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Chapter 8: The Modes of Responsibility Which Specify the First Principle

Question D: What is the fourth mode of responsibility?

1. The fourth mode is this: One should not choose to act out of an emotional aversion except as part of one’s avoidance of some intelligible evil other than the inner tension experienced in enduring that aversion. Violations occur when one chooses to refrain or desist from acting, or changes a reasonable course of action, because of repugnance, fear of pain, or other concerns about obstacles which involve nothing intelligibly bad. Choices contrary to this mode, like those which violate the third mode, aim to reduce tension by yielding to the emotion. The emotion is not aroused by sensible features of an intelligible evil whose avoidance one judges appropriate; moreover, acting on the emotion inhibits pursuit of intelligible goods. In accepting such a limitation, one does not proceed with a will toward integral human fulfillment.

2. Sometimes one is aware that there is an intelligible point to acting in a certain way—perhaps that such action would serve a good to which one is already committed. Yet one chooses not to act—perhaps even chooses to act in a contrary fashion—because of negative feelings such as repugnance toward something disgusting, squeamishness, fear of pain, desire to avoid criticism, anxiety about possible obstacles, and so on. This is different from the situation in which a person spontaneously avoids what reasonably should be avoided. In particular it must be distinguished from cases where an upright person is restrained by moral sensitivity from doing things which someone less morally sensitive would do boldly and with moral recklessness.

3. This mode is violated by those who choose to neglect or abandon their vocational responsibilities when these prove unpleasant and unrewarding. Again: People put off exercise and care of their health because they fear pain and discomfort. Or again: Fear of failure leads people to choose security instead of possibly significant achievement.

The soldier who chooses to leave his post to avoid being killed does not violate this mode of responsibility. His choice is not merely to escape fear itself. Rather, he seeks to escape the fearful and intelligible evil of death. His choice can be morally wrong—for example, because the call of duty is a genuine one. Or the choice to flee can be morally right—for example, because he is ordered unreasonably to stand and fight by a leader who realizes defeat is inevitable but wants his army to fight to the death.

4. The virtuous disposition corresponding to this mode is signified by many uses of words like “courage,” “mettle,” “fortitude,” “resolution,” “tenacity,” “backbone,” “perseverance,” and “guts” (see S.t., 1–2, q. 61, aa. 2, 4; 2–2, q. 123, aa. 1–3). The vice is signified by uses of “cowardice,” “squeamishness,” “irresolution,” “being a quitter,” “being a worrywart,” and so forth.

5. The ways in which divine revelation before Jesus deepens the foundation for the third mode are equally relevant here. Moreover, revelation provides assurance that God supports and rescues his people; God shows himself the model of faithfulness. Furthermore, in fostering love of fellow Israelites, the law forms social solidarity and encourages people to give one another mutual moral support, which in turn fosters their endurance.

Several of the Scripture passages cited in question C also make reference to the fourth mode, because it is parallel to the third. Because confidence in God is the chief basis of courage, fearfulness is a sign of defect in faith and trust in God’s faithfulness. Knowledge and experience are valuable in dangerous situations, but steady confidence is primarily based upon hope (see Sir 34.9–17). For this reason, the entire story of faith and hope throughout the Old Testament is essentially also a story of courage. Abraham, for example, leaves his home for the promised land, not knowing where he is going, lives under adverse conditions, and is ready to sacrifice the one who is the bearer of the promise—all because of his unshakable confidence in God (see Heb 11.8–11, 17–19).

Fear is useless; what is needed is trust, which instills courage (see Mt 9.22; Mk 5.36; Lk 8.50). During Jesus’ earthly life, the apostles often show their lack of courage, which manifests the inadequacy of their faith (see Mt 8.26; Mk 4.40; Lk 8.25). After Pentecost, their faith was firm and they proclaimed the gospel boldly (see Acts 2.4, 23). The exhortation to faithfulness is a constant of New Testament instruction (see 1 Cor 15.58; Gal 5.1; Phil 4.1; Col 1.23; 2 Thes 2.15; Heb 12.12; Jas 4.7–8). The Christian must stand firm in faith and with patient endurance wait in hope for Jesus’ coming.