Lesson 7: The Analogy of Virtue

It is a characteristic of Thomas, as it was of Aristotle, to work with a relatively restricted vocabulary. Oftentimes, when Thomas is first presented to us, we can get the impression that there is a new language to be learned -- I don't mean Latin -- a technical language with stipulated meanings. Once you get the hang of this jargon, you will be able to speak Thomese. There could be no greater misunderstanding of Thomas's linguistic procedure.

He is guided by the obvious observation for which he always gives credit to Aristotle that our language relates to things by way of our knowledge of them. If a word related directly to a thing in a one to one correspondence, one word would do it. But there are obvious difficulties for such an account, among them the fact that I say many things of the same subject.

    Socrates is an Athenian.

    Socrates is a husband.

    Socrates is a war veteran.

On an on. I could also say that Socrates is Socrates, of course, perhaps to make the point that I am here talking of the same individual. A variety of predicates is possible because there is a variety of "takes" on the same thing; now we grasp it in this way, now in that way. Perhaps most strikingly, our predicates are such that they can apply to other subjects as well. Xanthippe is an Athenian too.

This possible sharing of a predicate, its predicability, its universality, is the most dramatic sign that our signs work via our knowledge and do not just adhere directly to the things of which they are signs.

Warning! Nota Bene! Caveat!

The recognition that our words relate to things via our knowing, grasping, conceiving them, should not be taken to mean that our words first of all mean, signify or refer to our thinking. The intermediary between word and thing is not opaque but transparent. We do not first know an idea and then wonder if it is the idea of something outside the mind. Modern philosophy could be characterized by that quixotic effort, to devise arguments for getting out of our heads, out of our minds, to something other than thinking. One of the major motivations for the Thomistic Revival is to counter this. The problem of knowledge is not the first problem of philosophy, and thus is not the problem it has often been taken for.

It is by reflection that we come to see the intermediate role that knowledge plays between word and thing.

At the end of the last lesson, we were talking of the way in which it turns out that there is not just one thing that is rational activity and consequently not just one virtue of it. There will be different virtues insofar as 'rational activity' has different but connected meanings. Its chief and controlling meaning will be the activity of reason as such, and indeed of speculative reason. Practical reasoning is another sense of the phrase and activities other than reasoning which are amenable to the direction of reason are rational activity in a further sense. This is just a sketch of what we called the geography of the soul, but the sketch is slightly more complicated than this reminder suggests. Within speculative reasoning we distinguish between conceptualization, grasping self-evident principles, deriving conclusions from principles and reducing things to the first and ultimate causes. So too practical reasoning is sometimes manifested in art and sometimes in moral decision.

This proliferation of meanings of 'rational activity' is the basis for the proliferation of virtues which perfect the different forms of it. A virtue is, we remember, the perfection or excellence of an activity.

Virtue, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and growth to teaching (for which reason requires experience and time), while moral virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name ethike is one that is formed by a slight variation from the world ethos (habit).

Thus does Book Two of Aristotle's Ethics begin. If you should look at the First Part of the Second Part of the Summa theologiae, you would find this sequence:

1. Happiness and Ultimate End (Questions 1-5)

2. On voluntary action (Questions 6-17)

3. The Goodness or Badness of Voluntary Action (Questions 18-21)

4. The Passions of the Soul (Emotions) (Questions 22-48)

5. On Habits (Question 49-54)

After this lengthy prologue, the discussion of virtue begins. Obviously enough, the focus is on moral virtue. The chief examples Aristotle had given of moral virtues are temperance and bravery. These virtuous acts are instances of rational activity of the shared kind, that is, activities which are called rational because they obey reason. Involved in these are the emotions, the appetites that follow on sense knowledge. There is an immediate response on the level of emotions to something that promises pleasure or that threatens pain. Such responses are not human acts; they occur whether or not we wish them to. It is because emotions can be responsive to rational direction that we have the amalgam of desire and reason in the virtuous act of temperance. My desire for pleasure is directed by reason so that pleasure is pursued in a way that accords with reason's judgment of my integral good. This is the humanizing of the emotions. This is not just a matter of having good thoughts; one must by dint of repetitive action acquired the habit whereby his emotions respond to rational direction. By way of habituation, a principle of action akin to nature itself is acquired -- a second nature, thanks to which we are what we morally are.

