MORAL VIRTUE IN GENERAL
Moral Virtue Is Caused by Habit
I. HE TREATS THE VIRTUES THEMSELVES.
A. He studies the moral virtues.
A’ He investigates the matter of the moral virtues in general.
1. HE TREATS MORAL VIRTUE IN GENERAL.
a. He is looking for the cause of moral virtue.
i. He shows that moral virtue is caused in us by actions.
x. HE SHOWS THE CAUSE OF THE FORMATION OF VIRTUE.
aa. He proposes that moral virtue originates in us from the habit of acting. — 245-247
Virtue is of two kinds, intellectual and moral. The intellectual is generated and fostered for the most part by teaching, and so requires time and experience. Moral virtue however is derived from customary action (mos). Hence by a slight variation of the original term we have this name “moral.”
bb. He shows that moral virtue is not in us by nature.
a’ The first (reason) is this. — 248-249
From this it is clear that moral virtue is not instilled in us by nature, for nothing natural is changed by habit; thus a stone that naturally gravitates downward will never become accustomed to moving upward, not even if someone should continue to throw it into th air ten thousand times. Neither will fire become accustomed to tend downward, nor will anything else that naturally tends one way acquire the contrary custom. Therefore, the moral virtues are not in us by nature nor are they in us contrary to nature. We do have a natural aptitude to acquire them, but we are perfected in these virtues by use.
b’ The second reason. — 250
Again in the things that come to us from nature, we first receive the potentialities and afterwards we put them into operation. This is obvious in the case of the senses, for we did not acquire our senses from seeing and hearing repeatedly but on the contrary we made use of the senses after we have them—we did not come into possession of them after we used them. Virtues however we acquire by previous activity as happens in different arts, for the things we must learn how to make, we learn by making. Thus men become builders by building and harpists by playing the harp. Likewise we become just by doing just actions, we become temperate by doing temperate actions, and we become courageous by doing courageous actions.
cc. He explains by a sign what he had said. — 251
Our contention is verified by what is done in the state, for legislators make men good in accordance with political norms. Such is the aim of every legislator. In fact he who does not succeed in this fails in lawmaking. It is precisely in this way that a good constitution differs from a bad one.
y. (HE SHOWS) WHAT THE CAUSE OF ITS DESTRUCTION IS.
aa. He explains his proposition. — 252-253
Again, every virtue has both its origin and its deterioration from the same principles. A similar situation is found in any art, for it is from playing the harp that both good and bad harpists are made. Proportionately this can be said of builders and of all the rest. Men become good builders from building well, but they become poor builders by building poorly. If this were not so, there would be no need of a teacher but all would be born good or bad workmen. This is the case also with virtue. Of those who engage in transactions with their fellowmen, some become just and others unjust. Of those exposed to dangers who habitually experience fear or confidence, some become brave and some cowardly. We may say the same of men in reference to concupiscence and anger, for some become tmperate and mild, others self-indulgent and irascible; some conduct themselves well in these matters, others badly. We may then universally state in one sentence: like actions produce like habits.
bb. He infers a corollary. — 254
Therefore, we must cultivate actions of the right sort because differences in actions are followed by differences in habits. It is not of small moment but it matters a great deal— more than anything else—whether one becomes promptly accustomed to good or bad habits from youth.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
245. After the Philosopher has treated the questions introductory to virtue, he now begins the study of the virtues. He divides the treatise into two parts. In the first part [I] he treats the virtues themselves. In the second he examines certain things that follow or accompany the virtues. He does this in the seventh book (B. 1145 a 15) at “Now, making a new start, we must say etc.” [Lect. 1; I]. The first part is subdivided into two sections. In the first [I, A] he studies the moral virtues; in the second the intellectual virtues, in the sixth book (B.1138 b 18) at “But since we previously said etc.” [Lect. 1]. The reason for this order is that the moral virtues are more known, and through them we are prepared for a study of the intellectual virtues. In the first [A, A’], which is divided into two parts, he investigates the matter of the moral virtues in general. In the second [Bk. III, Lect. 14] he examines the moral virtues specifically, at “We stated previously... is a mean etc.” (B.1115 a 7). This first is again subdivided into two parts. In the first of these [A’, 1] he treats moral virtue in general. In the second he examines certain principles of moral actions. This is in the third book [Lect. 1] beginning at “Since virtue is concerned with passions etc.” (B. 1109 b 30). This first has a threefold division. In the first part [1, a] he is looking for the cause of moral virtue. In the second [Lect. 5] he seeks to find out what moral virtue is, at “Now we must search out the definition of virtue” (B. 1105 b 20). In the third part [Lect. 11] he shows how a man may become virtuous, at “A sufficient explanation has been given etc.” (B. 1109 a 19). On the initial point he does three things. First [a, i] he shows that moral virtue is caused in us by actions. Second [Lect. 2; a, ii] he shows by what actions it may be caused in us, at “The present study etc.” (B.1103 b 27). In the third part [Lect. IV] he finds a particular problem in what was previously said, at “Someone may rightly ask etc.”
(B.1105 a 18). In regard to the first he does two things. Initially [i, x] he shows the cause of the formation of virtue; and second [I, y] what the cause of its destruction is, at “Again, every virtue etc.”On the initial point he does three things. First [x, aa] he proposes that moral virtue originates in us from the habit of acting. Second [x, bb] that mora virtue is not in us by nature, at “From this it is clear etc?’ Third [x, cc] he explains by a sign what he had said, at “Our contention is ‘verified by what is done etc.”
246 . He says first that virtue is of two kinds, intellectual and moral, and that the intellectual is both generated and increased for the most part by teaching. The reason is that intellectual virtue is ordered to knowledge which we acquire more readily from teaching than by discovery. More people can know the truth by learning form others than by ascertaining it themselves. Everyone indeed who finds out from others will learn more than he can discover by himself. But because we cannot proceed to in the process of learning, men must learn many truths by discovery. Besides, since all our knowledge is derived from the senses, and the senses in turn very often beget experience, it follows that intellectual virtue may need long experience.
247. But m moral virtue is derived from customary activity. Now moral virtue, found in the appetitive part, implies a certain inclination to something desirable. This inclination is nature, which tends to what is agreeable to itself, or from custom which is transformed into nature. Hence the name “moral” differing somewhat from custom is taken from it. In Greek ethos spelled with epsilon—a short “e”—means habit or moral virtue, while ithos spelled with eta—a long “e”—signifies custom. With us also, the name “moral” means custom sometimes and other times it is used in relation to vice or virtue.
248. Then [x, bb], at “From this it is clearly,” he proves from the premises that moral virtue is not produced by nature for two reasons. The first [bb, a’] is that none of the things from nature are changed by use. He illustrates this point by the example of a stone that naturally tending downwards will never become accustomed to moving upward, no matter how often it is thrown into the air. The reason is that the things which naturally operate either merely operate or they operate and are operated upon. If they merely operate, their principle of action is not changed. So long as the cause remains the same, the inclination to the same effect remains. If, however, they so operate as also to be operated upon—unless the passivity be such that it removes the principle of action—the natural tendency in them will not be destroyed. But if the passivity be such as to take away the principle of action, then it will not belong to the same nature. Thus what was previously natural will cease to be natural. When a thing operates naturally, therefore, no change is effected regarding its action. The same is also true if the operation is contrary to nature unless perhaps the motion be such that it destroys nature. But if the natural principle of the operation remains, there will always be the same action. Therefore, in the things that are according to nature and in the things that are contrary to nature habit plays no part.
249. The reason for this is that moral virtue pertains to the appetite that operates according as it is moved by the good apprehended. When the appetite operates often, therefore, it must be often moved by its object. in this the appetite follows a certain tendency in accordance with the mode of nature, as many drops of water falling on a rock hollow it out. Thus it is obvious that the moral virtues are not in us by nature, nor are they in us contrary to nature. We do have a natural aptitude to acquire them inasmuch as the appetitive potency is naturally adapted to obey reason. But we are perfected in these virtues by use, for when we act repeatedly according to reason, a modification is impressed in the appetite by the power of reason. This impression is nothing else but moral virtue.
250. He presents the second reason [bb, b’] at “Again in the in the things.” In all the things with which nature has endowed us, potency is previous to operation. This is obvious in the senses. We did not receive the sense of sight and hearing from seeing and hearing repeatedly. On the contrary, from the fact that we had these senses, we began to use them. It did not happen that we came into possession of the senses from the fact that we used them. But we have acquired the virtues by acting according to virtue, as happens in the operative arts in which men learn by making the things that are to be made after they have mastered the skill. In this way men become builders by building, and harpists by playing the harp. Likewise men become temperate or courageous by doing just actions or temperate actions or courageous actions. Therefore, virtues of this kind are not in us by nature.
251. Then [x, cc], at “Our contention is verified,” he makes known what he had said, by a sign. He says the statement just made that by performing actions we become virtuous is verified by what is done in the state. Legislators make men virtuous by habituating them to virtuous works by means of statutes, rewards and punishment. Such ought to be the aim of every legislator—in fact he who does not succeed in this fails in lawmaking. It is precisely in this way that a good constitution differs from a bad one.
252. Then [i, y], at “Again, every virtue,” he shows that virtue is produced and destroyed by identical works. First [y, aa] he explains his proposition, and second [y, bb] he infers a corollary from what has been said, at “Therefore, we must etc.” He says first that the production and the destruction of virtue have their source in the same principles taken in a different way. The same is true in any art. He shows this first from activities, because men become both good and bad harpists—understanding this proportionately—from the way they play the harp. A similar reason holds for builders and all other workmen. Men become good builders by building well repeatedly, they become poor builders by building poorly. If this were not so, men would not need to learn arts of this kind from some master workman who would direct their actions, but there would be good and bad workmen in all the arts no matter how they would be practiced. As it is in the arts, so also in the virtues.
253. Those who act well in their dealings with their fellowmen become just, and those who act in an evil way become unjust. Likewise those faced with danger who accustom themselves to fear and confidence in the right way become courageous; in the wrong way, cowardly. This is true also of temperance and meekness in the matter of concupiscence and anger. We may then universally sum up in one sentence: like actions produce like habits.
254. Then [y, bb], at “Therefore, we must,” he affirms that a person must give careful attention to the performance of such actions because differences in actions are followed by differences in habits. He concludes, therefore, it is not of small moment but it makes a great difference—indeed everything depends on it—that one becomes accustomed to perform either good or evil actions from earliest youth, for we retain longer the things impressed on us as children.
Virtue and Action
ii. He now inquires how (virtues are caused in us by actions).
x. HE SHOWS WHAT ARE THE ACTIONS WHICH CAUSE VIRTUE IN US.
aa. He shows the necessity of the present investigation.
a’ He presents the necessity itself. — 255-256
The present study is not pursued for the sake of contemplation like other studies. We seek the definition of virtue not in order to know but in order to become virtuous; otherwise it would have no utility. We must then thoroughly investigate what concerns actions and how they are to be performed, for actions control the formation of habits, as we have pointed out.
b’ He shows what we must suppose. — 257
To be in accord with right reason is a quality common to these actions and should be taken for granted. Later we will discuss the question both as to the definition of right reason and as to how right reason is related to the other virtues.
bb. He treats the method of investigation. — 258-259
It must be presupposed that any discussion concerning actions to be performed ought to be given in a general way and not definitively. We remarked in the beginning that discussions must be pursued according to the nature of the subject matter. Now things pertaining to actions, and relevant considerations, do not have anything fixed about them any more than the things that concern health. If this be true in the general treatment, still mor uncertainty will be found in the consideration of particular cases. Indeed this study does not fall under either art or tradition. But those who perform moral actions must always pay attention to what is appropriate to the occasion as is done in medicine and navigation. Although this is the situation, we ought to try to be of assistance to others in the present study.
cc. He shows actions as causes of virtue.
a’ He shows by what actions virtue is caused. — 260-263
We must then first consider that moral matters are of such a nature as to be destroyed by defect and excess. To prove such notions that are not readily manifest we must use obvious signs and evidence such as we have in the case of bodily strength and health. An excessive amount of exercise no less than a lack of it impairs health. Likewise eating and drinking too much or too little causes damage to health. But health is produced, increased, and preserved by eating and drinking in moderation. It is the same then with temperance and fortitude and the other virtues. The man who is afraid of everything, who runs away and will endure nothing becomes a coward. On the other hand, the man who fears absolutely nothing and wades into every danger becomes reckless. Likewise a man who tastes every pleasure and passes up none, becomes intemperate while he who seeks to avoid all pleasures like a boor becomes as it were insensible. Temperance and fortitude are destroyed by excess and defect but are preserved by the golden mean.
b’ He shows that virtue already formed produces in turn like actions. — 264
Not only the production, increase, and destruction of virtues have identical sources and causes but the actions themselves also have the same sources and causes. We see this in the more obvious actions like bodily strength. A man becomes strong from taking abundant nourishment and from hard work. Then when he is strong, he will be more able to do these things. We find the same thing in the virtues since we become temperate by giving up pleasures, and having become temperate we can b very easily give up pleasures. The same is true of the virtue of fortitude. We become brave by accustoming ourselves to despise and endure terrors, and having become brave we are very capable of enduring terrors.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
255. After the Philosopher has shown that virtues are caused in us by actions, he now inquires how this is done [ii]. On this point he does two things. First [ii, x] he shows what are the actions that cause virtue in us. Second [Lect. 3; y], at “We may understand etc.” (B.1104 b 4), he shows what is the sign of virtue already produced in us. On the initial, point he does three things. First [x, aa] he shows the necessity of the present investigation. Second [x, bb], at “It must be presupposed etc.,” he treats the method of investigation. Third [x, cc] he shows actions as causes of virtue. In regard to the first he does two things. Initially [aa, a’] he presents the necessity itself. Second [aa, b’], at “To be in accord with right reason etc.,” he shows what we must suppose here. Regarding the first we must consider that in the speculative sciences where we seek only the knowledge of the truth, it is sufficient to know what is the cause of a determined effect. But in the practical sciences whose end is action, we must know by what activities or operations a determined effect follows from a determined cause.
