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Are the virtues within us by nature?
OW Aristotle pursues his plan with an explanation of virtue, which is the soul and the splendor of the blessed life. For he strives in vain to deal with the end employing so many words, if there is no disputation about the means of the end’s acquisition. For just as it is idle to look at a hoped-for prize from afar if you employ no means of gaining it, so amidst all the waves of this life it is silly to look towards the end of you use no means by which you may acquire it: the prize is seized by motion of the body, blessedness by motion of virtue. Wherefore, just as in Book I of the Ethics the Philosopher disputed about happiness (the ultimate end), so wisely indeed does he dispute about virtue (the best means). For just as we are inspired to the good by the end set before us, so we are directed on our way by the means revealed to us. With these preliminary things said about the order, it is to be understood that precepts concerning virtue are given, first generically, and then specifically: namely generically about their birth and death, their excess and defect, their subject, object, nature, and end.
2. Concerning their birth, this question is raised: are the the virtues within us by nature, as the Stoics once said? Aristotle says they are acquired by industry and denies that they are within us by nature, since even if nature is sufficiently effective in producing her effects, she is nevertheless pla7ed beyond the power and allotted scope of nature that she might give birth to virtue conceived in her womb. For just as the fruit hidden within a plant’s root is in no wise produced if the sun’s influence does not reach it, so virtue, sprouting in nature’s potential, is not brought to light if the mind’s industry is not brought to bear. For the procreative causes of the virtues are movement, use, and activity. The Philosopher proves this, first, from an experience of nature; second, from a potential; third, from an authority; fourth, from an example; and lastly, from a cause and a means. From the experience of nature, since all things which are within by nature cannot be habituated to become other than they are. The virtues are often altered. Therefore they are not within by nature. The assumption of this syllogism is proven by the example of a stone, which you may throw upwards a thousand times yet never teach to fly. It is an old say, “you may throw out nature with a pitchfork, it always comes back.” From potential, since we first have active potentials (as they say) from the things within us by nature. But we have no such potentials of the virtues. Therefore the virtues are not within us by nature. The minor premise is proven by the example of sensation, which is such an effective and perfected potential that it immediately produces the act and office of perception. For we are born seeing, tasting, and hearing. He proves it by authority, insomuch as, were the virtues within us by nature, it would be idle for legislators to invest so much effort in accustoming and exhorting their fellow citizens to the exercise of virtue. By an example, since no man is born an artist, learned, brave or just. From the cause and means of acting well, which is habituation. For habituation is said to be the principle of acquiring virtue and of preserving it when acquired. For habituation is a second nature: if it be good, it makes men earnest, if it be bad, it makes them rascals. Therefore I shall conclude with Aristotle that it is of no small moment, but rather of great and supreme importance whether we are habituated from boyhood one way or the other.
Things are within by nature in two ways, viz.:
The virtues are not within us completely:
Since they can be changed to their contraries or abandoned
3. OBJECTION In the text Aristotle teaches that it is not against nature or unnatural for the virtues to exist within us, therefore it is likely they are within us by nature.
RESPONSE It must be said that certain seeds and sparks of the virtues are within us by nature, but in such way that their habit and activity cannot increase without usage. Furthermore, it must be conceded that the virtues are within us by nature, as “being within by nature” is opposed to that which is said to be within either unnatural or contrary to nature. For they are not within us contrary to nature, since they most preserve nature.
OBJECTION Regarding the things given us by nature, we first receive their faculties, then we employ their offices and duties. We have the potentials of nature thus, and then we employ their offices and duties. Therefore the virtues are within us by nature. The whole argument is fetched from the words of the text.
Potentials are either:
perfected, such as the senses, which contain their activity within
themselves (such as vision) without preceding usage).
OBJECTION Whatever nature begins, she brings to perfection, as the Philosopher attests in Book II of the Physics. Nature begins the virtues, therefore she perfects them.
RESPONSE Whatever nature begins, she brings to perfection, if this not be beyond her power and allotted scope, as are the virtues.
OBJECTION Nothing gives the cause of a thing without also giving the means of its acquisition. Nature gives the cause of virtue, namely potential and appetite. Therefore she grants us the means of acquiring virtue. The major premise is in De Anima, Book I. The minor is taught in this passage.
RESPONSE The Philosopher is understood as speaking of proximate causes, not remote one. Potential is a remote cause of virtue, not a proximate one. For its proximate cause is activity, usage and habituation. Others understand this passage as being about causes of the same genus.
OBJECTION Any potential of the soul is concerned with its proper and natural object. The proper and natural object of the will is good or virtue, as is said in Book III of the Ethics. Therefore will is naturally concerned with virtue, and in consequence virtue can be acquired naturally.
The object of virtue is twofold, namely:
as passion, which can be acquired naturally.
OBJECTION Truth naturally exists within the intellect. Therefore virtue exists within the will naturally. The antecedent is proven since, as Aristotle attests, we believe many things are derived from nature without proof, such as that the whole is greater than its part, or again, if you subtract an equal number from an equal number, the remainder is an equal number. The argument holds since the moral and intellectual virtues are alike if you consider their means of acquisition. For both the one and the other require exercise and time.
RESPONSE As intellect is a tabula rasa with respect to truth, so will is like wax with respect to the good. But observe that truth is twofold, sc. natural and moral. The former is believed without reason, but the latter is not acquired without usage and activity. We are dealing with the former in the first passage, with the latter in the second.
Is virtue weakened by excess or defect?
T is a trite saying that the foreseen missile strikes with less force. The reason is that evils we understand are more readily avoided. Hence it is that, having now explained the principles whereby virtue is acquired, Aristotle now strives to demonstrate the evils by which it is corrupted. For he would be explaining its way in vain if he gave no forewarning of the things which would harm us along the way. And these evils are two: too much and too little, which are commonly called excess and defect. These two are like snakes lurking in the grass; Siren-like, they lie in wait for us along the way; they are always assaulting virtue’s citadel, and often they take it by storm. Therefore we must be greatly on our guard against them. For even if they have Venus’ face and brow, nevertheless they have the tail and the sting of a scorpion. Rightly, therefore, he said “you will travel most safely in the middle of the road.” For just as lines ought to be referred to the center, so our actions ought to be referred to the Mean, from which if you deviate by even so much as a fingernail’s breath (as they say), you will of necessity come into danger from those evils. For Too Much attacks you on this side, and Too Little on that, so there will be no deviation on our path without great danger that confusion will ensue.
2. I shall deal plainly. The two things of which I am treating are vices, of which the one (which exists in excess) is called Too Much, and the other (which exists in defect) Too Little. At their attack all the sinews of all the virtues are undone and all splendor removed. But hear the Philosopher himself, who says “In the way that both over-intense and slack exercise weakens strength, and as eating and drinking indulged in over or under the mean weakens bodily health, so those vices of the mind located in excess and defect threaten the virtues with death and destruction.” The examples of fear and rashness, which destroy bravery, are offered, and of luxury and stupor, which destroy temperance. If you ask the reason why this should be so, I respond that, just as nature’s beauty collapses if a monstrosity is produced by nature’s mistake, so virtue’s beauty and excellence is destroyed if vice is committed by Man’s mistake. For just as a physical monstrosity is sometimes created by an excess (as in a hunchback), and sometimes by a defect (as in a one-eyed man), so a monstrosity of the mind (which is vice) is created by an excess or defect. Therefore we must cleave to the straight line, i. e., to the Golden Rule of virtue, and if you swerve aside in this direction or that you will seem not to regulate your life aright. On the one side smoke suffocates everything, on the other flames consume all. So you want to live aright? It is a virtue to have abstained from the pleasing goods. Do you want to abstain from them forever, as you should? Let reason be the moderator of your mind, and virtue of your morals.