To call thinking well in the matter of deduction a virtue -- "science" is the name of that virtue -- is obviously to use the term in a different sense. It is ignorance, not contrary feelings, that is overcome by knowledge and it does not resist its replacement.

The Asymmetry of virtue and rational activity

What we want now to spell out is this: the perfecting of rational activity in the primary sense yields a secondary sense or use of "virtue" whereas the primary sense of virtue points to the perfection of what is rational activity in only a secondary sense. That is, the order of the analogy of "rational activity" is the reverse of the order of the analogy of "virtue."

Let us begin with ST IaIIae, q. 56, a. 3

Utrum intellectus possit esse subiectum virtutis

Ad tertium sic proceditur: Videtur quod intellectus non sit subiectum virtutis.

1. Dicit enim Augustinus in libro De moribus Eccles., quod omnis virtus est amor. Subiectum autem amoris non est intellectus, sed solum vis appetitiva. Ergo nulla virtus est in intellectu.

2. Praeterea, virtus ordinatur ad bonum, sicut ex supradictis patet. Bonum autem non est obiectum intellectus, sed appetitivae virtutis. Ergo subiectum virtutis non est intellectus, sed appetitiva virtus.

3. Praeterea, virtus est quae bonum facit habentem ut Philosophus dicit. Sed habitus perficiens intellectum non facit bonum habentem: non enim propter scientiam vel artem dicitur homo bonus. Ergo intellectus non est subiectum virtutis.

Whether the intellect can be the subject of virtue.

On to the third article. It seems that intellect cannot be the subject of virtue.

1. Augustine says in The Morals of the Church that every virtue is love. But intellect is not the subject of love; the appetitive power alone is. Therefore there is no virtue of intellect.

2. Moreover, virtue is ordered to the good, as is clear from the foregoing. But good is the object, not of intellect, but of the appetitive power. Therefore, the appetitive power, not intellect, is the subject of virtue.

3. Moreover, 'virtue is that which makes the one having it good,' as Aristotle says, but the habit perfecting intellect does not make one good, for a man is not called good because of knowledge or art. Therefore the intellect is not the subject of virtue.

Sed contra est quod mens maxime dicitur intellectus. Subiectum autem virtutis est mens; ut patet ex definitione virtutis supra inducta (55,4) Ergo intellectus est subiectum virtutis.

RESPONDEO dicendum quod, sicut supra dictum est, virtus est habitus quo quis bene operatur. Dupliciter autem habitus aliquis ordinatur ad bonum actum. Uno modo, inquantum per huiusmodi habitum acquiritur homini facultas ad bonum actum: sicut per habitum grammaticae habet homo facultatem recte loquendi. Non tamen grammatica facit ut homo semper recte loquatur: potest enim grammaticus barbarizare aut solecismum facere. Et eadem ratio est in aliis scientiis et artibus. -- Alio modo, aliquis habitus non solum facit facultatem agendi, sed etiam facit quod aliquis recte facultate utatur: sicut iustitia non solum facit quod homo sit promptae voluntatis ad iusta operandum, sed etiam facit ut iuste operetur.

Et quia bonum, sicut et ens, non dicitur simpliciter aliquid secundum id quod est in potentia, sed secundum id quod est in actu; ideo ab huiusmodi habitibus simpliciter dicitur homo bonum operari, et esse bonus, puta quia est iustus vel temperatus; et eadem ratio est de similibus. Et quia virtus est quae bonum reddit, huiusmodi habitus simpliciter dicuntur virtutes: quia reddunt bonum opus in actu, et simplicter faciunt bonum habentem.

