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Classical Ethics, Lesson 14. Book II, Chapter 1

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Prelection

 

Lesson

Since, however, virtue is twofold, one kind being dianoetic, but the other ethic; the dianoetic, indeed, for the most part receives both its generation and increase from doctrine; on which account it requires experience and time; but the ethic is produced from custom, from whence, also, it derives its name, which declines but a little from ethos (custom). From which, likewise, it is evident, that no one of the ethical virtues is ingenerated in us by nature; for nothing that has a natural subsistence can by custom be brought to act differently from its natural tendency. Thus, a stone which naturally tends downward, cannot be accustomed to tend upward, though some one should hurl it upward ten thousand times; nor can fire be accustomed to tend downward, nor can any thing else among the things which have natural tendencies different from these, be accustomed to any other tendency than that which it has from nature. The virtues, therefore, are neither from nature, nor are ingenerated in us preternaturally, but they are produced in us in consequence of our being naturally adapted to receive them, and becoming perfect through habit. Again, with respect to such things as are ingenerated in us by nature, of these, we first receive the powers, but afterwards employ the energies of those powers; which is evident in the senses. For it is not from frequently seeing, frequently hearing, that we receive these senses, but, on the contrary, having these senses we use them, and we do not have them by using them. With respect to the virtues, however, we receive them by first energizing according to them, in the same manner as in the other arts; for those things which it is necessary to do, in consequence of having learnt how to do them, these by doing we learn how to do. Thus, by building we become builders, and by playing on the harp we become harpers. Thus too, by acting justly we become just, prudent by acting prudently, and brave by acting bravely. But what happens in cities bears testimony to the truth of this. For the legislators by accustoming the citizens to virtue render them worthy characters; and this indeed is the intention of every legislator; but such as do not effect this well, err. And in this one polity differs from another, the good from the bad. Farther still, from the same things, and through the same things, every virtue is generated and corrupted; and in a similar manner every art. For from playing on the harp both good and bad harpers are produced; and analogously builders of houses, and all other artists. For from building well, they will be good builders, but bad from building ill; since if it were not so, there would be no occasion for a preceptor, but all men would be naturally good or bad artists. The like also takes place in the virtues. For by acting in our compacts with men, we become some of us indeed just, but other unjust; and by acting in things of a dreadful nature, and by being accustomed either to be terrified or be confident in danger, some of us become brave, but others timid. The reasoning, likewise, is similar with respect to desire and anger; for some men, indeed become temperate and mild, but others intemperate and irascible; these from being in this way conversant with these things, but those from being conversant with them in that way. And in one word, habits are produced from similar energies. Hence, it is necessary to render energies endued with a certain quality; for habits follow from the differences of these. It is of no small consequence, therefore, to be thus or thus accustomed immediately from our youth, but it is of very great consequence; or rather, it is every thing.

 

Assessment

Classical Ethics Assessment