Journal of Philosophical Research
In Book VI of his Confessions, Saint Augustine offers a detailed description of one of the most famous cases of weakness of will in the history of philosophy. Augustine characterizes his experience as a monstrous situation in which he both wills and does not will moral growth, but he is at odds to explain this phenomenon. In this paper, I argue that Aquinas’s action theory offers important resources for explaining Augustine’s monstrosity. On Aquinas’s schema, human acts are composed of various operations of intellect and will, and thus are subject to disintegration. In order to capture the gap in human action between making choices to pursue particular goals and translating those choices into behavior, Aquinas distinguishes between two operations of will that he calls choice and use. I apply hisdistinction between choice and use to Augustine’s case, arguing that Augustine’s moral weakness is a result of will’s failure to use its choices. The central thesis of this paper is that Augustine’s monstrosity is a bona fide case of weakness of will that is best explained as a failure in use at the level of will.