256. He says then that the present study, moral philosophy, is not pursued for the sake of the contemplation of truth like the other studies of the speculative sciences, but for the sake of action. In this science we seek a definition of virtue not only to know its truth but to become good by acquiring virtue. The reason he assigns is that if the investigation of this science were for the knowledge of truth alone, it would have little utility. It is not of great importance nor does it contribute much to the perfection of the intellect that a man should know the changeable truth about contingent actions with which virtue is concerned. This being the case, he concludes that we must thoroughly inquire about the actions we ought to perform because, as we have already observed (248-253), actions have influence and control over the formation of good and bad habits in us.
257. Then [aa, b’], at “To be in accord with right,” he shows it should be taken for granted that actions causing virtue possess the common quality of being in accord with right reason. This happens because the good of everything consists in the fact that its operation is suited to its form. Now the distinctive form of man is that which makes him a rational animal. Hence man’s action must be good precisely because it harmonizes with right reason, for perversity of reason is repugnant to its nature. Later in the sixth book (1109) we shall ascertain what is right reason, which belongs to the intellectual virtues, and how it pertains to the other virtues, which are the moral.
258. Then [x, bb], at “It must be,” he explains the method of investigating matters of this kind. We must presume, he says, that any discussion concerned like this with actions to be performed ought to be given in a general way, that is, as a precedent or as, likely, but not definitively. This was pointed out in the introduction to the whole work (24). The reason is that the discussions are to be carried on according to the nature of the subject matter, as was noted in the same place (32). We see that things pertaining to moral actions and materials useful to them, like external goods, do not have in themselves anything fixed by way of necessity, but everything is contingent and changeable. The same occurs in works relating to medicine, which are concerned with health, because the dis position of the body to be cured and the remedies used to effect a cure are changeable in many ways.
259. The teaching on matters of morals even in their general aspects is uncertain and variable. But still more uncertainty is found when we come down to the solution of particular cases. This study does not fall under either art or tradition because the causes of individual actions are infinitely diversified. Hence judgment of particular cases is left to the prudence of each one. He who acts prudently must attentively consider the things to be done at the present time after all the particular circumstances have been taken into consideration. In this way a doctor must act in bringing about a cure and a captain in steering a ship. Although this doctrine is such as to be uncertain in its general aspects and incapable of precision in particular cases, we ought to study it so that in these matters we may be of some assistance to men in directing their actions.
260. Then [x, cc], at “We must then first,” he shows what are the operations that may cause virtue. On this point he does two things. First [cc, a’] he shows by what actions virtue is caused. Second [cc, b’], at “Not only the production etc.,” he shows that virtue already formed produces in turn like actions. He says first we must consider before anything else that virtues or operations causing virtues are of such a nature as to be destroyed by excess and .defect. To prove this we must use certain more obvious signs and evidence, that is, the things happening in regard to the powers of the body that are more manifest than the capacities of the soul.
261. We see that bodily strength is impaired by immoderate games, that is, certain bodily exercises in which the contestants do battle naked, because the natural power of the body is weakened by excessive exertion. Likewise the lack of exercise destroys bodily strength because, when not exercised, the members remain flabby and incapable of work. A similar comment may be made about health. If someone takes either too much food or drink, or less than he needs, his health is impaired. But if a man uses exercise, food, and drink in moderation, he will become physically strong and his health will be improved and preserved.
262. It is the same with the virtues of the soul, for instance, fortitude, temperance, and the other virtues. A person who fears everything, takes to flight, and never faces anything terrifying becomes a coward. Likewise he who fears nothing and wades into every danger thoughtlessly becomes rash. The same is true of temperance. He who tastes every pleasure and avoids none becomes intemperate. But he who avoids all pleasures as a boor does, without any reason, becomes as it were insensible.
263. However we are not to conclude from this that virginity, which abstains from all venereal pleasure, is a vice. The reason is that virginity does not abstain from all pleasures, and that it abstains from particular pleasures according to right reason. Similarly, it is not a vice for some soldiers to refrain from all venereal pleasure in order to devote themselves more fully to fighting. Now these things have been said because temperance and fortitude are destroyed by excess and defect but are preserved by the golden mean, which is understood not according to quantity but according to right reason.
264. Then [cc, b’] at “Not only,” he shows that virtue produces actions similar to the actions that caused it. He says that the same kinds of activity cause the production and increase of virtue, and also its destruction if they are taken in a contrary way. Likewise the operations of the virtues already produced consist in these same works. This is obvious in bodily actions which are more manifest. As bodily strength is caused from the fact that a man can take abundant nourishment and can work hard, and when he has become strong he will be more able to do these things, so also it is with the virtues of the soul. From the fact that we give up pleasures, we become temperate; and when we have become temperate, we can very easily give up pleasures. It is the same with the virtue of fortitude. We become brave by accustoming ourselves to despise and endure terrors, and having become brave we are very capable of enduring terrors. So also, fire once kindled from generated heat can give off intense heat.
Signs of Virtue
y. HE NOW EXPLAINS HOW WE MAY RECOGNIZE VIRTUE ALREADY PRODUCED.
aa. He presents what he intends to do. — 265-267
We may understand pleasure or sorrow that follows activity as an indication of the habits that are present. Indeed the man who avoids bodily pleasures is temperate if he is glad about it; intemperate, if sad about it. Likewise, the man who encounters dangers is brave if he rejoices or is not sad, but cowardly if he is saddened. Moral virtue then is concerned with pleasure and sorrows.
bb. He proves his proposition.
a’ By reasons belonging to virtue.
A. FIRST REASON. — 268
We perform evil actions for the sake of pleasure and avoid good actions because of sadness. Therefore, as Plato says [Laws 653], we need some sort of training from our earliest years so that we may rejoice and be sorrowful about the right things, for proper instruction consists in this.
B. SECOND REASON. — 269
Besides, if virtues are concerned with activities and passions, and pleasure and sorrow follow every act and passion, then certainly virtue will deal with pleasures and sorrows.
C. THIRD REASON. — 270
Penalties inflicted because of pleasure and sorrow also prove our point, for penalties are, as it were, remedies. Remedies by their very nature work through contraries.
D. FOURTH REASON. — 271-272
Furthermore, as we said previously, every habit of the soul has a natural disposition to do and to be busied with those things by which it is made better and worse. Men become wicked by pursuing the pleasures and avoiding the sorrows that are wrong, or by doing this at the wrong time or in the wrong manner or in some other way that one may deviate from reason. Consequently, some define virtues as certain quiescent and emotionless dispositions. But they err in speaking absolutely and in not qualifying the passions as to manner, time, and so forth. We must suppose therefore that virtue is such that it works what is best regarding pleasures and sorrows, and vice does the contrary.
b’ By reasons on the Part of the virtuous man himself.
A. FIRST REASON. — 273-275
Our contention will become evident from the following consideration. Three things fall under our choice: the good, the useful, the pleasurable; and three contrary things we avoid: the evil, th harmful, the sorrowful. In regard to all these, the virtuous man disposes himself rightly and the vicious man badly. This is especially true in the matter of pleasure that is common to animals and is found in all things obtained by choice, for the good and the useful seem also to be pleasurable.
B. SECOND REASON. — 276
Pleasure, too, has grown up with all of us from childhood. Therefore, it is difficult to curb this passion which is acquired with life itself.
C. THIRD REASON. — 277
Some regulate their activities to a greater degree and others to a lesser degree by pleasure and sorrow. About these, then, our whole study must be concerned, for it is not a thing of small importance in human actions to take pleasure or sorrow in the right or wrong way.
D. FOURTH REASON. — 278
As Heraclitus says, it is even more difficult to fight against pleasure than anger. Now the more difficult is always treated by art and virtue, which operate well and more efficiently in the face of difficulty. Hence the whole business of virtue and of political science is occupied with pleasures and sorrows. Assuredly he who uses these well will be virtuous, and he who uses them badly will be evil.
cc. He sums up what has been said. — 279
It has been said that (1) virtue treats of pleasures and sorrows, (2) virtue is produced and increased by the same actions that, when done in a different way destroy virtue, (3) the same actions that produce virtue are in turn produced by virtue.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
265. After the Philosopher has shown what kind of activity produces virtue, he now [y] explains how we may recognize virtue already produced. On this point he does two things. First [y, aa] he presents what he intends to do; and second [y, bb], at “We perform evil actions etc.,” he proves his proposition. Regarding the first we must consider that when virtue produces actions similar to the actions that formed it, as was just noted (264), the performance of this action differs before and after virtue. Before virtue man does a kind of violence to himself in operating this way. Such actions, therefore, have some admixture of sorrow. But after the habit of virtue has been formed, these actions are done with pleasure. The explanation is that a habit exists as a sort of nature, and that is pleasurable which agrees with a thing according to nature.
266. He ssays that an indication that habits, good or bad, have already been formed is given by the pleasure or sorrow that follows the operations. He illustrates this by examples. The man who is glad that he has avoided bodily pleasures is temperate because he performs an action in keeping with the habit. Likewise, he who encounters dangers with pleasure, or at least without sorrow, is brave. Particularly in the act of fortitude it is enough not to have sorrow, as will be explained in the third book (584-585). One who faces dangers with sorrow is cowardly. He then assigns the reason for what he has said from the fact that every moral virtue is concerned with pleasures and sorrows.
267. From this we must not conclude that ever moral virtue is concerned with pleasures and sorrows as its proper matter. The matter indeed of every moral virtue is that on which reason imposes a norm. Thus justice treats of dealing with others, fortitude treats of fears and aggressiveness, temperance of certain pleasures. But pleasure is the principal end of all the moral virtues, as will be said in the seventh book of the present work (1504-1515). In every moral virtue it is requisite that a person have joy and sorrow in the things he ought. In keeping with this, he says that moral virtue is concerned with pleasures and sorrows because the purpose of any moral virtue is that a man be rightly ordered in his pleasures and sorrows.
268. Then [y, bb], at “We perform evil actions,” he proves his proposition: first [bb, a’] by reasons taken from things belonging to virtue, and second [bb, b’], at “Our contention will etc., by reasons on the part of the virtuous man himself. He presents four reasons pertaining to the first point. The first reason [a’, a] is taken from the inclination of men intent on virtue. It was shown previously (264-265) that virtue is produced and destroyed by deeds of the same person done in a contrary way. Indeed, we see that virtue is destroyed by pleasure and sadness; we perform evil actions out of a desire for pleasure, we avoid good or virtuous works because of the sadness we fear in honest labor. Hence, as Plato said, one who is intent on virtue should have some sort of moral training from his earliest years that he may rejoice and be sorrowful about the right things. This is proper instruction for youths so that they become accustomed to take pleasure in good works and be grieved in evil works. Therefore, teachers of youth compliment those who do good deeds and reprove those who do evil.
269. At “Besides, if” [a’, b] he presents the second reason based on the matter of the moral virtue in the following way. Evry moral virtue deals with actions (as justice which treats of buying, selling, and other things of this kind), or with passions (as mildness which treats of anger), and so with the other virtues. But pleasure or sorrow follows every passion that is nothing else but the motion of the appetitive power in pursuit of good or in flight from evil. When the good to which the appetite tends is forthcoming, therefore, or when the evil which it flees is avoided, pleasure follows. But when the contrary happens, sorrow follows. Thus the angered man rejoices in getting revenge and likewise the cowardly man in avoiding dangers. But when the opposite is true, these persons are sorrowful. It remains, therefore, that every moral virtue regards pleasures and sorrows as having the aspect of ends.
270. The third reason presented at “Penalties inflicted” [a’, c] is taken from the idea of a remedy for the soul. As a medicine used for the restoration of health is a kind of disagreeable potion from which the sweetness has been removed, so a penalty used for the restoration of virtue is a kind of medicine, for a penalty consists in taking away certain pleasures or applying certain disagreeable things. The reason for this is that a medicine is naturally to be used as a contrary thing. Thus in the case of fever doctors apply cooling remedies. Hence moral virtue also is concerned with certain pleasures and sorrows.
271. At “Furthermore, as [a’, d] he presents the fourth reason, which. is taken from what is contrary to and destructive of virtue. Every habit, he says, has a disposition to do and to be busied with the things by which it is made worse and better, that is, by which the goodness of a good habit and the evil of a bad habit is increased. This can be understood likewise of the things by which the habit naturally becomes worse or better, that is, by which it naturally is formed or increased (which is to be made better), or destroyed or diminished (which is to be made worse). We see that men become evil through the deterioration of virtue from the fact that they pursue the pleasures and steer clear of the sorrows which they ought not, or when they ought not, or in some other way by which one may deviate from right reason.
