How it is to be done

“To obtain the right training for virtue from youth up is difficult, unless one has been brought up under the right laws. To live a life of self-control and tenacity is not pleasant for most people, especially for the young. Therefore, their upbringing and pursuits must be regulated by laws; for once they have become familiar, they will no longer be painful. But it is perhaps not enough that they receive the right upbringing and attention only in their youth. Since they must carry on these pursuits and cultivate them by habit when they have grown up, we probably need laws for this, too, and for the whole of life in general. For most people are swayed rather by compulsion that argument, and by punishment rather than by a sense of what is noble. This is why some believe that lawgivers ought to exhort and try to influence people toward a life of virtue because of its inherent nobility, in the hope that those who have made good progress through their habits will listen to them. Chastisement and penalties, they think, should be imposed upon those who do not obey and are of an inferior nature, while the incorrigible ought to be banished abroad. A good man, they think, who orients his life by what is noble will accept the guidance of reason, while a bad man, whose desire is for pleasure, is corrected by pain like a beast of burden. For the same reason, they say that the pains inflicted must be those that are most directly opposed to the pleasures he loves.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

Go figure

“Some people believe that it is nature that makes men good, others that it is habit, and others again that it is teaching. Now, whatever goodness comes from nature is obviously not in our power, but is present in truly fortunate men as the result of some divine cause. Argument and teaching, I am afraid, are not effective in all cases: the soul of the listener must first have been conditioned by habits to the right kind of likes and dislikes, just as land must be cultivated before it is able to foster the seed. For a man whose life is guided by emotion will not listen to an argument that dissuades him, nor will he understand it. How can we possibly persuade a man like that to change his ways? And in general it seems that emotion does not yield to argument but only to force. Therefore, there must first be a character that somehow has an affinity for excellence or virtue, a character that loves what is noble and feels disgust at what is base.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

Keeping them in line

“The natural tendency of most people is to be swayed not by a sense of shame but by fear, and to refrain from acting basely not because it is disgraceful, but because of the punishment it brings. Living under the sway of emotion, they pursue their own proper pleasures and the means by which they can obtain them, and they avoid the pains that are opposed to them. But they do not even have a notion of what is noble and truly pleasant, since they have never tasted it. What argument indeed can transform people like that? To change by argument what has long been ingrained in a character is impossible or, at least, not easy. Perhaps we must be satisfied if we have whatever we think it takes to become good an attain a modicum of excellence.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh

“Pleasure is considered to be deeply ingrained in the human race, and that is why in educating the young we use pleasure and pain as rudders with which to steer them straight. Moreover, to like and to dislike what one should is thought to be of greatest importance in developing excellence of character. For in view of the fact that people choose the pleasant and avoid the painful, pleasure and pain pervade the whole of life and have the capacity of exerting a decisive influence for a life of excellence or virtue and happiness.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 1

Let not their name be legion

“Ought we to make as many friends as possible? Or will the mot juste about hospitality, ‘not too many guests, nor yet none,’ also fit friendship in the sense that a person should neither be friendless nor have an excessive number of friends? The saying would seem to fit exactly those who become friends with a view to their mutual usefulness. To accommodate many people in return for what they have done to us is troublesome, and life is not long enough to do that. Accordingly, more friends than are sufficient for one’s own life are superfluous and are an obstacle to the good life, so that there is no need of them. To give us pleasure a few friends are sufficient.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 9, Ch. 10

Down, boys, down

“In a way, anger seems to listen to reason, but to hear wrong, like hasty servants, who run off before they have heard everything their master tells them, and fail to do what they were ordered, or like dogs, which bark as soon as there is a knock without waiting to see if the visitor is a friend.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 7, Ch. 6

Tending in this direction

“In our transactions with other men it is by action that some become just and others unjust, and it is by acting in the face of danger and by developing the habit of feeling fear or cowardice that some become brave men and others cowards. The same applies to the appetites and feelings of anger: by reacting in one way or in another to given circumstances some people become self-controlled and gentle, and others self-indulgent and short-tempered. In a word, characteristics develop from corresponding activities. For that reason, we must see to it that our activities are of a certain kind, since any variations in them will be reflected in our characteristics. Hence it is no small matter whether one habit or another in inculcated in us from early childhood; on the contrary, it makes a considerable difference, or, rather, all the difference.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, Ch. 1

One and the same

“The God of Plato and Aristotle, of Plotinus and Augustine, of Aquinas and Bonaventure, of Newman and C. S. Lewis; the eternal immutable, infinite, ubiquitous, omnipotent, omniscient Supreme Being, Unmoved Mover, ens realissimum, whose existence is identical with His essence and who is without body, parts, or passions, is one of the sublimest achievements of the human imagination. He, not Yahweh, is the deepest mystery, for metaphysics (as His reluctant admire Nietzsche pointed out) is the subtlest psychology, the supreme fiction.” – George Scialabba, “God: A Biography”

