19 March, 2000

Author: George Irbe

Back to George's Views



TI- Terence Irwin, Hackett Publishing Co. 1985
DR - David Ross, Oxford University Press 1980
JT - J.A.K. Thomson, Penguin Books 1955


Text Remarks
[DR] To enjoy the things we ought and to hate the things we ought has the greatest bearing on virtue of character. For these things extend right through life, with a weight and power of their own in respect both to virtue and to the happy life, since men choose what is pleasant and avoid what is painful. A life-long virtue of character and a happy life is maintained by always choosing the right things and avoiding the bad ones.
[DR] Every good is more worthy of choice along with another good than taken alone. And so it is by an argument of this kind that Plato proves the good not to be pleasure; he argues that the pleasant life is more desirable with wisdom than without, and that if the mixture is better, pleasure is not the good; for the good cannot become more desirable by the addition of anything to it. The Good is not pleasure per se and the pleasant life is better with wisdom.
[JT] Since activities differ in goodness and badness, and some are to be chosen, some to be avoided, and some neutral, their pleasures can be classed similarly, because each activity has a pleasure proper to it. Thus the pleasure proper to a virtuous activity is virtuous, and that which is proper to a bad one is vicious; for desires too are laudable if their objects are noble, but censurable if they are base. Activities and desires are virtuous or bad. The pleasures associated with them are also good or censurable.
[DR, TI] Happiness is not a state; we must rather class happiness as an activity. Some activities are necessary, i.e. choiceworthy for some other end, while others are choiceworthy in themselves. Clearly, then, we should count happiness as one of these activities that are choiceworthy in themselves, not as one of those choiceworthy for some other end. For happiness lacks nothing, but is self-sufficient; and an activity is choiceworthy in itself when nothing further beyond it is sought from it. And of this nature virtuous actions are thought to be; for to do noble and good deeds is a thing desirable for its own sake. Happiness is the act of living a virtuous life.
[DR] Everything that we choose we choose for the sake of something else -- except happiness, which is an end. Only happiness we chose as an end in itself.
[DR] The happy life is thought to be virtuous; now a virtuous life requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement. Living a happy virtuous life takes effort.
[JT] If happiness is an activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable to assume that it is in accordance with the highest virtue, and this will be the virtue of the best part of us. Whether this is the intellect or something else that we regard as naturally ruling and guiding us, and possessing insight into things noble and divine -- either as being actually divine itself or as being more divine than any other part of us -- it is the activity of this part, in accordance with the virtue proper to it, that will be perfect happiness. Happiness resides in our soul.
[JT] Contemplation is both the highest form of activity (since the intellect is the highest thing in us, and the objects that it apprehends are the highest things that can be known), and also it is the most continuous, because we are more capable of continuous contemplation than we are of any other activity. The intellect is our most precious possession and contemplation our most highest and most continuous activity.
[JT] The wise man, no less than the just one and all the rest, requires the necessities of life; but, given an adequate supply of these, the just man also needs people with and towards whom he can perform just actions, and similarly with the temperate man, the brave man, and each of the others; but the wise man can practice contemplation by himself, and the wiser he is, the more he can do it. To live a happy life we need to interact with people, but the wise man can practice contemplation on his own.
[JT] The activity of the intellect is considered to excel in seriousness, taking as it does the form of contemplation, and to aim at no other end beyond itself, and to possess a pleasure peculiar to itself, which intensifies its activity; and if it is evident that self-sufficiency and leisuredness and such freedom from fatigue as is humanly possible, together with all the other attributes assigned to the supremely happy man, are those that accord with this activity; then this activity will be the perfect happiness for man -- provided that it is allowed a full span of life; for nothing that pertains to happiness is incomplete. Description of the requirements for a perfectly happy life, the prime requirement being activity of the intellect.
[DR, JT] We must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything. That what is best and most pleasant for a given creature is that which is proper to it. Therefore for man, too, the best and the most pleasant life is the life of the intellect, since the intellect is in the fullest sense the man. So this life will also be the happiest. The life of the intellect is the happiest one of all, because it is intellect that makes us human.