Excess and defect are twofold:
3. OBJECTION Sometimes a passion strengthens virtue, as a feeling of pity strengthens gentleness, and as anger does bravery. Therefore the passions are not to be considered in this question.
The passions are twofold:
as hatred and rage), and such ones corrupt.
ANOTHER DISTINCTION OF EXCESS AND DEFECT
Excess and defect corrupt virtue because of:
the Mean, for they compel Man to abandon the Mean.
4. OBJECTION If every deviation from the Mean should be a corruption of virtue, then those who deviate a little from the Mean are justly criticized. But he who deviates a little from the Mean is not justly criticized. Therefore every deviation from the Mean is not a corruption of virtue. The major premise is the Philosopher’s in this chapter, where he proves that every deviation from the Mean is vicious. The minor is also Aristotle’s in the ninth chapter of this Book, in which his words are “he who departs a little from decorum is not vicious.”
RESPONSE Deviation from the Mean occurs in many ways, either because of infirmity, or because of passion, or because of ignorance, or because of malice. The infirm sin by a fault of nature, those perturbed by passion because of an impulse, the ignorant because of an error of the mind, and the malicious are bewitched by some rage. The former become better by means of forgiveness, the latter by means of punishment. The Philosopher therefore teaches that every deviation from the Mean is not blameworthy, not because everyone is not vicious, but since it is not evident if it be small, or because hope remains if it be not malicious.
OBJECTION Those who act unjustly are not unjust men, therefore excess and defect do not corrupt virtue. The antecedent is Aristotle’s in the fourth chapter of this Book. This is also proved by a passage in Book V, chapter vi, which is often urged against Aristotle with great asperity. These are the words of that passage, “A man who is led to seduce a woman, knowingly seducing her but induced by perturbation of his mind rather than by reason and judgment, indeed commits an injury, but nevertheless is not yet an unjust man; neither is a thief who has committed a theft, nor an adulterer who has committed adultery.”
5. RESPONSE At first sight these passages hardly seems worthy of the Philosopher. For in them the Philosopher appears to defend the premise that injustice, theft and adultery are not condign crimes. Hence some men (insufficiently observant of the Philosopher’s attention) bawl out after their fashion, “Oh the terrible times in which Aristotle, a monster of a man, was deemed to be Apollo’s oracle! For he is the one who in despite of God’s power taught of primal matter, who in despite of the foundation of the Faith taught the eternity of the universe, who in despite of the welfare of our minds taught that adultery, theft and injustice are not crimes.” You grow too warm over such a chill subject, whoever you are, and indeed you are thoroughly wrong. He does not dispute against this power, this Faith, this welfare: not against this power, for in actuality he concedes it infinitely to God; not against the Faith, for he did not know the Faith, and hence he did not scorn it with a stubborn and resisting mind after having come to know it; and, finally, not against the welfare of our minds, for he does not affirm that which you find objectionable, since, even if he says that adultery, theft, and other things of the kind are not great vices from the standpoint of passion (for the passions do not determine either good men or bad), yet he shows that these are detestable crimes from the standpoint of habit and habituation: I say detestable, since he wished those sinning in these things to be visited with a fourfold punishment, one because of their thick ignorance, a second because of the bestiality of their passions, a third because of the crime committed, and a fourth because of the injury visited upon a fellow citizen. Therefore it is so far from being the case that he says these are not felonies that he holds them to be the most felonious of all.
Is virtue concerned with pleasure and pain?
Is it more difficult to resist pleasure than anger?
OW that virtue’s subject, first principle and means have been understood, the order now demands that a few words be added about its common object. The subject is the will, in which it is contained; the first principle is activity, whereby it is acquired; the means is reason, whereby it is preserved; and its common object is passion, in the moderation whereof the entire power of virtue is expended. I say passion, for although there by proper and external objects of every virtue, such as money with respect to liberality and death with respect to bravery, there are nevertheless common and internal objects of passion itself, which the Philosopher here undoubtedly understands to be pleasure and pain.
2. The question therefore is whether virtue is concerned with pleasure and pain. If you wish this to be interpreted in a word, it is whether virtue is concerned with all the passions. For by pleasure he means everything sweet and delightful, by pain everything sad and unpleasant, as he clearly implies when he teaches that each one is an passion upon which either pleasure or pain attends. So Aristotle teaches that virtue is at least for the most part concerned with these things, since nothing invades Man’s mind more bitterly than does pain, nothing more perilously than pleasure. For just as internal enemies, issuing forth, as it were, from a Trojan horse, work more harm on the commonwealth than do external ones, so pleasure and pain, insidiously dwelling within the mind’s nooks and crannies, always create a greater danger for Man, and threaten a greater shipwreck of virtue. Pain creeps in gradually, but it kills; pleasure glides in furtively, but it destroys all love of virtue. Wisely wrote Horace, “You want to live aright? Who doesn’t? If virtue alone can give this, do this, all delights abandoned.” For we are swept along to base things when seduced by the pleasures’ blandishments, to crime when set ablaze by the torches of the pains. So, just as those who defend the commonwealth do not only fortify and lock up the gates lest external enemies break in, but also take diligent care lest internal traitors work harm, so those who are gripped by the pursuit of virtue should not only prudently fortify their eyes, ears and other senses (which are, as it were, the gateways to the mind), but also keep careful and prudent watch over the mind’s secret recesses. For there are delights that corrupt virtue from without, and deceits which stab it from within.
3. Do you want me to deal more plainly? This, then, is what I want, that virtue be concerned, not only with moderating the external senses, but also the passions internal to them, lest evils enter in, as if through these gates, lest fires be lit within them as if by torches. For as fire follows upon smoke, so vice follows upon pleasure. I do this more painstakingly, I urge this more vehemently, so that young men reading these precepts may sooner shun the bait and the poison, and contemplate virtue alone, the best governor of all the passions. The arguments concerning this matter in the Philosopher are drawn from a sign, an example, a testimony, an effect, and a difficulty. From a sign, since they are recognized by means of pleasure and pain, i. e. by the passions, such as are all habits. From the example of the temperate man who employs pleasure moderately, and the incontinent man who does so immoderately and vehemently. From the testimony of Plato, who urges that we rejoice in the things in which we should rejoice, that we feel pain in those things which befit us so to feel. From an effect, since vicious habits arise from vicious passions. From a difficulty, since virtue is always concerned with the most difficult things. To moderate the passions is most difficult. Therefore it is concerned with the passions. He acutely and wisely proves this last point by a comparison of pleasure and anger. For these passions are quite hostile to reason and perilous, but both you compare them with each other, in anger there is a torch of the mind, but in pleasure its hemlock. For anger klindles bile, but pleasure kills the mind. Wherefore it is far more difficult to resist pleasure than anger. For anger is open but pleasure insidious, pain forces us to grow wrathful, but our nature urges us to grow old amidst delights. Anger does not endure, for it is troubling, but pleasure strikes its roots deep, since it is innate. I therefore conclude that he his magnanimous who can extinguish anger’s torches, but he is blessed who can quench the flames of pleasure.
