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BOOK REVIEWS 159 Virtuous Passions: The Formation of Christian Character. By G. SIMON HARAK, S. J. New York: Paulist Press, 1993. Pp. 180. $11.95 (paper). Veritatis Splendor spoke of the need for theologians to make central once again the essential unity between body and soul, correcting those elements in contemporary thought that treat the body as an aside in moral considerations. Though not his expressed intention, G. Simon Harak promotes a similar end in his Virtuous Passions, reminding us of the significance of embodiment in a consideration of Christian virtue. While his efforts dovetail in a number of directions, they raise questions concerning the significance of embodiment, especially passions, in Christian morality. "It is my central concern in this book," he says, "to work out a moral theological account of that sense of the rightness or wrongness of passion, and further, to consider ways to transform morally blameworthy passions, and to foster morally praiseworthy passions" (2). Beginning with an overview of contemporary research among the sciences concerning the dynamics of human emotion, Harak challenges a number of contemporaries on the grounds that most conceptions of human action and emotion have some remnants of a "Cartesian" model of the self, i.e., a dualism that bifurcates the essential unity between the physical body and the "self." The effects of this trend are two-fold, both problematic according to Harak: an inability to account for the integrity of the embodied self in the domain of moral action; and a tendency to present the passions as mere "disturbances ." Especially in terms of the latter, Descartes is blamed for the contemporary context, "for he, more than any other thinker ... is responsible for the present prevailing model of virtue as a struggle for control of the passions by reason" (8). Harak's attempt to place the blame for contemporary shortcomings at the feet of Descartes is certainly consistent with a chorus of similar postmodern projects that have chronicled the damaging effects of the Enlightenment. He effectively sets his reader up for an engaging reappropriation of a more "integrated " model of the passionate human person as presented by Thomas Aquinas. A more careful articulation of the limitations of Descartes's conception of "control" would have been helpful, however, in order for the reader to appreciate more fully the alternative model that Harak claims Aquinas offers. Without this further qualification, the reader is left to wonder about the significance of his criticisms against Descartes, who "came to provide us with our image of the strong and virtuous person: one who can control his passions and the reactions of his body to the stimulus of the other" (9). For Aquinas, of course, passions are "controlled" through their paiticipa- 160 BOOK REVIEWS tion in right reasoning, while Descartes (as Harak presents him) presents a wholly extrinsic model. Thomas's integrated, participatory model of the embodied human being fuels Harak's efforts in the second chapter, as he attempts to show that "Thomas' understanding of the passions is far more interactive than his commentators have grasped ... and is quite congenial to contemporary biochemical and neurophysiological research" (69). He argues that Thomas offers an "interactive" model of human agency insofar as one allows "the other" to affect oneself through the passions in significant ways. Thus the meaning of our encounters with others and the world is, Harak suggests , largely a shared phenomenon between the "subject pole" and the "object pole." Harak is correct to note the essential receptive dimension of our passionate selves, and this marks one of the more important contributions of his work. Still, there are times when he comes close to a coherentist model of meaning in human actions in which the normative truth of things is wholly contextualized by the agents involved. He avoids falling entirely into this position, however, by stating that "the interaction cannot wholly define either interactor" (39). There is, in other words, "a distinctiveness to every human that precedes even such primary interactions" (39). That distinctiveness turns out to be human nature, which, as participating in the rational order of creation, supplies the normative context of moral action. Harak's recognition of the significance of our human teleology is an essential dimension...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 159-161
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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