Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Interdependence of Virtues: Aristotelian v. Stoic View

WE END OUR TREATMENT ON VIRTUES in this series of posting by discussing the interdependence of virtues. In this area, we find two schools of thought which might be categorized as the Aristotelian and the Stoic. The Aristotelian notion emphasizes the separateness but interdependence of the virtues. It stresses, at least with regard to the cardinal virtues, that the acquisition of virtue is one of degree, so that it makes sense to talk about a more or less virtuous man.

For Aristotle, justice is one quality, prudence is another quality, temperance another, and fortitude still another quality. They are four qualities, not one. . . . [But] these four distinct qualities are very closely connected with each other. They are in fact interdependent in more than one way. . . . first of all . . . all moral virtues are knotted together in prudence . . . . and [secondly] the truth of the matter is that any virtue, in order to be itself, needs the modalities procured by the other virtues. Each virtue needs every other virtue for the sake, we may say, of its perfection. . . . On this issue you find some profound insights in Montaigne. Any virtue may degenerate, so to speak, if it become intemperate. [Also] if a virtue is totally lacking, an insuperable obstacle arises for another virtue. Indeed, if one virtue is badly lacking, other virtues do not have a chance.

Simon, 126-128.

This, of course, is St. Thomas's view, as he adopted the Aristotelian notion of the connexio or concatenatio virtutum. St. Thomas believed that to have any of the virtues in its full and proper form one must have all of the virtues in their full and proper form under the governance and shaping role of practical reasonableness (bonum rationis), which is the same as saying that they would be under the guidance of the intellectual and moral virtue of prudence (prudentia). See, e.g., S. T. IaIIae, q. 65 a. 1 co. (virtutes morales esse connexas).

Cardinal Virtues: Design for a Ceiling by Sir James Thornhill

The Stoic school, on the other hand, tended to reject the notion that the virtues were separate but interdependent; rather, they tended see the virtues as one all of one piece and monolithic. Stoics "treated [the virtues] as aspects of something that is one, solid, and admits of no degrees." There was for them no such thing as degrees of virtue; the issue of virtue posed a binary response. One either was virtuous or one was not virtuous.

(Although not mentioned by Simon, the problem of the interdependence of the virtues is complex, and, particularly in the Middle Ages the issue of whether the virtues were connected was a source of lively debate. There were distinctions made between the infused virtues, the natural (acquired) virtues, the cardinal virtues and lesser virtues, and imperfect and perfect virtue. There was confusion as to what the true Aristotelian teaching was. St. Augustine appeared to take two different views on the matter, and so provided authority for arguing either position. There was debate as to how the virtues were connected, whether as a result of prudence or, at least for the baptized Christian, by charity. Morever, there were also other views on the matter that cannot be classified neatly into "Aristotelian" and "Stoic" characters, as some theologians argued that the virtues, at least some of them, were independent, and that a person could have one virtue, but not necessarily all. Such an advocate was the Franciscan Richard Rufus, who argued that the virtues could not be interdependent and were independent based on the fact that the vices are clearly independent: one can be a murderer, say, without being a fornicator. Others argued that the moral virtues could not be interdependent by arguing from analogy from the intellectual virtues, which were clearly independent (one can be an excellent mathematician and yet be an abysmal artist.) Others argued that the virtues had to be independent because they had different ends. Ignoring subtle distinctions and generalizing broadly, we can generally say that both Duns Scotus and William Ockham advanced the notion that the virtues were independent.*)

A related issue is whether the the possession of virtue was one of degree or was binary (one either had virtue, or did not have virtue, tertium non datur). The Aristotelian/Thomistic view allowed for progress and degrees in virtue, whereas, generally speaking, the Stoic view did not. Simon summarizes his view as follows:
[W]hile the theory of interdependence of virtues [to which Simon subscribes] requires the presence of all virtues, it does not require that all virtues be possessed in the same degree. It is true that one cannot be just without being at the same time both courageous and temperate. This is so because the lack of one virtue creates obstacles for another virtue, because every virtue needs the modalities contributed by other virtues, and because, as we have said, all virtues are knotted together in prudence. . . . The making of the prudential judgment requires the presence of all virtues, because the absence of any of them would either blind that judgment or present an insuperable obstacle to its fulfillment.
Simon, 129-30.

In his design for a ceiling, Sir James Thornhill depicts an Aristotelian/Thomistic notion of the cardinal virtues. The virtues are shown as separate and distinct figures, each with their own modality and symbols of office, and each with his or her own role. And yet the four virtues communicate in one common circular, never-ending conversation, and so express their interdependence, their intimate communion in the virtuous man or woman.

*A good discussion of the varying proposals is Rega Wood, in Chapter 4 ("The Medieval Debate on the Connection of the Virtues") of her translation of Ockham on the Virtues (Purdue University Press, 1997).

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