The object of virtue is twofold:
internal, such as pleasure and pain, under which all the keener
passions are subsumed.
Virtue is concerned with the passions either:
them, so they work to our advantage.
THE DISTINCTION OF THE SECOND QUESTION
It is more difficult to resist pleasure than anger, since pleasure is:
brought up along with us; it is not likewise with anger.
4. OBJECTION Pleasures and pains are not objects of virtue, therefore virtue is not concerned with them, as it is with its objects. The antecedent is clear, since efficient causes and effects do not coincide. But the true objects of virtue are efficient causes of pleasure and pain. Therefore they are not objects. The assumption is proven, since in the presence of money the liberal man rejoices, and when it is deficient he is downcast.
RESPONSE It must be said that they are not objects in the same respect and manner. For passions are called internal, food and drink external, and although passions often arise from the occasion of external things which strike the external senses, yet it does not follow that they are objects, since their causes and effects are frequently presented to same thing in diverse respects, just as animal and Man are presented to their subject.
OBJECTION Pleasure and pain are objects of temperance (Ethics III.x), therefore they are not objects of virtue generally.
Pain and pleasure are understood in two ways:
the passions alone, and thus they are objects of temperance.
5. OBJECTION If the moral virtues are concerned with perturbations, then they are located in the whole comprising both mind and body. This is absurd, and so is that. The major premise is Aristotle’s in Book X, chapter viii. The minor is obvious since virtue exists in the mind alone.
RESPONSE There he says that the moral virtues exist in the composite whole, not because they are inherent within it, but since passions of the body both direct and control the mind’s reason.
OBJECTION Pleasure is neither a passion nor a vice, therefore virtue is not concerned with it, as it is with passion. The antecedent is proven from Book VII of the Physics and Ethics VII.xi, where pleasure is defined as a movement.
RESPONSE Pleasure is defined there a movement since it is a cause of movement: for even the passion is designated by the name of its cause. Or the answer is to be given that pleasure is a certain motion of the appetite by which it is disseminated, and this is nothing else than a passion.
OBJECTION Virtue is concerned with the most difficult things, as is proven in this chapter. Pleasure and pain are not most difficult things. Therefore it is not concerned with pleasure and pain. The minor is proven in Book III, chapter ix of the Ethics, where the Philosopher teaches that it is more difficult to tolerate things that are troubling and full of perils than to abstain from things which purvey pleasure.
RESPONSE In that passage fortitude is called a bitter thing, not because its activity is unpleasant, but because death (which is its object) is very troubling with respect to nature. Hence comes my response, namely that in that passage “more bitter” is meant by “more difficult”: for death is more bitter with respect nature, which shudders at death, and to tolerate things that are troubling and filled with perils than to abstain from purvey pleasure. Yet it is more difficult to resist seductive pleasure than oncoming peril.
OBJECTION It is more difficult to rule those passions which have no mean than those that do. Malevolence, impudence, adultery, theft and murder have no mean, as the Philosopher attests in Book II, chapter vi, but pleasure does. Therefore if virtue is concerned with more difficult things, it is concerned with those things rather than with pleasure. It is agreed that pleasure has a mean, since it is permissible to use it moderately, as Aristotle proves, but no man may employ those other things with moderation.
RESPONSE Concerning these, two things need to be considered, Man’s action and pleasure’s motion: in action there is always monstrous crime, but in motion there is not, if it does not break forth into mental assent and action. Hence, although in regard to activity and assent they do not have a mean, yet they do in motion and impulse. Yet on the basis of these considerations it is not rightly concluded that it is less difficult to resist pleasure than to resist these, since the difficulty of resisting them arises from pleasure itself. Furthermore, it is not said to be the most difficult of all things to resist pleasure because it has a mean, but because in the bowels of nature it has always spread and nourished its most sweet poison.
OBJECTION In anger, the use of reason is removed, but it is not removed in pleasure. Therefore it is more difficult to resist anger than pleasure. The major premise is proven in Book III of the Ethics, the minor in Book VII, where it is taught that the incontinent man often sees the better.
RESPONSE The employment of reason is present in neither. For, although the incontinent man sees the better from the viewpoint of his intellect, from that of his appetite he does not see it all. Yet Aristotle admits it is present if you consider Man’s nature, but denies it if you consider the power and activity of reason. Therefore, since pleasure blunts this power and activity both longer and more dangerously than does anger, he thought it more arduous to resist pleasure than to quench and moderate anger.
Is the man who acts justly always just?
Is pleasure, knowledge and constancy required for every activity of virtue?
OW that these perils and snares, namely the vices and passions, have been cleared from our path, the order of our progress along this road is now prescribed for us, and this order consists of two things, in the main, namely the knowledge of earnest activity and the observation of three circumstances which render this activity praiseworthy. This activity under discussion here is like a laborious sea-journey on this ocean, heading towards the harbor of virtue. The three circumstances are the knowledge of the prudent man, who, grasping the tiller, determines the route, and the will and constancy of him who performs the activity, who gains the harbor by obeying the behest of prudence. Therefore it is first required that you do not only commit a just act, but that you do so justly, which you will then be doing if (as is required in Book II) you act freely, knowingly and constantly. Just as in the preceding chapter by “pleasure” and “pain” the Philosopher meant all passion, so by “just” and “justly” he here means every virtue. For just as he implied all passions by the names of those passions, since they are the primary ones, so here by the word “justice” all the other virtues are understood, since she is their sovereign queen. Therefore it is not always the temperate man who does temperate things, nor the brave man who does brave things, nor the just man who does just things, but he is certainly temperate who acts chastely, he is brave who acts spiritedly, he who is just who acts justly and earnestly. For the situation regarding the virtues is the same as in the arts: itis possible for somebody to produce something contained in the art of grammar, but by accident and at the prompting of somebody else. For when other men supply the coaching, Latin and Greek words are sometimes uttered by a dunce or and a parrot, but they do not speak Latin and Greek. So it is very likely that Nero, that most unjust of all men, committed some just act, either at the behest of a friend, or the pressure of an enemy, or a passion of the mind, or zeal for gaining a name. Yet for this reason he should not be deemed to have been just, because he did not do this thing justly, i. e. with an earnest intention, since it is not only the deed but also the intention, not only the appearance but also the thing itself, not only the outward action but also the internal habit of activity, not only the work which is done but the manner in which it ought to be done and its end that need to be considered.
