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6. Voluntariness

1. We have seen that a human act is a free will act. It is any thought, word, deed, desire, or omission which comes from a man by his free, knowing, and deliberate choice. The Latin noun voluntas means the will, and the adjective which means pertaining to the will is voluntarius. From these Latin words we have the terms voluntary and voluntariness. A voluntary act is an act which proceeds from free will acting in the light of knowledge; such an act has voluntariness. Since every human act is a free will act, every human act is voluntary; every human act is performed with voluntariness.

2. Animals less than man are incapable of acting with true voluntariness, for they lack intellect and free will. Animals have sense knowledge, and can make sense judgment a guide for their action. But their acts never have a free and responsible voluntariness.

3. Voluntariness appears in every human act, even in human acts of omission, that is, in man's willful failure to act when he should act, or at least could act.

4. Violence, or force applied from outside, cannot directly affect the human will. The will has two kinds of acts: elicited acts which it completes within itself, such as loving, desiring, intending; and commanded acts which are completed, on command of the will, by other powers of human nature, such as studying, deliberate walking, speaking. Now, violence cannot directly affect elicited acts, but it can hamper or prevent commanded acts. A man securely tied may will to walk, but he cannot walk. Or a man may choose to read or study and have his will hampered by fading light, or thwarted by a person who takes away his book.

5. An act which is opposed to the will is involuntary. Acts done from violence are therefore involuntary acts; they are not human acts because they are not chosen, but are opposed, by the will.

6. When fear is the motive of an act, the act remains a human act, and is voluntary. But, since such an act would not be done were it not for the stress of fear, there is something involuntary about it. The captain of a vessel who throws valuable cargo overboard to lighten ship in a storm does what he chooses to do; his act is, in itself or simply, a voluntary act. But the same act is in a way an involuntary act inasmuch as it would not be done were it not for fear of disaster; there is in the act an element of involuntariness. Hence we say that an act done out of fear (not merely done in fear or with fear) is simply voluntary, and, in some respects, involuntary.

7. Concupiscence is strong tendency or desire in the sensitive appetites. When the will permits the influence of concupiscence to rise out of the sentient order into the intellective order, this influence can strongly affect the will and its acts. Inasmuch as concupiscence makes the will act more intense, it is said to increase voluntariness; inasmuch as it hurries and hampers free and deliberate choice, concupiscence lessens voluntariness.

8. Ignorance affects the voluntariness of human acts. (a) Antecedent ignorance, which is ignorance blamelessly present before the will-act, destroys voluntariness. (b) Consequent ignorance, which is present by the will's choice or deliberate fault, does not destroy voluntariness, but regularly lessens it. (c) Concomitant ignorance, which accompanies the will-act without influencing it, renders the will-act nonvoluntary.

"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."
St Augustine

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"Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God."
Thomas á Kempis

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"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."
R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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