Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Vermigli on the Nicomachean Ethics

The seventeenth century Reformed theologian Peter Martyr Vermigli on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: 

Through ethics, those who are its students will, one by one, become good men. If they prove upright, they will raise good families; if the families are properly established, they will in turn create good republics.  And in good republics, both law and administration will aim at nothing less than each man becoming a good citizen, for they have eyes not only for the body but also for the spirit, and they will take care that citizens live according to virtue.

Therefore, as far as our method of analysis is concerned, let us accept the following outline of these ten books. First, the goal of human life is discussed, defined in book 1, where it is taught that happiness is the carrying out of perfect virtue. This requires a consideration of the nature of virtue, which occurs in book 2 in which the virtues are first dealt with--not yet those of the intellect, but those that pertain to moderate desires--and then it is asserted that virtue is the state between excess and defect. In book 3, the principles of virtue are taught: voluntary, involuntary, choice, and that sort of thing. A detailed discussion of particular virtues begins specifically with courage and the entire books 4 and 5 are devoted to this matter. After that, in book 6, Aristotle examines those dispositions that enrich the reason or the intellect, that is prudence, industry, skill, and many others of this order. Book 7 is about the virtue of heroism, which far surpasses those already mentioned, and about temperance and intemperance, neither of which truly belongs to the category of virtue and vice. Books 8 and 9 treat friendship. Book 10 contains an elaborate discussion of pleasure. The book ends with a discourse on true and absolute happiness, which is based on contemplation, especially of things divine.

[Peter Martyr Vermigli, Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Campi & McLelland, eds., Austin, Beall, and Wysocki, trs., Truman State University Press (Kirksville, MO: 2006) pp. 12-13.]

There is an error in the translation with respect to the description of Book 7: Vermigli (rightly) says that Book 7 is about Continentia seu Incontinentia, continence and incontinence, not temperance and intemperance. Temperance and intemperance are undoubtedly a virtue and vice; continence and incontinence are related to these but involve self-restraint with struggle, rather than self-restraint that has become second nature.