An enduring way of doing it

“Homer would appear to be divinely inspired in comparison with other poets; he did not attempt to make a poem out of the whole Trojan War even though the war had a beginning and an end, for it would have become too big to be easily seen as a whole, or, even if moderated in length, it would have become too complex in its variety of events. What he did is to select one part of the whole and use many episodes taken from the other parts, e.g., the Catalogue of Ships and other episodes, which he interspersed in the poem.” – Aristotle, Poetics (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

A human trinity

“In every state there are three parts: the very rich, the very poor, and the middle class. So since it is agreed that the best and the mean is that which is moderate, it is evident that the best possession of goods which comes from fortune, too, is the one which is moderate, for this is the easiest to deal with in a rational manner; for he who greatly excels in beauty or strength or high birth or wealth, or in the contrarities of these, i.e. in ugliness or weakness or low birth or poverty, finds it difficult to follow reason. The former tend to become insolent or great criminals, but the latter rather rogues and petty rascals; for, of unjust effects, some result through insolence, others from roguery.” – Aristotle, Politics, Book IV (trans. Apostle and Gerson)


“Since those who are equal in one respect only should not share equally in all respects and those who are unequal in one respect should not share unequally in all respects, such forms of government which violate this principle are of necessity perversions.” – Aristotle, Politics, Book III (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

Teach your children well

“The nurture and pursuits of the young should be regulated by laws, for when they become habitual they are not painful. Getting the right nurture and care while young, however, is perhaps not sufficient; but since young men should pursue and be habituated to these also when they have become adults, laws would be needed for these too, and, in general, laws would be needed for man’s entire life, for most people obey necessity rather than argument, and penalties rather than what is noble. In view of this, some think that legislators (a) should urge men to pursue virtue and should exhort them to act for the sake of what is noble, expecting those who are well on their way in their habits of acting well to follow their advice, (b) should impose punishments and penalties on those who disobey and are of inferior nature, and (c) should banish permanently those who are incurable; for they think that a man who is good and lives with a view to what is noble will obey reason, while a bad man who desires pleasures should be punished by pain like a beast of burden. And this is the reason they also say that the pains inflicted should be those which are most contrary to the pleasures these men love. So if, as already noted, the man who is to be good should be well nurtured and acquire the proper habits so that he may live in good pursuits and neither willingly nor unwillingly do what is bad, these would be attained by those who live according to intellect and an order which is right and has effective strength.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book X (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

They are few and evil and we allow them to be ours

“Aristocracy passes over into oligarchy by the badness of the rulers, who distribute the goods of the state in violation of merit, taking most or all of the goods for themselves, and paying attention to wealth most of all. Accordingly, these rulers are few and evil, instead of being the most equitable.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

Friending is virtual, befriending is real

“Friendship is a virtue or something with virtue, and, besides, it is most necessary to life; for no one would choose to live without friends, though he were to have all the other goods. Also those who possess wealth or have acquired authority or power are thought to need friends most of all; for of what benefit is the possession of such goods without the opportunity of beneficence, which is most exercised towards friends and most praised when so exercised, or how can such goods be guarded and be preserved without friends? For the greater these goods, the more insecure they are.  In poverty and other misfortunes, too, we regard our friends as our only refuge. Friends help the young in guarding them from error, and they help the old who, because of their weakness, need attention or additional support for their actions, and they help those in the prime of life to do noble actions.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

What justice is, in case anyone’s forgotten

“Justice is a disposition in virtue of which the just man is said to be disposed by intention to do what is just and to make a distribution, either between himself and another or between others, not so as to get more of what is choiceworthy for himself and to give less of it to another, nor to take less of what is harmful and to give more of it to another (and similarly if the distribution is between others), but in such a way that the parties receive what is proportionally equal. As for injustice, which is the contrary of justice, it is of what is unjust; and this, which is in violation of what is proportional, is an excess or deficiency of what is beneficial or harmful, respectively.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book V (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

Train ’em

“Of things which come to us by nature, we first bring along the powers and later exhibit the corresponding activities. This indeed is clear in the case of sensations; for it is not by seeing often or hearing often that we acquired the corresponding power of sensation, but conversely: we used the power after we possessed it, we did not come to possess it after using it. In the case of the virtues, on the other hand, we acquire them as a result of prior activities; and this is like the case of the arts, for that which we are to perform by art after learning, we first learn by performing, e.g. we become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre. Similarly, we become just by doing what is just, temperate by doing what is temperate, and brave by doing brave deeds. This is confirmed also by what happens in states. For it is by making citizens acquire certain habits that legislators make them good, and this is what every legislator wishes, but legislators who do not do this well are making a mistake; and good government differs from bad government in this respect.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