2. Therefore those who abstain from banquets and delights are not immediately to be called temperate, those who break into enemy cities not immediately brave, those who bestow much not immediately generous. As in men’s words, so in their deeds there is often great fraud and dissimulation. The Philosopher is therefore right to require these three things for every activity and work of virtue, namely will, so that you may act voluntarily, knowledge, so that you may act circumspectly, and constancy, so that you may act with perseverance and earnestness. For from will we acquire the first initiative, from knowledge the manner of action, from our constancy the fruit of acting and living well. So we strive to act well willingly, act rightly knowingly, and act fruitfully with persistence, there is no doubt but that our ship will eventually be carried to the harbor of hoped-for happiness. But, says Aristotle, although the majority of men do not do this, they nonetheless hope that they will be upright and philosophical gentleman. But these fellows’ hope and thought are false and vain. For just as those men are not healed who cheerfully listen and pay close attention to physicians, if they fail to follow their prescriptions, so these men will not become earnest and blessed, no matter how much they understand, if they do not follow their precepts in deed, life, and work.
The just man is understood either:
Three things are required for any activity of virtue:
begins the activity
3. OBJECTION “Justice,” “just” and “justly” are cognate words, therefore he who does something just will be just. The argument holds from a passage in Book II of the Topics, where it is taught that when one cognate word applies to something, so does another.
RESPONSE “Justice,” “just” and “justly” are cognate words if they are understood formality with regard to the habit of virtue, but not if they are understood naturally with respect to the subject, material, or deed of equity. For something is just regarding the material without being so, as they say, with regard to the person. For the deed is just if a tyrant repays a deposit, but the tyrant is not just because of this, since he did not act willingly, knowingly, and constantly.
OBJECTION By doing just things we become just, by doing modest things we become modest, and by doing brave things we become brave (Ethics II.i). Therefore a man who does a just deed can be just.
RESPONSE I do not deny that those doing just things are just, if they do so willingly, knowingly, and constantly. But this is what the Philosopher is urging in this passage: somebody can do an act of justice under compulsion or for the sake of some advantage, being unjust himself in the meantime. For deeds done rightly are defined by the will, as Aristotle has it at Ethics V.viii, not by a passion, impulse, or pretense of virtue.
OBJECTION This is strange and absurd, to refuse to say a man becomes unjust when he commits an act of injustice (III.viii). Therefore, to argue the contrary, it is absurd to deny that a man who does a just act can be just.
RESPONSE I am not denying that men who do just acts are just, if they do so willingly, knowingly, and constantly. For, just as it is absurd for the man who commits a just deed willingly and knowingly not to be rendered just, so it is alien to reason if he is not just who commits a just deed willingly and knowingly. But since in this context there is no like proportion between the two things concerning either things or places, your argument does not hang together.
4. OBJECTION If will is required for every activity of virtue, then will becomes separated from virtue. But will is not separated. Therefore it is not required for every activity of virtue. The major premise is agreed, for just as, by the testimony of Aristotle in Book III of De Anima, the intellect does not perceive without imagine, so the will does not act without an object. The minor premise is proven since will is not moveable, but is a moving and free potential of the soul (Ethics III.iv and De Anima III).
Will is considered in two ways:
its essence, and thus it is not moved but is self-moving, just as by
its own illumination the intellect understands itself.
OBJECTION In the text the Philosopher says that knowledge has little or no power with regard to virtue, therefore knowledge is not necessarily required.
Science is twofold:
contemplation, and this is not required, for not only the learned are
5. OBJECTION The knowledge of circumstances is prudence, as is clear from virtue’s definition, which is wrong in this particular (inasmuch as it prescribed a prudent man). Not every morally earnest man is prudent. Therefore the knowledge of circumstances is not required. The minor premise is obvious, since unschooled and unlettered men are often endowed with virtue, though they are unable to be prudent.
Prudence is twofold:
general, which is the knowledge of living well and according
in accordance with all the circumstances of the virtues, and this is
not required in all men.
Are there only three first principles of human activity in the mind, namely potential, passion and habit?
Is habit a kind of virtue?
7’s acquisition is now followed by its understanding, which is far easier than, and inferior to, activity itself. For I have often said that the end of ethical virtue consists in activity rather than understanding. Nonetheless, since we are dealing with this topic idly if it is not understood, we must strive to throw light on virtue with some definition. For otherwise, just as a deception of reason is easily imposed on those who do not understand the meaning of things, so could a shadow be cast over virtue’s meaning for us, should we fail to understand its essence. But so this may be done more accurately, he first discusses this definition’s genus, and then its form. He concludes that its genius is habit. For since there are only three first principles and seeds of human activity in the mind, sc. potential, passion, and habit, he shows that of these three virtue’s genus is exclusively habit. For in potential exists only nature’s aptitude, in passion there is only disposition, but their is quietude and perfection in habit. For potential moves us, passion disposes us, but the habit of virtue perfects us. Furthermore, potential and passion attend on that produced by nature, but virtue (as proven above) is acquired by industry. therefore it cannot be called a potential or a passion. Then too, neither by potential or by passion do we become good or bad men, but virtue gives us the name of being good and earnest. It therefore remains for virtue to be defined aright by means of habit. For habit is a certain quality acquired by many activities. Finally, this selfsame thing is proven by an enumeration of the passions, among which there is none that is spoken of as being a genus concerning virtue.
2. At this point, the occasion is opportunely offered for me to define in a few words the number and nature of the passions. So of the passions some are primary, such as pleasure (to which is opposed pain), and hope (to which are opposed fear and despair). There are others, too, less primary, which are either more mild (such as love, indignation, anger, pity, and shame) or more sharp (such as hatred, rage, wrath, and envy, to which is subordinated malice). Pleasure is a delightful movement and, as it were, a diffusion of the appetite because of a present, past, or hoped-for good, by which the mind is then infused and soothed. Pain is a sad movement and, as it were, a contraction of the mind because of a past, present or future evil. Hope, also called by the name of desire, is a passion whereby the appetite is moved to the vehement seeking of a good, and to awaiting it over an extended length of time. Fear is a movement of the mind whereby Man is troubled about a future evil. Despair is a horrible and fearful consternation of an abject mind. Love is a movement of the mind flowing and tending towards an imagined good. Anger is an appetite for revenge. Indignation is a detestation of crime. Pity is compassion regarding an evil. Shame is a fear of turpitude. Envy is a disease of the mind, indignantly reacting to another man’s good. Hated is inveterate envy. Fury is the tinder of wrath. Wrath is a blaze of fury, and so forth.
3. Here I omit a lengthier treatment of those passions, since my plan is to define them again with greater precision in my commentaries on the sections. For it is the task of the orator giving a peroration to excite the passions, but that of the philosopher to exert all his powers on their moderation. It therefore pertains to both to understand them. But for the present business and scheme it suffices to have shown that virtue is not defined by their means. I therefore join Aristotle in concluding that, if neither perturbations nor faculties are virtues, of these three only habit remains, which occupies the place of the genus in in this definition of virtue. But since habit is either infused or acquired, and this again either by understanding in the mind or by choice in the will, virtue’s genus is constituted as neither of those, but of this alone. For moral virtue is neither infused, nor is it located in the intellect.
In the activity of virtue, three things are considered:
origination, and thus it is called a potential.
The reasons by which it is proven virtue is not a passion are four:
adjuncts, since we are not said to be good or bad on the basis of
The reasonings by which virtue is proven not be a potential are two:
1. From its
efficient cause, since virtue arises from industry, but potential from
All passions are located in appetite, which is either:
4. OBJECTION Appearances and intentions are first principles of activity in the mind, therefore these are not the only three. The antecedent is proven, since Man is very often moved to action by the appearance of a thing presented to him, and from an intention of an end. Hence an end (such as blessedness) is called by Aristotle a first principle of activity.
