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How One May Be Aware Of One’s Progress In Virtue
by [?]

Sec. III. But we who see that in every kind of evil, but especially in a disordered and unsettled state of mind, there are degrees of more and less (so that the progress made differs in different cases, badness abating, as a shadow flees away, under the influence of reason, which calmly illuminates and cleanses the soul), cannot consider it unreasonable to think that the change will be perceived, as people who come up out of some ravine can take note of the progress they make upwards. Look at the case from the following point of view first. Just as mariners sailing with full sail over the gaping[253] ocean measure the course they have made by the time they have taken and the force of the wind, and compute their progress accordingly, so anyone can compute his progress in philosophy by his continuous and unceasing course, by his not making many halts on the road, and then again advancing by leaps and bounds, but by his quiet and even and steady march forward guided by reason. For the words of the poet, “If to a little you keep adding a little, and do so frequently, it will soon be a lot,”[254] are not only true of the increase of money, but are universally applicable, and especially to increase in virtue, since reason invokes to her aid the enormous force of habit. On the other hand the inconsistencies and dulnesses of some philosophers not only check advance, as it were, on the road, but even break up the journey altogether, since vice always attacks at its leisure and forces back whatever yields to it.[255] The mathematicians tell us that planets, after completing their course, become stationary; but in philosophy there is no such intermission or stationary position from the cessation of progress, for its nature is ever to be moving and, as it were, to be weighed in the scales, sometimes being overweighted by the good preponderating, sometimes by the bad. If, therefore, imitating the oracle given to the Amphictyones by the god, “to fight against the people of Cirrha every day and every night,”[256] you are conscious that night and day you ever maintain a fierce fight against vice, not often relaxing your vigilance, or long off your guard, or receiving as heralds to treat of peace[257] the pleasures, or idleness, or stress of business, you may reasonably go forward to the future courageously and confidently.

Sec. IV. Moreover, if there be any intermissions in philosophy, and yet your later studies are firmer and more continuous than your former ones, it is no bad indication that your sloth has been expelled by labour and exercise; for the contrary is a bad sign, when after a short time your lapses from zeal become many and continuous, as if your zeal were dying away. For as in the growth of a reed, which shoots up from the ground finely and beautifully to an even and continuous height, though at first from its great intervals it is hindered and baffled in its growth, and afterwards through its weakness is discouraged by any breath of air, and though strengthened by many and frequent joints, yet a violent wind gives it commotion and trembling, so those who at first make great launches out into philosophy, and afterwards find that they are continually hindered and baffled, and cannot perceive that they make any progress, finally get tired of it and cry off. “But he who is as it were winged,”[258] is by his simplicity borne along to his end, and by his zeal and energy cuts through impediments to his progress, as merely obstacles on the road. As it is a sign of the growth of violent love, not so much to rejoice in the presence of the loved one, for everyone does that, as to be distressed and grieved at his absence,[259] so many feel a liking for philosophy and seem to take a wonderful interest in the study, but if they are diverted by other matters and business their passion evaporates and they take it very easily. “But whoever is strongly smitten with love for his darling”[260] will show his mildness and agreeableness in the presence of and joint pursuit of wisdom with the loved one, but if he is drawn away from him and is not in his company you will see him in a stew and ill at ease and peevish whether at work or leisure, and unreasonably forgetful of his friends, and wholly impelled by his passion for philosophy. For we ought not to rejoice at discourses only when we hear them, as people like perfumes only when they smell them, and not to seek or care about them in their absence, but in the same condition as people who are hungry and thirsty are in if torn away from food and drink, we ought to follow after true proficiency in philosophy, whether marriage, or wealth, or friendship, or military service, strike in and produce a separation. For just as more is to be got from philosophy, so much the more does what we fail to obtain trouble us.