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Virtue Theory - Aristotle to Aquinas

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John Fahy

on 4 January 2017

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Transcript of Virtue Theory - Aristotle to Aquinas

broadly, excellence or perfection
narrowly, a habit which disposes us to act in a rational way, conforming with human nature
noun, from the Latin virtus (vir: man)
About Aristotle
Greek philosopher, 300s B.C.
Famed for a broad kind of learning and study
Serious focus on metaphysics, ethics, and politics
Aristotle on Nature and Causation
Material Cause
Efficient Cause
Final Cause
a teleological account of being focuses on final causation as an explanation of a thing's essence or nature
a teleological ethic, like virtue ethics, makes conforming with our nature a key moral obligation
thus, virtue is a habit which disposes us to act in a rational way, conforming with human nature
The rational animal.
What is this human nature?
We are not studying in order to know what virtue is, but to become good, for otherwise there would be no profit in it.
practical, not theoretical
Doctrine of the Mean
every virtue can be expressed as a kind of pleasant middle way between excess and deficiency
on the question of fear
neither cowardly, nor rash, but courageous
on the question of wittiness as social grace
neither a buffoon, nor a boor, but charming
on the question of pleasure
neither dissipation, nor insensitivity, but temperance
on the question of anger
neither spiritless, nor irascible, but gentle
Weaknesses of Aristotle's Ethics
which virtues are the best ones?
how do we discern which "happinesses" are authentically virtuous?
this doesn't help with moral actions
that state in which someone is using all of their powers to their fullest extent, and things are going as well as they could: the life well lived
arete: excellence (Gk.) makes something good
an Italian who lived in the 1200s, and
became a Dominican against his parents wishes
St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P.
called "the Dumb Ox"
by his classmates
at Paris, positively famous for his genius
The Summa Theologica
Corrections to Aristotle
The fullest measure of man's flourishing is not eudaemonia, but beatitude. God has to figure into things, or else you're only getting a part of the story. Thus, beatitude is something like God's measure of how excellently you live. Of course, it will correlate with eudaemonia, but the fact is that some people ignore God, coming up with strange contentednesses of their very own. Make God the center.
Given the centrality of love in the Scriptures, especially, it would be a mistake to make reason the only proper function of the human being. Yes, reason is one of them, but love is the other, and arguably the more important one.
God provides not only virtues for guidance, but also a moral law for a more specific kind of guidance. Thus we can say "do not murder" in addition to "be courageous." This helps clarify the meaning of the virtues, and provides comparability between them.
Further, generally, reason here is placed higher than virtue, as virtue's goal or end. In reality, good living is the goal of life, with reason as a part of that. "we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles"
Get a better haircut, man.
Umm... you're kidding, right?
Well, uh... okay, yeah, you were right about that.
These four virtues of Aristotle, Aquinas saw as the premier ones from which all others flowed. They are natural virtues, and therefore are attained mostly through the hard moral learning that Aristotle recommended.
Cardinal Virtues
an intellectual virtue that reflects a kind of wisdom when selecting a course of action, or the best means to an end
in a sense, it modifies the exercise of the other virtues, making them more accurate and their agent more wise
regulates man in relations with his fellow men; disposes us to respect the rights of others, to give each his due
moderates the desires and pleasures of the sensuous appetite
implies a certain moral strength and courage; the virtue by which you meet and sustain dangers and difficulties, even death itself; the man of fortitude is never deterred from pursuing good because he is afraid of some danger or trial
Aquinas retains the notion of final causation, and proposes that the nature of a thing really does abide in its purpose(s).

Thus, e.g., he circumscribes the power of the state a certain way, since government has certain purposes. He supports only limited war, for instance.

The nature of a thing makes a law for it. This is "natural law" ethics, and thus deeply connected to nature, form, the powers of the soul, and basic goods.
Aquinas' Teleological View
The natural virtues so far considered are not especially Christian, but are applicable to all people. Further, they generally fail to account for the enormous opportunity and obligation of a life lived in God. Thus, three more virtues.

Why "theological"?
they have God for their immediate and proper object;
they are Divinely infused;
they are known only through Divine Revelation.
Theological Virtues
similar perfection of the will to trust in God
The virtue by which the intellect is perfected by a supernatural light. In faith, the intellect assents firmly to the supernatural truths of Revelation, not on the motive of intrinsic evidence, but on the ground of the infallible authority of God.
that theological virtue, by which God, our ultimate end, known by faith, is loved by reason of His goodness, and our neighbor loved on account of God
These are not really subject to the Mean, Aquinas and others note, because their object is the infinitude of God, not some finite good present on earth.
So "faith-qua-virtue" is different from plain-old-faith, which is something more like "trust in God and his revelation on the basis of some confirming evidence."
a habit which disposes us to act in a rational way, conforming with human nature
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