19 March, 2000

Author: George Irbe

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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] Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time), while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit. We are taught intellectual virtue, we are habituated to moral virtue.
[JT] This fact makes it obvious that none of the moral virtues is engendered in us by nature, since nothing that is what it is by nature can be made to behave differently by habituation. The moral virtues, then, are engendered in us neither by nor contrary to nature; we are constituted by nature to receive them, but their full development in us is due to habit. We are not born with moral virtue, but it is natural for us to become moral through habituation.
[DR] The virtues we get by first exercising them. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. We develop the moral virtues by practicing them.
[JT] This view is supported by what happens in city-states. Legislators make their citizens good by habituation; this is the intention of every legislator, and those who do not carry it out fail of their object. This is what makes the difference between a good constitution and a bad one. Under a good constitution the legislators pass laws that habituate the citizens to behave morally.
[JT] Like activities produce like dispositions. Hence we must give our activities a certain quality, because it is their characteristics that determine the resulting dispositions. So it is a matter of no little importance what sort of habits we form from the earliest age -- it makes a vast difference, or rather all the difference in the world. It is essential that good habits be instilled in a person from early childhood.
[JT, DR, TI] First we must consider this fact: that it is in the nature of moral qualities that they are destroyed by deficiency and excess. So too is it, then, in the case of temperance and courage and the other virtues. Thus temperance and courage are destroyed by excess and deficiency and preserved by the mean. The same actions, then, are the sources and causes both of the emergence and growth of virtues and of their ruin. Both excess and deficiency in the practice of a virtue can destroy it; the mean between them preserves it.
[JT] It is by refraining from pleasures that we become temperate, and it is when we have become temperate that we are most able to refrain from pleasures. Similarly with courage; it is by habituating ourselves to make light of alarming situations and to face them that we become brave, and it is when we have become brave that we shall be most able to face an alarming situation. Self-discipline and self-control are perfected by the practice of them. Good habits facilitate good actions and good actions reinforce good habits.
[DR, JT] Moral excellence is concerned with pleasures and pains; it is on account of the pleasure that we do bad things, and on account of the pain that we abstain from noble ones. Hence the importance (as Plato says) of having been trained in some way from infancy to feel joy and grief at the right things; this is the right education. Children must be taught from infancy to control their desire for pleasure and to be prepared to face the inevitable moments of pain that are part of life.
[JT, DR] This kind of virtue disposes us to act in the best way with regard to pleasures and pains, and contrariwise with the corresponding vice. Virtue and vice are concerned with the same things. There being three objects of choice and three of avoidance, the noble, the advantageous, the pleasant, and their contraries, the base, the injurious, the painful, about all of these the good man tends to go right and the bad man to go wrong, and especially about pleasure; for this is common to the animals, and also it accompanies all objects of choice; for even the noble and the advantageous appear pleasant. The virtuous person chooses correctly between the noble and the base, the beneficial and the injurious, the pleasant and the painful. The bad person chooses wrongly.
[JT] Acts are called just and temperate when they are such as a just and temperate man would do; but what makes the agent just and temperate is not merely the fact that he does such things, but the fact that he does them in a way that just and temperate men do. It is therefore right to say that a man becomes just by the performance of just, and the temperate by the performance of temperate, acts; nor is there the slightest likelihood of any man's becoming good by not doing them. Just and temperate men are known by their just and temperate acts. It is impossible for a person to be good without doing just and temperate acts.
[JT, DR] Neither virtues nor vices are feelings, because we are not called good or bad on the ground of our feelings, but we are so called on the ground of our virtues and vices. For these reasons also they are not faculties; for we are neither called good or bad, nor praised or blamed, for the simple capacity of feeling the passions. Again, what faculties we have, we have by nature; but it is not nature that makes us good or bad. So if the virtues are neither passions nor faculties, all that remains is that they should be states of character. The virtues are states of character.
[DR] The virtue of man will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well.
[TI] Virtue is concerned with feelings and actions, in which excess and deficiency are in error and incur blame, while the intermediate condition is correct and wins praise, which are both proper features of virtue. Virtue, then, is a mean, in so far as it aims at what is intermediate. Virtue is the intermediate condition between excess and deficiency with respect to a person's feelings and actions.
[DR, TI] Excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue; 'For men are good but in one way, but bad in many.' Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in the mean which is defined by reference to reason. It is a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency; and again, it is a mean because the vices respectively fall short or exceed what is right in both passions and actions, while virtue both finds and chooses that which is intermediate. Hence, as far as its substance and the account stating its essence are concerned, virtue is a mean; but as far as the best condition and the good result are concerned, it is an extremity. A person with a virtuous character uses his reason to choose the mean between the vices of the extremes, i.e. excess and deficiency, in his desires and his actions. And although the practice of virtue calls for choosing the intermediate, the results so attained are by no means average but are exceptionally good.
[JT] But not every action or feeling admits of a mean; because some have names that directly connote depravity, such as malice, shamelessness and envy, and among actions adultery, theft and murder. All these, and more like them, are so called as being evil in themselves; it is not the excess or deficiency of them that is evil. In their case, then, it is impossible to act rightly; one is always wrong. There are acts and characteristics that are truly evil and have no intermediate degrees.
[TI, DR] It is hard work to be excellent, since in each case it is hard work to find what is intermediate. To do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble. Being a good person and practicing virtue is not easy, but the rewards are great.
[DR] The man, however, who deviates from goodness is not blamed, whether he do so in the direction of the more or of the less, but only the man who deviates more widely; for he does not fail to be noticed. But up to what point and to what extent a man must deviate before he becomes blameworthy it is not easy to determine by reasoning, any more than anything else that is perceived by the senses; such things depend on particular facts, and the decision rests with perception. So much, then, is plain, that the intermediate state is in all things to be praised, but that we must incline sometimes towards the excess, sometimes towards the deficiency; for so shall we most easily hit the mean and what is right. Common sense suggests that there should be some latitude for judging the seriousness of the deviation from the intermediate towards excess or deficiency, and that our behavior must be suited to the particular circumstances.
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