since judgment appertains to wisdom, the twofold manner of judging produces a twofold wisdom. A man may judge in one way by inclination, as whoever has the habit of a virtue judges rightly of what concerns that virtue by his very inclination towards it. Hence it is the virtuous man, as we read, who is the measure and rule of human acts. In another way, by knowledge, just as a man learned in moral science might be able to judge rightly about virtuous acts, though he had not the virtue. The first manner of judging divine things belongs to that wisdom which is set down among the gifts of the Holy Ghost: “The spiritual man judges all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15). And Dionysius says (Div. Nom. ii): “Hierotheus is taught not by mere learning, but by experience of divine things.” The second manner of judging belongs to this doctrine which is acquired by study, though its principles are obtained by revelation (I, Q. 1, art. 6, ad. 3).

According to Aquinas, right judgment can be achieved either through the perfect use of reason or by way of inclination. Judgment per modum cognitionis is notional knowledge attained by rational study. In other places, he refers to this mode of judging as per studium et doctrinam, per modum rationis, and secundum perfectum usum rationis.

Judgement per modum inclinationis is not cognitive, and not a judgment which takes place through the cogitative power, but rather, judgment according to affection or desire, and thus a kind of affective knowledge. Elsewhere Aquinas writes,

Wisdom denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the Eternal Law. Now rectitude of judgment is twofold: first, on account of perfect use of reason, secondly, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. Thus, about matters of chastity, a man after inquiring with his reason forms a right judgment, if he has learnt the science of morals, while he who has the habit of chastity judges of such matters by a kind of connaturality (II-II, Q. 45, art. 2).

Aquinas is distinguishing the two different forms of judging, or assigning value to something, using the example of virtue. A person may judge a thing like chastity should or should not be desired because he or she has been taught and understands how such a thing should be considered moral or immoral. On the other hand, a person may judge rightly as to whether something should or should not be desired not through a cognitive decision, but rather on the basis of whether or not he or she actually desires the thing in question. In the case of the former, the intellect is clearly providing the basis of judgment through the cogitative power. In the case of the former, the affective inclination of the person provides the basis for the judgment. In this way, the virtuous person is the rule and measure of human actions. The virtuous person is inclined towards the object of virtue (inquantum ad illa inclinator) or through a certain connaturality with the object of virtue (per quondam connaturalitatem ad ipsa).

We might think of an example in eating. Some individuals need to mentally check themselves to ensure that they do not overeat. How much food this person should desire on any given occasion is a cognitive decision. This individual may desire to eat a second helping of a dish, but decide that this second helping would make him or her too full, and therefore decline. Others, however, just naturally desire the right quantity of food on a given occasion. This individual does not have to decide whether a second helping of a dish is appropriate—the individual simply acts on his or her desires.

We must be careful not to go too far in pitting these two forms of judgment against each other as opposites, but see them rather as corollaries. Affective knowledge and judgment per modum inclinationis is not a judgment made without knowledge, but is rather the synthesis of love and knowledge—a synthesis of cognitive and affective activity. If we understand the two modes of judgment in this way, as a single activity of knowing and loving, we may resolve the apparent tension in Aquinas between the passions and reason. Recall that Aquinas holds that the human person is a hylomorphic unity of body and soul, and that the sensitive appetite stands between these two in a unified activity of putting the whole human person substantially in relation to the world. Knowing and loving are distinct activities, but with the same principle of operation, which is the substantial unity of the human soul.

Moral knowledge, therefore, is not either purely rational knowledge or purely affective knowledge, but is rather a synthesis of both knowledge per modum cognitionis and knowledge per modum inclinationis.

The hylomorphic unity of the human person also explains how one particular power can overcome the other. If the soul’s full energies are employed in the act of cognition, of knowing, such cogitation can impede the affective movement of the soul. Aquinas says that the concentration of the intellect can actually overcome the sensitive appetite so that it no longer experiences certain sensible functions: “In the powers of the soul there is an overflow from the higher to the lower powers: and accordingly, the pleasure of contemplation, which is in the higher part, overflows so as to mitigate even that pain which is in the senses” (I-II, Q. 38, art. 4, ad. 3). More commonly, however, the soul’s activities get concentrated on affection and its accompanying form of judgment. In this way, a person under the influence of anger may judge a thing good that he would not so judge if not under the influence of that passion:

Now it is evident that according to a passion of the sensitive appetite man is changed to a certain disposition. Wherefore according as man is affected by a passion, something seems to him fitting, which does not seem so when he is not so affected: thus that seems good to a man when angered, which does not seem good when he is calm (I-II, Q. 9, art. 2).

What is important to note, however, is that the sensitive appetite seems to present the intellect with an object already laden with value. This challenges the view among some Thomists that the role of the sensitive appetite is only to obey reason.

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