St Thomas Aquinas wrote about emotions. Psychologists also write about emotions. Did St Thomas try to be a medieval psychologist?
St. Thomas was interested in cataloguing human nature and its passions. In that sense he was being a psychologist. I don’t believe that he was anything like a clinical psychologist though!
Psychology comes from the Greek psukhē, which was the Latin anima, which translates to soul, which in Thomism is the form of the body, the animating principle, etc… So psychology for St. Thomas extended beyond studying the emotions. It was a study of human nature as such.
I agree with this, I think that emotions are only a subset of the immense field of Psychology. I believe that Psychology generally seeks to understand the motivations behind behaviors whereas simply a study of emotion can be accomplished through means other than scientific experimentation. Categorizing various emotions and motivating factors is also prominent in Philosophy, as seen per David Hume and other prominent philosophers.
St Thomas and modern psychologists consider emotions differently. In fact, St Thomas has many different terms (affectus, caro, passio, etc) for what in English we simply call ‘emotion’. But St Thomas never uses the term ‘psychology’; in fact, this is quite a new field of study which doesn’t really emerge until the 19th century, largely as a result of Enlightenment dualism.
St Thomas’ treatment of the passions and affections is quite complex and very different from modern treatments of emotion as ‘feelings’. Briefly, St Thomas’ study of the passions and affections is intimately linked to his study of the whole person, and the nature of person as either virtuous or vicious. For St Thomas, the human person by nature is oriented towards the good and so love is the first passion which orients us in this direction. He considers passions, in general, in their capacity to either help or hinder the human person, through reason, determine the good and ultimately seek God. Modern psychology has no interest in the human person as being oriented by nature to the good and ultimately to God; when it does consider goodness or God, it is from a purely subjective point of view, as though these things are merely projections of the individual independently of any supernatural orientation.
I highly recommend an excellent and quite recent study of emotion and affection in St Thomas by Nicholas Lombardo, OP.
Very interesting. I’ll add that to my reading list.
If I got it right the medieval person could not visit a psycholigygist so they could only seek help from a philosopher/theologian. Nowadays we can look at our emotions from both perspective. We live longer nowadays but we aren’t better at dealing with emotions.
What do you think?
Yes, I think maybe you are on to something. The best psychological help available was the sacrament of confession which St Thomas taught brings the individual “internal righteousness, peace and spiritual joy”, as features of belonging to the Kingdom of God. In fact, there have been numerous studies which show the psychological benefit of frequent confession for Catholics.
And thus they needed no psychologists in those days?