All passions are placed in the appetite:
OBJECTION In Book II, chapter vi of the Ethics sensation, appetite and intellect are called three first principles of activity. There are therefore more.
RESPONSE In that passage sensation, appetite and intellect are established as first principles of activity in a different sense than are potential, habit and passion here. For there the discussion is about the institution of the mind regarding the usage of life, here it is about activity regarding the fruit of virtue. Just as there the discussion is about three first principles that have respect to the true, here the discussion is about three that have respect to the good. The three there are sensation (whence are said to arise mechanics and operation), appetite (whence politicians and activity), and intellect (whence theoretics and contemplation). But here are potential, which begins, passion, which whets, and habit, which perfects the mind in acting earnestly.
OBJECTION It is a virtue to be moderately angry (II.v). Moderate anger is a passion. Therefore virtue is a passion. The minor premise is proven by the following syllogism: by becoming moderately angry we are altered. We are altered in accordance with no habit (Physics II.viii). Therefore moderate anger or becoming moderately angry is not a habit.
RESPONSE At that place the Philosopher does not call becoming moderately angry a simple virtue, but he shows that moderately angry men are well disposed, which I do not deny. For passions moderated by virtue are often praiseworthy, such as a sense of shame in a young man and mercifulness in a judge.
5. OBJECTION A mean belongs to the same genus as does its extremes. Moral virtue is a mean between the passions. Therefore moral virtue is a passion. The major premise is the Philosopher’s. The minor is proven, since fortitude is a mean between fear and audacity, temperance between lust and a stupor of nature.
RESPONSE Virtue, according to its essence, is not a mean between passions, but it is such according to its effect, since in passions it prescribes and puts into effect the mean of reason.
OBJECTION Some virtue is acquired by a single action, therefore it is not a habit. The antecedent is proven, since the knowledge of something which is virtue is acquired by one demonstration.
RESPONSE Although sometimes the knowledge of one thing is perceived by a single demonstration, yet this is not properly called a virtue of the mind unless it is acquired by many demonstrations. For just as habit consists of many dispositions, so (as Aristotle says) knowledge consists of many demonstrations.
Is virtue a geometrical mean rather than an arithmetical one?
And is it rightly defined?
UST as a thing is then said to be brought to perfection when it is constituted out of matter and form, so the definition of something is completed when it is composed of genus and differentiation. For genus imitates matter, wherein there is confusion, and differentiation imitates form, in which there is distinction. Therefore, virtue’s genus having been discovered, its differentiation or form will require investigation, and in the view of some interpreters the discussion of this is full of thorns. For some hold it is exists in praiseworthy activity, but others in the mind’s delight. But, doing away with all this controversy over goat’s wool, it must be maintained that virtue consists in the Mean, I say in the mean of reason, which it directs, in the mean of passion, which it suppresses, in the mean of viciousness, which it removes and extinguishes. For it is the norm of reason, the bridle of passion, the rout of the vices. Hence the proper function and office of virtue is to perfect the man in whom it exists. For just as the virtue of the eye makes the a thoroughbred fit and suitable for running its race, for bearing its rider, for standing to meet its enemy, so indeed the virtue of the mind makes a man docile for living well and blessedly, and also eager and ready to attempt every excellent deed. For by habituation the activity and movement of virtue is rendered not only easy, but inexpressibly and unimaginably delightful.
2. But at this point it needs to be understood that virtue does not exist in the Mean, but that it itself is defined as a mean by Aristotle. It exists in the Mean with respect to its objects, but it is a mean with respect to its extremes. Hence the poet wrote “Virtue is a mean between two vices.” But since the Mean is twofold, either that of a thing, which is called arithmetical, or with respect to ourselves, which is called geometrical, the question is whether moral virtue should be designated the one or the other. By Aristotle’s testimony, it is defined as the mean of a thing, because it is equally removed from either extremity, and being one and the same in all things it works like six among twelve, which creates a numerical equality. But there is a Mean with respect to ourselves, which neither oversteps due limit in excess, nor falls short of it in defect, nor again is it one in the same in all men, and moral virtue is comprehended under this Mean, for this one consists in the proportion of something mutable and in the moderation of reason. For example, for one man it is too much to eat ten pounds of food, but too little to eat two. So what do you prescribe him to take? A given quantity is too little for Milo, too much for Tiro. So what will you do now? If you are going to act aright surely you should weigh the circumstances, so that in prescribing middling diet you will not overthrow nature’s habituation. So just as wise nature gives some men more phlegm, some more blood, some more black bile, and some more bile, although in all men the Mean observes justice and equity, so in all matters the prudent, just, brave student of virtue considers and weighs the Mean, not in weight with an eye to the equality of a things, but in justice with an eye to the dignity of reason.
3. But so you will not misunderstand the Philosopher when he does a good job of explaining the Mean there, you must beware against imagining that virtue is mutable in its essence. For although it is a mean, as they say, which can be changed, it can be changed in its means and existence, but not in its habit and essence. For its habit remains the same and inalterable, but the means of its acquisition and action in accordance with its habit is often altered. For example, one man is just who inflicts a penalty, another is just who bestows a dignity: the habit of action in both is the same, but the means of acting is not. He is magnificent who offers purple or a diadem to a king, but he is also magnificent who provides nourishment for the poor during a time of great dearth. Thus it is now agreed that virtue is a mean, and that both of the thing and of reason: the thing if you consider habit, but of reason and with respect to ourselves, if you consider its method. The arguments in the text whereby the Philosopher affirms that virtue is a mean are four: 1. it is taken from a comparison of virtue in the eye and in the horse; 2. from a proportion of a thing and of reason; 3. from the example of all those arts which keep their eye fixed upon a mean, as if upon a goal; 4. from the testimony of the Pythagoreans, who held that evil is infinite, but posited a single good, like a center: just as from this it is easy to stray, since sin is committed in many ways, so it is difficult to attain it, since virtue is, as it were, reduced to a point. Therefore, just as it is the learned man’s duty to discover the center, so it is that of the wise man to cling to the Mean.
4. It now remains for virtue to be defined. Virtue7, then, is a good habit, acquired by the mind’s judgment and choice, consisting of mediocrity, thus upright in accordance with reason as the prudent man shall prescribe. To interpret this definition thus, it is a habit not infused but acquired, not bad but good, not of the body but of the mind, not taken up with rashness but with judgment and counsel, located not in excess or defect but in the mean of both the vices and the passions, right in accordance of reason rather than perturbation, not so any man might prescribe means of activity and circumstances for himself, but so the prudent man might prescribe them for everybody.
A mean is either:
In defining virtue, these things are to be taken into particular account:
5. OBJECTION In the text virtue is called that which seeks after the Mean, therefore it is not itself the Mean. The argument holds, since (as Boethius says) the relation of that which seeks after the Mean to the Mean itself is the same as that of the instrument to the work. But the instrument is not the work. Therefore if virtue is that which seeks after the Mean, it will not itself be the Mean.
