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.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Preliminary to a Definition of Virtue: Fortitude and Temperance

IN AND EFFORT TO UNDERSTAND the concept of virtue we have looked at two of four classical cardinal virtues, prudence and justice. As we pointed out, prudence is sort of a virtue sui generis in that it straddles both intellectual and moral realms. Justice is a virtue specifically emphasizing the will. The remaining two cardinal virtues, fortitude and temperance, may be distinguished from the other two by being specifically related to the appetites of the senses.

Fortitudo by Giotto (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)

Fortitude is a virtue that relates to "the difficult, the arduous, the good which hard to get and the evil which is hard to avoid." Simon, 100. At the extreme, fortitude involves overcoming the fear of death, and so one may see fortitude personified in overcoming the fears attendant to battle. Examples of fortitude are seen among the small cadre of soldiers that have been honored with the Medal of Honor, or in the even more resplendent Hall of the Great Martyrs, the μεγαλομάρτυρες, megalomartyrs as Eastern Church calls them. But fortitude involves also overcoming a whole panoply of lesser fears.
[F]ortitude has to do with feelings of fear and confidence (but more with fear than confidence), which . . . [is] natural but in need of regulation. What is terrible is not the same for all men, but there are things that one should be afraid of and other things with regard to which one should never be too confident. . . . the coward, the rash man, and the brave man, then, according to Aristotle, are all concerned with the same objects but are differently disposed toward them. For only he who has the virtue of fortitude will face and fear the rights things from the right motive, in the right way and at the right time, and will feel confidence under the corresponding conditions.
Simon, 103. It is important to stress that fear is natural in human life, and cannot, of itself, be classified as an evil. After all, it plays a healthy role in the self-preservation of the individual. It is an inordinate role of fear--its excess (which breeds cowardice) or its defect (which breeds rashness) that fortitude seeks to monitor.

Temperantia by Giotto (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)

Temperance is a virtue that relates to to the drive toward pleasure and away from pain. One must point out that temperance is a virtue that seeks to avoid an excess of the drive toward the sensuously pleasurable, which of itself is normal and good. It is not consonant with temperance to be puritanical, to reject the sensuously pleasurable as if the sensuously pleasurable itself were evil. It is the immoderate, inordinate, or excessive desire for the sensuously pleasurable that is the evil which this virtue seeks to prevent.

In the emotional life, there is a drive toward the pleasurable and way from the unpleasant. . . . . [T]he drive toward the pleasurable . . . is normal, and it is good. But that does not mean that it does not have to be regulated. Moreover, as in the case of other such basic drives in man, the control of the drive toward the pleasurable (and away form the unpleasant) calls not just for a qualitative but also for an existential disposition. Here it is not enough just to know when it is enough; one must also be able actually to give up the excess pleasure (and not be pained by the renunciation). The person who can do that is called temperance. We say that he has the virtue, the habitus of temperance, which is but a rational disposition of the drive toward the pleasurable and away from the unpleasant.

Simon, 103. Again, the desire toward the pleasurable and avoidance of pain is, in itself, a natural feeling. It is the inordinate seeking of pleasure or avoidance of pain, the excess or the defect, that this virtue seeks to control and regulate.

In our next two blog postings we will wrap up this series on the virtues, and will focus first on a definition of virtue which incorporates the concepts of the prior blog postings, and lastly on the interdependence of the virtues.

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