The hard and the soft of it

“The investigation of truth is in one sense difficult, in another easy. A sign of this is the fact that neither can one attain it adequately, nor do all fail, but each says something about the nature of things; and while each of us contributes nothing or little to the truth, a considerable amount of it results from all our contributions. Thus, if the truth seems to be like the door in the proverb ‘Who would miss it?’, in this sense it would be easy; but to have some of the whole truth and not be able to attain the part we are aiming at, this indicates that it is difficult. Perhaps the cause of this difficulty, which may exist in two ways, is in us and not in the facts. For as the eyes of the bat are to the light of day, so is the intellect of our soul to the objects which in their nature are most evident of all.” – Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book II (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

It does seem to exist when one is late

“That time is either altogether nonexistent, or that it exists but hardly or obscurely, might be suspected from the following: One part of it has come to be but no longer exists; the other part will be but does not yet exist; and it is of these two parts that infinite time, or any time one might take, is composed.  But it is thought that what is composed of nonbeings cannot participate in substance.  In addition, if any thing with parts is to exist, then, when it exists, all or some of its parts must exist.  But, although time is divisible, some parts of it have been and others will be, and no part of it exists.  And as for a moment, it is no part of time, for a part measures the whole, and the whole must be composed of the parts, but it is thought that time is not composed of moments.” – Aristotle, Physics, Book IV (trans. Apostle and Gerson)

A maxim we’ve been minimizing

“It is a general maxim in democracies, oligarchies, monarchies, and indeed in all governments, not to let any one acquire a rank far superior to the rest of the community, but rather to endeavour to confer moderate honours for a continuance than great ones for a short time; for these latter spoil men, for it is not every one who can bear prosperity: but if this rule is not observed, let not those honours which were conferred all at once be all at once taken away, but rather by degrees.  But, above all things, let this regulation be made by the law, that no one shall have too much power, either by means of his fortune or friends.” — Aristotle, A Treatise on Government (trans. Ellis)

Snowden & Manning, LTD.

“Governments are sometimes preserved not only by having the means of their corruption at a great distance, but also by its being very near them; for those who are alarmed at some impending evil keep a stricter hand over the state; for which reason it is necessary for those who have the guardianship of the constitution to be able to awaken the fears of the people, that they may preserve it, and not like a night-guard to be remiss in protecting the state, but to make the distant danger appear at hand.” — Aristotle, A Treatise on Government (trans. Ellis)

No jaywalking, now

“In well-tempered governments it requires as much care as anything whatsoever, that nothing be done contrary to law: and this ought chiefly to be attended to in matters of small consequence; for an illegality that approaches insensibly, approaches secretly.” — Aristotle, A Treatise on Government (trans. Ellis)

So whadderya gonna do about it?

“Those who would establish aristocratical governments are mistaken not only in giving too much power to the rich, but also in deceiving the common people; for at last, instead of an imaginary good, they must feel a real evil, for the encroachments of the rich are more destructive to the state than those of the poor.” — Aristotle, A Treatise on Government (trans. Ellis)

Eat your carrots or you’ll be hit with this stick

“This must be noted, that it is the nature of such things to be spoiled by defect and excess; as we see in the case of health and strength (since for the illustration of things which cannot be seen we must use those that can), for excessive training impairs the strength as well as deficient: meat and drink, in like manner, in too great or too small quantities, impair the health: while in due proportion they cause, increase, and preserve it.

“Thus it is therefore with the habits of perfected Self-Mastery and Courage and the rest of the Virtues: for the man who flies from and fears all things, and never stands up against anything, comes to be a coward; and he who fears nothing, but goes at everything, comes to be rash. In like manner too, he that tastes of every pleasure and abstains from none comes to lose all self-control; while he who avoids all, as do the dull and clownish, comes as it were to lose his faculties of perception: that is to say, the habits of perfected Self-Mastery and Courage are spoiled by the excess and defect, but by the mean state are preserved.

“Furthermore, not only do the origination, growth, and marring of the habits come from and by the same circumstances, but also the acts of working after the habits are formed will be exercised on the same: for so it is also with those other things which are more directly matters of sight, strength for instance: for this comes by taking plenty of food and doing plenty of work, and the man who has attained strength is best able to do these: and so it is with the Virtues, for not only do we by abstaining from pleasures come to be perfected in Self-Mastery, but when we have come to be so we can best abstain from them: similarly too with Courage: for it is by accustoming ourselves to despise objects of fear and stand up against them that we come to be brave; and after we have come to be so we shall be best able to stand up against such objects.

“And for a test of the formation of the habits we must take the pleasure or pain which succeeds the acts; for he is perfected in Self-Mastery who not only abstains from the bodily pleasures but is glad to do so;  whereas he who abstains but is sorry to do it has not Self-Mastery: he again is brave who stands up against danger, either with positive pleasure or at least without any pain; whereas he who does it with pain is not brave.

“For Moral Virtue has for its object-matter pleasures and pains, because by reason of pleasure we do what is bad, and by reason of pain decline doing what is right (for which cause, as Plato observes, men should have been trained straight from their childhood to receive pleasure and pain from proper objects, for this is the right education).” — Aristotle, The Ethics (ed. Smith)