Did Adam and Eve have complete dominion of reason over appetite?


From the New advent Catholic Encyclopedia:

In our first parents, however, this complete dominion of reason over appetite was no natural perfection or acquirement, but a preternatural gift of God

We can think of a lot of good reasons for Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and if humanity has truly suffered due to their actions, how can it be said that they had "complete dominion of reason over appetite?


Related questions:

Why does a story of human defiance against our own consciences have such a great appeal?

Why would God take a away our “preternatural” gift, which would make it impossible to be disobedient, when disobedience is exactly what is not desired?


According to Plato, the soul is tripartite. The human being possesses three souls:

The plant soul- also known as the appetitive soul, this is possessed by all living things in the sensible world. It is primarily for nutrition, growth, and reproduction.

The animal soul- also known as the spirited soul (as in “high spirited horse” for example), this is possessed by all animals. Both the external and internal senses fall under this soul.

The human soul- also known as the rational soul, possessed only by human beings in the sensible world. This is for apprehension of intelligibles, universals and the like.

See also Plato’s allegory of the chariot to get some understanding of how the rational soul has dominion over the spirited and appetitive souls.

As regards to how this is related to Adam and Eve. I would say that although they were gifted with having dominion over their spirited and appetitive souls, they had little experience participating in their rational souls, and this is how Satan was able to beguile them.


Yes, we can say that!

Today, we don’t have “complete dominion of reason over appetite.” That means that, if I see something that is harmful (like a whole tub of ice cream, or a bottle of booze, or opioids), my reason knows that it’s bad for me, but my appetite wins out. It’s like my desires are saying “oh, forget about the harm! It’s gonna feel good!” So, we do things that we know (deep down) are bad for us.

Adam and Eve didn’t have that problem. However, that doesn’t mean that they were thereby inoculated against sin. For all of us, we have a conscience, and it’s the job of our conscience to look at a situation, evaluate it, and make the proper moral decision. Hopefully, we form our consciences properly, so that we accurately assess a situation.

Adam and Eve’s sin came about from a failure of conscience. The particular situation they were faced with was a decision: “Is God lying to us? Does He really want what’s best for us, or is He hiding ‘the good stuff’ from us?”

It wasn’t their appetite that distorted the picture for them; it was an improper conclusion of their consciences.

Maybe because we do the same thing all the time?

The preternatural gifts didn’t make it impossible to be disobedient, as the figurative tale in Genesis 3 informs us!


Are you saying that Adam and Eve did not have complete dominion of reason over appetite?

Like Plato, eh? :slightly_smiling_face:


Well, Eve saw that the fruit was good to eat, but was it good to eat it? The consequences, if subjected to reason, were surely not worth the eating, correct?

Can we all not relate to what happened to Adam and Eve? Desire compromises the workings of our conscience. The compromising is not willed, right?

What do you see as the difference between A&E’s compromised consciences and what happens to people today?

Yes, their consciences were compromised by desire. How is this “dominion of reason over appetite?”

I agree!

Good point! :slightly_smiling_face:


What I am saying is, the natural state of Adam in his origination, was like that of a charioteer (rational soul) who had command of a noble winged horse (spirited soul) and ignoble winged horse (appetitive soul). However, in the case of Adam, because he was newly created, the charioteer was inexperienced.


Freedom! Everything relates to freedom. There is no love without the freedom to love.

They had so much freedom that they chose poorly.

All by Divine plan.


A man at work told me he bought the book “Art of Seduction” from Barnes and Noble.
I shot down seduction - as deception - trickery - and brain washing.
Then I hammered home the nail -
The Bible - the very first story -
Eve seduced - then she deceived Adam -

On and on it goes - but that’s where it started.


Is reason itself educated by experience? If so, doesn’t it seem that “complete dominion” is an exaggeration? After all, if by having more experience he would have a more developed capacity for reason, then it is logical that with experience, his dominion of reason over appetite would be “more complete”, which calls into question the “completeness” of his previous state.


Freedom, yes. Who is more free, the person who knows all the options of behaviors, including all the ramifications, or the person who has very limited experience?


I think you are addressing knowledge rather than freedom. The same freedom exists in either case.


Well, the two are intricately tied together, correct? For example, in the extreme instance the drug addict knows he has an option to stop, but his thinking is severely compromised. His slavery to the substance compromises his ability to reason. In addition, let’s say he doesn’t know how to deal with adversity in relationships, and he turns to his addiction as an escape from anguish. His own lack of knowing how to deal with adversity effects his freedom to choose say, open communication over alcohol.

Experience could have taught Adam and Eve that it would have been better to get some clarification of the consequences of eating of the fruit rather than make a choice that would harm their own children. Experience would have taught them that while it is natural to doubt your own conscience, even the source of the doubt is to be doubted (i.e. “is that desire saying “the fruit is good”, or reason?”)

And then, speaking of freedom, what is also at play in the story is the fact that whenever we pledge our obedience to anyone, there is a level of our own autonomy that we are sacrificing. Since desire for autonomy (freedom) is part of our nature, and like all strong desires it can compromise our ability to reason, it is easy to conclude that the pair was not aware of what was going on in their minds.

Think of all the wacky things that teenagers/young adults do, and beliefs they take on, when they have the underlying drive for autonomy from their parents. (Which they deny, and are often completely unaware of the operating drive.)

Is this “dominion of reason over appetite”?


As to your original question, yes they did. Lacking original sin (double negative!), they did not suffer from concupiscence. Yet, the entire world was in order before the misuse of that freedom. Life-changing and earth changing.


So choosing to eat the fruit was evidence of " complete dominion of reason over appetite"?.


It’s not evidence for or against in itself.


Really? “Complete” is a rather solid word, right? Choosing to eat the fruit is either evidence of complete dominion, or it is not.

Let’s put it this way. If you had chosen to eat the fruit, would it be because of your own ability to reason, or would it be because of your lack of ability?


If they had the freedom and ability to choose not to, yes. Remember that Eve responded to an external influence and Adam followed. Could they have refused?


They had to decide through their own reason/consciences whether to follow what God declared as good or to make up their own definitions. You’re missing the distinction being made between rational appetites and sensitive appetites. For example, hunger was not a cause that compromised their ability to reason and led them to eat the fruit. Let’s assume Adam and Eve had used their consciences to choose not to eat the fruit. In that case, the decision they made with their fully formed consciences would not be degraded or compromised by any hunger they felt, no matter how hungry they felt, etc . . . In this way, their reason had total dominion over their sensitive appetites. Things such as hunger, sexual desire, fight or flight reflex, etc… would not compromise the decisions made by their consciences.


Of course they had the freedom to choose not to. Are you saying that because they had the freedom to choose against eating the fruit, but made an unreasonable choice, that this is evidence of “dominion of reason over appetite”?

Please clarify. I am not putting out this question to defeat faith, not at all. What I am seeing is that an adult spirituality might take a look at underlying issues going on.


It was not impossible for Adam and eve to be disobedient. They had perfect control of their power to choose, but they chose wrongly.

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