Primi vero habitus non simpliciterdicuntur virtutes: quia non reddunt bonum opus nisi in quadam facultate, nec simpliciter faciunt bonum habentem. Non enim dicitur simpliciter aliquis homo bonus, ex hoc quod est sciens vel artifex; sed dicitur bonus solum secundum quid, puta bonus grammaticus, aut bonus faber. Et propter hoc plerumque scientia et ars contra virtutem dividitur: quandoque autem virtutes dicuntur, ut patet in 6 Ethic.

Subiectum igitur habitus qui secundum quid dicitur virtus, potest esse intellectus, non solum practicus, sed etiam intellectus speculativus, absque omni ordine ad voluntatem: sic enim Philosophus in 6 Ethic scientiam, sapientiam et intellectum, et etiam artem, ponit esse intellectuales virtutes.

Subiecum vero habitus qui simpliciter dicitur virtus, non potest esse nisi voluntas; vel alia potentia secundum quod est mota a voluntate. Cuius ratio est, quia voluntas movet omnes alias potentias quae aliqualiter sunt rationales ad suos actus, ut supra habitum est: et ideo quod homo actu bene agat, contingit ex hoc quod homo habet bonam volunatem. Unde virtus quae facit bene agere in actu, non solum in facultate, oportet quod vel sit in ipsa voluntate; vel in aliqua potentia secundum quod est a voluntate mota.

Contingit autem intellectum a voluntate moveri, sicut et alias potentias: considerat enim aliquis aliquid actu, eo quod vult. Et ideo intellectus, secundum quod habet ordinem ad voluntatem, potest esse subiectum virtutis simpliciter dictae. Et hoc modo intellectus speculativus, vel ratio, est subiectum fidei; movetur enim intellectus ad assentiendum his quae sunt fidei, ex imperio voluntatis, nullus enim credit nisi volens.

Intellectus vero practicus est subiectum prudentiae. Cum enim prudentia sit recta ratio agibilium, requiritur ad prudentiam quod homo bene se habeat ad principia huius rationis agendorum, quae sint fines; ad quos bene se habet homo per rectitudinem voluntatis, sicut ad principia speculabilium per naturale lumen intellectus agentis. Et ideo sicut subiectum scientiae, quae est ratio recta speculabilium, est intellectus speculativus in ordine ad intellectum agentem; ita subiectum prudentiae est intellectus practicus in ordine ad voluntatem rectam.

Ad 1 ergo dicendum quod verbum Augustini intelligendum est de virtute simpliciter dicta non quod omnis talis virtus sit simplicter amor; sed quia dependet aliqualiter ab amore, inquantum dependet a voluntatem cuius prima affectio est amor, ut supra dictum est.

Ad 2 dicendum quod bonum uniuscuiusque est finis eius: et ideo, cum verum sit fnis intellectus, cognoscere verum est bonus actus intellectus. Unde habitus perficiens intellectum ad verum cognoscendum, vel in speculativis vel in practicis, dicitur virtus.

Ad 3 dicendum quod ratio illa procedit de virtute simplicter dicta.

On the contrary, mind especially is called intellect. But mind is the subject of virtue, as is clear from the definition of virtue given in q.55, a. 4. Therefore the intellect is the subject of virtue.

RESPONSE. It should be said, and was earlier, that virtue is a habit by which one acts well. But a habit is ordered to a good act in two ways. First, insofar as through a habit of this kind a man acquired the capacity for the good act, as from the habit of grammar a man has the capacity of speaking correctly. However, grammar does not make a man speak correctly always, since a grammarian can commit a barbarism or solecism. The same is the case with the other sciences and arts. -- Second, a certain kind of habit not only give the capacity of acting, but also brings it about that one rightly uses the capacity; as justice not only makes a man's will be ready to do just things, but also makes him act justly.

Good, like being, is not said absolutely of a thing insofar as it is only potentially, but insofar as it is actual; therefore, it is from habits of this kind that a man is said simply to do good things and to be good, for example, just or temperate; and similarly with the others. And since virtue is that which makes one good, such habits are called virtues simply speaking, because the cause an actual good act, and simply make the one having them good.

