Apr 162015

Here’s an interesting philosophical question, raised indirectly by philosopher Iskra Fileva on Facebook:

If a person refrains from doing a wrong act due to some wrong motive, does that person count as self-controlled (in Aristotle’s sense) or not?

For example, a married man wants to have an affair with a co-worker but he refrains — not because he’s pledged his fidelity to his wife, but due to fear of social disapproval if the affair is revealed because she’s black/Jewish/older/Catholic/wiccan/whatever.

I don’t think that this counts as self-control (a.k.a. continence) because the person is ignorant of and/or blind to the relevant moral considerations. On Aristotle’s descending moral scale from virtuous to self-controlled to un-self-controlled to vicious (explained briefly here), he’s in the vicious category, even though he happens not to have done the immoral act of cheating on his wife.

This is why — as I argue in my book on moral luck — we need to distinguish between judgments of actions, outcomes, and character. These judgments identify different facts and serve different purposes. A person can still be of vicious character, yet not perform any immoral acts. (At least, that can happen in the short term. Long-term, bad acts are pretty darn likely.) That’s only a puzzle if we’re not clear about the various purposes and bases of our various kinds of moral judgments.


On Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I’ll discuss what’s right (and wrong) with Aristotle’s defense of eudaimonia as the final end that’s given in Chapter One of the Nicomachean Ethics. I’m really excited to discuss the topic, as I think that his argument is (1) radically different from that given by Ayn Rand in “The Objectivist Ethics” (in The Virtue of Selfishness), yet (2) important and powerful and basically right.

In preparing my notes, I’ll draw on my teaching notes from my days as a graduate student instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Hence, I thought I should post the selections from Chapter One of the Nicomachean Ethics that I assigned to students, as background context. It covers more ground than I’ll discuss on Sunday. (FYI: The translation is that of W.D. Ross, with some revisions made by Gregory Salmieri.)

Without further ado… I present you with Aristotle:

Chapter 1 [goods as ends of actions]

Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, seems to aim at some good. For this reason the good has rightly been described as that at which all things aim.

But a certain difference is found among ends: some are activities, others are products apart from the activities that produce them. Where there are ends apart from the actions, it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities.

Now, as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many. The end of the medicine is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of generalship victory, that of economics wealth. But where such arts fall under a single capacity–as bridle-making and the other arts concerned with the equipment of horses fall under the art of riding, and this and every military action under generalship, in the same way other arts fall under yet others–in all of these the ends of the master arts are to be preferred to all the subordinate ends. For it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued. It makes no difference whether the activities themselves are the ends of the actions, or something else apart from the activities, as in the case of the sciences just mentioned.

Chapter 2 [the good as the ultimate end of action]

Then what if there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and that we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain)? Clearly this end must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? If we have it, won’t we, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit on what is right? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is, and of which of the sciences or capacities it is the object.

It would seem to belong to the most authoritative art and that which is most truly the master art. And statesmanship appears to be of this nature; for it is this that ordains which of the sciences should be studied in a state, and which each class of citizens should learn and up to what point they should learn them; and we see even the most highly esteemed of capacities to fall under this, e.g. strategy, economics, rhetoric; now, since statesmanship uses the rest of the sciences, and since, again, it legislates as to what we are to do and what we are to abstain from, the end of this science must include those of the others, so that this end must be the good for man. For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete to attain or to preserve; though it is worthwhile to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for state. These, then, are the ends at which our inquiry aims, since it is statesmanship, in one sense of that term.

Chapter 3 [the methods of statesmanship]

Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which statesmanship investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premises to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premises of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.

Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general. Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on statesmanship; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and, further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the deficiency does not depend on time, but on his living and pursuing each successive object, as passion directs. For immature men, like the incontinent get no benefit from their knowledge. But men who desire and act with reason will get a great benefit from knowing about these things.

These remarks about the student, the way our claims should be received, and the purpose of the inquiry, may be taken as our preface.

Chapter 4 [the disputed nature of happiness]

Let us resume our inquiry and state, in view of the fact that all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good, what it is that we say statesmanship aims at and what is the highest of all goods achievable by action. Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honor; they differ, however, from one another–and often even the same man identifies it with different things, with health when he is ill, with wealth when he is poor; but, conscious of their ignorance, they admire those who proclaim some great ideal that is above their comprehension. Now some thought that apart from these many goods there is another which exists on its own and causes the goodness of all these as well. To examine all the opinions that have been held were perhaps somewhat fruitless; enough to examine those that are most prevalent or that seem to be arguable.

Let us not fail to notice, however, that there is a difference between arguments from and those to the principles. For Plato, too, was right in raising this question and asking, as he used to do, “are we on the way from or to the principles?” There is a difference, as there is in a race-course between the course from the judges to the turning-point and the way back. For, while we must begin with what is known, things are objects of knowledge in two senses: some are known to us, some without qualification. Presumably, then, we must begin with things known to us. Hence any one who is to listen intelligently to lectures about what is fine and just, and generally, about the subjects of statesmanship must have been brought up in good habits. For the fact is the starting-point, and if this is sufficiently plain to him, he will not at the start need the reason as well; and the man who has been well brought up has or can easily get starting points. And as for him who neither has nor can get them, let him hear the words of Hesiod:

Far best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another’s wisdom, is a useless man

Chapter 5 [three common views of the good]

However, let’s resume our discussion from the point at which we digressed. To judge from the lives that men lead, most men, and men of the most vulgar type, seem (not without some ground) to identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure; which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment. For there are, we may say, three prominent types of life: that just mentioned, the political, and thirdly the contemplative life. Now the mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts, but they get some ground for their view from the fact that many of those in high places share the tastes of Sardanapallus.

A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honor; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it seems to depend on those who bestow honor rather than on him who receives it, but the good we divine to be something proper to a man and not easily taken from him.

Further, men seem to pursue honor in order that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honored, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better. And perhaps one might even suppose this to be, rather than honor, the end of the political life.