RESPONSE Just as a sword can be a soldier’s instrument and a workman’s work, so virtue can be the Mean and that which seeks after the Mean. For it is the Mean insofar as it is opposed to extremes, but insofar as it has regard for effects, actions and objects, thus it is that which seeks after the Mean. For example, passion bids us grow angry and reason, perhaps, refuses; virtue intercedes and teaches us to cling to moderation and the Mean. So insofar as it instructs us it is thus that which seeks after the Mean, but insofar as it perfects us, it should be considered the Mean itself.
OBJECTION In the text virtue is called an extremity, therefore it is not the Mean.
Extremity exists either in:
of reason, and thus virtue is called an extreme.
OBJECTION The mean of a thing and the mean of reason differ in definition. Therefore if virtue is the mean of reason, in no wise is it the medium of a thing.
RESPONSE It is denied that it is the mean of a thing and of reason in the same respect. For in its essence it said to be the medium of a thing, but in its means, action and existence the mean of reason.
6. OBJECTION One of two extremes comes closer to virtue in its essence than does the other, as the Philosopher teaches. Therefore if you consider essence, virtue is not the mean of a thing.
RESPONSE There is no participation of the vices with virtue in essence, but in existence there is nonetheless a certain similarity. For example, in essence the squandering of money is no more to be called liberality than is parsimony, but if you consider existence and action, the prodigal is more like the liberal man, since nobody gives more freely.
OBJECTION Virtue is not an elective habit, therefore it is ill defined. The antecedent is proven in this way: if it were elective, then it would be suitable for boys and slaves, for they are possessed of choice. But, as the Philosopher teaches, it is not suitable for them. Therefore it is not an elective habit.
Election is twofold:
imperfect, which exists in boys and slaves.
OBJECTION The definition of potential suits virtue, therefore virtue and potential are not disparate. The antecedent is proven, since potential is defined as the first principle of activity within a man, and such is virtue: for example, fortitude is the first principle of undertaking fearful things.
A first principle of activity is twofold, either:
7. OBJECTION Intellectual virtue does not exist in the Mean, therefore neither does moral virtue. The argument follows, since there is no reason why it should consist of the one more than the other, since the one is the mean of reason and the other of the will. The antecedent is proven, since intellectual virtue is concerned with the true, but “true” and “false” are said about contradictories between which there is no mean. Therefore intellectual virtue does not exist in the Mean.
RESPONSE Even if there is no mean between true and false, nevertheless between to falsehoods the truth itself serves as a mean. For example, if someone says that three hours of sleep is sufficient for a student son of the Muses, this is false in defect; but if he maintains nine hours are required, this is false in excess. Now the truth itself is the mean which will be prescribed by a prudent man.
Is moral virtue correctly divided? Do all the virtues and some of the passions consist in the Mean?
Do the individual virtues differ in species?
division follows upon the definition of virtue, so that everything set forth in generic terms may be understood specifically. For things are rightly handled when they are not only set before the mind with a definition, but also (as it were) before the senses by induction, since reasonings are compelling for the learned, but inductions and example move the uninstructed. Therefore it will not be enough (as they say) to have lightly pointed at the sources, unless the streams flowing therefrom, i. e., the individual virtues, are imbibed in their due order to the use and profit of those who taste them. Wherefore, just as Aristotle has discussed the virtues generically, now he graphically depicts each one individually as consisting in a mean between extremes and, as it were, within the circle of reason. Here is to be observed that in this context I am not criticizing that division of Seneca and Cicero, who divided virtue into four primary ones. For it is right praiseworthy, since all the virtues are conjoined in fortitude (like a pillar for the commonwealth), temperance (like a bridle on morals), prudence (like the rule of reason), and justice (like a scales of equity). Therefore Burley, Buridan and other old interpreters grow tedious when they strive to teach that their division is incomplete, mutilated, and not wholly consonant with Aristotle’s doctrines. Aristotle professes that these virtues are everywhere heroic. Why so, pray, unless the other virtues are referred to them as to the cardinal virtues, mutually interlinked, as it were, by bonds of association?
2. Yet in this context there exists another comparison of the virtues, and so another distinction is required. For here Aristotle desires to set forth their number rather than their nature, induction rather than demonstration, examples concerning them all rather than precepts concerning them individually. Here it should not strike anyone as excessive that among the virtues Aristotle enumerates certain passions. For some of those are riotous, such as hatred and fury, but others are gentle and moderated, such as fatherly love and a sense of shame. The former go far astray from reason and the Mean, but the latter take on a certain appearance of virtue. Here it would be a lengthy business to review with greater verbosity the habits, powers, means and extremes of them all. As they say, I should be adding light to the sun if I attempted to delineate them more lucidly than they are by Aristotle himself. But, lest I give the appearance of passing over many things in a cursory and perfunctory manner, you may consider you have the number of these virtues represented summarily. Every virtue, then, has respect to the government of either the body or the mind: the body concerning either its powers or its senses. The powers of the body are exercised either in moderate dangers (whence arises fortitude), or in ones filled with great dangers and distress (whence arises greatness of mind). Virtue is likewise concerned with the senses of the body, either in them all (such as continence), or only in two, namely taste and touch (whence is derived temperance). Furthermore, virtue has respect for the mind both for the moderation of appetite and for the guidance of reason. Moderation of appetite is discerned in connection with money, honors, and the mind’s passions: liberality and magnificence temper appetite regarding money, modesty regarding honors, mild manners regarding the passions. Then too, the guidance of reason exists either in speech (whence is established affability), or in deeds (whence gaiety), or in the conduct of affairs (whence equity), or in words and deeds (whence truth, that straightforward “daughter of time.”)
3. With these now enumerated in their due order, it is opportunely and fruitfully asked if the individual virtues differ in nature and species. I for my part do not believe they do. For, just as some of them are disparate and disjunct from each other by force of their nature, some of them are very akin and related in the communality of their essence: otherwise I quite fail to see the point of some of the views in this chapter in Aristotle. In this passage he speaks thus: “there are also some virtues very close to each other, which still differ in some respect.” And in another thus: “The same relation that I have shown liberality has to magnanimity, differing in that it deals with small amounts, is discerned in the relation of magnanimity (which is concerned with great honors) and modesty (which is concerned with small honor). And again, the only difference between the magnificent man and the liberal man is discerned that the former deals with large amounts, the latter with small.” Thus far Aristotle, from whose words I conclude that there certain virtues that are entirely akin, such as liberality and magnificence, which do not differ in fact, but only in proportion of largeness and smallness. For how can they differ, when they have the same subject (namely, the will), the same object (namely, money), and the same extremes (namely, prodigality and avarice)? I think much the same about modesty, if compared with magnanimity concerning honor; about temperance, if compared with continence concerning pleasure; about mildness of manner, if compared with gaiety concerning mental disposition. So in just the same way that one and the same man can at one time exist in high dignity as a magistracy, and at another as a private citizen in mediocrity, so one and the same virtue sometimes shines forth more greatly as magnificence, and sometimes less so as liberality, which nevertheless has decorum and praise in its station.
4. OBJECTION Other virtues are heroic and cardinal in addition to the four which are enumerated, therefore virtue is wrongly divided into those four. The antecedent is clear, since magnificence, magnanimity and continence are called heroic by Aristotle in the text.
RESPONSE Even if others are called heroic and cardinal by the Philosopher, they are nevertheless reduced to these four, such as magnanimity to fortitude, and continence to temperance.