The first kind of habit is not called virtue simply speaking, because

it does not cause a good work save in sense of a certain capacity, nor does it simply make the one having it good. For a man is not called good simply speaking because he knowing or is an artisan, but is called good only in a sense, that is, a good grammarian or good maker. For this reasons science and art are often distinguished from virtue, but sometimes they are called virtues, as in Ethics 6.

Therefore intellect can be the subject of a habit that is called virtue only in a sense, both speculative and practical intellect, even without any ordered to the will: thus Aristotle in Ethics 6 numbers science, wisdom and understanding, as well as art, among the intellectual virtues.

Only the will can be the subject of a habit which is called virtue simply, or some power insofar as it is moved by will. The reason is that will moves all the other powers which are in any way rational to their acts, as was shown above; therefore, a man actually acts well because he has a good will. Hence virtue which makes one actually act well, as opposed to giving merely the capacity, must be either in the will or in a power insofar as it is moved by will.

The intellect, like the other powers, is moved by the will, for it actually considers something because it wills to. Intellect, therefore, insofar as it has an ordering to will can be the subject of virtue simply speaking. In this way the speculative intellect or reason is the subject of faith; for the intellect is moved to assent to those things which are of faith by the command of will: no one believes unless he is willing.

Practical intellect is the subject of prudence. For since prudence is right reason about things to be done, prudence requires that a man be well related to the principles of the reason of things to be done, and these are ends, to which a man is well ordered by rectitude of will, just as it is to the principles of speculabile things by the natural light of the agent intellect. Therefore just as the subject of science, which is right reason about things to be known, is speculative reason ordered to the agent intellect, so the subject of prudence is the practical intellect ordered to right will.

Ad 1. It should be said that the remark of Augustine should be understood as referring to virtue simply speaking, and not as meaning that every virtue is simply love; but because it depends in a certain way on love, insofar as it depends on will whose first affection is love, as was shown above.

Ad 2. It should be said that the good of anything is its end; therefore since the true is the end of intellect, to know the true is the good act of intellect. Hence the habit that perfects intellect so that it knows the true, whether in speculative or practical matters, is called a virtue.

Ad 3. It should be said that that argument works with virtue simply speaking.

It is not because of science or art that a man is called good. Therefore intellect is not the subject of virtue.

On the contrary mind is especially called intellect, but mind is the subject of virtue, as is clear from the definition of virtue given earlier. Therefore intellect is a subiect of virtue.

This article gives a succinct statement of the way in which the term virtue ranges analogically over the various things called virtue. Taking the definition, "virtue is that which makes action good as well as the one performing it", Thomas draws our attention to the fact that the good is the object of will as such. That is why it is habits in the will which are called virtues in the primary sense of the term. Habits of powers other than will are called virtues insofar as they have a relation to will. Habits in the mind provide a capacity to think or speak a certain way, something the agent may or may not choose to do. That is, the object of such habits has to be grasped as a kind of good and chosen accordingly in order for there to be virtuous action.

These two senses of virtue -- habits which have appetite as their subject, (moral virtues) habits which have speculative or practical intellect (art) for their subject (intellectual virtues) which since they give only the capacity and not the use are virtues in a secondary sense -- are joined by a third kind which falls between the two but closer to virtues in the primary sense. Prudence, the virtue of pratical intellect defined as right reasoning about things to be done, has for its starting points the ends, the goods, to which the moral virtues order one. Thus, prudence depends for its activity on the possession of moral virtues and is thus a virtue in a stronger sense than art.

In the speculative intellect, divine faith, the mind's acceptance as true of the mysteries revealed by God, can only occur insofar as the mind is moved by will -- "No one believes unwillingly," Augustine said -- which in its turn is moved by grace.

The analogy of virtue, then, ranges over the following:

    1. Moral virtues

    2. Prudence and faith

    3. Intellectual virtues

Reading Assignment  

Disputed Questions on Virtue, pp. 30-44.

Writing Assignment  

In what sense are intellectual habits virtues?


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