But even this appears somewhat incomplete; for possession of virtue seems actually compatible with being asleep, or with lifelong inactivity, and, further, with the greatest sufferings and misfortunes; but a man who was living so no one would call happy, unless he were maintaining a thesis at all costs. But enough of this; for the subject has been sufficiently treated even in the current discussions. Third comes the contemplative life, which we shall consider later.

The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else. And so one might rather take the aforementioned objects to be ends; for they are loved for themselves. It is evident that not even these are ends; yet many arguments have been thrown away in support of them. Let us leave this subject, then.

Chapter 7 [Aristotle's own account of the good]

Let us again return to the good we are seeking, and ask what it can be. It seems different in different actions and arts; it is different in medicine, in strategy, and in the other arts likewise. What then is the good of each? Surely, that for whose sake everything else is done. In medicine this is health, in generalship victory, in architecture a house, in any other sphere something else; and, in every action and pursuit, it is the end; for it is for the sake of this that all men do whatever else they do. Therefore, if there is an end for all that we do, this will be the good achievable by action, and if there are more than one, these will be the goods achievable by action.

So the argument has by a different course reached the same point; but we must try to state this even more clearly. Since there are evidently more than one end, and we choose some of these (e.g. wealth, flutes, and in general instruments) for the sake of something else, clearly not all ends are complete; but the chief good is evidently something complete. Therefore, if there is only one complete end, this will be what we are seeking, and if there are more than one, the most complete of these will be what we are seeking. Now we call that which is desirable in itself more complete than that which is desirable for the sake of something else; and, if something is desirable in itself and never desirable for the sake of anything else, we call it more complete than things that are desirable both in themselves and for the same of something else. Therefore we call something “complete without qualification” if it is always desirable in itself and never desirable for the sake of something else.

Now happiness, above all else, is held to be such a thing; for we always choose happiness for itself and never for the sake of something else. While we do choose honor, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), we also choose them for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

From the point of view of independence the same result seems to follow; for the final good seems to be independent. Now by independent we do not mean that which is enough for a man by himself–for someone who lives a solitary life–but also for parents, children, wife, and in general for his friends and fellow citizens, since man is born for citizenship. But some limit must be set to this; for if we extend our requirement to ancestors and descendants and friends’ friends we are in for an infinite series. Let’s examine this question, however, on another occasion. For now we define the independent as that which when isolated makes life desirable and lacking in nothing; and we think happiness is like this. Further we think that it is the most desirable of all things, without being counted as one good thing among others. If it were counted as one good amongst others, it would clearly be made more desirable by the addition of even the least of goods; for that which is added becomes an extra good, and of goods the greater is always more desirable. Happiness, then, is something complete and independent, and is the end of action.

Presumably, however, to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude, and a clearer account of what it is still desired. This might perhaps be given, if we could first ascertain the function of man. For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor, or an artist, and, in general, for all things that have a function or activity, the good and the ‘well’ seems to reside in the function, so would it seem to be for man, if he has a function.

Have the carpenter, then, and the tanner certain functions or activities, and has man none? Is he born without a function? Or as eye, hand, foot, and in general each of the parts evidently has a function, may we likewise ascribe to man a function apart from all these?

What then could this be? Life seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Let us exclude, therefore, the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life of perception, but it also seems to be common even to the horse, the ox, and every animal.

There remains, then, an active life of the part that has reason. Of this, one part has reason in the sense of obeying reason, the other in the sense of having reason and thinking. And, since “life of the rational part” also has two meanings, we must state that we mean life in the sense of activity; for this seems to be the more proper sense of the term.

So, man’s function is an activity of soul with reason. We say that the function of a thing is the same in kind as the function of a superb thing of the same type. For example, the function of a lyre player and of a superb lyre player are the same in kind. The same goes for all cases without qualification, if we add superiority with virtue to the function (for the function of a lyre player is to play the lyre, and that of a superb lyre player is to do so well). We say that man’s function is a certain kind of life, and that it is activity or actions of the soul involving reason, so the function of a superb man is to do these actions well and finely. And, if any action is done well when it is done with the appropriate virtue, the human good turns out to be activity of soul with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, with the best and most complete.

But we must add “in a complete life”. For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.

Let this serve as an outline of the good; for we must presumably first sketch it roughly, and then later fill in the details. But it would seem that any one is capable of carrying on and articulating something, once it’s been outlined well and that time is a good discoverer or partner in such a work–this is how the arts have improved, for any one can add what is lacking to the outline. We must also remember what we said before, and not look for precision in all things alike. Rather, in each class of things, we should look for the sort of precision as accords with the subject-matter, and for the amount that us appropriate to the inquiry. For a carpenter and a geometer investigate the right angle in different ways; the former does so in so far as the right angle is useful for his work, while the latter inquires in to what it is or what sort of thing it is; for he is a spectator of the truth. We must act in the same way, then, in all other matters as well. This way we’ll avoid subordinating out main task to minor questions. And we shouldn’t demand the cause in all matters alike; it is enough in some cases that the fact be well established, as in the case of the principles; the fact is the primary or the principle. Now we study some principles by induction, some by perception, some by a certain habituation, and we also study others in other ways. But we must try to investigate each set of principles in the natural way, and we must take pains to state them definitely, since they have a great influence on what follows. For the beginning seems to be more than half of the whole, and many of the questions we ask are cleared up by it.

Chapter 8 [kinds of goods]

We must consider it, however, in the light not only of our conclusion and our premisses, but also of what is commonly said about it; for with a true view all the data harmonize, but with a false one the facts soon clash.

Now goods have been divided into three classes, and some are described as external, others as relating to soul or to body; we call those that relate to soul most properly and truly goods, and psychical actions and activities we class as relating to soul. Therefore our account must be sound, at least according to this view, which is an old one and agreed on by philosophers. It is correct also in that we identify the end with certain actions and activities; for thus it falls among goods of the soul and not among external goods.

