Archive for July 26th, 2014


We have been posting daily quotes from John Frame’s Doctrine of the Christian Life on our facebook and twitter account.  This morning I want to share an extended lengthy quote from John Frame on the relationship of the intellect, will and emotions.  John Frame is at his best when he explores the inter-relationships and/or inter-dependence of things and here is no exception.  People often have a wrong conception of the relationship between will and the intellect so the following is helpful.

Traditionally, will is contrasted with intellect (reason) and emotions.  In some accounts, it almost seems as though will, intellect, and emotions are little beings up in our heads who vie for supremacy.  Arguments have been made both about which of these three faculties is superior to the others and about which one ought to be superior.  Philosophical movements have been identified by views on this alleged conflict: Aquinaas has been called an intellectualist, Scotus a voluntarist, and Kierkegaard an emotionalist.

My own view, however, is that we make decisions as whole persons, and that intellect, will and emotions are perspectives on the whole persons, not subsistent entities.  The intellect is the person’s ability to think, the will his his capacity to decide, and the emotionsa re his capacity to feel.  We are talking about three abilities that people have, not three independent entities within them.  That I think is a more biblical perspective, for Scripture never distinguishes these three capacities or make any general statements about the superiority of one or the other.

In my view, the three abilities are interdependent.  You cannot make a decision (will) unless you judge (intellect) that it is the right thing to do.  On the other hand, you cannot make the right judgment (intellect) unless you choose (will) to make it.  The will is certainly involved in our intellectual judgments.  As Paul teaches in Romans 1, certain people choose to disbelieve in God, despite the sufficiency of the evidence of his existence.  Other people choose otherwise.  In both cases, belief is a choice.  The intellectual judgment is a decision of the will.  That is one reason why I have emphasized that the intellectual realm has a moral dimension, that there is an ethics of knowledge.

So will and intellect are dependent upon one another, and so are choice and reason.  They are not independent entities, but perspectives on the mental acts of human beings.  In everything we do, there is thought and choice.  And we think about what to choose, and we choose what to think.  And we choose what to think about what to choose.  We accept reasons because we choose them, and we choose them because we find them reasonable.

(John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 368).

I find the above helpful.  I would add that not one of the above faculty is morally superior to another.  Our sinfulness has corrupted all our faculty.  So we sin with our mind, our choices, and have sinful emotions, etc.  This has implication for apologetics that we have unpacked on our blog elsewhere; certainly the most obvious is that our mind is not a neutral arbiter of facts, nor does appealing to our intellect alone would necessarily lead someone to Christ if the sinful will chooses not to do so.   How much more do we need the grace of God.


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