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Virtue Is The Power To Do Good

Question 5. Goodness in general

He is referring there to practical knowledge. People cannot act rightly without virtue, but they can act rightly without the perfection of their practical intellects since someone else can inform them about what they should do. Therefore, the perfection of the practical intellect is not a virtue. The more one diverges from virtue, the more one sins. However, diverging from the perfection of the practical intellect makes a sin less serious, since ignorance excuses [an agent], partly or even wholly.

According to Cicero , virtue acts in the mode of a nature. There, he divides natural agents in opposition to those that act by design. Therefore, it appears that there are no virtues in the practical intellect. The good and the true are formally differentiated from each other in keeping with the [different] character each has. But habits are diversified when their objects are formally different. According to the Philosopher in Ethics II, virtue is a voluntary habit. The practical intellect, then, cannot be a subject of virtue. Prudence is classified as one of the four principal virtues, even though its subject is the practical intellect.

Therefore, the practical intellect can be a subject of virtue. A virtue is human if its subject is a human power. But the practical intellect is a power more properly human than the irascible and concupiscible appetites, since what is essentially F is more properly F than what is F by participation. Whenever one thing is for the sake of another, what applies to it also applies—and more so—to what it is for the sake of. Virtue in the affective part of the soul is for the sake of reason.

After all, we invest the affective part with virtue so that it will obey reason. Therefore, we have even stronger reasons to think there should be virtue in the practical reason.


We draw this distinction between natural and rational powers: A natural power is determined to one object, while a rational power is indifferently disposed to many. This is what happens in non-human animals. Since they have a weak active principle that extends to just a few things, they are capable of few activities; and that is why there is a uniform good for all members of the same species.

Article 1. Whether human virtue is a habit?

Accordingly, they have an inclination to it through natural appetite, and through their cognitive power they have a natural judgment about this, their own good, which is uniform [among members of their species]. It is thanks to such natural judgments and appetites that all swallows build their nests in a uniform way, and all spiders weave their webs in a uniform way and we can make this sort of observation about any other kind of non-human animal.

Human beings, in contrast, are capable of multiple and diverse activities, because of the excellence of their active principle, the soul. Therefore, a natural appetite for the good, or a natural judgment [about it] would not be enough to ensure our acting rightly unless it were more fully determined and perfected. True, a human being does incline by a natural appetite to his or her own good. This type of judgment is uniform and insufficient for pursuing a good of this sort. Without a habit to perfect it, reason can do this about as well as it can form judgments about a conclusion of some contemplative science when it does not have the relevant habit of knowledge—and it can do this only imperfectly and with difficulty.

Therefore, just as a habit of science must perfect contemplative reason if it is to judge rightly about what is knowable in that science, a habit must also perfect practical reason if it is to judge rightly about the human good in each case when one is to act. Prudence also perfects all the moral virtues in the appetitive part.

Every one of these virtues produces an inclination in the appetite to some kind of human good. However, each of these goods can be brought about in various ways—and not in the same way in all cases. Therefore, to establish the right mode, human beings need prudence of judgment. Thus rightness and the fullness of goodness in all the other virtues come from prudence, which is why the Philosopher says that the mean in moral virtue is determined in accordance with right reason.

Because all appetitive habits obtain the character of virtue from this rightness and fullness of goodness, prudence is a cause of all the virtues of the appetitive part, which are called moral insofar as they are virtues. In this passage, the Philosopher is referring to practical knowledge.

Still, there is more to prudence than practical knowledge. For practical knowledge includes universal judgments about what one should do for instance, fornication is bad, one should not steal, etc Any sin corrupts this judgment. Therefore, as long as one has prudence, one does not sin. In fact, it is a cause of virtue itself, as I have noted [in the Reply].

One person can take general advice from another about what to do. Without this, there can be no virtue. This does not excuse sin—it is a sin. For instance, in Ethics VI, the Philosopher offers this example of a blind person: The harder he runs, the more he is injured when he hits the wall. For instance, the will wills the intellect to understand, and the intellect understands that the will wills.

Therefore, these two, the good and the true, mutually include each another. In any case, the truth of the practical intellect is a good that is also a goal of action, for a good moves the appetite only on the condition that one apprehends it. In Book II of the Ethics , the Philosopher is defining [only] moral virtue since he offers his account of intellectual virtue in Book VI of the Ethics ; and the virtue in the practical intellect is intellectual, not moral, for the Philosopher classifies even prudence as an intellectual virtue, as Ethics II makes clear.

Article 7. Is there virtue in the contemplative intellect? Reasons to think there is not. Every virtue is directed to acting, since virtue is what renders one's activities good.

The Origins and Evolution of Morality

However, the contemplative intellect is not directed to acting, for it doesn't say anything about what to emulate and what to shun, as On the Soul III makes clear. Therefore, there cannot be virtue in the contemplative intellect.

As Ethics II states, virtue is what makes its possessor good. But the habits of the contemplative intellect do not do this. After all, people are not called good just because they have knowledge. The habits of the contemplative intellect, then, are not virtues. The habit of knowledge that perfects the contemplative intellect in a pre-eminent way.

Aristotle: Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

However, knowledge is not a virtue, which is clear from the fact that we divide knowledge in opposition to the virtues [in our classificatory scheme]. Therefore there is no virtue in the contemplative intellect. Every virtue is directed to happiness, which is virtue's end; so every virtue is directed to something. But the contemplative intellect isn't directed to anything. After all, we pursue the contemplative sciences for their own sake and not for their usefulness, as Metaphysics I states. So, there cannot be virtue in the contemplative intellect.

An act of virtue is meritorious, but an act of understanding is not sufficient for merit. Rather, "They sin who know what is good yet do not do it" James Therefore, there is no virtue in the contemplative intellect. Opposing Considerations.

Faith is in the contemplative intellect, since its object is the primary truth. But faith is a virtue, and so the contemplative intellect can be the subject of a virtue.

25 Virtues Found in the Best of Men

The true and the good are equally noble. The reason is that they encompass each other, since what's true is a certain good, and what's good is a certain truth; and each of these--truth and goodness--is common to every being. Consequently, if there can be virtue in the will, whose object is what's good, there can also be virtue in the contemplative intellect, whose object is what's true.