Another belief which harmonizes with our account is that the happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action. The characteristics that are looked for in happiness seem also, all of them, to belong to what we have defined happiness as being. For some identify happiness with virtue, some with practical wisdom, others with a kind of philosophic wisdom, others with these, or one of these, accompanied by pleasure or not without pleasure; while others include also external prosperity. …

With those who identify happiness with virtue or some one virtue our account is in harmony; for to virtue belongs virtuous activity. But it makes, perhaps, no small difference whether we place the chief good in possession or in use, in state of mind or in activity. For the state of mind may exist without producing any good result, as in a man who is asleep or in some other way quite inactive, but the activity cannot; for one who has the activity will of necessity be acting, and acting well. And as in the Olympic Games it is not the most beautiful and the strongest that are crowned but those who compete (for it is some of these that are victorious), so those who act win, and rightly win, the noble and good things in life.

Their life is also in itself pleasant. For pleasure is a state of soul, and to each man that which he is said to be a lover of is pleasant; e.g. not only is a horse pleasant to the lover of horses, and a spectacle to the lover of sights, but also in the same way just acts are pleasant to the lover of justice and in general virtuous acts to the lover of virtue. Now for most men their pleasures are in conflict with one another because these are not by nature pleasant, but the lovers of what is noble find pleasant the things that are by nature pleasant; and virtuous actions are such, so that these are pleasant for such men as well as in their own nature. Their life, therefore, has no further need of pleasure as a sort of adventitious charm, but has its pleasure in itself.

For, besides what we have said, the man who does not rejoice in noble actions is not even good; since no one would call a man just who did not enjoy acting justly, nor any man liberal who did not enjoy liberal actions; and similarly in all other cases. If this is so, virtuous actions must be in themselves pleasant. But they are also good and noble, and have each of these attributes in the highest degree, since the good man judges well about these attributes; his judgment is such as we have described. Happiness then is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world, and these attributes are not severed as in the inscription at Delos–

Most noble is that which is most just, and best is health;
But pleasantest is it to win what we love.

For all these properties belong to the best activities; and these, or one–the best–of these, we identify with happiness.

Yet evidently, as we said, it needs the external goods as well; for it is impossible, or not easy, to do noble acts without the proper equipment. In many actions we use friends and riches and political power as instruments; and there are some things the lack of which takes the luster from happiness, as good birth, goodly children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill-born or solitary and childless is not very likely to be happy, and perhaps a man would be still less likely if he had thoroughly bad children or friends or had lost good children or friends by death. As we said, then, happiness seems to need this sort of prosperity in addition; for which reason some identify happiness with good fortune, though others identify it with virtue.

Chapter 13 [virtue and the soul]

Since happiness is an activity of soul with complete virtue, we must consider the nature of virtue; for perhaps this will enable us to study happiness better. Plus the true student of statesmanship seems to have studied virtue above all things; for he wishes to make his fellow citizens good and obedient to the laws. As an example of this we have the lawgivers of the Cretans and the Spartans, and any others of the kind that there may have been. And if this inquiry belongs to statesmanship, clearly the pursuit of it will be in accordance with our original plan.

But clearly the virtue we must study is human virtue; for the good we were seeking was human good and the happiness human happiness. By human virtue we don’t mean virtue of the body but virtue of the soul; and we also call happiness an activity of soul. But if this is so, clearly the student of statesmanship must know somehow about the soul, as the man who is to heal the eyes or the body as a whole must know about the eyes or the body. All the more so, since statesmanship is more prized and better than medicine; but even among doctors the best educated spend put a lot of work into acquiring knowledge of the body. The student of statesmanship, then, must study the soul, and must study it with these objects in view, and he must do so just to the extent which is sufficient for the questions we are discussing; for further precision may take more work than our purposes require.

We have made some points about the soul adequately even in our popular works, and we must use these. For example, we said that one part of the soul is non-rational and one has reason. Are these parts separated like the parts of the body or of anything divisible are, or are they distinct in definition but inseparable by nature, like convex and concave in the circumference of a circle? It does not matter for our present purposes.

One part of the non-rational part seems to be widely distributed and is plantlike in its nature. I mean the part that causes nutrition and growth; for we can assign this capacity to nurslings and to embryos, and also assign this same capacity to full-grown creatures (since this is more reasonable than assigning some other capacity to them). Now the virtue of this part seems to be common to all species and is not specifically human; for this part or capacity seems to be most active during sleep, when goodness and badness are at their least distinct (that’s why people say that “happy people are no better off than miserable people for half their lives”). This isn’t surprising, because sleep is inactivity of the soul insofar as it is called great or base, unless perhaps some of the movements actually penetrate a little so that the dreams of great men are better than those of ordinary people. Enough of this subject, however; let us leave the nutritive part alone, since it has by its nature no share in human virtue.

There seems to be also another non-rational part in the soul–one which in a sense, however, shares in reason. For we praise the rational part of the continent man and of the incontinent, i.e. the part of their souls that has reason, since it urges them correctly and towards the best objects; but we also find in them another part naturally opposed to reason, which fights against it and resists it. It’s just like when we try to turn paralyzed limbs to the right and they do the contrary and move to the left. That’s how it is in the soul: the impulses of incontinent people move in contrary directions. But in the case of the body we see the part that goes astray, and in the soul we do not. Nevertheless, we must suppose that there is something in the soul contrary to reason, resisting and opposing it. In what sense it is distinct from the other parts does not concern us. Now even non-rational part his seems to have a share in reason, as we said; at any rate in the continent man it obeys reason and presumably in the temperate and brave man it’s even more obedient; for in him it speaks, on all matters, with the same voice as reason.

Therefore the non-rational part also appears to be two-fold. For the plantlike part in no way shares in reason, but the appetitive and in general the desiring part in a sense shares in it, in that it listens to and obeys it; this is the sense in which we speak of “listening to reason” from your father or your friends, not that in which we speak of “give reasons” in mathematics. Our practices of giving advice and admonishing and exhorting people also indicates that the non-rational part is persuaded by reason in some sense. And if we must say that this part has reason, then the part that has reason (as well as the part that doesn’t) will be bipartite: one subdivision will have it in the strict sense and in itself, and the other will have it in the sense of obeying, like one does with one’s father.

