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, November 6, 2012

Philip the Chancellor: Looking at Virtue Analogically

TO THE ARGUMENTS THAT THE CARDINAL VIRTUES enjoy a unity, so that they must be all for one and one for all, Philip the Chancellor throws out his sed contras.  He throws out two challenges to the traditional view.*  The first is that each particular virtue may be said to be a species of of the genus virtue, and each particular vice a species of the genus vice, and so it can be envisioned how one may have a particular species of virtue along with a particular species of vice, and therefore it is not inconsistent to say that one may be specific virtues and specific vices in the same person.  "Therefore," Philip the Chancellor concludes, "whoever has on virtue need not to have them all."

The next sed contra argument against the unity of virtues begins with the definition of virtue.  If virtue is defined as "a habit making its deed good," and vice is defined as "a habit making its deed bad," then it would seem that good habits and bad habits can exist in the same person.  This suggests that the cardinal virtues are not all unified, so that one need not have all the virtues or none.

The Four Cardinal Virtues

In order to respond to these counter-arguments, Philip identifies something he calls political virtue.  Political virtues are those that govern particular deeds, and so, just like one human can do one good deed and another evil deed (the deeds being discrete), so also political virtue is discrete so that one can have both virtue and vice.  Similarly, one can have one good sense (sight, for example) and yet have one sense fail (hearing, for example).

The cardinal virtues can be understood in two ways according to Philip.  A cardinal virtue--whether it be justice, fortitude, temperance, or prudence--can be understood "according to the act of its proper power" and according to "the proper matter of that power."  This is how Aristotle, for example, defines it in his Nicomachean Ethics, for he "descends to the special acts of the virtues."  If viewed from this perspective, there can be situations where one can have one virtue, and not another.  The reason for this is "because the act of a power . . . does not extend beyond its proper power or beyond its matter."  Since each virtue has its proper power and matter, one virtue does not extend beyond that, and so one can have, say, justice, without, say chastity or temperance.

But the cardinal virtues can be viewed from another perspective.  "It is also possible," Philip observes, "that the acts of these powers be taken analogically an be taken about their matter analogically."  In this way, one does not descend to the special acts, but one ascends, so to speak, to a more abstract level.  This allows us to expand the concept of virtue so that justice (looked at as something to be desired) can be the subject of temperance.  Likewise, justice (looked at as something difficult) can be the subject of fortitude.  Viewed analogically, therefore, there is a certain analogical relationship between the cardinal virtues, even though they may at with their own proper power and matter of that power.  The borders between the virtues therefore begin to disappear.

Viewed analogically, the cardinal virtues are such that "it is true that whoever has one virtue has them all."  And when one understands the virtues in such an analogical matter, one can see how it is possible for Seneca to say that "[a]ll that happens well happens justly and bravely and prudently and temperately."  One can also see, how Cicero did, that the virtues are not like collecting Corinthian vases, but the loss of one virtue results in the loss of virtue.  This analogical relationship between the virtues is also what St. Bernard of Clairvaux had in mind in his book dedicated to Pope Eugenius.**

In summary, if one views virtue from the perspective of its particular act or matter, then one is not wed to the idea that one must have all virtues or none at all.  However, if one views virtues more broadly, that is analogically, it would appear that the loss of one virtue (viewed analogically) would mean one has lost the rest of them (viewed analogically).

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*From the context, it is clear that Philip had two additional arguments, both based upon an analogy between the virtues and the senses.  This is known because he responds to them further in the text.  For some reason, the arguments themselves are not found in extant texts.
**For these texts, see our last posting on this subject, Philip the Chancellor: On the Unity of the Virtues.

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