Commitment and Passio

Dear Ernest,

THE WORD PASSION comes from the late Latin theological term passio, which itself comes from the Classical Latin verb, pati, meaning ‘to suffer, undergo, or be acted upon’.  In theology, the term refers to something that English speakers might call ‘an emotion’ or ‘an affect’, that is, something that passively influences, but does not constitute, the wilful action of the soul.  So, for the thinkers of old, passion, far from being a quality of the soul, is rather something that occurs to it, some only partially voluntary process of gain and loss that may alter who a person is.

In your last letter: “At what point can we be certain – and with what consistency need this certainty last before being comfortable to make a calculated decision to continue to act in a prescribed manner?”

It would seem that commitment, generally speaking, is something that ought to be undertaken only by an agent per se, ‘of himself’, and not per accidens, ‘of a befalling, or by contingency’.  In other words, vows ought to be performed out of necessity, not pleasure.  While undergoing a passio may involve many acts by which an agent becomes more of one thing and less of something else, commitment is the ultimate product of those changes and is not itself a part of them.  Hence, Thaddeus ought only betroth himself to his “Choco-Peanut Butter Spheres” if, after however much alteration, he does in fact identify as a cereal lover, but he mustn’t do it simply because he loves cereal.

Your servant,

TWM

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