Virtue is also divided this way; for we say that some of the virtues are “virtues of thought” and that others are “virtues of character”. Theoretical wisdom, comprehension, and practical-wisdom are virtues of thought, and generosity and temperance are virtues of character. For in speaking about a man’s character we do not say that he is wise or comprehending but that he is mild or temperate; yet we praise the wise man also because of his state, and we call praiseworthy states “virtues”.


As I mentioned in my radio discussion of recommended works of Aristotle, I recommend the W.D. Ross translation of Nicomachean Ethics — or its derivatives.

The version in the epic two-volume set of The Complete Works of Aristotle (Volume 1 and Volume 2) edited by Barnes has been modified slightly by J.O. Urmson, and I like that one too. Also, Urmson has a nice little book on Aristotle’s Ethics. I’ve not read the whole book, but his discussion of Aristotle’s theory of moral responsibility is quite good.

Finally, I definitely recommend reading the Nicomachean Ethics with Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics on hand. I don’t always agree with my friend Tom, but he’s reading Aristotle straight — not with any Christian gloss — and he’s remarkably accurate and insightful.

Update: Now that the 30 June 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio is complete, you can listen to or download the relevant segment of the podcast here:

For more details, check out the question’s archive page. The full episode – where I answered questions on Aristotle on the final end, dealing with a morally corrupt sibling, studying philosophy in academia, the legality of DDoS attacks, and more – is available as a podcast too.

May 132013

As I mentioned in this post, I’ll be speaking on the concept of “Moral Amplifiers” at ATLOSCon in less than two weeks. (Yes, you can still register… and you should too!) Here, again, is the abstract of my talk:

Objectivism upholds seven major virtues as indispensable to our lives. Yet what of other qualities of character — such as ambition, courage, spontaneity, liveliness, discretion, patience, empathy, and friendliness? Are these virtues, personality traits, or something else? Diana Hsieh will argue that such qualities are best understood as “moral amplifiers,” because their moral worth wholly depends how they’re used. She will explain why people should cultivate such qualities and why they must be put into practice selectively.

When I introduce people to the concept of “moral amplifiers,” people often want examples thereof. (Yay!) My standard go-to examples are persistence and ambition. Everyone sees that these qualities are often beneficial, but they’re not always so. Plus, I love to use Lance Armstrong as an example of ambition gone wrong.

Interestingly, the list of moral amplifiers is really quite long — because most of the qualities that people think of as virtues are, in fact, moral amplifiers rather than virtues. Here’s the list of moral amplifiers that I created — based on lists of virtues such as this one — when preparing my proposal for ATLOSCon:

  • Ambition
  • Agreeability
  • Assertivenesss
  • Calmness
  • Charity
  • Charisma
  • Cautiousness
  • Charitablity
  • Choosiness
  • Compassion
  • Conscientiousness
  • Cooperativeness
  • Courage
  • Courteousness
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Decisiveness
  • Dependability
  • Determination
  • Diligence
  • Directness
  • Discernment
  • Discrimination
  • Discretion
  • Discipline
  • Easygoingness
  • Eloquence
  • Empathy
  • Endurance
  • Enthusiasm
  • Equanimity
  • Exactingness
  • Fairness
  • Fidelity
  • Flexibility
  • Forbearance
  • Fortitude
  • Friendliness
  • Frugality
  • Generosity
  • Gentleness
  • Helpfulness
  • Humorousness
  • Idealism
  • Inventiveness
  • Joviality
  • Kindness
  • Liberality
  • Lightheartedness
  • Liveliness
  • Loyalty
  • Magnaminity
  • Mindfulness
  • Neatness
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Orderliness
  • Passionateness
  • Patience
  • Perseverence
  • Persistence
  • Persuasiveness
  • Pessimism
  • Predictability
  • Prudence
  • Punctuality
  • Reliability
  • Resiliance
  • Respectfulness
  • Resourcefulness
  • Self-Confidence
  • Self-Control
  • Self-Directing
  • Sensitivity
  • Simplicity
  • Sincerity
  • Spontaneity
  • Steadiness
  • Tact
  • Temperance
  • Thrift
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Tolerance
  • Toughness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Zealousness

Clearly, I’m not going to run out of material in my talk! I plan to pick just a few of these to discuss, as I have some theory related to Aristotle’s and Ayn Rand’s differing conceptions of virtue that I wish to cover too. I’ll explain how Ayn Rand’s conception of virtue is really something quite distinct from traditional conceptions of virtue — and how those differences represent a major advance in thinking about ethics.


Aug 222012

Our dogs Conrad and Mae are contained on our five acres by a fence around the border. Since they are often roaming about outside during the day and at night, they tend to keep the wildlife at bay. The deer avoid our property, as do squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits.

Alas, the skunk has not been deterred of late.

Conrad and Mae have been skunked about 20 times so far this summer. Sometime after dark — often moments before we plan to bring the dogs inside for the night — we’ll hear vigorous barking for a few minutes, then silence, and finally the ominous smell of skunk will waft up to the house. (The smell wears off in a few days, so I never bother to bathe the dogs. They just have to sleep in the mudroom for a night or two or three.)

The dogs simply will not learn to leave the skunk alone. They could be sprayed every night for the next year, but they’d not learn. They’re persistent — too persistent.

That brings me to my philosophical point: Persistence is not a virtue. Virtues are ways of acting that are always necessary and always proper to further your life and happiness. To flourish, you must be rational in every waking moment, not just sometimes. You cannot ever temper rationality with irrationality, nor attempt to find a balance between them. To understand that rationality is a virtue is to understand that you’re always right to be rational and that you can never be too rational.

