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On Moral Virtue
by [?]

Sec. V. But since they do not regard every virtue as a mean, nor call it moral, we must discuss this difference by approaching the matter more from first principles. Some things in the world exist absolutely, as the earth, the sky, the stars, and the sea; others have relation to us, as good and evil, as what is desirable or to be avoided, as pleasant and painful: and since reason has an eye to both of these classes, when it considers the former it is scientific and contemplative, when it considers the latter it is deliberative and practical. And prudence is the virtue in the latter case, as knowledge in the former. And there is this difference between prudence and knowledge, prudence consists in applying the contemplative to the practical and emotional so as to make reason paramount. On which account it often needs the help of fortune; whereas knowledge needs neither the help of fortune nor deliberation to gain its ends: for it considers only things which are always the same. And as the geometrician does not deliberate about the triangle, as to whether its interior angles are together equal to two right angles, for he knows it as a fact–and deliberation only takes place in the case of things which differ at different times, not in the case of things which are certain and unchangeable–so the contemplative mind having its scope in first principles, and things that are fixed, and that ever have one nature which does not admit of change, has no need for deliberation. But prudence, which has to enter into matters full of obscurity and confusion, frequently has to take its chance, and to deliberate about things which are uncertain, and, in carrying the deliberation into practice, has to co-operate with the unreasoning element, which comes to its help, and is involved in its decisions, for they need an impetus. Now this impetus is given to passion by the moral character, an impetus requiring reason to regulate it, that it may render moderate and not excessive help, and at the seasonable time. For the emotional and unreasoning elements are subject to motions sometimes too quick and vehement, at other times too remiss and slow. And so everything we do may be a success from one point of view, but a failure from many points of view; as to hit the mark one thing only is requisite, but one may miss it in various ways, as one may shoot beyond or too short. This then is the function of practical reason following nature, to prevent our passions going either too far or too short. For where from weakness and want of strength, or from fear and hesitation, the impetus gives in and abandons what is good, there reason is by to stir it up and rekindle it; and where on the other hand it goes ahead too fast and in disorder, there it represses and checks its zeal. And thus setting bounds to the emotional motions, it engenders in the unreasoning part of the soul moral virtues, which are the mean between excess and deficiency. Not that we can say that all virtue exists in the mean, but knowledge and prudence being in no need of the unreasoning element, and being situated in the pure and unemotional part of the soul, is a complete perfection and power of reason, whereby we get the most divine and happy fruit of understanding. But that virtue which is necessary because of the body, and needs the help of the passions as an instrument towards the practical, not destroying or doing away with but ordering and regulating the unreasoning part of the soul, is perfection as regards its power and quality, but in quantity it is a mean correcting both excess and deficiency.

Sec. VI. But since the word mean has a variety of meanings–for there is one kind of mean compounded of two simple extremes, as grey is the mean between white and black; and there is another kind of mean, where that which contains and is contained is the mean between the containing and contained, as eight is the mean between twelve and four; and there is a third kind of mean which has part in neither extreme, as the indifferent is the mean between good and bad,–virtue cannot be a mean in any of these ways. For neither is it a mixture of vices, nor containing that which is defective is it contained by that which is excessive, nor is it again altogether free from, emotional storms of passion, wherein are excess and deficiency. But it is, and is commonly so called, a mean like that in music and harmony. For as in music there is a middle note between the highest and lowest in the scale, which being perfectly in tune avoids the sharpness of the one and the flatness of the other; so virtue, being a motion and power in the unreasoning part of the soul, takes away the remissness and strain, and generally speaking the excess and defect of the appetite, by reducing each of the passions to a state of mean and rectitude. For example, they tell us that bravery is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, whereof the former is a defect, the latter an excess of anger: and that liberality is the mean between stinginess and prodigality: and that meekness is the mean between insensibility and savageness: and so of temperance and justice, that the latter, being concerned with contracts, is to assign neither too much nor too little to litigants, and that the former ever reduces the passions to the proper mean between apathy (or insensibility) and gross intemperance. This last illustration serves excellently to show us the radical difference between the unreasoning and reasoning parts of the soul, and to prove to us that passion and reason are wide as the poles asunder. For the difference would not be discernible between temperance and continence, nor between intemperance and incontinence, in pleasure and desires, if the appetite and judgement were in the same portion of the soul. Now temperance is a state, wherein reason holds the reins, and manages the passions as a quiet and well-broken-in animal, finding them obedient and submissive to the reins and masters over their desires.[227] Continence on the other hand is not driven by reason without some trouble, not being docile but jibbing and kicking, like an animal compelled by bit and bridle and whip and backing, being in itself full of struggles and commotion. Plato explains this by his simile of the chariot-horses of the soul, the worse one of which ever kicking against the other and disturbing the charioteer, he is obliged ever to hold them in with all his might, and to tighten the reins, lest, to borrow the language of Simonides, “he should drop from his hands the purple reins.” And so they do not consider continence to be an absolute virtue, but something less than a virtue; for no mean arises from the concord of the worse with the better, nor is the excess of the passion curtailed, nor does the appetite obey or act in unison with reason, but it both gives and suffers trouble, and is constrained by force, and is as it were an enemy in a town given up to faction.