Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology

Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle (384–322 B.C.)
Aristot. Eth. III. 5. 21.*  .. NOW 1 concerning the moral virtues we have spoken generally and have shown in outline of what kind they are, that they are mid-states [between evil extremes] and that they are habits; also whence they spring, that they are effects of their own proper actions; that they are in our own power, and voluntary, and such as right Reason would prescribe …  1
  X. 9. 6.  .. But what makes men good is held by some to be nature, by others habit (or training), by others instruction. As for the goodness that comes by Nature, this is plainly not within our control, but is bestowed by some divine agency on certain people who truly deserve to be called fortunate …  2
  VI. 13. 1.  .. All admit that in a certain sense the several kinds of character are bestowed by nature. Justice, a tendency to Temperance, Courage, and the other types of character are exhibited from the moment of birth. Nevertheless we look for developed goodness as something different from this, and expect to find these same qualities in another form. For even in children and brutes these natural virtues are present, but without the guidance of reason [intellect] they are plainly hurtful. So much at least seems to be plain—that just as a strong-bodied creature devoid of sight stumbles heavily when it tries to move, because it cannot see, so it is with this natural virtue; but when it is enlightened by reason [intellect] it acts surpassingly well; and the natural virtue (which before was only like virtue) will then be fully developed virtue.  3
  We find then, that just as there are two forms of the calculative faculty, namely cleverness and prudence, so there are two forms of the moral qualities, namely natural virtue and fully developed virtue, and that the latter is impossible without Prudence [practical intellect] ..  4
  X. 7. 1.  .. But if happiness be the exercise of virtue, it is reasonable to suppose that it will be the exercise of the highest virtue; and that will be the virtue or excellence of the best part of us.  5
  Now that part or faculty—call it reason [intellect] or what you will—which seems naturally to rule and take the lead, and to apprehend things noble and divine—whether it be itself divine, or only the divinest part of us—is the faculty the exercise of which, in its proper excellence, will be perfect happiness.  6
  That this consists in [intellectual] speculation or contemplation we have already said …  7
  X. 7. 8.  .. But a life which realized this idea would be something more than human; for it would not be the expression of man’s nature, but of some divine element in that nature—the exercise of which is as far superior to the exercise of the other kind of virtue (i.e. practical or moral virtue), as this divine element is superior to our compound human nature.  8
  If then reason [intellect] be divine as compared with man, the life which consists in the exercise of this faculty will also be divine in comparison with human life. Nevertheless, instead of listening to those who advise us as men and mortals not to lift our thoughts above what is human and mortal, we ought rather, as far as possible, to put off our mortality, and make every effort to live in the exercise of the highest of our faculties; for though it be but a small part of us, yet in power and value it far surpasses all the rest …  9
  X. 8. 1.  The life that consists in the exercise of the other [practical] kind of virtue is happy in a secondary sense; for the manifestations of moral virtue are emphatically human. Justice (I mean) and Courage and the other moral virtues are displayed in our dealings with one another by the observance in every case of what is due in contracts and services, and all sorts of outward acts, as well as in our inward feelings. And all these seem to be emphatically human affairs … and being bound up with the passions must belong to our compound nature; and the virtues of the compound nature are emphatically human. Therefore the life which manifests them, and the happiness which consists in this, must be emphatically human …  10
  VI. 13. 5.*  .. (But it must be remembered that this life of moral virtue) is also not only in accordance with right Reason, but implies the possession of right Reason…  11
  X. 9. 1.  .. [Surely too] in practical matters the end is not mere speculative knowledge of what is to be done, but rather the doing of it. It is not enough to know about Virtue, then, but we must endeavour to possess it, and to use it, or to take any other steps that may make us good.  12
  Now if theories had power of themselves to make us good ‘Many and great rewards would they deserve’ as Theognis says, and such ought we to give; but in fact it seems that though they are potent to guide and to stimulate liberal-minded young men, and though a generous disposition, with a sincere love of what is noble, may by them be opened to the influence of virtue, yet they are powerless to turn the mass of men to goodness. For the generality of men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than by reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings, than because of its own foulness. For under the guidance of their passions they pursue the pleasures that suit their nature, and the means by which those pleasures may be obtained, and avoid the opposite pains; while of that which is noble and truly pleasant they have no conception, as they have never tasted it …  13
  X. 8. 12.  .. But the test of truth in matters of practice is to be found in the facts of life; for it is in them that the supreme authority resides. The theories which we have advanced should therefore be tested by comparison with the facts of life; and if they agree with the facts, they should be accepted, but if they disagree they should be accounted mere theories.  14
Note 1. Aristotle. Ethic. Nic. The references given in margin. Except the two sections starred (*), which are mine, all the translation is from F. H. Peters. 11th editn. Kegan Paul Trench & Co., 1909. I thank the publishers for allowing me the use of this. I have added a few words in square brackets, and the words dealings with and this faculty are my own. [back]

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