Persistence, however, is something quite different, and that’s why it’s not a virtue. My dictionary defines persistence as “firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”

Persistence is often the right course. If you’re learning a complicated new dance step, training your dog, or developing a new product at work, you’re going to need a whole lot of persistence. That doesn’t imply, however, that persistence is a virtue. It’s not — for the simple reason that persistence is often a mistake. Sometimes, failure is not a reason to “try, try again,” but rather to “stop and think, dammit.”

Let’s consider three kinds of cases in which persistence is a bad idea.

First, instead of persistence, sometimes you should rethink whether your goal is worth so much time and effort.

If college is nothing but a slog, consider whether to quit rather than persist in slogging for another two years. If your old clunker of a car keeps breaking down, consider whether to buy a new car rather than performing yet another costly repair. If your friend blows up at you over nothing yet again, consider whether to demote that friendship rather than muddling through this latest conflict.

Second, instead of persistence, sometimes you need to rethink your methods for achieving your goal.

If your dog isn’t doing what you’re asking in training, try a different technique rather than persisting in the ineffective method. If you’re kids keep annoying you, stop the persistent nagging and try some collaborative problem-solving. If you can’t find critical files on your computer, don’t be persistent about searching for them but rather find some new way of organizing or naming them.

Third, instead of persistence, sometimes you need a break to refocus.

If you’re frustrated with some project at work, maybe you need a short break to clear your head: the answer might come to you while you’re pouring that cup of coffee. If you’re annoyed by a discussion of politics on Facebook, step away from the keyboard to pet the cat. If your dog isn’t responding to your commands in training, perhaps both you and your dog need a break from the pressure.

Again, if persistence were a virtue, a person would always be right to be persistent. Yet as we’ve seen with these three kinds of cases, that’s just not true.

So what is persistence? Basically, persistence is a personality trait. People differ in their natural persistence based on innate personality as well as childhood experiences. People can cultivate their disposition to persist or refrain from persisting by repeatedly choosing to persist or refrain.

Personality traits, I think, should be understood as subject to a kind of Aristotelian continuum. A person can be excessive, deficient, or at the sweet spot of “the mean.” For a person to be properly persistent would mean that persistence is exercised “at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way.”

That’s not easy! As Aristotle says,

…it is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited, as the Pythagoreans conjectured, and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in one way (for which reason also one is easy and the other difficult — to miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult) …

With practice, however, we can cultivate the skills required for persisting and for refraining — as well as the skills required to know whether to persist or to refrain in the circumstances at hand.

Mostly, remember to avoid the trap of thinking that persistence is always beneficial. Sometimes, a bit less persistence is exactly what you need!

Conquer Your Fear

 Posted by on 6 April 2012 at 7:00 am  Aristotle, Courage, Ethics, Sports
Apr 062012

A fourth grade girl screws up her courage to make her first ski jump:

The beginning is hard to watch, but the ending is awesome!

Just a few hours after I watched this video, I read this amazing news story about an 80-year-old woman, without any training in flying, landing a plane after her husband collapsed.

“She was remarkable on the radio,” Keith Kasbohm of the Door County Cherryland Airport said of Monday’s incident. “She kept her composure and sounded like she had been a pilot for years. She knew what to do when they told her ‘flaps down, increase the throttle, increase the trim.’ She was doing it well.”

Sadly, her husband died, but she saved her own life (and gave him every chance at life) by acting sensibly under such difficult circumstances.

Too many people, accustomed to indulging their emotions in ordinary life, collapse under the pressure of difficult circumstances. Unless saved by sheer luck or some rational person, they suffer failure, pain, loss, injury, and even death.

Life requires that a person govern his emotions by his reason in the ways advocated by Aristotle. If your emotions are not in harmony with your reason, then you’ve got to work on your moral psychology. Your life and happiness depends on it!

Aug 302011

Note: I wrote this for Modern Paleo last week, but I thought it might be of interest here.

In her 1964 Playboy interview, Ayn Rand identifies the four core qualities of a dictatorship as follows.

PLAYBOY: What is the dividing line, by your definition, between a mixed economy and a dictatorship?

RAND: A dictatorship has four characteristics: one-party rule, executions without trial for political offenses, expropriation or nationalization of private property, and censorship. Above all, this last. So long as men can speak and write freely, so long as there is no censorship, they still have a chance to reform their society or to put it on a better road. When censorship is imposed, that is the sign that men should go on strike intellectually, by which I mean, should not cooperate with the social system in any way whatever.

In Book 5, Chapter 11 of his Politics, Aristotle discusses the means by which the worst kind of tyrant maintains his power. Aristotle’s comments delve into the psychology of tyranny, as opposed to its outer forms. On reading them again, I’m amazed to see how well his observations apply to modern tyrannies. (I’ve added extra paragraph breaks to make the text more readable.)

There are firstly the prescriptions mentioned some distance back, for the preservation of a tyranny, in so far as this is possible; viz., that the tyrant should lop off those who are too high; he must put to death men of spirit; he must not allow common meals, clubs, education, and the like; he must be upon his guard against anything which is likely to inspire either courage or confidence among his subjects; he must prohibit literary assemblies or other meetings for discussion, and he must take every means to prevent people from knowing one another (for acquaintance begets mutual confidence). Further, he must compel all persons staying in the city to appear in public and live at his gates; then he will know what they are doing: if they are always kept under, they will learn to be humble. In short, he should practice these and the like Persian and barbaric arts, which all have the same object.

A tyrant should also endeavor to know what each of his subjects says or does, and should employ spies, like the ‘female detectives’ at Syracuse, and the eavesdroppers whom Hiero was in the habit of sending to any place of resort or meeting; for the fear of informers prevents people from speaking their minds, and if they do, they are more easily found out.

Another art of the tyrant is to sow quarrels among the citizens; friends should be embroiled with friends, the people with the notables, and the rich with one another. Also he should impoverish his subjects; he thus provides against the maintenance of a guard by the citizen and the people, having to keep hard at work, are prevented from conspiring. The Pyramids of Egypt afford an example of this policy; also the offerings of the family of Cypselus, and the building of the temple of Olympian Zeus by the Peisistratidae, and the great Polycratean monuments at Samos; all these works were alike intended to occupy the people and keep them poor.