272. The Stoics took occasion of this to say that virtues are certain quiescent and passionless dispositions. The reason was that they saw men become evil through pleasures and sorrows, and consequently they though that virtue consists in the total cessation of the changes of the passions. But in this they erred wishing to exclude entirely the passions of the soul from a virtuous man. It belongs, of course, to the good of reason to regulate the sensitive appetite—and the passions are movements of this appetite. Hence it is not the business of virtue to exclude all, but only the inordinate passions, that is, those which are not as they ought to be and aare not at the time the ought to be (he adds also all the other things belonging to the remaining circumstances). From this he then concludes that we must suppose that virtue should work what is best regarding pleasures and sorrows but vice, which is the habit opposed to virtue should work what is evil.
273. Then [bb, b] at “Our contention will” he introduces to his proposition four other reasons taken on the part of men in whom virtue, pleasure, and sorrow are found. The first reason [b’, a] is derived from pleasures in general. He says that three things fall under human choice: the good or virtuous, the helpful or useful, and the pleasurable. Contrary to these are also three things: evil or vice as opposed to the virtuous, the harmful as opposed to the useful, the sorrowful as opposed to the pleasurable. In regard to all these, the virtuous man disposes himself rightly but the vicious man badly, especially in the matter of pleasure, which is more common among the things mentioned since it belongs to two of them.
274. First in regard to the things partaking of pleasure. Pleasure is found in all animals since it is not only in the intellectual power but also in the sensitive power. The useful and the virtuous, however, pertain to the intellectual power alone. This is so because the virtuous act is performed in, accord with reason while the useful implies an order of one to another, and “to order” is proper to reason.
275. Another common feature is on the part of the things themselves in which pleasure is gained. Pleasure, in fact, follows everything that falls under choice. Now the virtuous is pleasurable to man because it is agreeable to reason, and the useful also gives pleasure by reason of the expected benefit. But, on the other hand, not every pleasurable action is useful or virtuous, as is obvious in the pleasures of sense.
276. At “Pleasure, too” [b’, b] he presents the second reason, which is taken from an inherent characteristic of pleasure. Pleasure has grown up with us all alike from childhood, since a newborn child delights in his milk. Therefore, it is difficult for man to curb this passion acquired with life because it starts in man at the beginning of life. Hence moral virtue is especially concerned with pleasure.
277. He assigns the third reason at “Some regulate” [b’, c]. This reason is derived from man’s inclination. All men regulate their activities by pleasure and sorrow. They are intent on activities they find pleasant and they avoid activities they find distressing. Hence the whole business of a moral virtue, which is ordered to good activity, must concern pleasure and sorrow. It is quite important to note what activities one finds pleasant or painful, whether rightly or wrongly so. The reason is that he who rejoices in good performs good actions, but he who rejoices in evil performs evil actions.
278. He assigns the fourth reason at “As Heraclitus says” [b’, d]. This is taken from a comparison with anger. It is more difficult, as Heraclitus said, to fight against pleasure than against anger, even though it seems most difficult to fight against anger because of its vehemence. But the desire of pleasure is both more common and more natural, and besides, it lasts longer. Art and virtue however always treat of the more difficult, for anyone can operate well in the easier things. But it takes one skilled in virtue and art to operate well in difficult things. Thus it is obvious, from what has been said, that the whole business of virtue and of political science or of public affairs is concerned with pleasures and sorrows. If a man uses these well he will be virtuous, but if he uses them badly he will be evil.
279. Then [y, cc], at “It has been said that,” he sums up in conclusion the points that have been made: virtue is concerned with pleasures and sorrows; virtue is produced and increased by the same actions that, when done in the opposite way, destroy virtue; the same actions producing virtue are in turn produced by virtue once formed.
Comparison between Virtue and Art
A. He presents a problem. — 280
Someone may rightly ask how we can say that man must become just by doing just actions, and temperate by doing temperate actions. If people perform just and temperate works they are already just and temperate, as those who produce grammatical or musical works are already grammarians or musicians.
B. He solves it.
1. FIRST BY REJECTING WHAT WAS ASSUMED ABOUT ART. — 281
But this is not true in the arts. A man may at times produce something grammatical by chance or with the help of another. He will therefore be a grammarian only if he produces a grammatical work in a grammatical way, that is, in accordance with the science of grammar that he possesses.
2. SECOND BY DISPROVING THE LIKENESS SAID TO EXIST BETWEEN VIRTUE AND ART.
a. He eliminates the likeness between art and virtue. — 284
Another dissimilarity between the arts and virtues is that works of art have their perfection in themselves. It is enough then that these be made with certain qualities. Yet works of virtue are not justly and temperately performed if they have certain qualities, but the agent performing them must fulfill the following conditions. (1) He must know what he is doing. (2) He must choose th virtuous works for thier own sakes. (3) He must possess the disposition and operate according to it resolutely and with stability. Except for knowledge, these conditions are not required in the other arts. Mere knowledge, however ,has little or no importance to he virtues but what occurs form the frequent performance of just and temperate actions is all important.
b. He concludes the solution. — 285-286
Works then are called just and temperate when they are such as a just and temperate man will do. Now a just and temperate man is not one who performs these actions but who performs them as the just and temperate perform them.
C. He comes to the conclusion principally intended.
1. FIRST HE BRINGS HIS PROPOSITION TO AN END. — 287
It has been well said, therefore, that a man becomes just by doing just actions an temperate by doing temperate actions. Anyone who does not perform these actions has not the slightest interest in becoming virtuous.
2. HE DISCREDITS A FALSE OPINION. — 288
Many, however, fail to do good actions but, taking refuge in theory, think that by philosophizing they will become virtuous. They act like the sick who listen carefully to the doctor but do nothing he prescribes. Hence, just as those who take care of themselves in this way will never have a healthy body, so those who merely philosophize will not have a healthy soul.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
28o. After the Philosopher has shown that virtues are caused by actions, he now raises a doubt about this assertion. Regarding it he does three things. First [A] he presents a problem. Second [B], at “But this is not true etc.,” he solves it. Third [C], from the discussion of the question he comes to the conclusion principally intended, at “It has been well said, therefore, etc.” The doubt that he first raises is this. What is true of virtue is true of art. But in art it is true that no one produces a work of art except one who possesses the art, as no one produces anything grammatical unless he is a grammarian, nor anything musical unless he be a musician. It will be true in virtue, therefore, that whoever performs just works is already just and whoever performs temperate works is already temperate. Hence our previous contention (164) does not seem to be true, that men become just by doing just actions and temperate by doing temperate actions.
28t. Then [B, 1], at “But this is not” he solves this doubt first by rejecting what was assumed about art and second [B, 2] by disproving the likeness said to exist between virtue and art, at “Another dissimilarity etc.” He says first that it is not true in art, as was assumed, that whoever produces a grammatical work is already a grammarian. It happens sometimes that an ignoramus by chance pronounces a word correctly. Sometimes this happens with the help of another whose example is followed, for instance, a mimic imitates the correct pronunciation given by a grammarian. But a man is to be judged a grammarian only when he produces a grammatical work and in a grammatical way, that i&, in accord with the science of grammar that he possesses.
282. Then [B, 2], at “Another dissimilarity” he gives the second solution, in two steps. First [2, a] he eliminates the likeness between art and virtue. Second [2, b] he concludes the solution at “Works then are called just etc.” He says first that there is no similarity in art and virtue since works of art have in themselves what belongs to the perfection of the art. The explanation is that art is the right plan of making things, as will be said in the sixth book of the present work (1153, 1160, 1166). “Making” is an operation that passes to external matter, and an operation of this kind is a perfection of the thing made. Hence in such actions the good consists in the object made. It is enough for the good of art, therefore, that the things made be good. But virtues are principles of actions that do not go out into external matter but remain in the agents. Hence actions of this kind are perfections of the agents. So the good of these actions is identical with the agents themselves.
283. He says, therefore, in order that actions be justly and temperately performed, it is not enough that the things done be good but the agent must work in a proper manner. Regarding this manner, he says we must pay attention to three things. (i) The first, pertaining to the intellect or reason, is that one who performs a virtuous action should not act in ignorance or by chance but should know what he is doing. (2) The second is taken on the part of the appetitive power. Here two things are noted. One is that the action be not done out of passion, as happens when a person performs a virtuous deed because of fear. But the action i, should be done by a choice that is not made for the sake of something else, as happens when a person performs a good action for money or vainglory. The actions should be done for the sake of the virtuous work itself which, as something agreeable, is inherently pleasing to him who has the habit of virtue. (3) The third, taken from the nature of a habit, is that a person should possess a virtuous choice and operate according to it resolutely—that is, consistently on his part—and with stability so as not to be moved by any external thing.
284. Only the first of these, knowledge, is required in the arts. A man can be a good artist even if he never chooses to work according to art and does not persevere in his work. But knowledge has little or no importance in a person being virtuous, but his goodness consists entirely in other things that take place within him by frequent actions, and thus he becomes stable.
285. Then [2, b], at “Works then,” he concludes the solution of the abovementioned doubt. He states that things done are called just and temperate because they are similar to the things that a just and temperate man does. Whoever performs these actions need not necessarily be just and temperate, but he who performs them as just and temperate men perform them according to the three conditions just laid down is said to be just and temperate. Men, therefore, first perform just and temperate actions-not in the same way as the just and temperate do-and such actions in their turn produce the habit.
286. If it should be asked how this is possible, since nothing can move itself from potency to act, we must answer that the perfection of moral virtue, which we are treating, consists in reason’s control of the appetite. Now, the first principles of reason, no less in moral than in speculative matters, have been given by nature. Therefore, just as by means of previously known principles a man makes himself actually understand by personal effort of discovery, so also by acting according to the principles of practical reason a man makes himself actually virtuous.
287. Then [C], at “It has been well said, therefore,” he comes to the conclusion principally intended. First [C, 1 ] he brings his proposition to an end; and second [C, 2], at “Many, however, fail etc.,” he discredits a false opinion of certain persons. He concludes that it has been well said above (264, 280) that a man becomes just by doing just actions and temperate by doing temperate actions. But he who does not perform actions nor develop his disposition will never become virtuous.
288. Then [C, 2], at “Many, however” he discredits the false opinion of certain persons who do not perform works of virtues but, by taking refuge in the discussion of virtues, think they can become virtuous by philosophizing. Such people, he says, are like the sick who carefully listen to what the doctor has to say but do nothing about carrying out his prescriptions. Thus philosophy is to the cure of the soul what medicine is to the cure of the body. Hence, as those who listen to the advice of doctors and disregard it will never have a well regulated body, so those who listen to the warnings of moral philosophers and do not heed them will never have a well regulated soul.
The Definition of Virtue
1. FIRST HE SHOWS WHAT VIRTUE IS.
A. He determines what virtue is in general.
A’ He investigates the definition of virtue.
I. HE INVESTIGATES THE GENUS OF VIRTUE.
a. He offers the division. — 289-290
Now we must determine the definition of virtue. Since there are three principles occurring in the soul: passions, powers, and habits, virtue will be one of these.
b. He explains its parts.
i. He makes known those which are passions. — 291-296
By passions I mean: concupiscence, anger, aggressiveness, envy, joy, love, hatred, desire, jealousy, pity, and all the movements followed by pleasure and sorrow.
ii. Those which are powers. — 297
I call those principles powers in respect of which we are said to be capable of experiencing passions, for example, of becoming angry or being sad or having pity.
iii. Those which are habits. — 298
I call those principles habits in respect of which we are well or badly disposed towards the passions. Thus we are badly disposed in becoming angry in a violent or feeble way, but we are well disposed in doing so with moderation. The same applies to all habits and passions.
c. He argues from the accepted definition.
i. He shows that virtues are not passions... he assigns four reasons.
w. THE FIRST (REASON). — 299
Neither virtues nor vices, therefore, are passions because: (1) We are not called good or evil by reason of the passions but by reason of virtue or vice.
x. THE SECOND REASON. — 300
(2) We are neither praised nor reproached for the passions. Now a man is not praised or blamed for being afraid or angry simply but in a particular way. We are, though, praised or blamed for virtues or vices.
y. THE THIRD REASON. — 301
(3) We become angry and are afraid without willing it, but the virtues are certain choices or at least not without choice.
z. THE FOURTH REASON. — 302
(4) We are said to be moved by the passions. However we are not moved but disposed in a certain way by the virtues and vices.
ii. He shows that (virtues) are not powers (for two reasons).
x. THE FIRST. — 303
For this reason also the virtues are not powers, for we are not called good or evil, we are not praised or blamed because we are simply capable of being affected by the passions.
y. THE SECOND. — 304
Furthermore, the powers are in us by nature, but we are not good or evil by nature, as we said above.
iii. He concludes (virtues) are habits. — 305
If then virtues are neither passions nor powers, it remains that they are habits. We say, therefore, that habit is the genus of virtue.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
289. After the Philosopher has treated the cause of virtue, he now begins to investigate the definition of virtue. He divides the investigation into two parts. In the first [I] he shows what virtue is, and in the second [Lect. 10] he ascertains the opposition of virtue to vice at “There are three etc.” (B. 1108 b 11). The first part is treated under two headings. In the first [I, A] he determines what virtue is in general. In the second [Lect. 8] he applies the adopted definition to particular virtues, at “We must speak of virtue not only under its universal aspect” (B.1107 a 28). This first section is also twofold, and in the first of these [A, A’] he investigates the definition of virtue. In the second [Lect. 7; 1] he concludes the definition, at “Virtue then is a habit etc.” (B. 1107). On the first point he first [A’, 1] investigates the genus of virtue and second [Lect. 6] its specific difference, at “We must consider not only etc.” (B. 1106 a 16). He investigates the genus by parts. Hence, regarding the first he does three things. First [1, a] he offers the division. Second [1, b], at “By passions I mean etc.,” he explains its parts. Third [1, c], at “Neither virtues nor vices,” he argues from the accepted definition.
