Virtue isn’t “natural” it’s a “craft”

In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle is considering the question, “What is the highest of all the goods pursued in action” (1095a15)? In order to answer this question, we must begin with things that we know (1095b). He proceeds to answer the question by considering and ruling out what vulgar people and socially cultivated people regard as the highest goods to be pursued. These things are not sufficient for Aristotle, as they are not self-sufficient. They are transitory and fragile. He states that “the best good is apparently something complete” (1096a25) and he understands the best good to be happiness, as this is the thing we aim at in all our activities and investigations. He says, “we regard something as self-sufficient when all by itself it makes a life choiceworthy and lacking nothing; and that is what we think happiness does” (1097b10).

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Aristotle’s view of the human good in the Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle is absolute in stating “Every craft and every investigation, and likewise every action and decision, seems to aim at some good; hence the good has been well described as that at which everything aims” (1094a). However, this does not mean that everything aims at the same ‘goods’. As he says, “there is an apparent difference among the ends aimed at” (1094a). Whereas humanity shares the characteristics of plant and animal life, and whereas the same things which are good for the wellbeing of plants and animals are also good for us (nourishment, health, etc) the good at which we aim is different and greater than the good at which a plant, for example, aims in growing and reproducing. This is because of the specific difference between humans and other living things, plant or animal.

What makes humans unique? What is our function that differentiates our good from other goods? “The human function is the soul’s activity that expresses reason, or requires reason” (1098a5). This expression and requirement of reason is for the human “a certain kind of life” which when completed well expresses “proper virtue” (1098a10). As this is regarded as the right function of the human being, the virtue of living well according to reason is the human good. “The human good turns out to be the soul’s activity that expresses virtue” (1098a15).

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The morality of submitting to unjust laws

Question: In relation to Socrates and his trial, is the act of submitting to an unjust law and/or punishment itself an unjust or just act?

In terms of Socrates’ relation to Athens and his situation before the Council, I believe that this act of submission is a just act for the following reasons:

1) Socrates willingly submits to the laws of Athens, knowing that they are not an expression of the ideal laws of the ideal city. Throughout his adult life, he has been a free citizen of Athens and could have left at any time with all his possessions. This free association is key. As he states in the Crito it is not right to respond in an unjust way to unjust laws. The act of submission is a recognition that the laws one has consented to live beneath have force regardless of whether or not they are totally just because the health of the city depends upon the enforcement of laws.
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Social Contract and Divine Law

Question: In terms of Crito and Apology in a society formed by social contract, is it possible to oppose any given law as unjust without appeal to divine law?

1) In Crito Socrates draws a link between an obvious understanding of what is best for physical training (natural training) and what is best for training in the virtues (intellectual or spiritual training). This leads me to think that if one is willing and able to consider the matters humbly and honestly, the way forward towards increased justice will be as self-evident as the way forward in physical training. Both will enable one to live a good life, though the life of the soul is of far more importance than the life of the body.

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Thomas à Kempis – “desire to be unknown”

Chapter II – Of thinking humbly of oneself

There is naturally in every man a desire to know, but what profiteth knowledge without the fear of God? Better of a surety is a lowly peasant who serveth God, than a proud philosopher who watcheth the stars and neglecteth the knowledge of himself. He who knoweth himself well is vile in his own sight; neither regardeth he the praises of men. If I knew all the things that are in the world, and were not in charity, what should it help me before God, who is to judge me according to my deeds?

2. Rest from inordinate desire of knowledge, for therein is found much distraction and deceit. Those who have knowledge desire to appear learned, and to be called wise. Many things there are to know which profiteth little or nothing to the soul. And foolish out of measure is he who attendeth upon other things rather than those which serve to his soul’s health. Many words satisfy not the soul, but a good life refresheth the mind, and a pure conscience giveth great confidence towards God.

3. The greater and more complete thy knowledge, the more severely shalt thou be judged, unless thou hast lived holily. Therefore be not lifted up by any skill or knowledge that thou hast; but rather fear concerning the knowledge which is given to thee. If it seemeth to thee that thou knowest many things, and understandest them well, know also that there are many more things which thou knowest not. Be not high-minded, but rather confess thine ignorance. Why desirest thou to lift thyself above another, when there are found many more learned and more skilled in the Scripture than thou? If thou wilt know and learn anything with profit, love to be thyself unknown and to be counted for nothing. [alternative trans: “If thou wilt know or learn anything profitably, desire to be unknown, and to be little esteemed”].

[Contra ‘social media’, contra various (I suspect) vain and (without question) brand-building church personalities – making much of exploits in order to sell books and speak at conferences etc. Cf the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 – he easily boasts and catalogues various disasters and hardships, but only reluctantly shares the vision and leaves uncatalogued entirely the various “signs of a true Apostle”].

4. That is the highest and most profitable lesson, when a man truly knoweth and judgeth lowly of himself. To account nothing of one’s self, and to think always kindly and highly of others, this is great and perfect wisdom. Even shouldest thou see thy neighbor sin openly and grievously, yet thou oughtest not to reckon thyself better than he, for thou knowest not how long thou shalt keep thine integrity. All of us are weak and frail; hold thou no man more frail than thyself.

H/T The Literature Project

Josef Pieper – The meaning of life, according to Plato


“I wish to sum up Plato’s stance [regarding the meaning of human existence] in three brief statements:

The First Statement: To perceive, as much as possible, all things as they really are and to live and act according to this truth (truth, indeed, not as something abstract and “floating in thin air” but as the unveiling of reality)–in this consists the good of man; in this consists a meaningful human existence.

The Second Statement: All men are nurtured, first and foremost, by the truth, not only those who search for knowledge–the scientists and the philosophers. Everybody who yearns to live as a true human being depends on this nourishment. Even society as such is sustained by the truth publicly proclaimed and upheld.

The Third Statement: The natural habitat of truth is found in interpersonal communication. Truth lives in dialogue, in discussion, in conversation–it resides, therefore, in language, in the word. Consequently, the well-ordered human existence, including especially its social dimension, is essentially based on the well-ordered language employed. A well-ordered language here does not primarily mean its formal perfection, even though I tend to agree with Karl Kraus when he says that every correctly placed comma is decisive. No, a language is well ordered when its words express reality with as little distortion and as little omission as possible.”

Pieper, Josef. Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1992. 35-26. Print.


“On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done and he rested” Genesis 2.2

The first issue involving New Media and Christian holiness is that of rest. The Lord created the heavens and the earth. After that, he rested. The act of creation (space, time, and the ordered matter within it) was an act of divine love. God did not need to create anything in order to add to his own holiness and perfection. However, from all eternity God rested.[i] Being at rest, in other words, is an intrinsic part of his nature. Being a creator was an act of gratuitous love. The fact that creation and rest are the first two things revealed to us about God means they are fundamental to how we are to understand him. At the beginning and centre of the act of creating everything, there is a God who rests. After creating he returns to rest, and invites all that he has created to join him in it.

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