Another practice of tyrants is to multiply taxes, after the manner of Dionysius at Syracuse, who contrived that within five years his subjects should bring into the treasury their whole property. The tyrant is also fond of making war in order that his subjects may have something to do and be always in want of a leader. And whereas the power of a king is preserved by his friends, the characteristic of a tyrant is to distrust his friends, because he knows that all men want to overthrow him, and they above all have the power.

… the tyrant also has those who associate with him in a humble spirit, which is a work of flattery. Hence tyrants are always fond of bad men, because they love to be flattered, but no man who has the spirit of a freeman in him will lower himself by flattery; good men love others, or at any rate do not flatter them. Moreover, the bad are useful for bad purposes; ‘nail knocks out nail,’ as the proverb says. It is characteristic of a tyrant to dislike every one who has dignity or independence; he wants to be alone in his glory, but any one who claims a like dignity or asserts his independence encroaches upon his prerogative, and is hated by him as an enemy to his power. Another mark of a tyrant is that he likes foreigners better than citizens, and lives with them and invites them to his table; for the one are enemies, but the others enter into no rivalry with him.

Such are the notes of the tyrant and the arts by which he preserves his power; there is no wickedness too great for him. All that we have said may be summed up under three heads, which answer to the three aims of the tyrant. These are, (1) the humiliation of his subjects; he knows that a mean-spirited man will not conspire against anybody; (2) the creation of mistrust among them; for a tyrant is not overthrown until men begin to have confidence in one another; and this is the reason why tyrants are at war with the good; they are under the idea that their power is endangered by them, not only because they would not be ruled despotically but also because they are loyal to one another, and to other men, and do not inform against one another or against other men; (3) the tyrant desires that his subjects shall be incapable of action, for no one attempts what is impossible, and they will not attempt to overthrow a tyranny, if they are powerless.

Under these three heads the whole policy of a tyrant may be summed up, and to one or other of them all his ideas may be referred: (1) he sows distrust among his subjects; (2) he takes away their power; (3) he humbles them.

How much of these qualities do we see in America today? More than I’d like — particularly in light of the ever-increasing meddling by the government with almost every facet of our lives. (Yes, that includes our food supply and our health!) Still, we have quite a ways to go before we’re faced with the prospect of dictatorship. So what must we do to protect freedom in America? Talk, while we still can! Here’s Ayn Rand again:

PLAYBOY: Short of such a strike [of refusing to "cooperate with the social system in any way whatever"] , what do you believe ought to be done to bring about the societal changes you deem desirable?

RAND: It is ideas that determine social trends, that create or destroy social systems. Therefore, the right ideas, the right philosophy, should be advocated and spread. The disasters of the modern world, including the destruction of capitalism, were caused by the altruist-collectivist philosophy. It is altruism that men should reject.

PLAYBOY: And how would you define altruism?

RAND: It is a moral system which holds that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the sole justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, value and virtue. This is the moral base of collectivism, of all dictatorships. In order to seek freedom and capitalism, men need a nonmystical, nonaltruistic, rational code of ethics — a morality which holds that man is not a sacrificial animal, that he has the right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others, nor others to himself. In other words, what is desperately needed today is the ethics of Objectivism.

Ayn Rand’s essay on the foundations of her ethics is The Objectivist Ethics. That and other essays on her ethics can be found in The Virtue of Selfishness.

I just can’t resist quoting this last segment:

PLAYBOY: Do you believe that Objectivism as a philosophy will eventually sweep the world?

RAND: Nobody can answer a question of that kind. Men have free will. There is no guarantee that they will choose to be rational, at any one time or in any one generation. Nor is it necessary for a philosophy to “sweep the world.” If you ask the question in a somewhat different form, if you say, do I think that Objectivism will be the philosophy of the future, I would say yes, but with this qualification: If men turn to reason, if they are not destroyed by dictatorship and precipitated into another Dark Ages, if men remain free long enough to have time to think, then Objectivism is the philosophy they will accept.


RAND: In any historical period when men were free, it has always been the most rational philosophy that won. It is from this perspective that I would say, yes, Objectivism will win. But there is no guarantee, no predetermined necessity about it.

PLAYBOY: You are sharply critical of the world as you see it today, and your books offer radical proposals for changing not merely the shape of society, but the very way in which most men work, think and love. Are you optimistic about man’s future?

RAND: Yes, I am optimistic. Collectivism, as an intellectual power and a moral ideal, is dead. But freedom and individualism, and their political expression, capitalism, have not yet been discovered. I think men will have time to discover them. It is significant that the dying collectivist philosophy of today has produced nothing but a cult of depravity, impotence and despair. Look at modern art and literature with their image of man as a helpless, mindless creature doomed to failure, frustration and destruction. This may be the collectivists’ psychological confession, but it is not an image of man. If it were, we would never have risen from the cave. But we did. Look around you and look at history. You will see the achievements of man’s mind. You will see man’s unlimited potentiality for greatness, and the faculty that makes it possible. You will see that man is not a helpless monster by nature, but he becomes one when he discards that faculty: his mind. And if you ask me, what is greatness? — I will answer, it is the capacity to live by the three fundamental values of John Galt: reason, purpose, self esteem.

Volition in Animals

 Posted by on 15 February 2010 at 9:00 am  Animals, Aristotle, Philosophy
Feb 152010

I’m always amazed that Conrad seems to take an instant liking to some dogs at the dog park, and an instant dislike to others. However, this story of instant love between an oragutan and a dog takes the cake:

Unlike my friend Kelly, I don’t think that the video suggests that the orangutan exercises volition. Volition (or free will) is not merely the power to choose between alternatives based on values. It requires reason (in the sense of the faculty of reason); it’s the power to focus one’s rational mind or not, simply as a matter of will. That’s not evident in this video… yet nor can the behavior be explained by vacuous appeals to “instinct.” Instead, the orangutan exhibits highly complex behavior, probably largely based on associational learning and imagination. He doesn’t seem to have concepts though, and that means no faculty of reason and no power of volition.