OBJECTION It is absurd to reduce greater goods to lesser ones, therefore it is a bad answer to say that magnanimity can be reduced to fortitude, and continence to temperance.
RESPONSE In the primary division of virtue, fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence are in a certain manner taken broadly as the causes of the other, and thus they possess other virtues conjoined to them, but which are handled more strictly by the Philosopher in their proper place.
OBJECTION There are other virtues than those enumerated in this passage, therefore this is not a praiseworthy division. The antecedent is proven, since chastity of life, humility, patience, equity, and honest perseverance in honorable activities are virtues.
RESPONSE Chastity is subordinated to temperance, humility to modesty, patience to mildness of manner, perseverance to fortitude, and equity to justice.
5. OBJECTION If passions existed within the Mean of reason, then they would not divert Man from the Mean. But all passions are motions of the mind diverting Man from right reason. Therefore they do not exist within the Mean of reason.
RESPONSE The milder passions, such as pity, a sense of shame &c., fall within wisdom’s purview, and do not divert us from the circle of right reason. Therefore this definition of passion is understood to pertain to the unbridled perturbations which by a kind of assault invade reason’s citadel and take it by storm.
OBJECTION The gentler passions obey the nature of appetite, which in its own right does not partake of reason. Therefore the gentler passions, too, move us from the use of reason. For otherwise they would not exist either in appetite as their subject, nor would they obey its power, motion and nature.
Appetite is considered in two ways, either:
its essence, and thus it does not partake of reason, and as such it is
the subject of the riotous passions.
Are extremes more opposed to extremes than means?
Is one of two extremes more opposed to the mean than to the other extreme?
UFFICIENT has now been disputed about virtue’s division and definition, now I must speak of passion insofar as it is compared to its extremes. It is the lot of virtue to oppose itself to either extreme, but in such a way that is more opposed to this one, and less to that. From this are taken these questions, whether extremes are more opposed to extremes than means, and whether one of two extremes is more opposed to virtue than is the other. By extremes the Philosopher means opposing vices, by means the virtues midway between these vices: from a similarity and an example he proves that means are opposed to extremes. From a similarity, in this way: just as that which is uniform is greater when compared to something smaller, but lesser when compared to something greater, so means, when compared with things which fall short of the mean, appear to surpass them, but seem deficient when compared to things that exceed it. In the text the examples of the brave man, the temperate man, and the liberal man are set forth: for if you compare a brave man with a coward he seems bold, but when compared to a bold man he is deemed a coward. Equal and alike are the comparisons of a temperate man with a lustful man and a dullard, and of a liberal man with a spendthrift and a miser. For it is crystal-clear that a mean is in opposition to its extremes, i. e., virtue with the vices, good with the bad on either side. It follows that I must that demonstrate that there is a greater pugnaciousness and repugnance of the extremes with each other.
2. At this point certain men weaving, as it were, cobwebs held together by scarce any threads of reason, thunder and rail against Aristotle, saying “What does the Philosopher mean when he teaches that there is greater discord among the vices than between the virtues and the vices? Do not things that differ in genus and species differ more than things that agree?” But virtue and vice differ in genus regarding good and evil, but the vices are not thus distinguished, and so this question about a more keen fight between the extremes has no sinew and strength. It is to be appreciated that this contention is twofold, absolute with respect to good and evil (and thus the mean and the extreme stand further apart when compared), and with respect to excess and defect (and thus two extremes contend more against each other). Which is proven in the text, both because the extremes are further removed from each other than from the mean, and because there is a greater kinship and similarity between one of the extremes and the mean than between the two extremes, if they be compared to one another. For prodigality is farther removed from avarice than from liberality. Boldness comes closer to fortitude than does fear, for struck by this, as if by lightning, a man flees all danger and quakes at every sound and shadow.
3. These things having been posited, in the final passage it is taught that both defect and excess in extremes are more opposed to the mean. For fear (which involves a defect) does more to obscure the glory of a brave man, fury (which involves an excess) does more to obscure that of a mild and gentle man. But it must be attentively and diligently observed that this function of disagreement according to greater and less occurs in two ways, namely either in respect to the thing or in respect to ourselves: in respect to the thing in the similarity and, as it were, imitation of virtue, and thus the bold man takes on the appearance of being a brave one, the spendthrift the appearance of being a liberal man; in respect to ourselves in the inclination and propensity of a human mind corrupted by bad habit, which is more or less suffused and moved by this fault or that one. So this vice is more opposed to virtue with respect to ourselves, to which we are more prone either by nature or by habituation.
In the mutual opposition of extremes and means, two things are considered:
opposition, and thus virtue and vice are no less opposed than two
vices: for vices belong to the same genus of evil, but virtue and vice
are categorized under different genera of good and evil.
One of two extremes is closer to the mean than the other, either:
to the thing: thus avarice is more opposed to liberality than
4. OBJECTION In the text virtue is said to be a mean and equal with respect to the extremes: therefore it is no further removed from one than from the other.
RESPONSE Virtue is a mean and equal with respect to ourselves, as was proven above, but not with respect to the thing. The mean of the thing is always equally removed from the extremes, but the mean with respect to ourselves is not such always and in the same way.
OBJECTION Those things are less contrary among which there is an easier transmutation. The transmutation between the vices is easier than among the vices and virtues. Therefore the vices are less contrary among themselves. The minor premise is proven by authority in chapter ix, where Aristotle says it is most difficult to discover the Mean, i. e., virtue. If this be true, a lapse from one vice to another is not as difficult as the progress from vice to virtue.
RESPONSE There it is shown that it is most difficult to be a student of virtue, not because the restoration of one of the extremes to the mean is easier than its change into its opposite, but because the numberless natures of nature, fortune, and the soul impede us as we direct our first footsteps towards the citadel of virtue. For the pleasures innate within us, wealth and prosperity, outward honors, and, in a word, all passions and perturbations lie in wait to keep us from welcoming virtue. It is therefore most difficult to be a student of virtue, yet it does not follow but that there is a greater opposition between extreme and extreme than with the mean, since there can be no progression from the one to the other save by passing through the mean.
5. OBJECTION Inclination and natural propensity more often sway us to audacity and prodigality than to fear and avarice. But audacity is not more opposed to bravery, nor prodigality to liberality. Therefore a greater opposition does not arise from inclination and natural propensity. The minor premise is clear in the text.
RESPONSE This argument excellently interprets Aristotle’s view, namely that we ought to consider the difficulty of restoration, and not opposition regarded absolutely. For if matters as they stand are set forth, avarice undoubtedly is more opposed to liberality, but if you weigh personal inclination and bad habit, not infrequently lavish spending and prodigality are more so. The reason is that it is only with great difficulty that we are diverted from that to which we are naturally prone.
OBJECTION One thing can only be opposed to one thing, as the Philosopher teaches in the Topics. Therefore an extreme cannot be opposed both to another extreme and to the mean.
RESPONSE That axiom is understood to mean that a single thing is opposed to a single thing characterized as an extreme. But a mean, in comparison with an extreme, acquires the character of an extreme.
Is it the most difficult thing to be an earnest student of virtue?
Is every deviation from the mean blameworthy?