290. He says first that to establish the definition of virtue we have to take for granted three principles in ‘the soul: passions, powers, and habits. Virtue must come under one of these, for he just said (282) that virtue is a principle of certain operations of the soul. Now no principle of operation is found in the soul outside these three. Sometimes a man seems to act from passion, for example, anger; sometimes from habit, as when he works by art; sometimes from mere potentiality, as when he begins a new activity. It is obvious that not absolutely everything in the soul is included under this division—the essence of the soul and the operation of the intellect do not belong here—but only the things that are principles of some operation are considered.
291. Then [1, b]; at “By passions I mean,” he indicates the members of the division just mentioned. First [b, i] he makes known those that are passions; second [b, ii], those that are powers, at “I call those principles powers etc.”; third [b, iii], those that are habits, at “I call those principles habits etc.” Regarding the first we must consider that passions are not attributed to the vegetative soul because the powers of this part of the soul are not passive, as they are in both the sensitive part and the intellective part, but active. The perceptive and appetitive powers, except the active intellect, are passive. Although feeling and understanding are in a way passions (i.e., they “suffer” change , passions are properly denominated not because of the apprehension of sense or intellect but only because of the appetite. The reason is that the operation of the perceptive power takes place according as the thing perceived is in the knower according to the state of the knower. Now the object perceived is, so to speak, drawn to the knower. But the operation of the appetitive power takes place according as the one desiring is inclined to the thing desired. Because it is characteristic of the recipient (patientis) that he be drawn by the agent, and not the converse, it follows that only the operations of the appetitive powers, but not the operations of the perceptive powers, are called passions.
292. Even among the appetitive powers the operation of the intellective appetite is not properly called passion. It does not take place with a change of a bodily organ, which is necessary to the nature of a passion properly speaking. Also in the operation of the intellective appetite, which is the will, man is not the passive recipient, but rather he directs himself as the master of his action. It remains, therefore, that operations of the sensitive appetite, which are accompanied by a change of a bodily organ and which in a way draw man, should be called passions in a strict sense.
293. The sensitive appetite is divided into two powers: (1) the concupiscible, which concerns sensible good absolutely (this is pleasurable to sense) and evil contrary to it; (2) the irascible, which concerns good under the aspect of a certain eminence. For example, victory is said to be a kind of good, although it is not accompanied by pleasure of sense. Whatever passions concern good or evil absolutely, therefore, are found in the concupiscible appetite. Certain of these-three in number-regard the good: love (which implies a certain connaturality of the appetite with the good loved), desire (which implies a movement of the appetite towards the good loved), and delight (which implies a repose of the appetite in the good loved). Opposed to these in respect to evil are: hatred to love, aversion or flight to desire, sadness to delight. But those passions that concern good or evil under the aspect of difficulty belong to the irascible, as fear and boldness in regard to evil, hope and despair in regard to good. A fifth is anger, which is a composite passion and so has no opposite.
294. In enumerating the passions, therefore,. he says they are: concupiscence (which we call desire), anger, fear, boldness, envy (which is contained under sadness), and joy (which is contained under pleasure) for this is a non-corporeal pleasure that consists in an interior perception of the good, and likewise a love, hatred, and desire of the same interior kind. Desire differs from concupiscence in that concupiscence pertains to bodily pleasure while desire concerns every pleasure without distinction.
295. He adds jealousy and pity, which are species of sadness. Pity is sadness at another’s misfortune, and jealousy is sadness because one lacks what others have.
296. He also adds that pleasure and sorrow universally follow the abovementioned passions, because all others imply certain movements to good and evil, and these movements are accompanied by pleasure or sorrow. Hence all other passions are terminated at pleasure and sorrow.
297. Then [b, ii], at “I call those principles powers,” he identifies the powers not in general but those pertaining to moral study precisely as they differ from the passions. He affirms that powers are said to exist according as we are considered capable of experiencing these passions, that is, the powers are said to “suffer” or to receive these passions. Thus the irascible power exists according as we are capable of becoming angry and the concupiscible power according as we are capable of becoming sad or showing pity.
298. Then [b, iii], at “I call those principles habits,” he identifies the habits. Likewise this is not done in general but in regard to those pertaining to moral study by comparison with the passions. Habits, he states, are said to exist according as we consistently use the passions well or badly. Now a habit is a disposition determining a power in reference to something. When the determination is made conformable to the nature of the thing, there will be a good habit which disposes that a thing be done well, Otherwise there will be a bad habit according to which a thing will be done badly. He illustrates what we do according to habit, how we may be angry either wrongly-when this is done in a violent or weak manner, that is, according to excess or defector well if done with moderation.
299. Then [1, c], at “Therefore neither virtues,” he argues from the division previously given, First [c, i] he shows that virtues are not passions. Second [c, ii], at “For this reason also etc.,” he shows that they are not powers. Third [c, iii], at “If then virtues etc.,” he concludes they are habits. For the first statement he assigns four reasons. The first is this [i, w]. We are called good according to virtues and evil according to the opposite vices. But we are not called good or evil according to passions taken absolutely. Passions, therefore, are neither virtues nor vices.
300. He presents the second reason at “We are neither” [i, x]. It is taken from praise and reproach, which are kinds of attestation of goodness and evil. He says that we are praised for virtues and reproached for the opposite vices. But we are neither praised nor reproached for the passions taken absolutely. A man is not praised or blamed because he is simply afraid or angry but only because he is afraid or angry in a particular way, that is, according to reason or contrary to reason. The same must be understood of the other passions of the soul. The passions of the soul, therefore, are neither virtues nor vices.
301. At “We become angry” [i, y] he presents the third reason, which is taken from a virtuous manner of acting. Virtues are either choices or not without choice, for the very act of virtue can be called virtue. If we consider the principal acts of virtues, which are interior, virtue is choice; but if we consider the exterior acts, virtue is not without choice because the exterior acts of virtue proceed from interior choice. If virtue be taken as the very habit of virtue, even in this sense it does not lack choice, as a cause is not without its proper effect. The passions, however, come to us without choice because they precede the deliberations of the reason necessary for choice. This is what he means saying that we are angry and are afraid without willing it, that is, not by choice of the reason. The passions, therefore, are not virtues.
302. He presents the fourth reason at “We are said” [i, z]. This is taken from the very nature of virtue. The passions are movements according to which we are said to be moved. The virtues and vices are qualities according to which we are said not to be moved but to be disposed in some way, whether well or badly that our movement may ensue. The passions, therefore, are neither virtues nor vices.
303. Then [c, ii], at “For this reason,” he shows that virtues are not powers for two reasons. The first of these [ii, x] is taken from the nature of good and evil, as has just been proved (299-300) about the passions. The reason is this. No one is called good or evil, no one is praised or reproached, because he is capable of being affected by some passion-for instance, that he is capable of becoming angry or being afraid. But we are called good or evil and are praised or reproached because of virtues and vices. Virtues and vices, therefore, are not powers.
304. He gives the second reason at “Furthermore, the powers” [ii, y]. It is taken on the part of the cause and is this. Powers are in us by nature because they are natural characteristics of the soul. But virtues and vices by which we are called good or evil are not in us by nature, as was proved above (248-251). Virtues and vices, therefore, are not powers.
305. Then [c, iii], at “If then,” he concludes his proposition. If virtues are neither passions nor, powers, it remains that they are habits according to the previously given division. Thus he concludes that virtue with regard to its generic definition obviously is a habit.
Virtue, a Kind of Habit
I. HE PRESENTS HIS PROPOSITION. — 306
We must consider not only that virtue is a habit but also what kind of habit.
II. HE MAKES KNOWN THE PROPOSITION.
A. He manifests a certain common quality of virtue. — 307-308
We must explain, therefore, that virtue perfects everything of which it, is the virtue, rendering both the possessor good and his work good. Thus the virtue or power of the eye makes good both the eye and its operation, for it is by the power of the eye that we see well. Likewise the virtue or excellence of a horse makes the horse good and also makes him good for running, riding and awaiting the enemy. If this be true in all other things, then human virtue will be a habit making man good and rendering his work good.
B. From this quality he explains its specific difference.
A’ First according to the property of the operations. — 309
How this takes place has already been described,
B’ Second according to the nature of virtue.
1. HE INTRODUCES CERTAIN PRELIMINARIES.
a. He proposes the things necessary to elucidate the proposition. — 310
but it will become still clearer if we study the nature of virtue. In all continuous and divisible matter, we can take the more, the less, and the equal amount. These are understood either in regard to the thing or in regard to us. But the equal is a mean between excess and defect.
b. He clarifies what he has said.
i. First by means of reason. — 311
By the mean on the part of the thing, I understand that which is equally distant from both extremes and which is one and the same for everybody. By the mean in regard to us, I understand that which is neither in excess nor in defect. This, however, is not one and the same for everybody.
ii. By way of example.
x. FIRST REGARDING THE OBJECTIVE MEAN. — 312
For example, if ten be taken as many and two as few, then six will be the mean on part of the thing because six both exceeds and is exceeded by an equal amount. This mean is according to arithmetic proportion.
y. HE GIVES EXAMPLES OF THE MEAN... IN COMPARISON WITH US. — 313-314
But the mean in regard to us is not to be taken in this way. A trainer will not order six pounds of food for someone simply because eating ten pounds is a great deal and eating two pounds is a small amount. This may be much or little for the person eating. For Milo it would certainly be little, but it would be much for a champion in gymnastics; and the same holds true in running and wrestling. Thus everyone who is wise avoids excess and wants to find the mean, not on the part of the thing but in regard to us.
2. HE CONCLUDES HIS PROPOSITION. — 315-316
Every practical science then perfects its work by keeping in view the mean and executing the work according to the mean. Hence it is customary to tell a man who has done a good piece of work that nothing is to be added or taken away, meaning that excess and defect disfigure a work but the mean preserves it. As we have said, good workmen work with an eye on the mean. But virtue like nature is more certain and better than art. Virtue then will aim at the mean.
3. HE EXPLAINS AN INFERENCE. — 317-318
I am speaking of moral virtue, for it treats of passions and operations in which we find excess, defect, and the mean. Thus aggressiveness, fear, concupiscence, aversion, anger, pity, and, in general, pleasure and sorrow take place with excess and defect. Both of these are evil; but to experience these passions at the right time, for the right objects, toward the right persons, with the right motive, and in the right way is the mean and the highest good of virtue. Similarly, excess, defect, and the mean are to be found in actions. Now moral virtue is concerned with passions and operations in which excess is vicious, defect is reproachable, and the mean receives praise and shows the right path. These two (praise and righteousness) pertain to virtue. Moral virtue, therefore, is a kind of middle course and aims at the mean.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
306. After the Philosopher has explained, the genus of virtue, he now begins an inquiry into the specific difference of virtue. First [I] he presents his proposition. He says that in order to know what virtue is we must consider not only that it is a habit—thus the genus is understood, but what kind of habit—thus the specific difference is indicated.
307. Second [II], at “We must explain, therefore,” he makes known the proposition. On this point he does two things. First [II, A] he manifests a certain common quality of virtue. Second [II, B], from this quality of virtue he explains its specific difference, at “How this etc.” He says first that every virtue makes its possessor good and his work good. Thus the virtue or power of the eye makes the eye good and gives us good sight, which is the proper function of the eye. Likewise the virtue or excellence of a horse makes a horse good and makes it perform well, that is, run fast, ride easily, and fearlessly await the enemy.
308. The reason is that the virtue or power of a thing is judged by the best it can do. For example, the power of one who can carry a hundred pounds is determined by his actual carrying of this weight, as is said in the first book De Coelo (Ch. II, 281 a 8; St. Th. Lect. 25, 249) and not by the fact that he carries fifty pounds. Now the utmost or best to which the power of anything extends is called its excellent performance. It belongs to the virtue of every thing, therefore, to render an excellent performance. Because a perfect operation proceeds only from a perfect agent, it follows that everything is both good and operates well according to its own virtue. If this be true in all other things—and such was already apparent from our examples—human virtue must be a kind of habit, as was mentioned above (305). From this habit man becomes good formally speaking (as one becomes white by whiteness) and operates well.
309. Then [II, B], at “How this,” he investigates the specific difference of virtue according to the quality of virtue previously indicated. He does this under three headings: first [B, A’] according to the property of the operations; second [B, B’], according to the nature of virtue, At “but it will become still clearer etc.”; third [Lect. 7; C’] according to the special character of good or evil, at “Moreover, there are many etc.” (B.1106 b 29). He says first that the way in which a man may become good and do good has been treated already (257). It was noted also (260-264) that we are made good in every virtue by operations according to the mean. Then having become good we perform good actions. It remains, therefore, that if virtue makes a man good and his work good, it will consist in the mean.