I propose that his actions should be described as “voluntary” but not “chosen.” As per Aristotle’s usage, some action is voluntary if (1) the agent has the power to do or not do the action and (2) he knows what he’s doing at the moment of action. To act by choice requires more: it requires acting based on rational deliberation, meaning the exercise of volition.

Aristotle thought that some beasts act voluntarily at least sometimes, and I agree with that. More neurologically advanced animals seem to have the power to act voluntarily on a perceptual level: they can do or not do some action, in part based on their power to direct their own perceptual-level attention. So a dog can voluntarily prevent itself from chasing the cat by directing its attention elsewhere. And animals have the power to know what they’re doing, in a perceptual way, as opposed to when they’re acting on some kind of mistake. So that dog knows whether he’s chasing the cat or playing with his toy. Hence, the dog does act voluntarily but not by volitional choice.

In short, we need to be careful about what we mean by “volition” when attributing that to animals. Also, we must keep in mind that denying volition to animals is not equivalent to claiming that they’re deterministic robots. Some more subtlety is needed, I think. And that can be found in Aristotle — particularly Book 3, Chapters 1-5 of the Nicomachean Ethics.

Aristotle on the Mean

 Posted by on 28 October 2009 at 3:00 pm  Aristotle, Funny, Teaching
Oct 282009

One of my past-fellow philosophy graduate students at Boulder recent reported on the following response to a quiz question:

Question: “Illustrate the Doctrine of the Mean using the virtue of courage.”

Response: “Too little courage makes you cowardly. Too much courage makes you an asshole.”


Why I Love Aristotle, Reason #82721

 Posted by on 10 February 2009 at 12:01 am  Aristotle, Ethics, Philosophy
Feb 102009

Here’s a delightful passage from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 7, Chapter 6:

That incontinence [i.e. lack of self-control] in respect of anger is less disgraceful than that in respect of the appetites is what we will now proceed to see.

Anger seems to listen to argument to some extent, but to mishear it, as do hasty servants who run out before they have heard the whole of what one says, and then muddle the order, or as dogs bark if there is but a knock at the door, before looking to see if it is a friend; so anger by reason of the warmth and hastiness of its nature, though it hears, does not hear an order, and springs to take revenge. For argument or imagination informs us that we have been insulted or slighted, and anger, reasoning as it were that anything like this must be fought against, boils up straightway; while appetite, if argument or perception merely says that an object is pleasant, springs to the enjoyment of it. Therefore anger obeys the argument in a sense, but appetite does not. It is therefore more disgraceful; for the man who is incontinent in respect of anger is in a sense conquered by argument, while the other is conquered by appetite and not by argument.

Aristotle is correct to say that indulgence in unjustified anger requires some kind of rational judgment, whereas indulgence in mere appetites (i.e. bodily pleasures) does not. I’m not certain that the difference makes indulgence in anger less disgraceful than indulgence in appetites; I’m doubtful that such a comparison is sensible. (The argument above is not Aristotle’s only argument for that conclusion, however. He offers quite a few in that chapter.)

Regardless of such concerns, what I love about this passage is his analogy to the hasty servant and the barking dog. That’s just priceless — and oh so much like Aristotle.

Aristotle on Anger and Laughter

 Posted by on 13 January 2008 at 8:22 am  Aristotle, Ethics, Psychology
Jan 132008

An interesting tidbit from Aristotle’s Rhetoric:

The emotions are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgments, and that are also attended by pain or pleasure. Such are anger, pity, fear and the like, with their opposites. We must arrange what we have to say about each of them under three heads. Take, for instance, the emotion of anger: here we must discover (1) what the state of mind of angry people is, (2) who the people are with whom they usually get angry, and (3) on what grounds they get angry with them. It is not enough to know one or even two of these points; unless we know all three, we shall be unable to arouse anger in any one. The same is true of the other emotions.

Aristotle’s subsequent dissection of anger is particularly interesting for its view of proper and improper humor. (I’ve added some paragraph breaks to the online text to make it more readable. And yes, it’s well worth reading in full.)

Anger may be defined as an impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight directed without justification towards what concerns oneself or towards what concerns one’s friends. If this is a proper definition of anger, it must always be felt towards some particular individual, e.g. Cleon, and not ‘man’ in general. It must be felt because the other has done or intended to do something to him or one of his friends. It must always be attended by a certain pleasure–that which arises from the expectation of revenge. For since nobody aims at what he thinks he cannot attain, the angry man is aiming at what he can attain, and the belief that you will attain your aim is pleasant. Hence it has been well said about wrath,

Sweeter it is by far than the honeycomb dripping with sweetness,
And spreads through the hearts of men.

It is also attended by a certain pleasure because the thoughts dwell upon the act of vengeance, and the images then called up cause pleasure, like the images called up in dreams.

Now slighting is the actively entertained opinion of something as obviously of no importance. We think bad things, as well as good ones, have serious importance; and we think the same of anything that tends to produce such things, while those which have little or no such tendency we consider unimportant.

There are three kinds of slighting–contempt, spite, and insolence. (1) Contempt is one kind of slighting: you feel contempt for what you consider unimportant, and it is just such things that you slight. (2) Spite is another kind; it is a thwarting another man’s wishes, not to get something yourself but to prevent his getting it. The slight arises just from the fact that you do not aim at something for yourself: clearly you do not think that he can do you harm, for then you would be afraid of him instead of slighting him, nor yet that he can do you any good worth mentioning, for then you would be anxious to make friends with him. (3) Insolence is also a form of slighting, since it consists in doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to yourself, or because anything has happened to yourself, but simply for the pleasure involved. (Retaliation is not ‘insolence’, but vengeance.)

