History 220.1D1
By: VF

Virtue and Vice

“Patience is a virtue” and “Cursing is one of my vices” are terms that I am sure we have all heard someone say on more than one occasion. But what exactly does that mean? If one has never heard of the word “virtue” or “vice”, the positive and negative connotations of the words can be assumed based on our knowledge of “patience” and “cursing”. The behaviors behind the good or virtuous acts and the bad or vicious acts were followed by some type of reinforcement. We know that growing up we were always told by our parents to be patient and wait for whatever it was that we were begging to have at that moment. We were also taught that cursing was bad and that it may end up with having your mouth washed out with soap and water. There was always a working knowledge of virtuosity and viciousness, even if we did not know what the words meant. So this goes back to the question, what exactly is virtue and vice? Where did these terms come from? Furthermore, what were some of the popular beliefs concerning virtue and vice in medieval times? These are all questions that I plan to answer in this essay. I also will argue how the different philosophies of virtue and vice by Aristotle and Maimonides can apply to anyone in society.

In order to understand virtue and vice relations to medieval times, we first need to understand what virtue and vice is. Virtue, by simple definition according to Aristotle, is the habit of making right choices (Adler, 102). As you can imagine, Aristotle’s definition of vice is the opposite of virtue, the habit of making wrong choices (Adler, 102). We will talk more in depth a little later about Aristotle’s views on virtue and vice. A less biased definition of virtue, courtesy of dictionary.com, is moral excellence; goodness; righteousness; or conformity of one’s life to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude. According to dictionary.com vice is an immoral or evil practice or habit. Now that we have an understanding of what virtue and vice is, let’s dig a little deeper and discover the generally accepted beginnings of virtue and vice “doctrine”.

According to Dietz, Evagius Pontus was the first one to present a systematic presentation of the doctrine of vice around 345 A.D. The presentation that Pontus gave was is as follows: “There are eight general and basic categories of thoughts in which are included every thought. First is that of gluttony, then impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and last of all, pride. It is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions.” (Dietz, 272). He believed that these vices were not necessarily associated with a sinful act but with a thought or temptation. He believed that the above thoughts were ranked in order from wide physical tendencies to narrower and more defined spiritual tendencies. He believed that the acts or tendencies could be countered by finding a scripture that was opposed the thought process that a person was having. This would create a virtuous thought process instead of a vicious one.

The most significant change to Pontus’ doctrine happened between 540-604 by Gregory I. Gregory I took Pontus’ doctrine and said that the order of the thoughts was not important. He also took out pride as one of the “thoughts” and said that all sin stemmed from pride. He renamed the “thoughts” to sins and altered the original eight. “The first shoots to grow out of this poisonous root [speaking of pride] are the seven principal vices, namely, vainglory, envy, anger, sadness, avarice, gluttony, and lust.” (Dietz, 273). These seven sins became what we know today as the seven deadly sins.

There were many interpretations of virtue and vice, too many to cover in such a short paper. I will focus on summarizing Aristotle and Maimonides. We will begin with Aristotle. I talked about Aristotle’s definition of virtue earlier as the habit of making the right choices and vice as the habit of making the wrong choices. Aristotle believed that life should be spent in pursuit of happiness. Happiness in this context is living well or “the good life”. The way to live the good life or to be happy is to live a virtuous life. Anything that prohibits you from doing what you ought to do in order to get the things you need is a bad habit or a vice (Adler, 102). Aristotle believed that every choice you make either help you towards the goal of living the good life or it took you steps backwards, away from the good life.
There are three major things that Aristotle believed to be important to the pursuit of happiness or the good life. The first major thing he believed to be important to the pursuit of happiness was that temperance was one aspect of virtue. He said that temperance was a habitual resistance of the temptation to overindulge or to seek out more limited goods (things that we need to live but excess is not good for us) than we need for pleasure. It allows us to be able to resist “what appears to be good in the short run for the sake of what is really good for us in the long run.” (Adler, 103). Overindulgence, temperance’s vice, will cause you to indulge excessively in pleasures in life and hinder your pursuit of happiness. The second thing he believed to be important to the pursuit of the good life is that courage was another aspect of virtue. Courage is a “habitual disposition to take whatever pains may be involved in doing what we ought to do for the sake of a good life.” (Adler, 103). This means that have to make a habit out of doing things that may be difficult or tedious to us to achieve a greater good. For example, writing this paper and doing research was tedious and it was difficult at times but the courageous thing to do was to complete the task in pursuit of a good grade. If I decided to throw in the towel and not complete the paper because of laziness, frustration, or any other factors, I would have exhibited the vice of cowardice. Cowardice is a reflection of a person who has a habit of avoiding difficult situation, pains, and trouble. The last major aspect to the pursuit of happiness was good luck. He said that the main pursuit in life should be to live virtuously but after you have done all that you have to depend on good luck. His thought process behind this was that you cannot help what hand life deals to you but it is your duty to live that hand virtuously and hope for the universe to send favor or good luck your way. Aristotle’s philosophy helped shape many thought process in the years following him including Maimonides.

