I have encountered the distinction between actus elicitus and actus imperatus, in the context of the will, in St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica I-II q. 1 a. 1 ("Whether it belongs to man to act for an end?"). Some quick searching suggests that the distinction appears elsewhere, too:

  • Actus imperatus (a "commanded act") seems straightforward enough: the will commands a certain action — walking, speaking, etc., and the action is carried out.
  • Actus elicitus (an "elicited act") is elusive and confusing to me. I've read that actus elicitus is willing itself; or an act of the will that is purely internal to the will itself.

This sounds less like a distinction between different types of acts as opposed to a way of parsing any act of will, in which one might distinguish the stirring of the will itself from the object to which it is directed. Is that it? Any thoughts, reactions, or resources would be very welcome.

  • 2
    Chisholm expressed it more clearly:"It is one thing to ask whether the things that a man wills are things that are within his power: this is the problem of the actus imperatus. It is quite a different thing to ask whether his willing itself is something that is within his power: this is the problem of the actus elicitus." Actus elicitus is an act of willing of the second order, where instead of merely directing what we do according to our wants we direct our wants themselves.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 22:33
  • Thank you so much. That is extremely helpful.
    – Chris
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 0:12

1 Answer 1


An elicited act is a type of human act.

Prümmer, O.P., Handbook of Moral Theology p. 8:

  1. Human acts are either elicited or commanded, in so far as they proceed directly and immediately from a faculty, or from one faculty under the influence of another faculty or habit. Consequently every human act is an elicited act, but not always commanded. Thus, belief is an act elicited by the habit of faith, but to believe through love of God is an act commanded by charity.

Bernard Wuellner, S.J., Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy p. 126 defines these terms:

human act, phrase. an act proceeding from deliberate reason and free will; an act performed freely by the will guided by the intellect knowing the end to which the act is directed. Note that two powers of man are involved in this human act. Compare act of ᴍᴀɴ. The object of such an act is often referred to as the voluntary, q.v.

commanded (imperated) act, the act of some human power or organ dependent on the will and directed by the act of command to the will's end.

elicited human act, the act in the will itself rather than in powers subject to the will; the deliberate choice, consent, or intention.

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