Habitual degradation, the state of being given up to evil conduct. Just as virtue is a confirmed disposition to act rightly, so its opposite is a confirmed disposition to act evilly.
Just as virtue is a disposition of a person to act in accord with nature, so vice is a disposition to act contrary to nature. In this context nature is not to be understood in the sense of abstract nature, but rather in the sense of the integral nature that is actually born with all its possibilities and aptitudinal inclinations toward rational perfection, all the unfulfilled promise inherent in being human. Vice is the frustration of all such expectation.
The virtues are perfect dispositions of all the human powers for good. Prudence qualifies and conditions the practical reason so that it habitually chooses what is right. Justice perfects the will of man so that he spontaneously respects the rights of others. Fortitude and temperance channel the behavior of the lower appetites to follow smoothly the direction of right reason in the matter of animal fear and desire. These moral dispositions are built up by accumulated human experience. The vices are contrary to the moral virtues in the same sense that contrary qualities, for example, heat and cold, tend to exclude each other from the same subject.
Patterns of Vice. The moral virtues tend to coexist and develop with prudence since prudence provides the norm for the other virtues. There is no exact parallel to this in the realm of vice. The classical list of the capital sins is a list of the commonest patterns of moral failure. Scripture mentions pride, which is the obstacle to the growth and development of charity, as a "reservoir of all sin, a source which runs over with vice" (Sir 10.13). As inordinate self-love, pride provides the motivational impulse for the development of all other vices. St. Paul noted "Covetousness is the root of all evil" (1 Tm 6.10), which is true in the sense that the grasping man usually has the funds to finance a completely vicious life. In the sixth century, Gregory I pointed out that certain of the deadly sins initiated frequent patterns of moral dissolution. Sloth, or acedia, for example, involves a certain torpor with regard to divine good; it is the opposite of the joy characteristic of charity. Unless there is enthusiasm for the divine good, an all-prevailing fear for the hardship involved in the development of the virtuous life sets in. In fleeing from the divine good, sloth abandons interest in supernatural beatitude, which is despair. Since the means to beatitude are arduous, sloth makes a man a coward. When others rebuke the slothful man for his neglect, rancor ensues along with malicious detestation for all the values that the slothful man's advisers esteem. Furthermore, the slothful man experiences lethargy regarding all the precepts of the law. Not finding delight in the things of the spirit, he compensates for this loss by transferring his interest to the readily available delights of the flesh.
As St. Thomas points out (ST 2a2ae, 153.5) there is only a given amount of psychic energy available, and the more man's energy is consumed in the vehement pursuit of fleshly delights in lust, the less he has left for the spiritual. The commonest failure following from lust is a weakening of the person's appreciation for the truly good things in life by a kind of mental blindness and a weakening by precipitous reactions of the will's ability to select appropriate means to goals. Normal careful judgment about appropriate means gives way to inconsideration, and firm capacity to command the self yields to inconstancy in decision and action. Disordered lower appetites are fertile ground for disorder in the will in which self-love abounds in reference to what is sinfully delightful, and, as Augustine pointed out, this leads to the sinner's despising God. Affection for the present delights of this world leads to despair for the spiritual delights of the world to come.
A similar series of reactions sets in with envy, which consists in sadness over the good of others. Envy impels the sinner to flee from his sadness or to abate it by murmuring about others, by actual detraction, by exulting in the calamities that befall others; and it culminates in actual hatred of others. These patterns of moral decay have always been familiar.
Just as the moral virtues are dispositions acquired by repeated good actions, so their contrasting vices are acquired by repeated evil acts. Faith, hope and charity, however, are infused gifts from God rather than acquired dispositions. The states of soul that are contrary to these gifts result from single acts of sin.
The list of vices is longer than the list of virtues since departure from the middle course that is typical of moral virtue comes about by either excess or defect. Specific vices can be described either in terms of the virtues to which they are contrary or in terms of the manner in which they depart from the middle course. Vices are specified also in terms of the objects of the actions to which they are related.
Moral Gravity. The concept of gravity is associated with a vice either in terms of the nobility of its opposite virtue or in terms of the object to which it is related. However, it must be kept in mind that the sinner is a free agent, and although he is disposed by habit to sin seriously he can in fact sin only venially.
Habitual degradation that comes about through a sinful life extends to the whole human person. Sanctifying grace, which resides in the soul itself, can be lost by any mortal sin and yield its place to a state called mortal sin that is a privative reality making the soul hateful in the sight of God; and that is human unfulfillment in the profoundest sense.
However, there are limits to this degradation. The habit of sanctifying grace can be lost along with virtue, but the natural goodness of the human faculties themselves remains intact. And the natural inclinations to virtue that are part of the integral nature of man also remain, although once sin has intervened they are more or less impeded in their development by contrary dispositions.
The Human Powers Affected. Since all vice is acquired by deliberate sin, the will also is involved in moral disintegration as the source of malice. In the human personality the will is the basic conative power, the ultimate spiritual capacity for love, desire and hate, the wellspring of human action. Malice involves not only corruption of the will but also guilt or estrangement from the approval of God and man. This volitional derangement applies not only to the will itself, which elicits voluntary responses, but also to the other powers of the soul and body, which are normally imperated by the will in the production of a vicious act—the imagination, the estimative power, the motor powers of the body, and the nervous system, and the neuromuscular patterns of response.
The dispositions of the sense powers of man, including those of the internal faculties of estimative sense and imagination and the concupiscible and irascible appetitive faculties, as well as those of the physical organs of the body that provide the concomitant bodily changes accompanying such things as fear and anger, can be a part of vice. Although this part of the human person is not properly the subject of voluntariness, it can and should be under the control of reason, and when it is not, it develops a tendency to function apart from reason and in response to impulses of a vicious nature. On this level of the human personality also, disintegrating behavior patterns are developed which are a part of the vicious man.
Man's reason also is involved in this dissolution. All sin involves a culpable error on the part of the intellect that enables it to view evil as apparently good. In some cases the evil man even deliberately wills to be ignorant of the moral law so that he will feel freer to sin without any compunction from conscience. Not infrequently the promptness with which practical judgment rejects the allure of a sinful object decreases, and morose delectation takes place in the process of dealing with temptations.
A mystery of iniquity lies within the human heart itself when it chooses evil from cold malice, that is, not from ignorance or the influence of passion, but with clear and deliberate choice of a temporal advantage with advertence to the loss of the divine good and the punishment of eternal damnation, especially when this becomes a habitual disposition so that it is, so to speak, a sinner's second nature. However, even in those whose utter malice is the complete antithesis of virtue, good actions are possible, since the evil agent is always free to behave out of character, with the special grace of God.
Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 71–89. a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed., a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 15.2:2858–62.
[j. d. fearon]
vice1 / vīs/ • n. immoral or wicked behavior. ∎ criminal activities involving prostitution, pornography, or drugs. ∎ an immoral or wicked personal characteristic. ∎ a weakness of character or behavior; a bad habit: cigars happen to be my father's vice.DERIVATIVES: vice·less adj.vice2 • n. British spelling of vise. vice3 / vīs; ˈvīsē; ˈvīsə/ • prep. as a substitute for: the letter was drafted by David Hunt, vice Bevin who was ill.vice4 (also vice-) • comb. form acting as deputy or substitute for; next in rank: vice regent vice-consul.
A fault, flaw, defect, or imperfection. Immoral conduct, practice, or habit.
In civil law, redhibitory vices are defects or flaws in the subject matter of a sale that entitle the buyer to return the item and recover the purchase price.
A vice crime is any type of immoral and illegal activity, such as prostitution, the sale of drugs and narcotics, and gambling.