Aquinas on the Emotions

A Religious-Ethical Inquiry

Diana Fritz Cates

"This is a careful and clear study of emotions in Aquinas. As such, Cates' book is also a resource for a wide range of readers who want to understand, educate and cultivate the emotional dimensions of their ethical and religious life."
+ Add to Cart Preorder


Request Print Exam Copy

Request Digital Exam Copy

All of us want to be happy and live well. Sometimes intense emotions affect our happiness—and, in turn, our moral lives. Our emotions can have a significant impact on our perceptions of reality, the choices we make, and the ways in which we interact with others. Can we, as moral agents, have an effect on our emotions? Do we have any choice when it comes to our emotions?

In Aquinas on the Emotions, Diana Fritz Cates shows how emotions are composed as embodied mental states. She identifies various factors, including religious beliefs, intuitions, images, and questions that can affect the formation and the course of a person's emotions. She attends to the appetitive as well as the cognitive dimension of emotion, both of which Aquinas interprets with flexibility. The result is a powerful study of Aquinas that is also a resource for readers who want to understand and cultivate the emotional dimension of their lives.

Table of Contents


1. Religious Ethics

2.Religious Ethics and the Study of Emotion

3. Approaching Aquinas on the Emotions (I)

4. Approaching Aquinas on the Emotion (II)

5. Approaching the Human Sensory Appetite from Below (I)

6. Approaching the Human Sensory Appetite from Below (II)

7. Approaching the Human Sensory Appetite from Above (I)

8. Approaching the Human Sensory Appetite from Above (II)

9. The Formation of Distinctively Human Emotions

10. The Religious-Ethical Study of Emotion

Appendix: Aquinas on the Powers of Capabilities of a Human Being (Relevant Selections)




"Cates' engagement with Aquinas provides a grammar of emotional and moral life, but one that is never over-determined; white it has universal applicability, it leaves plenty of scope for individual initiative. Her examination provides a realistic prompt to self-understanding, more accurate 'readings' of reality and more appropriate responses to others."—Theological Book Review

"This is a careful and clear study of emotions in Aquinas. As such, Cates' book is also a resource for a wide range of readers who want to understand, educate and cultivate the emotional dimensions of their ethical and religious life."—Catholic Library World

"Cates does a masterful job of providing a clear, sympathetic, and insightful analysis of Thomas Aquinas's account of the role of the emotions in the moral life. She shows that Thomas's ethics can be reduced neither to virtue nor to natural law, and that it can only be grasped within the context of his understanding of our emotions, desires, and aspirations. Anyone striving seriously to understand Thomas's moral thought will want to be informed by this critically important book."—Stephen Pope, professor of theological ethics, Boston College

"Philosophy and theology are finally giving human emotions the attention they deserve. No one surpasses Cates’s extraordinarily careful presentation of Aquinas’s own deep theory of emotions. She brings this too-long neglected aspect of his anthropology into clear light."—Edward Vacek, SJ, professor of moral theology, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

"In recent years, there have been very few extended studies of Aquinas's theory of the passions (or emotions), and yet this theory plays a critical role in his overall account of virtue and the life of grace. Diana Cates's book thus fills a real need, offering us a comprehensive, reliable, and engagingly clear guide to Aquinas's complex theory, firmly placed within the wider context of his thought. What is more, by comparing Aquinas's account with that of central contemporary theories of the emotions, she draws Aquinas into our own conversations, where he proves to be a surprisingly illuminating interlocutor. This fine book makes an important contribution both to Aquinas studies and to contemporary religious ethics and moral philosophy, and it deserves, and I expect it to have, wide influence."—Jean Porter, John A. O'Brien Professor of Theological Ethics, University of Notre Dame

"Lucid and nuanced, Cates’s study of the emotions in Thomas Aquinas explores the significance of emotions for ethics with unprecedented care and thoroughness. Her book will be a staple for scholars of Aquinas and for constructive religious ethics."—Cristina L. H. Traina, associate professor, Department of Religion, Northwestern University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Diana Fritz Cates is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa. She is the author of Choosing to Feel: Virtue, Friendship, and Compassion for Friends and coeditor of Medicine and the Ethics of Care.

304 pp., 6 x 9

Oct 2009

304 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-505-0
Oct 2009

304 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-718-4
Oct 2009

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

Related Titles