instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why "gluttony" has a perfectly good definition

St. Thomas defines gluttony in this way:
Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire.
Some people who read that may think, "That doesn't define anything! It just says that 'gluttony' is shorthand for 'an inordinate desire of eating and drinking.' But it doesn't say what an inordinate desire of eating and drinking actually is."

To such thinkers I answer that, we must understand that gluttony is a vice, not a transgression.

A vice is a habit contrary to the good of persons. A transgression is a violation of an explicit rule. They are not at all the same sort of thing, and they are defined in different ways.

A vice is defined by comparison the good to which it is contrary. A transgression is defined by the rule that it breaks.

As a vice, gluttony is contrary to reason. To eat more than you have reason to eat it to eat inordinately, which is the act of gluttony.

It's true that the above definition doesn't tell you how much you have reason to eat. But the definition of a vice isn't supposed to tell you how much or how little. Your properly-formed conscience is supposed to do that. The definition of a vice is supposed to tell you that there is a good for which you ought to strive, and that there is an evil for which you may strive if you don't watch out.

They don't call 'em virtues because they're easy.