HIS excellent and noble Book of the Ethics is ended with useful and wholesome advice, namely that on our voyage towards the harbor virtue we shun the smoke and the flame, Circe and the Siren. For Circe is a hag and a witch who transforms men into swine and monsters, the Siren is insidious and by her sweet singing she allures many a man to his doom. The smoke and the flame represent for us the life the vices of the mind by which we are deceived, Circe and the Siren the passions whereby we are ensorcelled. Hence it is crystal-clear that the most difficult thing of all is to attain to and greet the citadel of virtue. Wherefore, just as the learned man’s sole task is to discover the center in the circle, thus the sole one of the sage is to find the mean in the passions, not to mention to cling to it. What then? Are we to fail because the Medusa’s head is shown us? In no wise: “he has not earned the sweet who has not tasted of the bitter”; hope of the most excellent happiness removes the suffering of the pain and difficulty. For just as women who give birth amidst excruciating pangs love their child all the more, so virtues purchased at the expense of great labors more vehemently captivate and delight earnest students of virtue.
2. But, perhaps you ask, what are those difficulties, so many and so great, what are those many and great deceptions and impediments along virtue’s highway? Pay heed and you will hear in a word. First of all, consider the perversity of nature, which has always been, as it were, stubborn and rebellious in the pursuit and contemplation of virtue. Next, place before your eyes the savage, or rather the insane, floods of the many passions which strive to put out the light in the human hart, and add to this that bane of Paris and the Trojans, Helen herself (I mean pleasure), which, relying on Cupid’s bow, compelled Hercules to abandon war for Omphale, Aristotle to abandon the study of philosophy for Herpilla, Mars to abandon the heavenly abodes for Venus’ embrace. Finally, if you please, consider the sports of Fortune and the errors of the soul: tainted by the former we are weakened, besmirched by the latter we grow wholly insane. For Fortune’s footsteps tend to slip, the felonies of the soul are without number. It therefore follows that virtue, exposed to so many evils and risks, can only be acquired, and, once acquired, be possessed by us with the greatest difficulty.
3. But lest the Philosopher abandon us at the crossroads, hesitant and bewildered, at the end of this final chapter he demonstrates the course by the employment of which we may be freed from the fear and storms of those evils. For just as they do who straighten warped wood, so we, either prone to some vice by nature or corrupted by a bad custom of living, need to bend and recall our minds to straightness, i. e., to the Mean. And, as he teaches, we will more readily do so if we first strive to quench pleasure’s torches, then to shun that vice which is furthest removed from the mean, and lastly diligently to observe and stoutly to resist the impulse of our minds for the commission of this or that misdemeanor.
4. The last thing to be handled in this Book is, as it were, a summation of what has preceded, namely that every departure from the Mean is not blameworthy. He does not say this because a small thing is not vicious, but because in a small departure from decorum we are not so open and obvious to men’s eyes when they observe us from afar. For, for the most part, such men sin and offend out of infirmity, whereas the other kind do so out of malice, and the former should receive pardon because their minds’ honesty leads them to repent the deed, whereas the latter are to have their names marked with charcoal (as they say) because of their contumacy. For in the penitent and the infirm a fault of the mind is a blemish and a mistake, but in the contumacious and malicious it is a felony and a frenzy.
The difficulty of acquiring the virtues can be discerned in:
corruption of nature, which is always more prone to evil.
Every slight departure from the Mean is not always to be blamed:
infirm and are to be recalled to repentance by the hand of mildness
rather than the iron of severity.
5. OBJECTION To be an earnest student of virtue is the most pleasant and delightful thing of all, as the Philosopher bears witness in this Book. Therefore being an earnest student of virtue is not the most difficult thing of all. For the difficult begets unpleasantness, the delightful engenders joy.
RESPONSE It is not said that being a student of virtue is the most difficult thing of all in its possession (as they say), but such is the acquisition of virtue, whose root, as Isocrates says, is bitter, but its fruit most sweet. I furthermore reply that every difficult thing is not unpleasant unless it is considered per se. For the mind inspired by good hope will readily endure every unpleasantness of difficulty.
OBJECTION As the Philosopher says, anything you care to mention is referred to its object with ease. The proper object of will is the truly good, as is proven in chapter iv of this Book. Therefore it is not most difficult to discover the Mean, which is the truly good.
RESPONSE Just as an injured eye does not form a correct judgment about its object, so the mind, oppressed and impeded by the mass of that body, does not readily discern what is true and what is good. Wherefore, albeit the proper object of the will is the perfectly good, as that of the intellect is the perfectly true, nevertheless, as is proven above, both can be so wounded that neither performs its office aright.
OBJECTION The preservation of nature is discerned in virtue, its corruption in vice. Therefore in nature, which hopes for its own preservation rather than its destruction, there is no difficulty in finding the Mean.
RESPONSE It is to be admitted that nature is preserved in the bosom of virtue more than in that of viciousness. And yet, infected by the sweet poison of innate pleasure, it is more prone and rushes more headlong into evil than into good. For, seduced and, as it were, blinded by its enticements, it is more often drawn to a Charybdis of vices than to virtue’s asylum and harbor.
6. OBJECTION Every vice is blameworthy. Every departure from the Mean is a vice. Therefore every departure from the Mean is blameworthy. The major premise is self-evident; the minor is proven, since every departure from the Mean is either an excess or a defect. All excesses and defects are vices. Therefore every departure from the Mean is a vice.
RESPONSE Every departure is assuredly vicious and also blameworthy. But, for abovementioned reasons, if it is lighter and less conspicuous, it does not appear that it should be rebuked.
OBJECTION In same way that in bodily diseases maladies need to be opposed and countered from their very first beginning, this is so most of all in the diseases, i. e. the vices, of the mind. It is impossible to resist a vice more expeditiously than to rebuke the first lapse and departure towards viciousness. Therefore every departure, no matter how slight, is to be rebuked. The major premise is an argument from a less to a greater, and the minor stands to reason, since bad men are corrected more by fear than by suasion. Those who depart from the Mean are bad men (as previously shown). They are therefore better corrected by fear of censure than by the wise man’s suasion.
RESPONSE It must be conceded that minute departures do not corrupt the mind by their multitude any less than do atrocious crimes and felonies by their mass and magnitude. For, just as flies smother an ox, if they be many, and as numerous grains of sand sink a ship, so those trifling deviations from the Mean (no matter how small they may be), if they have accumulated in their number, do not make a man less criminal and felonious than those which are deemed to be more conspicuous. And yet, if those slips from the citadel of virtue do not occur many times, the Philosopher urges us to wink rather than to rail. For it is monstrous to employ red-hot iron when a wound can calmly be salved with oil.
OBJECTION In the final part of this chapter the Philosopher expressly says that we can achieve the Mean most easily. Therefore it is not the most difficult thing to discover the same.
RESPONSE I admit that we can very easily achieve that which is right and perfect, after we have laudably turned our minds from the extremes on either side towards the Mean. For then, enticed by the sweetness of the fruit, we readily overcome every tedium of the highway, since there is toil when first entering on this journey, but love in profess, and honor in its end and its harbor. Toil begets difficulty, about which the Philosopher has already spoken, but love and honor make the road easy, and it is this, in my judgment, of which he speaks.
PRAISE BE TO GOD
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