Saint Anselm on Anger (part 4)

Continuing the series of Sunday posts discussing Saint Anselm's views on anger in light of his moral theory (so far part 1, part 2, part 3), tonight we turn to a very interesting, well-discussed (in secondary literature), but somewhat underdeveloped (in Anselm's own writings) aspect of Anselm's theory of the will:  the distinction he draws and develops between the "two wills," the will-for-justice and the will-for-happiness.  Where does anger and connected matters -- the emotional response itself, the causes of the emotion, the acts carried out under that emotion, the volitions,  the virtuous or vicious dispositions bearing on the emotion and the actions -- fit into this motivational  and moral scheme Anselm elaborates?

As mentioned in previous posts, the will has a threefold aspect in Anselmian moral anthropology: there is the will-as-instrument, will-as-use, and will-as-inclination (or -as-affection, as-disposition, affectio).  Both the will-for-justice and the will-for-happiness are examples of this third type of will, motivational structures perduring through and expressing the will of the person in multiple determinate situations.  There are several features of these affectiones of will which I summarized several years back in a paper, which will be helpful to bring up early on here.

Anselm says that “the will-as-instrument is affected [affectum] by its inclinations,” probably the reason he uses the rich term affectio to denote them.  To be sure, the will-as-instrument is also affected, in that it takes on determinate form in time in action and intention, by its uses -- but will-as-inclination affects the will-as-instrument over time, habitually, motivationally, affectively structuring it and conditioning the wills-as-use, the determinate intentions, choices, preferences, acts that a person has or makes.


An example indicates that will-as-inclination also includes brings the dimension of intensity of willing: “So, when it intensely [vehementer] wills something, a person’s soul is said to be affected to willing it, or to will it affectively [affectuose].”  This dimension of intensity in important in another example: “when we assert that one person has more [of the will to live justly] than another, we are not calling will anything other than that inclination of the instrument itself, by which one wills to live justly.”  Inclinations can be stronger or weaker, more or less intense, more or less able to maintain themselves in the face of attractions, temptations, even intervening oppositions by the will-as-use (as for instance when we resolve to modify not only our behavior but our thoughts and feelings).

Affecting or inclining of the will-as-instrument is essential to the very working of the will.  Without the drive or direction given by will-as-inclination, the will-as-instrument would not move, would not take the form of particular will-as-use. In fact, the will -- difference in this from all of the other power, faculties, or instruments of the human soul and body is self-moving, self-shaping, self-determining.  Anselm writes: “[t]he will-as-instrument moves all other instruments which we freely [sponte] use, both those that are in us. . . and those outside us. . . and it causes all voluntary motions. But, the will-as-instrument itself moves itself through its inclinations.”

Inclinations of the will possess a degree of constancy and stability.  Will-as-inclination is “that by which the instrument itself is determinately affected [sic afficitur] towards willing something even when it does not think  about that which it wills – so that, if it is recalled to mind, it either immediately or at a given time wills it.” Some of these long-standing, constant volitions may reside below the level of consciousness unless we decide to focus on them, for example "willing health."  Others may, in one sense seemingly force themselves upon us, like "willing sleep," while in another sense they constantly remain directed to some instrumental goods -- sleeping when we need to replenish and rest our bodies, so that we can realize, pursue, or preserve other goods.

Virtues and vices are affectiones of the will, specific configurations into which the will is inclined, structures of desires, feelings, thoughts, and actions coalescing into determinate volitions in particular situations.  Anselm uses the example of a just or holy person, who wills justice not only by determinate wills-as-use, but constantly, as will-as-inclination, even while asleep or not thinking about justice. If they are actually just, they can be relied upon to will justice when placed in a situation calling for it, and so, in this sense, on a deep level of their being, they will justice all of the time.  Their being, their character, is structured along those lines.

In his works, Anselm discusses only two main affectiones of the will, the will-for-justice and the will-for-happiness. He does not go into as great detail as we might have liked him to have provided, or follow out his fertile distinctions into all of their implications, but he does offer us enough to be able to think productively about anger in terms of the will.  He arrives at this distinction through considering cases where these two wills-as-inclinations contrast and conflict, first introducing it in order to make sense of the plight of the Devil in De Casu Diaboli.  The distinction turns on the lasting, basic, objects of the will, those goods or values motivating, attracting, providing incentives for the will to move itself towards them.

All things, so far as they have being, are good, Anselm maintains throughout his works -- even of those things that have, result in, do, or even choose evil.  But this does not mean that they are goods for us, perceptible as such through our possession and exercise of reason, whose functions include discernment of (and between degrees of) goodness and badness, truth and falsity, justice and injustice, and other such qualities, electable or rejectable by the will.  In the Dicta Anselmi, he is recorded as having taught:
To the perceptive judge there are three goodnesses, [namely that of] being [essentia], the beneficial [commoditatem], and justice.  Everything that is, so far as it, is good.  Now the one that is beneficial is good in twofold way, for it is, and it is beneficial.  But some things are beneficial through use, others through their effects, other through both.  For food that is sweet but harmful is beneficial by use but not at all by effects.  Bitter medicine is unbeneficial [incommoda] by use but by effect beneficial, since it is useful.  A meal that is sweet and healthy is beneficial by use and effect. . . . Now, justice, because through the nature of its being [essentialiter] it is good and beneficial and just, appears to surpass in many ways simple being or the beneficial.
This is a very useful passage for interpreting and contextualizing Anselm's discussions of the two kinds of good, the two wills, and the nature of justice in the will (as the will to justice) progressively developed in his treatises De Casu Diaboli, Cur Deus Homo, De Conceptu Virginali, and De Concordia.  One can very easily get the idea that justice as a good is necessarily opposed to the beneficial.  Likewise, one can come away with the notion that they are two distinct orders of things.  Rather, justice is something supervening, arranging, further ordering, rightly directing the lower orders, adding something to them.  In one of my as yet unpublished writings on Anselm, which explores implications of Anselm's Christian Platonist metaphysics, I have termed this "ontological dignity".  Justice is not a mere epiphenomenon of the order of things, a quality that our minds or even God's mind subjectively attribute to them.  Rather, it is an enhancement and augmentation, a plenitude and richness of being; justice involves things being as they-ought-to-be, and thereby them being more fully.  And justice itself, whether in the will or derivatively in things also has being.

To return to the order of the beneficial, the will for happiness, as Anselm tells us in De Casu, is a “natural will for avoiding the detrimental and having the beneficial.” In De Concordia, he calls it an "aptitude," an inclination "towards the benefit that is willed" (ad volentum commoditatem).  Anselm holds that the human will always is turned towards, desires or loves, or has an inclination for, willing happiness, and what happiness ultimately does consist in -- he is by no means knocking this, since in fact his depiction of blessed eternal life in heaven comprises all such goods --  is lasting possession of beneficial goods.  As we see in the passage I cited, it is quite possible to desire, to choose some of these things for different reasons, grasping their "beneficial" goodness in multiple ways, some of which reveal when considered more closely that what appears fully beneficial, commodious to ourselves, intrinsically good for us, may not in reality be so, could for instance be pleasant but harmful.

The will for happiness, ever-present, always actively but only partially determining, moving, shaping the will as a whole, is in its turn determined, sometimes nudged just a little in its overall configuration, sometimes fatefully turned from one direction to another, by will-as-use, particular choices or complexes of interrelated choices made by the person.  It thus takes on determinate form for each person in all its specificity through the interplay and combined effects of a history of choices, a narrative of experiences and decisions that while in one sense wholly unique to that person, nevertheless occurs within a larger shared drama of humanity.

Or, better expressed, for Anselm: a larger shared drama of fallen and redeemed humanity, a drama in which every character save two possesses a will weakened, damaged by an original loss of integral justice in the will.  Unlike the will-for-happiness, the will-for-justice can be lost and it can be regained.  I'm not going to discuss this aspect of Anselm's moral theory in detail here, since by now some readers are doubtless growing impatient to see all of these discussions and distinctions actually applied to anger.  Suffice it to say three things:

First, although a person who lacks the will-for-justice can still will what is just, can still recognize justice and discern justice and injustice apart from each other, can feel desire for and intellectually appreciate the need for justice in the will, the human person cannot on their own, by their own effects, restore the missing justice in the will. Only divine grace can restore it, although once justice is restored it requires human participation for that justice to be retained, increased, effected.

Second, justice in the will, or the will-for-justice is not simply an inclination towards willing what is just.  By virtue of Anselm's very definition of justice as "rectitude of will maintained for its own sake," it involves willing to keep that justice in the face of temptations, choosing to prioritize justice over what the will-for-happiness already urges one towards -- in cases where they conflict -- in fact, the more just the person, the less those two affectiones of the will should come into conflict.  So, when justice in the will is lost, it is, as Anselm tells us, precisely because the person wills something more strongly than justice, chooses that over maintaining justice in their will.  It might be comfort or safety.  It might be pleasure.  It might be just the (limited) good of willing through the "self-will" discussed in last Sunday's post.  But what loses the will-for-justice, what nullifies it within the will is choosing some other good in its place.

