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Virtue and Vice




Cicero Tusculan disputations 4.29, 34-5; trans. Long, pg. 381)

"Viciousness is a tenor or character which is consistent in the whole life and out of harmony with itself...It is the source of disturbances which...are disorderly and agitated movements of the mind, at variance with reason and utterly hostile to peace of mind and of life. For they cause troubling and severe ailments, oppressing the mind and weakening it with fear. They also inflame the mind with excessive longing...a mental powerlessness completely in conflict with temperance and moderation...So the only cure for those vices is situated in virtue alone."



Diogenes Laertius 7.89-95

"And he asserts that virtue is a disposition of the mind always consistent and always harmonious; that one ought to seek it out for its own sake, without being influenced by fear or hope by any external influence. Moreover, that it is in it that happiness consists, as producing in the soul the harmony of a life always consistent with itself; and that if a rational animal goes the wrong way, it is because it allows itself to be misled by the deceitful appearances of exterior things, or perhaps by the instigation of those who surround it; for nature herself never gives us any but good inclinations.

"Now virtue is, to speak generally, a perfection in everything, as in the case of a statue; whether it is invisible as good health, or speculative as prudence. For Hecaton says, in the first book of his treatise on Virtues, that the scientific and speculative virtues are those which have a constitution arising from speculation and study, as, for instance, prudence and justice; and that those which are not speculative are those which are generally viewed in their extension as a practical result or effect of the former; such for instance, as health and strength. Accordingly, temperance is one of the speculative virtues, and it happens that good health usually follows it, and is marshalled as it were beside it; in the same way as strength follows the proper structure of an arch.

"And the unspeculative virtues derive their name from the fact of their not proceeding from any acquiescence reflected by intelligence; but they are derived from others, are only accessories, and are found even in worthless people, as in the case of good health, or courage. And Posidonius, in the first hook of his treaties on Ethics, says that the great proof of the reality of virtue is that Socrates, and Diogenes, and Antisthenes, made great improvement; and the great proof of the reality of vice may be found in the fact of its being opposed to virtue.

"Again, Chrysippus, in the first book of his treatise on the Chief Good, and Cleanthes, and also Posidonius in his Exhortations, and Hecaton, all agree that virtue may be taught. And that they are right, and that it may be taught, is plain from men becoming good after having been bad.

"On this account Panaetius teaches that there are two virtues, one speculative and the other practical; but others make three kinds, the logical, the natural, and the ethical. Posidonius [293>] divides virtue into four divisions; and Cleanthes, Chrysippus, and Antipater make the divisions more numerous still; for Apollophanes asserts that there is but one virtue, namely, prudence.

"Among the virtues some are primitive [viz., primary] and some are derived. The primitive ones are prudence, manly courage, justice, and temperance. And subordinate to these, as a kind of species contained in them, are magnanimity, continence, endurance, presence of mind, wisdom in council. And the Stoics define prudence as a knowledge of what is good, and bad, and indifferent; justice as a knowledge of what ought to be chosen, what ought to be avoided, and what is indifferent; 93. magnanimity as a knowledge of engendering a lofty habit, superior to all such accidents as happen to all men indifferently, whether they be good or bad; continence they consider a disposition which never abandons right reason, or a habit which never yields to pleasure; endurance they call a knowledge or habit by which we understand what we ought to endure, what we ought not, and what is indifferent; presence of mind they define as a habit which is prompt at finding out what is suitable on a sudden emergency; and wisdom in counsel they think a knowledge which leads us to judge what we are to do, and how we are to do it, in order to act becomingly.

"And analogously, of vices too there are some which are primary, and some which are subordinate; as, for instance, folly, and cowardice, and injustice, and intemperance, are among the primary vices ; incontinence, slowness, and folly in counsel among the subordinate ones. And the vices are ignorance of those things of which the virtues are the knowledge.

"Good, looked at in a general way, is some advantage, with the more particular distinction, being partly what is actually useful, partly what is not contrary to utility. On which account virtue itself and the good which partakes of virtue are spoken of in a threefold view of the subject. First, as to what kind of good it is, and from what it ensues; as, for instance, in an action done according to virtue. Secondly, as to the agent, in the case of a good man who partakes of virtue.* * * * * *

"At another time, they define the good in a peculiar manner, as being what is perfect according to the nature of a rational being as rational being. And, secondly, they say that it is conformity to virtue, se that all actions which partake of virtue, and all good men, are themselves in some sense the good. And in the third place, they speak of its accessories, joy, and mirth, and things of that kind.

"[* The third point of view is wanting; and those that are given appear to be ill selected. The French translator, following the hint of Huebner, gives the following passage from Sextus Empiricus (a physician of the Sceptic school, about b.c. 250), in his work against the Philosophers, which he says may serve to rectify and complete the statement of Diogenes Laertins. "Good is said, in one sense of that which produces the useful, or from which the useful results; that is, the good per excellence, virtue. For virtue is as it were the source from which all utility naturally flows. In another sense it is said of that which is accidentally the cause of utility; under this point of view we call good not only virtue, but also those actions which are conformable to virtue, for they are accidentally useful. In the third and last place, we call good everything that possibly can be useful, comprehending under this definition virtue, virtuous actions, friends, good men, the Gods, &c., &c."] [294>]

"In the same manner they speak of vices, which they divide into folly, cowardice, injustice, and things of that kind. And they consider that these things which partake of vices, and actions done according to vice, and bad men, are themselves in some sense the evil; and its accessories are despondency, and melancholy, and other things of that kind."



"Long, A. A., Sedley, D. N. (1987). The Hellenistic Philosophers: vol. 1. translations of the principle sources with philosophical commentary. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.



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