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.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Philip the Chancellor: Ordering the Virtues

WHAT IS THE ORDER BETWEEN the various virtues? Is there any virtue that is preeminent? Is there any hierarchy that orders them? How do they interrelate? These are the subjects of the second question on the virtues in the Summa de bono of Philip the Chancellor.

Once again, before giving his answer, Philip the Chancellor reviews some authorities regarding this for possible answers.  He notes that scriptural glosses on the second chapter of Genesis and on 15:38 of the Gospel of Matthew [Gloss. margin. 5:271B] provide that prudence is first, then temperance, then courage, and finally justice.  Drawing on a cryptic numerology, for example, the gloss on the Gospel of Matthew (which addresses the miracle of Jesus and states that "those who ate were 4,000 men," meant by that number "the four virtues [each presumably being given the figure of 1,000] by which one lives correctly, prudence, temperance, courage, justice."  That same mysterious reference is found in the four rivers of Genesis.*

A different ordering of the virtues is given by St. Augustine in his book on the On the Customs of the Catholic Church.**  This order is followed by Isaac of Stella in his book On the Spirit and Soul.  Therein, temperance is first, then courage, followed by justice and prudence.

Looking for guidance to the book of Wisdom (8:7), we find temperance listed first, then followed by prudence, justice, and courage.

In his Ethics, Philip the Chancellor notes, Aristotle appears to list courage first, then chastity (temperance), then prudence, then justice.***  Cicero in his De Officiis lists prudence first, then justice, then temperance, and finally courage.†

With all this controverting authority, Philip the Chancellor offers his own answer.  To order the virtues, he finds that there is an underlying order "based on worth," a worth that is determined by reference to the powers of the rational soul.  Those powers that relate to the rational soul have more dignity than those that relate to the powers of desire and emotion which we share with the brute animals.  Viewed in this way, "prudence and justice, since they exist in the rational power, are prior by reason and the worth of their subject."  Between prudence and justice, prudence may be said to precede.  The reason for this, Philip states, is that prudence looks at the the good of the subject, whereas justice looks at the good of others. Yet there is a competing principle that also orders the virtues.  Those virtues that deal with the subject (the actor) have more dignity than those that relate to others.  From this perspective, prudence and temperance are more importance than courage and justice because they involve acts that relate to the subject while courage and justice relate to others.  Between courage and justice, justice might be said to follow courage because "the other powers and their acts are like materials in relations to it."  It appears, then, that Philip the Chancellor's opinion is that prudence is first, followed by temperance, followed by courage or fortitude, and finally, justice.

So we may summarize the various orders as follows:

Glossesprudence, temperance, courage, justice
St. Augustinetemperance, courage, justice, prudence
Wisdom 8:7temperance, prudence, justice, courage
Aristotlecourage, temperance, prudence, justice
Ciceroprudence, justice, temperance, courage
Philip the Chancellorprudence, temperance, courage, justice

Philip the Chancellor, then, seems to deviate from St. Augustine, Wisdom, Aristotle, and Cicero, and align himself with the Glosses, in adopting the prudence, temperance, courage, and justice ordering.

Philip the Chancellor justifies his deviation from St. Augustine by observing that St. Augustine views the virtues from the perspective of the pursuit of happiness, "the highest good," namely God.  The ordering he gives the virtues is based upon "their motive cause," "their end," or what is the same thing, "their motive cause."  Ultimately, love is what orders his virtues between themselves.  Since desire or love is St. Augustine's perspective, that virtue that orders desire--temperance--is first.  Courage must follow because the affective emotions relate to desire, which is the principle of love.  Love is only said to be in the power of reason in a "secondary way," and for that reason, the rational virtues of prudence and justice follow those relating to desire.  Since prudence is the most cognitive virtue, and that last tied to the "motive part of the soul," it follows that it should be ordered last when viewed from the order of love or desire, which is what St. Augustine does.

The ordering found in Wisdom is based upon the view that a sober soul (i.e., sobriety) is required for there to be a prudence soul (i.e., prudence).  The Scriptural view, according to Philip is reflected in Daniel 1:16-17, where the abstinence of youth is a precursor to the wisdom or prudence of the elderly.  Temperance, then, must precede prudence.  The reason why justice follows prudence in the Scriptural ordering is that "since it is the function of justice to render to each what is his, one first has to know what is his."  Courage is last because "justice concerns action in relation to neighbor, while courage concerns passions, and action is prior to passion."

Philip justifies his departure from Aristotle's ordering because Aristotle's ordering is based upon a precedence to be given to communal virtues before personal virtues.  Aristotle views courage as a civil or common virtue, and therefore puts it before chastity or temperance which is an individual virtue.  Prudence is placed before justice because it is a prerequisite to the communal virtue of justice.  Aristotle viewed that it was the "function of prudence to now what belongs to each, and the function of justice to render it so"  "The act of discerning what belongs to each," which is a task of prudence, "is prior to rendering to each his own."

Finally, Philip explains his departure from Cicero by observing that the Ciceronian order places prudence before justice (and those two before the other virtues) "because each is in the reasoning power."  Between justice and prudence, prudence takes precedence in Cicero's view "because [prudence] concerns us, while justice concerns the other.  Prudence is the reasoning power principally, and prudence knows what belongs to whom, which is the function of justice."  Temperance is placed before courage by Cicero "because temperance concerns good we should make use of, while courage concerns evils we should withstand."


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*See Philip the Chancellor: Virtues, How are They Four?
**As discussed in prior postings, this work was erroneously attributed to St. Augustine.
***Nic. Eth. 3.9, 13, 5.1, 6.5.
De off., 1.6-42, nn. 18-151.

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