Moses Maimonides was a physician and arguably the greatest Jewish thinker in his time (1135-1204). His major influences were his Jewish background, Aristotle, and Muslim Aristotelians. He used the physical body, his knowledge of medicine, and the Jewish scripture to explain his views on virtue and vice. An example of his parallelism is:

“ 'The doctor who cures bodies needs first to know, in its entirety, the body he is curing and what the parts of the body are, I mean the body of a man. And he needs to know what things make it sick so that they may be avoided and what things make it healthy so that they may be pursued. Similarly, the one who treats the soul and wishes to purify moral habits needs to know the soul in its entirety and its parts, as well as what makes it sick and what makes it healthy.' ” (Broadie, 200).

He spoke about having a moral equilibrium which helped people to live virtuously instead of viciously. Each extreme had something bad or vicious but being in the middle of the scale was where virtue was. For example, starving yourself is a vicious act and gluttony is also a vice. Eating enough to satisfy you would be considered the virtuous thing to do. He talked about a virtuous person being wise and being able to know when his actions needed to lean towards one extreme to balance out. An ignorant person would lean to one side thinking they were trying to balance out to become more virtuous but they end up living more viciously and this becomes a habit (Broadie, 201).

One of the major differences between Maimonides and Aristotle is that Maimonides believed that a good, virtuous, life is living a godly life and that you should consult the Word of God with questions that you may have. This is how you lived virtuously. The other major difference was Maimonides argued that people who did not have a desire to do wrong were more virtuous than those who overcame the desire to do wrong. Both were virtuous because they did the good thing but the one who did not have a desire to do it were seen to have a more God conscious mind and were focused on Him and keeping His laws. Aristotelians believed that the person who had to overcome the temptation was stronger and they were more virtuous because they overcame the temptation and still acted virtuously.

Looking at Aristotle and Maimonides philosophies you are able to see how different people can have a similar foundation of what virtue and vice is but build their “house” of beliefs of how to live virtuously and avoid viciousness differently than others. Aristotle shows that living virtuously is possible by making habits of doing well and hoping for good luck. Maimonides tells you to live a godly life and follow the word of God and you will have a good life. Whether or not you believe that there is a God that will judge or reward you for your vicious or virtuous acts are your personal beliefs but it is possible to live virtuously.

Good Habits and Good Luck
Adler wants the reader to understand that there is a balance to be maintained in order to live virtuously and not viciously. It is important to make the correct choices to live a virtuous life because it not only affects you but others around you.

Virtuous living
Vicious living
Real Goods
Knowledge, skill and the pleasures of the mind are unlimited goods (101)
Too much of some, wealth and bodily pleasure for example, are not good for you (101)
Making choices
“If you had made the right choice and decision every one of those times, you would have no regrets” (101)
“The habit of making right choices” (101)
“Every time you make a right choice and act on it, you are doing something that moves you toward your ultimate goal of living a good life” (102)
“…the pleasure of oversleeping or overeating and regretted it later” (101)
“…did not do something you ought to have because you feared the pain you might suffer in doing it” (101)
“bad habits… because they interfere with your doing what you ought to do in order to get things you need” (102)
“resist temptation to overindulge” (103)
“enables us to resist what appears to be good in the short run for the sake of what is really good for us in the long run” (103)
“people who are not temperate and courageous injure themselves by habitually making the wrong choices” (108)
“habitual disposition to take whatever pains may be involved in doing what we ought to do for the sake of a good life” (104)
A coward is a person who habitually avoids taking pains and troubles for the sake of obtaining real goods. (104)
“…concerned with the goods of others” (107)
Along with temperance, courage, and justice, everyone needs good luck
“we cannot be entirely selfish and succeed” (107)

This reading was something that I thought could be very helpful to society today. There are a lot of people who are out for self and are not concerned about the greater good of those around them. I believe that if ever one strived to live a virtuous life, were temperate and courageous, and lived justly, that life would be more harmonious. This sounds like a Utopian society that Aristotle spoke about, but I think it is a model that society can use to try to better itself as a whole.

The Moral Philosophy of Maimonides
Broadie talks about Maimonides’ philosophical beliefs in regards to virtue and vice. He also speaks about the connection that Maimonides makes between his Jewish heritage and medical profession to help explain his thoughts on virtue and vice.

Parallel of the body to the soul
“what things make it healthy so that they may be pursued” (200)
“What things make it sick so that they may be avoided” (200)
“Those with sick souls. . . will undoubtedly perish” (200)
“Should his soul become
sick, he must follow the same course in treating it as in the medical treatment for bodies.”(200)
Relations between virtue and vice
Virtue is a mean between two extremes. (200) For example: Over exercising and not exercising. The mean, the in between or virtuous act would be exercising.

Virtuous acts are normally closer to one extreme.
A vicious act is going to either extreme of the scale.
Moral Equilibrium
A wise man is able to tell when he needs to lean his actions toward a certain extreme to become “balanced” again and live virtuously (201)
An ignorant person will try to make his actions line up toward the extreme they think is good but in actuality their actions lead closer to the extreme they need to be further from. This creates vicious cycles.
Religious Implications
“Obedience to God’s law promotes virtue” (201)

Talking about people who act virtuously without having to overcome a desire and those that have to overcome a desire-“People of the first class are virtuous tout court, and those
of the second are said to be continent (or strong-willed,
since they have to overcome desire in order to perform
virtuous acts).” (202)
“God's commandments themselves represent a
perfect mean between extremes, and the ignorant person, by adding his own commandments to God's, inevitably lives by a list which
represents an extreme.” (201)
This article made me think about what I learned in my Intro to Philosophy class. I can see where Maimonides got some of his thought process from. You can see that he took some of Aristotle’s belief about virtue and added his biblical beliefs into the mix. He not only said that living virtuously is what you should strive after but following after God and obeying His commandments will help you to live a virtuous life. I thought his comparisons to the soul and the physical body really helped to give a visual understanding of virtue and vice.

Adler, Mortimer J. (1997). Aristotle for everybody. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Audi, Robert. (1995). Acting From Virtue. Mind, New Series, 104 (415), 449-47. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2254637

Broadie, Alexander. (1988). The Moral Philosophy of Maimonides. Journal of Medical Ethics, 14(4), 200-203). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27716741

Dietz, Elias. (2008). Ælred on the Capital Voices: A Unique Voice among the Cistercians. Cistercian Studies Quarterly,43(3), 271-293. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.wf2dnvr6.webfeat.org/ehost/detail?sid=182b38ab-b544-4e14-aad2-5b5a553c2a38%40sessionmgr15&vid=1&hid=12&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=34264880

Trianowsky, George W. (1986). Supererogation, Wrongdoing, and Vice: On the Autonomy of the Ethics of Virtue. The Journal of Philosophy, 83(1), 26-40. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2026465