The cause of the pleasure thus enjoyed by the insolent man is that he thinks himself greatly superior to others when ill-treating them. That is why youths and rich men are insolent; they think themselves superior when they show insolence. One sort of insolence is to rob people of the honour due to them; you certainly slight them thus; for it is the unimportant, for good or evil, that has no honour paid to it. So Achilles says in anger:

He hath taken my prize for himself and hath done me dishonour,


Like an alien honoured by none,

meaning that this is why he is angry. A man expects to be specially respected by his inferiors in birth, in capacity, in goodness, and generally in anything in which he is much their superior: as where money is concerned a wealthy man looks for respect from a poor man; where speaking is concerned, the man with a turn for oratory looks for respect from one who cannot speak; the ruler demands the respect of the ruled, and the man who thinks he ought to be a ruler demands the respect of the man whom he thinks he ought to be ruling. Hence it has been said

Great is the wrath of kings, whose father is Zeus almighty,


Yea, but his rancour abideth long afterward also,

their great resentment being due to their great superiority. Then again a man looks for respect from those who he thinks owe him good treatment, and these are the people whom he has treated or is treating well, or means or has meant to treat well, either himself, or through his friends, or through others at his request.

It will be plain by now, from what has been said, (1) in what frame of mind, (2) with what persons, and (3) on what grounds people grow angry. (1) The frame of mind is that of one in which any pain is being felt. In that condition, a man is always aiming at something. Whether, then, another man opposes him either directly in any way, as by preventing him from drinking when he is thirsty, or indirectly, the act appears to him just the same; whether some one works against him, or fails to work with him, or otherwise vexes him while he is in this mood, he is equally angry in all these cases.

Hence people who are afflicted by sickness or poverty or love or thirst or any other unsatisfied desires are prone to anger and easily roused: especially against those who slight their present distress. Thus a sick man is angered by disregard of his illness, a poor man by disregard of his poverty, a man aging war by disregard of the war he is waging, a lover by disregard of his love, and so throughout, any other sort of slight being enough if special slights are wanting. Each man is predisposed, by the emotion now controlling him, to his own particular anger.

Further, we are angered if we happen to be expecting a contrary result: for a quite unexpected evil is specially painful, just as the quite unexpected fulfillment of our wishes is specially pleasant. Hence it is plain what seasons, times, conditions, and periods of life tend to stir men easily to anger, and where and when this will happen; and it is plain that the more we are under these conditions the more easily we are stirred.

These, then, are the frames of mind in which men are easily stirred to anger. The persons with whom we get angry are those who laugh, mock, or jeer at us, for such conduct is insolent. Also those who inflict injuries upon us that are marks of insolence. These injuries must be such as are neither retaliatory nor profitable to the doers: for only then will they be felt to be due to insolence. Also those who speak ill of us, and show contempt for us, in connexion with the things we ourselves most care about: thus those who are eager to win fame as philosophers get angry with those who show contempt for their philosophy; those who pride themselves upon their appearance get angry with those who show contempt for their appearance and so on in other cases. We feel particularly angry on this account if we suspect that we are in fact, or that people think we are, lacking completely or to any effective extent in the qualities in question. For when we are convinced that we excel in the qualities for which we are jeered at, we can ignore the jeering.

Again, we are angrier with our friends than with other people, since we feel that our friends ought to treat us well and not badly. We are angry with those who have usually treated us with honour or regard, if a change comes and they behave to us otherwise: for we think that they feel contempt for us, or they would still be behaving as they did before. And with those who do not return our kindnesses or fail to return them adequately, and with those who oppose us though they are our inferiors: for all such persons seem to feel contempt for us; those who oppose us seem to think us inferior to themselves, and those who do not return our kindnesses seem to think that those kindnesses were conferred by inferiors. And we feel particularly angry with men of no account at all, if they slight us. For, by our hypothesis, the anger caused by the slight is felt towards people who are not justified in slighting us, and our inferiors are not thus justified.

Again, we feel angry with friends if they do not speak well of us or treat us well; and still more, if they do the contrary; or if they do not perceive our needs, which is why Plexippus is angry with Meleager in Antiphon’s play; for this want of perception shows that they are slighting us–we do not fail to perceive the needs of those for whom we care. Again we are angry with those who rejoice at our misfortunes or simply keep cheerful in the midst of our misfortunes, since this shows that they either hate us or are slighting us. Also with those who are indifferent to the pain they give us: this is why we get angry with bringers of bad news. And with those who listen to stories about us or keep on looking at our weaknesses; this seems like either slighting us or hating us; for those who love us share in all our distresses and it must distress any one to keep on looking at his own weaknesses.

Further, [we feel angry] with those who slight us before five classes of people: namely, (1) our rivals, (2) those whom we admire, (3) those whom we wish to admire us, (4) those for whom we feel reverence, (5) those who feel reverence for us: if any one slights us before such persons, we feel particularly angry. Again, we feel angry with those who slight us in connexion with what we are as honourable men bound to champion–our parents, children, wives, or subjects. And with those who do not return a favour, since such a slight is unjustifiable. Also with those who reply with humorous levity when we are speaking seriously, for such behaviour indicates contempt. And with those who treat us less well than they treat everybody else; it is another mark of contempt that they should think we do not deserve what every one else deserves. Forgetfulness, too, causes anger, as when our own names are forgotten, trifling as this may be; since forgetfulness is felt to be another sign that we are being slighted; it is due to negligence, and to neglect us is to slight us.

The persons with whom we feel anger, the frame of mind in which we feel it, and the reasons why we feel it, have now all been set forth. Clearly the orator will have to speak so as to bring his hearers into a frame of mind that will dispose them to anger, and to represent his adversaries as open to such charges and possessed of such qualities as do make people angry.

Just consider the contrast: in our modern world, expressing any anger in response to insolent remarks suggests the grave moral defect of failing to laugh at yourself. What a horrible package-deal that is! To laugh at one’s own trivial, silly errors is a far cry from laughing at one’s most precious values. Yet so many people fail to see the difference — or refuse to do so.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha