Fulvio Di Blasi discusses “The Empty Appetite”
It is well-known that Aquinas, following Aristotle, distinguishes between the sensitive and intellectual appetites in man. He grounds this distinction in the essential difference between the cognitive powers that provide the appetites with their objects: namely, the sentient and the intellectual. Whereas the sensitive appetite propels us toward a good known through perception, the intellectual appetite, i.e. the will, propels us toward a good known through reason.
This methodology may strike us as bizarre. Why does Aquinas define the nature of the appetites based on the essential difference that exists between sentient knowledge and intellectual knowledge? Shouldn’t he define the appetites by looking directly at their own ways of being? The answer is that the appetites do not have an independent formal content. They are completely “empty” on their own. An appetite is always a tension towards a known end. It does not properly exist (it is not in act
) without the known end. The nature of the appetite, therefore, is defined by the features of the end as known by the corresponding cognitive power.
DR. FULVIO DI BLASI IS AN INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED SCHOLAR IN THE FIELD OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY, NATURAL LAW THEORY, AND THOMISTIC PHILOSOPHY. HE IS FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF THE THOMAS INTERNATIONAL PROJECT, PRESIDENT OF THE THOMAS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION IN ITALY, AND DIRECTOR OF THE THOMAS INTERNATIONAL CENTER IN RALEIGH, NC.