310. Then [B, B’], at “but it will become etc.,” he proves the same by the nature of virtue. Regarding this he does three things. First [B’, 1] he introduces certain preliminaries necessary to explain his proposition. Second [B’, 2], he concludes his proposition at “Every practical science then etc.” Third [B’, 3], he explains an inference at “I am speaking of moral virtue etc.” On the first point he does two things. First [1, a] he proposes the things necessary to elucidate the proposition. Second [1, b] he clarifies what he has said, at “By the mean on the part etc.” He says first that the manner in which we become good and perform good acts will be clearer still if we consider the nature of virtue. For an understanding of this, we must take for granted beforehand that virtue treats three things: the more, the less, and the equal. Virtue treats these both in continuous, contingent matters, and even in any other divisible matter, whether it be numerically divided as all discrete things, or whether it be divided incidentally—for example, by intensity and indistinctness of a quality in a subject. These three are so arranged that the equal holds a middle place between the more, which pertains to excess, and the less, which pertains to defect. This can be understood in two ways: one according to absolute quantity in some thing and the other in relation to us.
311. Then [1, b], at “By the mean on the part of the thing,” he clarifies what he said about the difference on the part of the thing (objective) and in regard to us (relative): first [b, i] by means of reason, and second [b, ii] by way of example at “For example, if etc.” He says first that the objective mean is the point equidistant from both extremes. It is the same for all because it is understood according to the absolute quantity of the thing. But the mean is relative in regard to us inasmuch as it neither exceeds nor falls short of a proportion suitable to us. Hence this mean is not the same for all. If we apply the relative mean to a shoe, it will not be more than the length of the foot nor less. It will not be the same for all because not all have the same size foot.
312. Then [b, ii], at “For example, if,” he clarifies what he has said, by way of example: first [ii, x] regarding the objective mean which is equally distant from the extremes. Thus six is the mean between ten (which is the more) and two (which is the less) because six is less than ten and more than two by the same amount, four. The mean, which is taken in numbers from the equal distance between two extremes, is said to be according to arithmetic proportion which considers numerical quantity. But the mean, which is taken from the equality of proportion in regard to us, is said to be according to the geometric proportion as will be made clear afterwards in the fifth book (944, 949, 950, 972).
313. Second [ii, y], at “But the mean in regard to us,” he gives examples of the mean. He says that the mean, which is understood in comparison with us, is not to be taken according to equal distance between extremes. This is sufficiently clear in the previous example of the shoe. If a shoe twenty fingers’ breadth is long and a shoe four fingers’ breadth is short it does not necessarily follow that one twelve fingers’ breadth will be the right fit. Perhaps it will be large compared to the foot of one person and small compared to the foot of another. He also exemplifies this mean in food. If eating ten pounds or ten portions is much and eating two pounds is little, a trainer—whose duty it is to make out someone’s diet—should not for this reason prescribe six pounds, since even this is much for one person and little for another.
314. This would indeed be little for a man called Milo who, according to Solinus, ate a whole beef in a day. But it would be much for a champion in gymnastics, for one who has to excel in sports—in which men used to contend naked—and must eat lightly to be in better condition. The same is true of those who run at the stadium and of those who take up wrestling—a sport engaged in by the Greeks for exercise. So it is also in every operative science. The wise man avoids excess and defect, and wants to find the mean not objectively but relative to us.
315. Then [B’, 2], at “Every practical science,” he argues from the premises in this way. Every operative science perfects its work in this: that in planning it aims for the mean, and in execution it carries out its work in accord with the mean. Indications of this can be had from the fact that men are in the habit of saying, when a work is well done, that not a thing is to be added nor taken away. Thus they give us to understand that excess and defect spoil a work which is preserved by the mean. Hence good workmen, as has been pointed out (313-314), work with an eye on the mean. But virtue like nature is more certain and even better than any art. Moral virtue operates by inclining in a determined way to one thing as nature does. Indeed custom becomes nature. But art, which operates according to reason, is indifferent to various objects. Hence like nature it is more certain than art.
316. Likewise virtue is better than art because by art a man is capable of doing a good work, but art does not cause him to do the good work. He can do a bad work because art does not incline to the good use of art; a grammarian for example can speak incorrectly. But by virtue a man not only is capable of operating but actually performs the action because virtue like nature inclines to a good operation. Art alone gives only the knowledge of the operation. Consequently even for this secondary reason virtue, which is better than art, aims at the mean.
317. Then [ B’, 3] , at “I am speaking,” he explains a further conclusion. He affirms that what has been said (256-263) ought to be understood of moral virtue that concerns passions and operations to which belong excess, defect and mean. He gives an example first from the passions saying that fear, aggressiveness, concupiscence, aversion (which is a fleeing from something), anger, pity, and any Pleasure and sorrow may happen in greater and less degree than they ought. Both the excess and the defect are evil. But if a man should fear and dare (so of the other passions) what he ought, in the things he ought, in regard to the persons he ought, for the motive he ought, and in the way he ought, this will be a mean for the passions. It will be also the highest good of virtue. Similarly excess, defect, and mean are found in actions. Moral virtue treats of passions and actions as its proper matter so that in them excess is vicious and defect worthy of reproach, but the mean receives praise and shows the right path. These two pertain to virtue: righteousness (which is opposed to vicious perverseness) and praise (which is opposed to reproach). This and vicious perverseness follow from the first two (excess and defect).
318. Thus he concludes that moral virtue considered in itself is a kind of middle course and is an indicator of the mean inasmuch as it aims at the mean and accomplishes it.
Conclusion of the Definition
C’ The philosopher now adds a third (reason) based upon the nature of good and evil. — 319-321
Moreover, there are many ways of sinning (for evil partakes of the unlimited in the opinion of the Pythagoreans, and good partakes of the limited). However, there is only one way of doing what is right. It is easy to sin, therefore, but difficult to do what is right. It is easy indeed to miss a bull’s eye but difficult to hit it. For this reason then defect and excess pertain to vice but the mean to virtue. Men are good in but one way but evil in many ways.
D’ He infers the definition of virtue from the premises.
1. HE PRESENTS THE DEFINITION. — 322-323
Virtue then is a habit that chooses the mean in regard to us, as that mean is determined by reason and understood by a wise man.
2. HE EXPLAINS IT.
a. First he shows between what things there is a mean. — 324
Virtue is a mean between two vices: of that which is according to excess and of that which is according to defect.
b. Second in reference to what thing this mean may be considered. — 325
In regard to this mean, some vices fall short but others exceed what is right both in the passions and in actions. Virtue, however, discovers and chooses the mean.
c. Third he deduces a corollary. — 326-327
For this reason, virtue according to its essence and definition is a mean. But it is also an extreme as having the nature of what is best and right.
3. HE REJECTS AN ERROR.
a. He explains this first from reason. — 328-329
Not every action or passion of the soul admits a mean. Certain ones imply vice by their very name: passions such as ill-will, shamelessness, envy and actions such as adultery, theft, murder. All these and their ilk are said to be evil in themselves and not only in their excess or defect. Neither do we have the option of acting well or badly in an action like adultery, as though it could be considered proper in itself, or done in a fitting manner, or at a right time, or in due circumstances, but to do any of them is sinful without any qualification.
b. He gives some examples by way of proof in the matter of vice. — 330
To seek a mean in these matters would be like assigning a mean to excess and defect in unjust, or in cowardly or lustful actions. Thus there would be a mean of an excess and of a defect, and an excess of an excess and a defect of a defect.
c. He explains the same thing by example in the matter of virtue. — 331-332
An excess and defect are not found in temperance and fortitude because a mean is in no way an extreme, so excess or defect cannot be the mean of vice but what is done is vicious. As a consequence there cannot be a mean in any excess or defect, nor can there be excess or defect in any mean.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
319. After giving the two previous reasons, the Philosopher now [C’] adds a third based upon the nature of good and evil. Accepting the Pythagorean view, he says that there are many ways of sinning because evil, which is included in the nature of sin, partakes of the unlimited, but good partakes of the limited. We must understand then, on the contrary, that there is only one way of doing what is right.
320. The reason for this can be found in the statement of Dionysius in the book De Divinis Nominibus, that good results from a united and complete cause but evil from any single defect, as is evident in physical goodness and badness. Ugliness, which is a defect of physical beauty, results from any member being unsightly. But beauty arises only when all the members are well proportioned and of a healthy hue. Likewise sickness, a defect in the constitution of the body, happens from a single disorder of any humor. But health is dependent on the proper proportion of all the humors. Likewise sin is committed in human action from any circumstance being inordinate in any way either by excess or defect. But goodness will be present only when all the circumstances are rightly ordered. As health or beauty comes about in a single way but sickness and ugliness in many, even in an unlimited number of ways, so also moral goodness results in only one way but the act of sin takes place in countless ways. Hence it is easy to sin because sin can happen in a variety of modes, but it is difficult to do what is right because rectitude happens only in one way.
321. He gives as an example that it is easy to miss the center of the target, because a miss can happen in numerous ways. But to hit the center spot is difficult because a hit happens in only one way. Now it is obvious that excess and defect take place in various ways but the mean in a single way. Hence excess and defect manifestly pertain to vice but the mean to virtue because men are good simply, that is, in one way, but evil at sundry times, i.e., in many ways as has just been stated (320).
322. Then [D’], at “Virtue then is,” he infers the definition of virtue from the premises. First [D’, 1] he presents the definition, and second [D’, 2] he explains it, at “Virtue is a mean between two etc.” Third [D’, 3] he rejects an error, at “Not every action etc.” In the definition of virtue he treats four points. The first of these is the genus, which he touches on when he says that virtue is a habit (305). The second is the act of the moral virtue, for the habit must be defined by the act. This he mentions by the word “chooses,” that is, acts according to choice, for the principal act of virtue is choice—he will discuss this later (432). Since the act must be determined by the object he refers then, third, to the object or the term of the action when he says “the mean in regard to us.” It was shown above (314) that virtue seeks out and uses the mean not of the thing but in regard to us. Similarly it has been said (257) that moral virtue is in the appetite, which participates in reason. He had to add, therefore, a fourth notion, which refers to the cause of goodness in virtue, by the words determined by reason.” It is good to seek the mean only insofar as, it is determined by reason, but because reason can be right or erring, we must perform virtue according to right reason, as was ascertained previously (257).
323. To explain this he adds “as understood by a wise man.” “Wise” here does not refer to one who is wise simply, knowing the ultimate causes of the whole universe, but rather to one who is prudent, that is, wise in human affairs, but this he will discuss in the sixth book (1163). Certainly the making of what is good in the art of building is determined by the judgment of one wise in that art, and the same is true in all the other arts.
324. Then [D’, 2], at “Virtue is a mean,” he explains the previously given definition in regard to his saying that virtue consists in the mean. On this point he does three things. First [2, a] he shows between what things there is a mean and, second [2, b], in reference to what thing- this mean may be considered, at “In regard to this etc.” Third [2, c] he deduces a corollary at “For this reason virtue etc.” He says first that virtue itself is a kind of middle course between two vices and between two vicious habits: one by way of excess and the other by way of defect . Thus liberality is the middle course between extravagance tending toward excess and miserliness tending toward avarice.
325. Then [2, b], at “In regard to this,” he shows in reference to what norm we are to judge excess, defect, and mean. He says we must further consider that some vices fall short of but others exceed, both in the passions and in actions, what is right. In regard to this some are deficient and others are in excess. But virtue, precisely as it observes what it ought, is said to discover the mean by reason and to choose it by the will. Thus it is evident that virtue itself is a middle course and, on the other hand, it employs the mean. It is indeed the middle course between two habits, but it uses the mean in actions and passions.
326. Then [2, c], at “For this reason,” he draws a further conclusion from his remarks: that virtue in its essence and definition is a mean. But precisely as it possesses the character of the best and as it acts or guides well in a determined genus it is an extreme. For an understanding of this, we must consider (as has been pointed out in 322), that the entire goodness of moral virtue depends on the rectitude of the reason. Hence good is in harmony with moral virtue according as it follows right reason, but evil has a reference to each vice, viz.: excess and defect inasmuch as both depart from right reason. Therefore, according to the nature of goodness and evil both vices are in one extreme that is, in evil which is thus shown to be a deviation from reason. Virtue however is in the other extreme, that is, in good which is characterized as a following of reason.
327. By reason of this, virtue and the contrary vices do not follow the species indicated by the definition, because right reason is the motive and the extrinsic norm for the right appetite. But an evil appetite does not intend by vice to deviate from right reason—this is contrary to its intention—for it directly intends that object in which excess or defect is present. What is contrary to its intention is incidental. Now the incidental and the extrinsic do not constitute a species but the species of a habit is taken from the object to which the habit tends. But according to objects the mean belongs to virtue, and the extremes to vices. He says, therefore, that according to the nature of good, virtue lies in the extreme but according to the essential species, in the mean.
328. Then [D’ 3], at “Not every action,” he rejects an erroneous view. Because virtue can occupy the middle course and vice the extremes in actions and in passions, someone might think that this would happen in all actions and passions. But he rejects this by saying that not every action or passion of the soul admits a mean in the context of virtue.
329. He explains this first from reason [3, a], at “Certain ones etc.” Certain actions and passions by their very name imply vice: passions such as ill-will, shamelessness, envy and actions such as adultery, theft, murder. All of these and their like are evil in themselves and not only in their excess or defect. Hence in such things a person cannot be virtuous no matter how he acts, but he always sins in doing them. In explaining this he adds that right or wrong in actions like adultery does not arise from the fact that a person does the act as he ought or when he ought, so that then the act becomes good, but on the other hand evil when not done as it ought. Without qualification sin is present whenever any of these is present, for each of them implies an act opposed to what is right.
