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Classical Ethics, Lesson 15. Book II, Chapter 2

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Prelection

 

Lesson

Since, therefore, the present treatise is not for the sake of theory, like other discussions; for our attention is not directed to this business, that we may know what virtue is, but that we may become good men, since otherwise no advantage would be derived from it;–this being the case, it is necessary to consider with respect to actions how they are to be performed; for as we have said, they are the mistresses of the qualities which habits possess. To act, therefore, according to right reason is common, and is now assumed to be so. We shall, however, hereafter speak concerning this, and show what right reason is, and how it subsists with reference to the other virtues. But this must be previously granted, that every treatise of practical affairs ought only to be an adumbration, and not an accurate discussion, as also we observed in the beginning, because reasonings are required conformable to the subject matter; and in practical affairs, and things contributing to them, there is nothing stable, as neither is there in things which are salubrious. Such, therefore, being the universal reason, in a still greater degree will the discussion of particulars be deficient in accuracy; for it neither falls under art, nor under any precept. It is, however, necessary that those who are engaged in practical affairs should always direct their attention to an opportune time, in the same manner as in medicine, and in the pilot’s art. But though the present discussion is of this nature, we just endeavour to give it assistance.
In the first place, therefore, this must be observed, that things of this kind [viz. actions which produce in us the habits of the virtues,] are naturally adapted to be corrupted by excess and defect, as we see in strength and health, [which are the virtues of the body]; (for it is necessary to use things apparent as testimonies, in things which are unapparent), since exercises which are excessive, and also those which are deficient, corrupt the strength of the body. In like manner meat and drink, when taken in too great or too small a quantity, corrupt the health; but these when commensurate, produce increase, and preserve it. This, therefore, is also the case in temperance and fortitude, and the other virtues. For he who flies from and is afraid of all things, and endures nothing, becomes timid; and he who in short is afraid of nothing, but marches up to all things, becomes audacious. In a similar manner, he indeed who gives himself up to the enjoyment of every pleasure, and abstains from none, is intemperate; but he who flies from all pleasures, like rustic men, is an insensate person. For temperance and fortitude are corrupted by excess and defect, but are preserved by mediocrity. Not only, however, generations, increments and corruptions, are produced from and by the same things, but the energies also [of the virtues] will subsist after the same manner; since this likewise is the case in other things which are more apparent; as, for instance, in strength. For strength is produced by taking much food, and enduring many labours, an the strong man is especially able to do both these. Thus, too, it is in the virtues; for by abstaining from pleasures we become temperate, and having become temperate we are especially able to abstain from them. The like also takes place in fortitude; for by being accustomed to despise things of a terrible nature, and to endure them, we become brave, and having become brave, we are especially able to endure terrible things.

 

Assessment

Classical Ethics Assessment