Ockham's Concerning Virtues and Vices
Rondo Keele
Indiana University

NOTE: This translation is from the standard edition of Ockham's works: Opera Philosophica et Theologica. Gedeon Gál et al., series ed. Vol. VIII. Gillelmus de Ockham, Opera Theologica, Quaestiones Variae, Girardus I. Etzkorn, Franciscus E. Kelly, and Josephus C. Wey, C.S.B., vol. eds. Circa virtutes et vitia is q. VI, a. X. St. Bonaventure: The Franciscan Institute, 1994. pp. 272-286. Square brackets contain the translator's interpolations in the text; regular parentheses are used as part of the text itself. Pointed brackets enclose translator's or editor's structural additions, such as line numbers and titles. The line numbers are from the critical edition.

<Concerning Virtues and Vices>

<1> