So, a friend of mine gave me a free copy of the game Europa Universalis. It came out of nowhere, he literally just messaged me on facebook to ask if I wanted a copy. I’d never played the game before, but it is both fun and addictive. It does teach some amount of history, geography, large scale economics, management and strategy, and all of these things are good. Honestly, I think that in manageable increments the game could be a great teaching tool (which is something I’m always on the look out for–if anyone wants to teach their kids about bioethics, policy-level politics, Japanese history, Chinese history, or large scale geography, strategy, and management in a way that is entertaining and enjoyable then I have suggestions for you). Unfortunately, the game is seriously addictive and I’ve managed to get sucked into it to the point of coming close to neglecting my other responsibilities. I haven’t yet–everything that I need to get done is getting done. I’m spending time with God, bills are getting paid, research is getting read, Alayna is being taken care of, etc. However, I have noticed that I’m spending exorbitant amounts of time with the game (…and I might add that I’m not sleeping as much as I should…).
What I am facing at the moment is what Aristotle called akrasia and Aquinas called cupiscence. Both suggest a certain weakness of the will (actually that’s literally what akrasia means–the cupisciple desire is the desire for good things, but when those things are desired more than they should be [such as a glutton overeating] then cupiscence becomes a very bad thing). In Aquinas’ terminology I am giving something that it inherently good (i.e. rest, relaxation, and moderate education) a greater hold than it should have. Why does this matter? Well, speaking in Thomistic terms the solution to an overwhelming desire for more of a good thing than one should have is the irascible desire (or the desire to do difficult things–in this case, playing less of the game). So, there are virtues that Aquinas assigns to both the cupisciple and the irascible powers (or faculties/abilities), and these are temperance and fortitude (or courage).
So, the answer to my problem is to practice 1) temperance in my desire for downtime, relaxation, and gameplaying, and 2) fortitude when my desire threatens to overwhelm my good sense. Now, prudence (a moral/intellectual virtue that Aquinas assigns to the practical reason [as opposed to the speculative reason]) tells me that I am, in fact, playing this game more than I should be, and that I need to cut back on it, and perhaps even cut it out complete if I’m going to be successful in playing less. It also tells me that I’m going to need to plan other things to do when I want to play the game–such as exercise or do research. So, what does any of this have to do with writing?
Well, 1) this is (to a point) me showing off some of what I’ve learned in the last couple of months. 2) This is also me trying to actually apply what I’ve learned so that Aquinas’ theories are not merely theoretical to me, but practical as well. 3) I actually do think that Aquinas’ conception of man’s nature can be very helpful for writers. Aquinas sets out five powers (vegitative–or the ability to grow and reproduce; locomotive–or the ability to move; sensible–or the ability to be aware of surroundings and form desires; appetitive–or the ability to make choices; intellectual–or the ability to reason from a given premise to a proper conclusion). Each of these power has multiple sub-powers, but the ones that matter most are the sensible (which is broken into the cupisciple power that desires and the irascible power that resists) and the intellectual (which is broken into the speculative reason that deals with theoretical knowledge and the practical reason that deals with applied knowledge). He also identifies virtues and vices common to each power. For instance, temperance and concupiscence are the primary virtue and vice of the cupisciple power. Fortitude and cowardice are the primary virtue and vice of the irascible power. Prudence and imprudence are the primary moral virtue and vice of the practical reason while art and unskillfulness are the primary non-moral virtue and vice of the practical reason. He also assigns science and ignorance, wisdom and foolishness, and understanding and lack of understanding as the primary virtues and vices of the speculative reason (science and ignorance having to do with knowledge of mundane secondary things such as biology, geology, or positive law; wisdom and foolishness having to do with divine secondary things such as soteriology, ecclesiology, hamartiology, etc; and understanding having to do with first principles–or those things that are known by intuition and that cannot be proven [such as the rule that two contradictory claims cannot be true–for instance I cannot be both caucasian and not caucasian, though I could be both caucasian and asian]).
Aquinas’ detailed understanding of the inner structure of the human being as a divinely created and inspired rational animal gives us a lot to work with when it comes to character development. For instance, understanding your characters in this way might make it very clear why John struggles to keep putting his work in the appropriate place in his life (perhaps he has an overly strong cupisciple attachment to it or an overly weak irascible nature). Perhaps Genevieve has a well-developed scientific virtue, but a very under developed sense of prudence and understanding which leads her to be a rather amoral sceptic when it comes to living everyday life. Ultimately, starting from a descent understanding of Aquinas’ view of the structure of man’s nature can definitely lead to some interesting character conclusions, but I leave that to you.