[TI, DR] We do just and brave actions, and the others expressing the virtues, in relation to other people, by abiding by what fits each person in contracts, services, all types of actions, and also in feelings; and all these appear to be human conditions. Indeed, some feelings actually seem to rise from the body; and virtue of character to be in many ways bound up with the passions. Besides, intelligence is yoked together with virtue of character, and so is this virtue with intelligence. And since these virtues are also connected to feelings, they are concerned with the compound. Since the virtues of the compound are human virtues, the life and the happiness expressing these virtues is also human. Our virtue of character is bound up with our passions and with our intelligence. Together they make up our human virtues which we practice in order to attain happiness in life.
[JT, TI] Happiness, then, is co-extensive with contemplation, and the more people contemplate, the happier they are; not incidentally, but in virtue of contemplation, because it is in itself precious. Thus happiness is a form of contemplation. However, the happy person is a human being, and so will need external prosperity also; for his nature is not self-sufficient for study, but he needs a healthy body, and food and other amenities must be available. Happiness grows with contemplation. However, the bodily needs and a comfortable existence are also important to have.
[JT] A man's life will be happy if he acts in accordance with virtue. Solon, too, was presumably right in his description of happy people when he said that they were those who were moderately equipped with external goods, and had achieved what were, as he thought, the finest deeds, and had lived temperate lives; for it is possible for those who have only moderate possessions to do what is right. Even if a person is but of modest means materially, he can attain happiness by living a virtuous life.
[TI, DR] Knowing about virtue is not enough, but we must also try to possess and exercise virtue, or become good in any other way. Now if arguments were sufficient by themselves to make people decent, the rewards they would command would justifiably have been many and large, as Theognis says, and rightly bestowed. In fact, however, arguments seem to have enough influence to stimulate and encourage the civilized ones among the young people, and perhaps to make virtue take possession of a well-born character that truly loves what is fine; but they seem unable to stimulate the many towards being fine and good. For the many naturally obey fear, not shame; they avoid what is base because of penalties, not because it is disgraceful. Living by passion they pursue their own pleasures and the means to them, and avoid the opposite pains, and have not even a conception of what is noble and truly pleasant, since they have never tasted it. We must be content if, when all the influences by which we are thought to become good are present, we get some tincture of virtue. Few individuals lead a virtuous and happy life. Some civilized young people who truly love what is fine can be instructed in virtue. The mass of common people have no idea of what is noble and truly pleasant. They are coerced by fear and penalties under law from committing base acts
[JT] Some thinkers hold that it is by nature that people become good, others that it is by habit, and others that it is by instruction. The bounty of nature is clearly beyond our control; it is bestowed by some divine dispensation upon those who are truly fortunate. It is a regrettable fact that discussion and instruction are not effective in all cases; just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand if it is to nourish seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things; because a man who lives in accordance with his feelings would not listen to an argument to dissuade him, or understand if he did. And when a man is in that state, how is it possible to persuade him out of it? In general, feelings seem to yield not to argument but only to force. Therefore, we must have a character to work on that has some affinity to virtue: one that appreciates what is noble and objects to what is base. But to obtain the right training for goodness from an early age is a hard thing, unless one has been brought up under right laws. For a temperate and hardy way of life is not a pleasant thing to most people, especially when they are young. For this reason upbringing and occupations should be regulated by law. There are different opinions about how men become good: some say men are born good, others say they are habituated to become good, still others that men must be instructed to be good. We think all three factors are important. An individual can be instructed how to get on the road to a life of virtue if he is born with a natural affinity for it and is trained to do good from infancy.
[DR] Most people obey necessity rather than argument, and punishments rather than the sense of what is noble. Most people respond to necessity and punishment sooner than reasoning and the beauty of noble deeds.
[DR] The law has compulsive power, while it is at the same time a rule proceeding from a sort of practical wisdom and reason. And while people hate men who oppose their impulses, even if they oppose them rightly, the law in its ordaining of what is good is not burdensome. People comply with laws that force them into good behavior, but hate individuals who try to do the same on their own.
DR - Surely he who wants to make men, whether many or few, better by his care must try to become capable of legislating, if it is through laws that we can become good. If we are to be made good through laws, we need good legislators.
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