Third, either justice is in the will, or injustice is left in the place -- or places -- where justice is lacking.  As any good Augustinian, Anselm holds that evil and injustice does not have positive being of its own, but instead parasitically corrupts, deforms, corrupts, ontologically lessens the being of the person.  In the will, injustice adopts and congeals into definite shapes as recognizable vices, habitual patterns of interconnected emotions, actions, volitions, and even thoughts and verbal expressions (since after all the vicious person does describe and think of their actions, choices, and feelings -- though usually wrongly).  Vices as specific configurations of injustice -- just like virtues as configurations of justice -- reside in the will, and nowhere more than in the will-for-happiness.

Within the will as a totality, the will-for-justice ought to regulate the will-for-happiness.  In De Casu, Anselm writes of the will-for-justice "temper[ing] the will to happiness so that its excesses would be checked," and he notes that for a rational being like an angel (or a human being) if its will-for-happiness is stymied in being able to pursue "greater and truer beneficial goods," it will turn itself to "lesser beneficial goods," those that still remain with its purview, down to " whatsoever lowest beneficial goods" it can still enjoy.  Anselm includes among these "unclean and very base beneficial goods in which irrational animals take pleasure," hearkening back to the carnal appetites residing in irrational animals, humans affected by original sin, and fallen angels, and the correlated carnal desires experienced by the latter two rational types of beings.  (It should be mentioned -- this will be more fully discussed in a later post -- that Anselm does not view feeling or being impelled by these appetites as itself bad, nor even every case of the will consenting to them.  The will is unjust  when it "complies inordinately with them," he qualifies in De Conceptu)

Anselm sketches one example of the condition brought about while the will-for-happiness remains while the will-for-justice is missing.
Injustice is not the sort of thing which infects and corrupts the soul in the way that poison infects and corrupts the body. . . . [W]hen an evil man rages and is driven into various dangers to his soul, i.e. evil deeds, we declare that injustice cases these deeds. Not because injustice is a being or does something but because the will (to which all the voluntary movements of the entire human being are submitted), lacking justice, driven on by various appetites, being inconstant, unrestrained, and uncontrolled, plunges itself and everything under its control into manifold evils -- all of which justice, had it been present, would have prevented from happening
Matters do not not always go quite so dramatically as in this De Conceptu passage, of course, but the general idea is clear:  without the virtues, or at least the trajectory toward virtue, decisions made directing the will towards it, the will to happiness will pursue its desires, its aims, the beneficial goods set out before and attracting it, out of proportion, prioritizing them unduly in relation to other goods.  When one wills in determinate situations, patterns and habitual dispositions get engraved for better or for worse on the will-for-happiness. 

Becoming angry, as we noted several posts back, is in part the stirring up of the carnal appetites, which direct us to seek revenge, to impose punishment, to seek retribution on another who we think, feel, or imagine to have in some way harmed (or threaten to harm) us, those persons or things which matter to us.  It very quickly becomes a matter of the will,. however, in more than one way.  For on the one hand, once we become angry, we are thrown into a situation in which we are forced to choose what we will do.  There are already trajectories in play, not least those steering towards actions typically expressive of anger.  On the other hand, we can also ask why we do in fact become angry, the answer to which is that someone or something crosses, impedes, competes with, even punishes our own will -- our will-for-happiness, directed at some end which the other in some way blocks, deflects, withholds, hinders.  A passage in De Conceptu discusses something analogous:
[O]nly what is against one's will is a punishment for that person; and only something with a will experiences punishment.  Now, the members and the senses will nothing by themselves.  Therefore just as the will acts in the members and the senses, so in them it is tormented or delighted
What angers one's brethren, Anselm reminds communities of monks in numerous letters, is when one person wrongly imposes his will against another's, wanting to have things his way.  Poorly formed and directed wills are going to be more prone to this. In fact, one essential component of the monastic life is giving one's will over to another in obedience, precisely so it can be examined, pruned of its excesses, improved, healed (one finds in Anselm a priority of medical metaphors over juridical ones).