330. Second [3, b], he gives some examples by way of proof in the matter of vice, at “To seek a mean.” He says that because such things imply evil in themselves, seeking a mean and extremes in them is like attributing a mean to excess and defect, whether it be in acting unjustly, or cowardly or lewdly—this would certainly be unfitting. Since these actions imply excess and defect, it follows that excess and defect would be a mean (which is a contradiction) and that we would have to find the excess of the excess and the defect of the defect, which could go on forever.
331. Third [3, c], he explains the same thing by example in the matter of virtue at “An excess.” Because temperance and fortitude imply a mean of themselves, they do not admit excess and defect in the sense that a man can be temperate or courageous in an excessive or defective manner. Likewise the mean of those things, which of themselves imply extremes, cannot be excess and defect. But no matter how any one of them is done, it is vicious.
332. Last he concludes that there cannot be a mean of any excess or defect, nor can there be an excess or defect of any mean.
Explanation of the Definition in Detail
I. HE SHOWS THE NECESSITY OF THIS PROCEDURE. — 333-334
We must speak of virtue not only under its universal aspect but we must apply the doctrine to individual cases. In discussions which treat of actions, universals are not of much utility and particulars are more accurate, for actions are concerned with singulars. It is fitting then that discussions be in harmony with particulars. Therefore our teaching must be based on the explanation of individual virtues.
II. HE CARRIES OUT HIS PROPOSAL.
A. He shows (by particular cases that the mean is good... but the extreme is evil) first in the virtues.
A’ Virtues which pertain to bodily life.
1. FIRST HE SPEAKS OF FORTITUDE. — 335-341
In actions concerned with fear and daring, the mean is fortitude. Here an excess in fearlessness lacks an applicable name (many things indeed are unnamed). But the man who is extreme in daring is called foolhardy, while the man who fears excessively and lacks daring is a coward.
2. SECOND HE SPEAKS OF TEMPERANCE. — 342
With regard to pleasures and pains—but not all of them—the mean is temperance (which is less concerned with pains). Excess in these things is called intemperance, but the defect does not often occur. Hence persons lacking a sense of pleasure are unnamed, although they may be called insensible.
B’ (Virtues) which pertain to external goods.
1. HE TREATS THOSE VIRTUES... CONCERNED WITH THE DESIRE OF EXTERNAL GOODS.
a. First... he presents the virtues regulating riches.
i. First he treats liberality. — 343
In respect to the giving and receiving of money, the mean is liberality. The excess and defect are found in extravagance and stinginess, which in opposite ways do too much and too little. The spendthrift overdoes the giving and falls short in the acquisition, but the miser on the contrary is excessive in acquiring and deficient in giving. For the present we are content to discuss these matters in outline and as contained under headings, later we shall treat them more in detail.
ii. Then (he treats) magnificence. — 344
Having to do with the use of money are other habits, the mean of which is magnificence. The magnificent or princely person, as concerned with bestowing great sums, differs from the liberal person who gives small amounts. Excess in magnificence is called apyrocalia (vulgar display) and banausia, but the defect, meanness. These extremes differ from the extremes opposed to liberality, the manner however of the difference will be treated later.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
333. After the Philosopher has explained what virtue is in a general way, he now applies the definition in a special way to each virtue. On this point he does two things. First [I] he shows the necessity of this procedure. Second [II] he carries out his proposal at “In actions concerned with fear etc.” He says first that we must speak of the essence of virtue not only in its universal aspect but the general doctrine must be applied to each case in a special way. The reason he gives is that in discussions concerned with actions, universals are not of much utility and particulars are more accurate because actions pertain to singulars. Fittingly then discussions about actions should be in harmony with particulars.
334. If then our study be about actions considered only universally, it will be futile both because it does not accomplish its purpose, which is the direction of individual actions, and because a study from a universal viewpoint-where deficiencies in particulars may not occur-cannot be made in these things by reason of the changeableness of the matter, as was said before (32-36). But the study of particulars is more effective, being suitable to control actions, and also more accurate because particulars are understood to the extent that the universal is verified in them. What was said (289-332), therefore, about virtue in general must have been based upon the explanation of individual virtues.
335. Then [II], at “In actions concerned with,” he carries out his proposal, showing by particular cases that the mean is good and praiseworthy but the extreme is evil and blameworthy. He shows this first in the virtues [II, A]; and second [Lect. 9; B], in the passions at “Also in the passions etc.” (B. 1108 a 31). Regarding the first point we must consider that virtues have been distinguished in two ways. Some observe the distinction of virtues according to certain general modes which are four in number. The root of virtue consists in the rectitude of reason according to which we must direct our actions and passions. Actions however are to be directed in a way different from the passions, for actions in themselves do not resist reason, as buying, selling, and so forth. Consequently, for such things reason need only establish a certain equality of rectitude. But the passions indicate a kind of inclination that can be contrary to reason in a twofold way.
336. In one way it draws reason to something else, as is evident in all passions that deal with following the appetite—for example, concupiscence, hope, anger, and others of this kind. For these passions reason must establish a rectitude in suppressing and restraining them. In another way passion shrinks from what is according to reason, as in all passions that denote flight of the appetite—for example, fear, hatred, and the like. In passions of this kind reason must establish a rectitude by stabilizing the soul in what is conformable to reason. According to this we designate four virtues, which some men call principal. Rectitude of reason itself pertains to prudence, equality established in operations to justice, constancy of soul to fortitude, and moderation of the passions—as the words indicate—to temperance.
337. Some, therefore, have understood these virtues in a general way, thinking that all knowledge of truth belongs to prudence, the equality of all actions to justice, all constancy of soul to fortitude, and all curbing and moderation of the passions to temperance. Cicero, Seneca, and others spoke of these virtues in this way. They considered such to be general virtues and called all other virtues species of these.
338. But this distinction does not seem to be appropriate. First because the above-mentioned virtues are of such a nature that without them there can be no virtue. Hence the species of virtue cannot be differentiated by this. Second, virtues and vices are not specified by reason but by their object (322).
339. Aristotle then distinguishes virtues more fittingly according to their objects or matter. Thus the previously mentioned four virtues are not called principal because they are general but because their species are taken according to certain important notions, as prudence is not concerned with all knowledge of the truth but especially with the act of reason that is command. Justice is not concerned with equality of all actions but only of those referring to another, where the better thing is the establishment of equality. Fortitude is not concerned with every kind of constancy but only that which arises at the fear of the danger of death. Temperance is not concerned with all restraint but only with that of the desires and pleasures of touch. The other virtues, however, are as it were secondary. They can be reduced, therefore, to the previously mentioned virtues not as species to general but as secondary to principal virtues.
340. Since then these things have been taken for granted, we must know that the Philosopher does not treat justice and prudence here but later on in the fifth book (885-1108) and the sixth book (1161-1173). He does treat here, however, temperance, fortitude, and certain other secondary virtues, all of which are concerned with some of the passions. But all passions regard some object that pertains either to the bodily life of man or external goods or human acts. Therefore, he first [A, A’] mentions the virtues touching on the passions, the objects of which pertain to bodily life. Second [A, B’] he mentions those pertaining to external goods at “In respect to the giving and receiving of money etc.”; and third [Lect. 9; C’] those regarding exterior acts at “There are three other means etc.” (B. 1108 a 9). On the first point he does two things. First [A’, 1] he speaks of fortitude, which regards dangers destructive of life. Second [A, 2] he speaks of temperance, which regards things useful for the preservation of life, such as food by which life is preserved in the individual and sex by which life is preserved in the species, at “With regard to pleasures and pains etc.”
341. He says first that fortitude is a mean concerned with fear and daring precisely as they regard the danger of death. But of those sinning by excess, the state of the man who is excessive in being fearless and also deficient in fearing is not given any special name because this rarely happens. Likewise many things are without a name because men do not advert to them ordinarily so that they would give them a name. But he who is extreme in daring is called rash. Such a one differs from the fearless man who is so-called from the lack of fear, but the rash man is so-called from an excess of daring. He who fears excessively and lacks daring is called a coward.
342. Then [A’, 2], at “With regard to pleasures,” he discusses temperance. He says that temperance is a mean not for all pleasures and pains but for those of touch, pertaining to food and sex. It is less concerned with pains than with pleasures, for pains of this kind are caused only from the absence of pleasures. Excess in such things is called intemperance, but the defect does not often occur because everyone naturally desires pleasure. Hence this defect is unnamed. He himself, however, invents a name and calls insensible those who do not feel pleasures of this kind. One who, contrary to right reason, avoids such pleasures is appropriately called insensible.
343. Then [A, B’], at “In respect to the giving,” he introduces the virtues that, regard external things. First [B’, 1] he treats those virtues concerned with the desire of external goods and second [Lect. 9; B’, 2] those that regard external evils, at “With respect to anger etc.” (B. 1108 a 3). External goods are riches and honors. First [1, a] then he presents the virtues regulating riches; second [Lect. 9; b] those referring to honors at “The mean in regard to honor etc.” (B. 1107 b 23)Regarding the first he does two things. First [a, i] he treats liberality, which is concerned with moderate riches; then [a, ii] magnificence, which is concerned with great riches, at “Having to do with the use of money etc.” He says first that liberality is a mean between the giving and receiving of money. But extravagance and stinginess constitute, in an opposite way, excess and defect. The spendthrift overdoes the giving and falls short in the acquisition, but the miser on the contrary is excessive in acquiring and deficient in giving. These matters are here discussed in outline or as conforming to a pattern, and as falling under headings or summarily. Later (528-594; 595-648; 658-706) he will treat more accurately both these and other matters.
344. Then [a, ii], at “Having to do with the use of money,” he introduces magnificence. He says that besides the above-mentioned habits, liberality and the opposed vices, there are also other virtues concerned with money, for which even magnificence is a kind of mean. The princely or munificent person, as engaged in expending great sums, differs from the generous person who gives small amounts. Excess in respect to magnificence is called apyrocalia: a meaning “without,” pyros meaning “practice,” kalos meaning “good,” that is, without the practice of what is good. Thus those who spend a great deal care little about how they bestow their goods. This excess is also called banausia from banos meaning “furnace” because, like a furnace, the squanderer consumes everything. The defect however is called meanness. These extremes in fact differ from those that are opposed to liberality, but the way they differ will be treated subsequently in the fourth book (707-734).
Virtues Dealing with Honors
b. He now treats those (virtues) dealing with honors.
i. He deals with the virtue referring to great honors. — 345
The mean in regard to honor and dishonor is magnanimity. But the excess is chapnotes (i.e., presumption); and the defect, smallness of soul.
ii. (He deals) with the virtue referring to ordinary honors. — 346-348
As we pointed out, liberality that bestows small amounts differs from magnificence. So also there is a virtue concerned with ordinary honors that differs from magnanimity whose province is great honors. A man can desire ordinary honors in the right way, more than he ought, and less than he ought. If he is excessive in the desire of honors, he is called ambitious; if deficient, he is said to be unambitious. But he who strikes a mean has no special name. Likewise the habits are without names except for ambition, which we call the excessive love of honors. Hence persons who are in the extremes argue about the location of the mean. Even we sometimes call the man possessing the mean ambitious, and sometimes we call him unambitious. Why we do this will be explained afterwards, but for the present we should refer to the remaining states in the way indicated.
2. HE PROPOSES THE VIRTUE CONCERNING EXTERNAL EVILS. — 349
With respect to anger we find an excess, a defect, and a mean. Although these are for the most part without names, we call the man following the mean “mild” and the mean “mildness.” In regard to the extremes, he who is excessive is called irascible and his vice irascibility. But he who is deficient is said to be apathetic and to have the defect of apathy.
C’ He proposes the virtues which concern human actions.
1. HE SHOWS THEIR VARIETY. — 350-351
There are three other means which are alike in one respect and different in another. They are all concerned with communicating what we say and do, but they differ because one of them refers to the truth, and the others to the pleasantness found in this communication. One of these latter concerns pleasantness in the things said and done in jest, the others regard the things that belong to the usual manner of living. We must speak of these things so that we may better understand that the mean is always praiseworthy but that the extremes are neither right nor to be praised but rather to be condemned. Many of these also are without special names, but as we have done with the others, we shall try to invent names for them for the sake of the clarity and the good that results.
2. HE GIVES EXAMPLES OF THESE.
a. First of that which concerns truth. — 352
In regard to truth the mean is possessed by the man who is truthful and is called truthfulness. But pretension, which is the excess, is called boasting, and the pretender is known as a braggart. The defect, however, may be named dissimulation or irony and the pretender a dissembler.
b. He gives an example of the virtue concerned with amusement. — 353
In respect to pleasantness concerned with amusement, the man who observes the mean is called witty and the disposition itself wit. But the excess is designated as buffoonery and the person who is excessive a buffoon. If one falls short in this matter he is said to he boorish anti to have the quality of boorishness.
c. He exemplifies the third of these virtues. — 354
In the remaining kind of pleasantness, that is, in life generally, the man who is pleasant as he should be is called affable, and the mean he attains is affability. But he who carries this too far merely for the sake of pleasing is called obsequious. If however he acts for his own utility he is called a flatterer. One who falls short in this matter and is always difficult is termed contentious and perverse.
