Thomist Vocabulary for Summa Contra Gentiles

as translated by Vernon J. Bourke
and included in Cahn and Markie, eds., Ethics

Glossary composed by Dr. Jan Garrett for his students

Revised September 25, 2008

act (of a habit, such as a moral virtue; or of a faculty, such as the will) - an action based upon a habit, e.g., a courageous act, which is an expression of the virtue courage. An act of a faculty is the use of the faculty. (See habit; operation.)

agent - an entity that does something, e.g., an intellectual agent (a person) or a natural agent. Human beings and other mortal living beings have a source of motion or action in themselves.

appetite (appetitus is Thomas' translation for Aristotle's orexis.) An inclination or bent to a good. Thomas says "the essential meaning of the good is that it provides a terminus for appetite" (ch. 3 [3]). See also rational appetite; sense appetite; irascible appetite; concupiscible appetite; natural appetite.

art - the intellectual virtue that consists of knowledge of how to produce things, e.g. architecture, rhetoric.

concomitant of an end (said of pleasure: 27[19]) - something that always accompanies the achievement of an end, which is however distinct from the end. (See also "delight.")

concupiscible appetite - an aspect of sense appetite, the appetite for possessions and pleasures of the flesh

contemplation - the operation of the intellect or understanding when it attends to a known object for the sake of attending to it; human beings must acquire the knowledge of an object before they can contemplate the object.

delight - pleasure which necessarily accompanies the possession of a good (ch. 26 [12]; see S.T. I-II q. 4 a. 1)

desire - that act by which will tends toward what it does not yet possess (ch. 26 [12])

end - the determinate effect toward which an agent tends (ch. 2 [8])

external end (26[16]) - the product of production, which exists once the productive process is complete

faculty - a power or potentiality that resides in an organ (e.g., the faculty of sight in the eye) or in the soul (intellect, the will, the imagination, irascible appetite)

felicity - happiness. This is Thomas' word for what Aristotle calls eudaimonia.

good - what is appropriate to something (ch. 3[2]); what fulfills or completes it

habit - equivalent to Aristotle's term "state" (as in "state of character"); a readiness or disposition to act or behave in a certain way. There are physical habits, such as flexibility or strength; moral habits such as moral virtues and vices; and intellectual habits such as intellectual virtues and vices. Most habits are acquired through repeated activity of a certain type.

intellect - see understanding. The human intellect is one aspect of the human soul, which in turn is one aspect of the whole human being. Angels and God are pure intellects.

intelligent agent - an agent that determines the end for itself, e.g., by conceiving something as good (ch.3 [7-8]).

intellectual substance - a substance whose proper operation is the act of understanding; includes angels and human beings (ch. 25)

intellectual virtue - a praiseworthy intellectual habit, e.g., prudence, science (=speculative science), art

irascible appetite - an aspect of sense appetite; desire for victory, honor, status, revenge

irrational animals (ch. 35[5]) - nonhuman mortal living beings

love - the act of will by which the good is desired when it is lacking (imperfect love) and in which the good is possessed when it is present (perfect love) (ch. 26 [12])

moral virtue - a praiseworthy moral habit, e.g., courage, temperance, justice

natural agent - a plant or animal or basic element that seeks an end without requiring consciousness of the end (ch. 2 [6], ch. 3 [7-8]).

natural appetite - appetite found in things "lacking knowledge entirely" (26[8]); appears to refer at least to plants but perhaps also nonliving beings since "all things desire to be" (ch. 3 [4])

operation - related to habit; an activation or actualization of a habit

[to be] ordered to something (ch. 3[4]) - to be naturally or deliberately related to something as a means to an end or as a developing creature to its mature or fulfilled condition

pleasures of the flesh - pleasures associated with eating, drinking, and sex; contrasted with pleasures associated with irascible appetite (Plato's "spirited principle") and with the intellect or rational part of the person.

proper good - the good toward which a being of a certain type naturally aims, given its highest and most essential characteristic

proper operation of a thing - for a living being, its end; the use of its highest faculty and/or the virtue of this faculty (ch. 25[3])

prudence - equivalent to Aristotle's practical wisdom; the intellectual habit enabling its possessor to deliberate well and make prudent choices; prudence is only found in persons who possess the moral virtues.

rational appetite - Thomas's definition of the will; found only in beings with an intellectual or rational nature

secondary perfection - the use of a moral or intellectual virtue; the virtue itself would be a "first" or "primary" perfection 25[3]

sense appetite - appetite found in beings with "sensory knowledge," by which Thomas seems to mean the capacity for acquiring information by means of sense perception

speculation - the operation of pure knowing, another name for contemplation.

ultimate end - that toward which an agent tends, which is not a means (for that agent) toward any further end.

understanding - the faculty with which one contemplates what one knows. In humans the understanding is also the faculty with which we inquire, deliberate, choose, and acquire knowledge. Deliberating and choosing are practical uses of the understanding. Acquiring scientific knowledge and contemplating what we know are speculative or theoretical uses of the understanding. See intellect, intellectual substances.

virtue - a praiseworthy moral or intellectual habit

will - rational appetite for the end. Thomists recognize three types of appetite in human beings: rational (the will); irascible (appetite for honor, status, glory, revenge); and concupiscible (appetite for possessions and pleasures of the flesh). The degree to which one is morally virtuous determines the degree to which his will is rightly oriented. Three acts of the will must be distinguished: desire, love, and delight.