When one is angered, one is thus faced with a choice, a choice which if one understands it rightly -- and one of the most difficult aspects of anger is its seductive power to get us to focus only on the immediate situation or if on the larger situation only on those aspects that reinforce and provide greater rational pretext for the anger -- bears upon more than just the immediate situation.  Though we cannot undo, change, replace, or produce lasting habits of thought, action, or affection wholesale through single choices of the will, each use of the will adds its own weight on one side or another of the balance.  This much, every virtue ethics can tell us about choices and habits in general and about anger in particular.  If I am hot tempered, given to taking offense too readily, I have some margin of control over whether I remain so, if I choose to choose rightly.  And if I don't, I remain responsible for my character progressively conformed in its viciousness.

What Anselm's perspective contributes is the additional understanding that in each such choice, I am faced with the alternative:  willing in accordance with what measure of the will-for-justice I may have or willing in accordance with the dictates and demands of the will-for-happiness.  At times -- for instance, when I become angry, and must decide what to do with that anger --  inclinations war within myself, and the moral grandeur of the free, rational will consists partly in that, even given the weights these motives bring, the choice remains with me where I set myself, which way I take the will that not only represents but is my deepest self.  This alternative exists, of course, so long as I have not entirely lost -- or rather thrown away -- the will-for-justice, in which case, in its absence, I will follow one or another path set out by the will for-happiness (though some choice remains to me which of these I do pursue).

So, when I become angry, I am posed with a choice whether to retain the will-for-justice, generally by moderating my anger, by not following all suggestions the desire, the emotion makes, or even better by forgiving, by exercising the virtue of patience.  The alternative is to will something more strongly than justice, perhaps the satisfaction in vengeance -- even if just imagined, or by proxy through passive-aggressiveness or detraction -- perhaps a chance to indulge in an-all-too- human appetite for inflicting cruelty while situating oneself in a narrative as the protector, the righteous punisher, even the rectifier of young souls (as Anselm reproached another abbot for doing, discussed, among other places, here).  There are some who are more at home with others and the world when they are angry, and choose to remain in their anger, to find occasions and reinforcements for that state.  Some become addicted to the thrill, the excitement, the intermixed pleasure, pain and desire anger brings and consists in.  When one chooses these motives of anger over what justice requires in the situation, injustice sets roots of negativity, of lack, of privation of the good that should be there, within the will.

As I bring this post to a close, it is worth pointing out that one desire, one direction, one motive, one tendency that the will to happiness takes determinate shape in can be opposed and even overpowered by another.  As a matter of fact, it would be highly unlikely for an unbridled will-for-happiness unregulated by the will-for-justice to be entirely consistent, not divided upon itself.  One might forgo taking one's revenge, even expressing one's anger -- perhaps even putting on a pretense of feigned virtue -- so as to attain some good or not to suffer some evil.  For instance, one might deliberately calm oneself in dealing with a difficult customer not because that might be the right thing to do but for the motive of making the sale.  One might even put up with another person's provocative demands not out of genuine patience, let alone a forgiving disposition, but rather just to avoid an outbreak of their own wrath.  Anselm actually considers how the presence and effect of some vices might in effect prevent or rule out other vices.  A glutton might moderate his anger so as to keep the dainties and delights coming.  A coward might conceal and cover the flames of her ire sufficiently to extinguish them, precisely because she is mastered by fears, perhaps even of anger's consequences. 

Still, one must be careful here.  Anselm is not Kant.  Note that not every natural inclination of the will-for-happiness that opposes, deflects, mutes, or moderates anger is lacking in justice.  It is right, for instance, or as Anselm would say, one ought to feel affection towards one's family, friends, spouse, young, and if this affection keeps one from doing wrong or is a motive for doing right, it would be silly to deny it any moral value simply because it stems from the (in that respect, rightly-structured) will-for-happiness.  The fact that brute animals share in such natural affection in no way diminishes its value or its capacity in the human being to flow into justice.

A few questions remain open at this point.  In most of his works, it seems as if the line between justice and injustice in the will is very sharp, so that once justice is lost, it is completely gone. Yet, in the De Concordia and also in certain of his letters, Anselm writes of those who are just in one respect but unjust in another, for instance one who is "chaste but envious."  With anger in particular, we would want to know whether one can be just in some respects but unjust with respect to anger -- perhaps working on that shape of injustice to wear it away, to gradually replace it with virtues.  We would also want to know whether anger could ever form a  positive part of a just will, whether in an Anselmian moral perspective, there could be a situation in which feeling and acting on anger -- within certain bounds -- could be the right thing and willed as such.