B. He gives an example of certain laudable passions.
a. First of modesty. — 355
Also in the passions and the things regarding the passions a mean exists. Modesty, for example, is not a virtue, but it is praised as is the modest person, or in this question a mean is attainable. The person who exceeds the mean and is embarrassed at everything is bashful. But one who falls short, that is, blushes at nothing, is shameless, while the person who strikes a happy mean is called modest. 355
b. Second he discusses... nemesis. — 356-357
Righteous indignation may be assigned as the mean between envy and epicacotharchia or rejoicing in evil. These are concerned with pleasure and sorrow over what happens to our neighbors. The righteously indignant person is saddened at the unmerited prosperity of the wicked. But the envious person goes far beyond this and eats his heart out over the success of everyone. The man called epicacotharchos is so deficient in sadness that he actually rejoices. However, there will be time to treat of these matters elsewhere. Because justice is understood in various ways, we shall later treat its parts showing how the mean is constituted in them. Likewise we shall discuss the intellectual virtues.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
345. Having completed the virtues that concern riches, he now [b] treats those dealing with honors. First [b, i] he deals with the virtue referring to great honors, and second [b, ii] with the virtue referring to ordinary honors, at “As we pointed out etc.” He says first that magnanimity is the mean between honor and dishonor. But the excess in following after the things belonging to great honors is a certain disposition that is called chaumotes because it blazes forth in things pertaining to the desire of honor. In Greek cauma is fire, and capnos means smoke. If the word be written chapnotes it can be translated “exhalation” or presumption. We are accustomed to say that they who breathe with great difficulty on climbing high altitudes are wheezing or puffing. But the defect opposed to magnanimity is faintheartedness.
346. Then [b, ii ], at “As we pointed out,” he proposes another virtue referring to ordinary honors. He says, as has been indicated (344), that liberality differs from magnificence because liberality bestows small amounts while magnificence bestows great sums. So too there is a virtue concerned with ordinary honors which differs from magnanimity which is concerned with great honors. That in this question there should be some virtue consisting in a mean is made clear by his adding that ordinary honors are desired as they ought (this belongs to the mean of virtue), more than they ought (this belongs to excess), and less than they ought (this belongs to the defect). He who excessively desires honor is ambitious or a lover of honor. He who is deficient in the desire of honor is unambitious or without the desire of honor. But he who strikes a happy mean has no special name.
347. Likewise the dispositions, i.e., the habits of vice or of the mean-virtue are unnamed. However, we can invent names: calling the habit by which a person excessively loves honor, ambition; and the habit by which a person is deficient in the love of honor, “unambitiousness.” But because the mean has not been named, the persons who are in the extremes argue about the location of the mean. Both maintain that they possess the mean. He explains this by drawing a comparison with two states that are in the habit of bickering over their common border when the boundary has not been fixed. Both claim the intervening territory as their own. But this is fairly common to all the vices for each of the extremes to think they possess the mean and that the virtuous are in the other extreme, e.g., the coward considers the brave man reckless; the reckless man says the brave man is a coward. Hence Aristotle states what is proper to this matter, that not only do the vicious appropriate the name of virtue to themselves, but even the virtuous use the name of the vice as if it were a virtue because the mean has not been named.
348. This is what he refers to when he adds that even we (speaking correctly too) sometimes call a man who possesses the mean ambitious, and other times unambitious. Also at times we praise a person because he is ambitious. We are accustomed to say in commending a person that he is solicitous about his honor, and thus we call the man who loves honor, virtuous. On the other hand we sometimes praise an unambitious man, saying in his praise that he does not care about the esteem of men, but about the truth. So we call the unambitious man virtuous. Why we do this will be explained afterwards in the fourth book (794-795)But for the present we should continue with the remaining mediums in the way designated, that is, as conforming to a pattern.
349. Then , at “With respect to anger,” he proposes the virtue concerning external evils by which man is provoked to anger. He says that in regard to anger there is an excess, a defect, and a mean. Although all these for the most part are without names, we are accustomed to call the man following the mean mild, and the mean itself mildness. But he who is excessive in this passion we call irascible and we say he has the quality of irascibility. Ile man however who is deficient we call apathetic and say he has the defect of apathy.
350. Then [C’], at “There are,” he proposes the virtues that concern human actions. First [C’, 1] he shows their variety, and second [C’, 2] he gives examples of these at “In regard to truth etc.” He says first that three means are alike in one respect and different in another. They are alike in that all refer to words and deeds in which men communicate among themselves. They are different in that one of them refers to the truth of such words and deeds. The others, however, refer to pleasantness in these words and deeds, so that one of them regards pleasantness in the things that are said or done in jest, the others regard what belongs to the usual manner of living, i.e., serious matters.
351. We must speak of these things so it will become more apparent that the mean is always praiseworthy and the extremes are not to be praised but rather condemned. Many of these are without special names, but, as we have done with the others, we shall try to invent names to clarify what is said for the sake of the good that will ensue. The reason is that the purpose of this science is not the manifestation of truth but virtuous activity.
352. Then [C, 2], at “In regard to truth,” he gives examples of these virtues and first [2, a] of that which concerns truth. He says that in regard to truth the mean is had by the man who is called truthful, and the mean itself is called truthfulness. But pretension, which is the excess (when a person pretends greater things about himself than are true), is called boasting, and the pretender is called a braggart. But dissembling, which is the defect (when a person makes pretense of certain contemptible things about himself), is called dissimulation or irony. Such a pretender is called a dissembler.
353. Second [2, b], at “In respect to,” he gives an example of the virtue concerned with amusement. He says, regarding pleasantness in amusement, that the man who observes the mean is called witty (eutrapelos) giving as it were a pleasant turn to every incident. The disposition itself is called wit (eutrapelia). But the man who is guilty of excess is called a buffoon or bomolochus, from bomo meaning “altar” and lochos meaning “plundering.” He is said to be like the bird of prey which always flew near the sacrificial altars to snatch some food. In a similar way the man who is excessive in amusement always insists on snatching a word or action of someone to give it a comic turn. The disposition however is called buffoonery. But the man who is deficient is said to be boorish and to have the quality of boorishness.
354. Third [2, C], at “In the remaining,” he exemplifies the third of these virtues saying that in the remaining pleasantness, which is in life, touching on our serious actions, the mean is struck by the friendly person-not so designated from the effect of friendship but from amicable conversation. Such a one we term affable. The mean itself is called friendliness or affability. But one who overdoes this merely for the purpose of pleasing is called obsequious. If he acts for his own utility, for example, his profit, he is called a sycophant or a flatterer. One who falls short in this matter and does not fear to sadden those he lives with is called contentious and perverse.
355. Then [B], at “Also in the passions,” he gives an example of certain laudable passions-first [B, a], of modesty. He says that a mean is found even in the passions and their phases, modesty, for instance, is not a virtue, as will be explained in the fourth book (867-882). The modest person is praised because a mean can be taken in such matters. One who goes to excess so that he blushes at everything is called cataplex, a bashful person. But he who falls short, blushing at nothing is called shameless, while he who strikes the mean is called modest.
356. Second [B, b], at “Righteous indignation,” he discusses another passion called nemesis or righteous indignation, which is a mean between envy and epicacotharchia (tharcus meaning “rejoicing,” kakos meaning “evil,” epi meaning “over”) or rejoicing in evil. These are dispositions concerned with pleasure and sorrow over what happens to our neighbors. The righteously indignant person or the fair critic is saddened at the prosperity of the wicked. But the envious person goes to excess in grieving over all—both good and bad—who prosper. The person however called epicotharchos is so deficient in sadness that he actually rejoices over the wicked who are successful in their wickedness. But these topics are treated elsewhere, in the second book of the Rhetoric (Ch. 10).
357. Last, because justice has. various parts in which the mean is differently understood, justice will be treated in the fifth book (885-1108) together with the manner in which the parts consist in the mean. Likewise, the rational or intellectual virtues will be discussed later in the sixth book (1109-1291).
Opposition Among the Virtues and Vices
1. HE SHOWS THERE IS A TWOFOLD OPPOSITION AMONG THESE HABITS.
a. He states his proposal. — 358
There are three dispositions, of which two are vices: one by excess, the other by defect. The third is virtue and consists in the mean. Everyone of these is opposed in some way to every other one because not only are the extremes opposed to one another and to the mean, but the mean is opposed to the extremes.
b. He proves the proposition. — 359-361
As the average is greater compared to the less and less compared to the greater, so mean habits are in excess compared to the defect and in defect compared to excess. This is true both in the passions and in actions. The brave man seems reckless compared to the coward, and cowardly compared to the reckless. Likewise the moderate man seems self-indulgent compared to the insensible man, and insensible compared to the self-indulgent. Also the generous person is a spendthrift in comparison with the miser but a miser in comparison with the spendthrift.
c. He deduces a corollary. — 362
For this reason the extremes tend to throw the mean toward one another. The coward calls the brave man reckless, and the reckless man calls him a coward. A similar tendency is found in other extremes.
2. HE SHOWS THAT THE OPPOSITION AMONG THE VICES THEMSELVES IS THE GREATER.
a. First reason. — 363
These things are mutually opposed in such a way that there is a greater opposition of the extremes among themselves than to the mean. The reason is that the extremes are more removed from one another than from the mean, as great is more removed from small and small from great than either from the average.
b. He states the second reason. — 364
Moreover there seems to be a similarity between some extremes and the mean, for example, between rashness and fortitude, between extravagance and generosity. But between the extremes themselves a complete dissimilarity exists. Now the things that are farthest removed from one another are said to be contraries. Therefore the things most removed from one another are more contrary.
3. HE SHOWS HOW ONE OF THE EXTREMES IS MORE OPPOSED TO VIRTUE THAN THE OTHER.
a. He states his proposal. — 365
In some cases it is the defect that is more opposed to the mean but in other cases it is the excess. Thus it is not rashness but cowardice, the defect, that is more opposed to fortitude. On the contrary, however, it is not insensibility (the defect) but self-indulgence (the excess) that is more opposed to temperance.
b. He assigns the reasons.
i. One is taken from the thing itself. — 366-367
This happens for two reasons, one of which is drawn from the very thing itself. It is not the extreme that is nearer and more like the mean but its contrary that is more opposed to the mean. Thus, since rashness seems nearer and more like fortitude, it is cowardice having less likeness that is more opposed to fortitude. Things that are more removed from the mean seem to be more opposed to it. This first reason then comes from the thing itself.
ii. He assigns another reason. — 368
But the other reason arises on our part. Those vices which are somewhat innate in us seem in a way to be more opposed to the mean. For example, we more naturally follow pleasure and so we are more easily moved to self-indulgence than to temperance. Therefore, we say that the vices that more readily increase are more opposed to virtue. For this reason self-indulgence (which is an excess) is more opposed to temperance.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
358. After the Philosopher has shown in general what virtue is, and has applied the definition to particular virtues, he treats the opposition f virtues and vices. Regarding this question he does three things. First  he shows that there is a twofold opposition among these habits: one, of the vices among themselves, the other, of the vices to the virtue. Then  he shows that the opposition among the vices themselves is the greater, at “These things are mutually opposed etc.” Last  he shows how one of the extremes is more opposed to virtue than the other, at “In some cases etc.” On the first point he does three things. First [1, a] he states his proposal. Second [1, b] he proves the proposition, at “As the average etc.” Third [1, c] he deduces a corollary from what has been said, at “For this reason the extremes tend to throw etc.” He says first that there are three dispositions of which two are vices: one by excess and the other by defect. The third is according to virtue which consists in a mean. Everyone of these is opposed in some way to every other one, because not only are the extremes opposed to one another but also the mean to the extremes.
359. Then [1, b], at “As the average” he proves what he had said. It was unnecessary to prove that two vices, which are compared to one another as excess and defect, are opposed since they are far removed from one another. But it will seem doubtful that virtue is opposed to vices, as was just said (358). Since virtue holds a middle place between the vices, virtue is not very far removed from either of them, while opposition is farthest apart, as stated in the tenth book of the Metaphysics (Ch. 4, 1055, a 4-32; St. Th. Lect. 5, 2023-2035). Therefore, the Philosopher here makes a special point that virtue is opposed to both extremes.
360. On this subject we must consider that the mean partakes to some extent of both extremes. Precisely as it partakes of one of them it is contrary to the other, as the average—a mean between the great and small—is small compared to the great and great compared to the small. Therefore, the average is opposed both to the great by reason of the small and to the small by reason of the great. Because of this there is a motion of the contrary against the mean as against a contrary, as is explained in the fifth book of the Physics (Ch. 1, 224 b 30-35; St. Th. Lect. 1, 476).
361. Therefore, the habits of the mean both in regard to passions and actions appear excessive to one who is in defect and deficient to one who is in excess. Thus a brave man compared to a coward is reckless, but compared to a reckless man, a brave man is a coward. Likewise a moderate man compared to an insensible man is self-indulgent, but compared to the self-indulgent the moderate man is insensible. The same may be said of the generous man who is a spendthrift in comparison with the miser, but a miser in comparison with the spendthrift. It is evident then that virtue is opposed to the extremes.
362. Then [1, c], at “For this reason,” he deduces a corollary from what was said. Because the mean habit is constituted by comparison of one extreme with the nature of the other, the extremes tend to throw the mean toward one another. In other words, both extremes consider the mean as it were an extreme opposed to them. Thus the coward calls the brave man reckless and the reckless man calls him a coward. This is an indication of what we just stated (359, 361), that virtue is opposed to both extremes.
363. Then , at “These things are mutually opposed,” he shows there is greater opposition of the vices among themselves than to virtue for two reasons. The first reason [2, a] is that the more removed things aile from one another, the mom opposed they are because opposition is a kind of distance. But the extremes are more removed from one another than from the mean, as great and small are more removed from one another than from the average, which is a mean between them, Therefore, vices are more opposed to one another than to virtue. We must consider that Aristotle speaks here about the opposition of virtue to vices, not according to good and evil—in this way both vices come under one extreme—but according as virtue by reason of its own species is a mean between two vices.
364. He states the second reason [2, b] at “Moreover there seems.” It is this. There is some similarity between virtue and one extreme, for instance, between fortitude and rashness, between generosity and prodigality. But there is complete dissimilarity between the two extremes or vices. Therefore, they are opposed to one another in the greatest degree because their opposition denotes the greatest distance, as was indicated (359).
365. Then , at “In some cases,” he shows that one extreme is more opposed to virtue than the other. On this point he does two things. First [3, a] he states his proposal. Second [3, b] he assigns the reasons at “This happens for two reasons.” He says first that in some cases it is the defect that is more opposed to the mean of the virtue, but in other cases it is the excess. Thus not rashness, which certainly pertains to the excess, but cowardice, which pertains to the defect, is most opposed to fortitude. On the contrary, however, it is not insensibility (to which lack and defect belong) but self-indulgence (to which excess pertains) that is most opposed to temperance.
366. Then [3, b], at “This happens for two reasons,” he assigns two reasons for what he said. One [b, i] is taken from the thing itself, that is, from the very nature of the virtues and vices. It was just stated (364) that one extreme has a similarity to the mean of virtue. From the very fact that one extreme is nearer and more like the mean of virtue than the other, it follows that not the one more similar to the mean but the one contrary to it is more opposed to the virtue. Thus if rashness is nearer and more like fortitude, it follows that cowardice is more unlike and consequently more opposed to fortitude. The reason is that the habits more removed from the mean seem to be more opposed to it. But the explanation of these things must be taken from the nature of the passions.
367. What Aristotle says here touches on the moral virtues concerned with the passions. To these virtues it belongs to preserve the good of reason against the movement of the passions. Now passion can destroy the good of reason in two ways. First, its vehemence can incite to greater activity than reason prescribes, especially in the desire of pleasure and in the other passions pertaining to the following of the appetite. Hence the virtue, which touches the passions of this kind, aims principally at restraining these passions. For this reason the vice referring to the defect is more like the virtue, and the vice referring to the excess is more opposed to it, as is evident in temperance. But other passions destroy the good by withdrawing to something less than what is according to reason, as is evident in the case of fear and other passions having to do with flight. Hence the virtue concerned with such passions strives as much as possible to strengthen man against defect in the good of reason. On this account the vice of defect is more opposed to the virtue.
368. Then [b, ii], at “But the other,” he assigns another reason on our part. Since virtue ought to restrain vices, the aim of virtue is to curb more effectively those vices to which we have a stronger inclination. For this reason those vices, which are in any way somewhat innate in us, are more opposed to virtue. As from birth we more readily follow pleasures than flee from them, we are very early moved to self-indulgence which implies an excess of pleasure. Therefore, we say that those vices, which rather naturally tend to increase in us because we are by nature inclined to them, are more opposed to virtue. For this reason self-indulgence, to which excess of pleasure pertains, is more opposed to temperance than insensibility is, as has been observed (365).
The Ways of Becoming Virtuous
1. FIRST HE SHOWS THAT IT IS DIFFICULT FOR MAN TO BECOME VIRTUOUS.
a. He reviews what has been said. — 369
A sufficient explanation has been given to show that moral virtue is a mean, how it is a mean, that it is a mean between two vices—one by excess and the other by defect—and that it aims at the mean both in the passions and operations.
b. He concludes from the premises. — 370
It is not easy to be virtuous because in every case it is difficult to discover the mean. Thus, not every one can locate the center of a circle—it takes a person who knows. Likewise it is easy for anyone to become angry, or to hand out money and waste it. But not everyone (for it is not easy) can give to the right person, the right amount, at the right time, for the right purpose, in the right manner. All this pertains to virtuous giving , which is rare, praiseworthy, and good.
2. HE SHOWS HOW MAN MAY ATTAIN THIS.
a. He shows how a person can discover the mean... he gives three admonitions.
i. One of these is taken from the nature of the thing. — 371-373
For this reason he who aims at the mean must first avoid the extreme which is more opposed to the mean. (Circe used to give this warning: keep your ship beyond spray and rolling billow. [Odyssey xii, 219]) One of the extremes indeed is a greater sin and the other a lesser sin. Therefore, since it is exceedingly difficult to reach the mean, we must choose the lesser of the evils, as they say in navigation. This will be done best in the way we are going to point out.
ii. He gives the second admonition. — 374-376
We must take into account the things to which we are easily inclined. Some of us are more prone by nature to one thing than another. Our natural inclination will be made known from the pleasure or sorrow we experience. We must then draw ourselves to the opposite, for by leading ourselves far away from sin we shall arrive at the mean. A similar thing is done by nurserymen who straighten crooked saplings.
iii. He lays down the third admonition. — 377-378
Everyone ought to be on guard especially against the pleasurable thing and pleasure, for we cannot judge them without being unduly influenced by them. What the elders of the people felt toward Helen, we ought to feel toward pleasure, and in all that concerns pleasure repeat their words [Iliad iii, 156-160]. Rejecting pleasure in this way we will fall into sin less frequently. Those who do as we have suggested under this heading will be quite able to acquire the mean.
b. He treats the discovery of the mean.
i. He indicates the difficulty of this. — 379
This is perhaps difficult in individual cases. It is not easy to determine in what manner we should be angry, in regard to what persons we should be angry, in what type of things we should be angry, and for how long a time we should be angry. Sometimes we praise those who are deficient in becoming angry and call them mild; sometimes we praise the irascible and call them manly.
ii. He shows what suffices to determine the mean. — 380
One who deviates a little from what is virtuous is not censured whether it be in excess or defect. But one who deviates much is blameworthy, for his deviation is not hidden.
iii. He answers a latent question. — 381
It cannot easily be determined, in so many words, at what point and how much a person is censurable. Neither is any other thing perceived by the senses determined in this way, for these are particular things and judgment of them is in the sensitive part of the soul. This much, then, shows that the mean habit is praiseworthy in all instances. However, sometimes we must incline towards excess and sometimes towards defect. Thus we shall easily reach the mean and what is virtuous.
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
369. After the Philosopher has treated the nature of virtue, he shows here how a person can acquire virtue. He does this because, as was indicated before (351), the purpose of this teaching is not that men may know the truth but that they may become good. On this point he does two things. First [1 ] he shows that it is difficult for man to become virtuous. Second  he shows how man may attain this, at “For this reason he who aims etc.” The first notion calls1or a twofold procedure. First [i, a] he reviews what has been said. It has been sufficiently explained before (310, 316), he states, that moral virtue is a mean, how it is a mean (not objectively but relative to us), and between what things it is the mean, i.e., between two vices— one by excess, the other by defect. It has also been explained (317-318) why virtue is a middle course, namely because it aims at the mean; virtue searches out and chooses the mean both in the passions and actions.
370. Second [1, b], at “It is not easy,” he concludes from the premises that it is difficult to be good or virtuous because we see that in every case it is difficult to discover the mean but easy to deviate from the mean. Thus, not everyone—only an informed person who is a geometrician—can find the center of a circle. On the other hand, anyone can easily deviate from the center. Likewise, anyone can hand out money and waste it. But not everyone (for it is not easy) can give to the right person, the right amount, at the right time, for the right purpose, in the right manner-all of which belongs to virtuous giving. Indeed, because of the difficulty it is a rare and difficult thing, but praiseworthy and virtuous precisely as conforming to reason.
371. Then , at “For this reason,” he shows the ways in which a person may become virtuous. On this point he does two things. First [2, a] he shows how a person can discover the mean. Second (2, b] he treats the discovery of the mean at “This is perhaps difficult etc.” In regard to the first he gives three admonitions. One of these [a, i]. is taken from the nature of the thing. He states that it is difficult to become virtuous and to discover the mean. Therefore, one who aims at the mean (i.e., he who intends to attain the mean) must strive principally to avoid the extreme more opposed to the virtue. Thus if someone wishes to arrive at the mean of fortitude he ought to direct his principal efforts to avoiding cowardice, which is more opposed to fortitude than rashness is, as has been explained (365).
372. He gives an example of a certain Circe who used to warn sailors to beware chiefly of the greatest dangers from the sea, which are waves sinking the ship and mist obscuring the vision of the sailors. This was the warning: “Clear of the smoke take care and clear of the rollers to keep her,” as if to say: so guard your ship that you may escape spray and waves.
373. He gives the reason for this admonition, saying that one of the extremes—that which is more opposed to the virtue—is a greater sin; but that the extreme, which is less opposed to the virtue, is a lesser sin. Therefore, since it is exceedingly difficult to reach the mean of virtue, a man ought to try to avoid at least the greater dangers that are more opposed to virtue. Thus sailors say that after the best voyage on which a man is exposed to no dangers, the next best is to choose the least of the dangers. A similar thing happens to a man’s life in the way that was explained (371), that he may chiefly avoid the vices that are opposed to virtue.
374. He gives the second admonition [a, ii] at “We must take into account.” It is understood on our part, as far as concerns the things proper to each of us. One who wishes to be virtuous, he says, must take into account that to which his appetite is naturally inclined. Different people are by nature more inclined to one thing than another. Each one can know what he is naturally inclined to from the pleasure and sorrow he experiences, because what is agreeable to each according to his nature is pleasurable.
375. Hence, if someone takes pleasure in a particular action or passion, this is a sign that he is naturally inclined to it. But men vehemently tend to the things to which they are naturally inclined, and so, easily exceed the n in this matter. We, therefore, must draw ourselves as, much as possible to the opposite. The reason is that when we make an effort to recede from sin, to which we are prone, we will finally with difficulty arrive at the mean. He makes a comparison with nurserymen who straighten crooked saplings. These men wishing to make trees straight force them the opposite way and so bring them to the mean, an upright position.
376. Here we must consider that this way of acquiring virtues is most effective: that a man should strive for the opposite of that to which he is inclined either by nature or habit. However, the way advocated by the Stoics is easier: that a man little by little withdraw from those things to which he is inclined, as Cicero relates in his work Questiones Tusculanae (Bk. IV, C. 31-35, n. 65-76). The way that Aristotle lays down is suitable for those who strongly desire to withdraw from vice and to attain virtue. But the way of the Stoics is more appropriate to those who have weak and halfhearted wills.
377. He lays down the third admonition [a, iii] at “Everyone.” This is also understood on our part, not in the sense that it is proper to every individual, as has been said (374-376) of the second admonition, but precisely as it is common to all. All are naturally inclined to pleasure. Therefore, he says that everyone without exception who aims at virtue ought to be on his guard especially against pleasures. Because men are very inclined to pleasure, pleasurable objects apprehended easily move their appetite. Hence, he notes that we cannot easily judge pleasure by dwelling on its consideration without the appetite accepting it and bursting forth in desire for it. What the Trojan elders felt toward Helen when they decided that she must depart, we ought to feel toward pleasure; in all that concerns pleasure we ought to reecho their words in order that we may reject bodily pleasures. Rejecting pleasures in this way, we will fall into sin less frequently since the desire of pleasure leads men to many sins.
378. He concludes then that those who do what has been suggested under this heading, i.e., summarily, will be quite able to acquire the mean of virtue.
379. Then [2, b], at “This is perhaps difficult,” he shows how the mean of virtue must be determined. On this point he does three things. First [b, i] he indicates the difficulty of this. Next [b, ii] he shows what suffices to determine the mean, at “One who deviates a little etc.” Last [b, iii] he answers a latent question at “It cannot be determined etc.” He says first that it is difficult to discover the mean especially when we consider the particular circumstances in individual actions. The reason is that it is not easy to determine how a thing is to be done and in regard to what persons, and in what type of things, and how long a time one should be angry. He gives a sign of this difficulty: that those, who are deficient in getting angry for instance, are sometimes praised by us and called mild, while those who are rather irascible in inflicting punishment or making resistance are sometimes praised by us and called manly.
38o. Then [b, ii], at “One who.” he indicates what suffices for the mean of virtue. He says that one who deviates a little from what is done well according to virtue is not censured, whether he inclines to excess or defect. The reason is that a slight departure from the mean of virtue is hidden on account of the difficulty with the mean. But one who deviates greatly is censured because the deviation is not hidden.
381. Then [b, iii], at “It cannot easily,” he answers a latent question. Someone could ask how much departure from the mean should be censured and how much should not. He himself answers that it cannot easily be determined, in so many words, at what point and how much a person departing from the mean should be blamed. Likewise no other sensible thing, which is judged rather by sense than reason, can easily be determined. Things of this kind, belonging to the operations of the virtues, are individual cases. For this reason judgment about them exists in the sensitive part of the soul, even if not in the external, at least in the internal sense by which a person judges well about singulars, and to which belongs the judgment of prudence, as will be said in the sixth book (1215, 1249). But this much suffices here to show that the mean habit in all cases is rather praiseworthy. However, sometimes we must incline toward excess and sometimes toward defect either on account of the nature of virtue or on account of our inclination, as is clear from what was explained above (369-378). Thus the mean according to which a thing is done well will be easily discovered. So ends the second book.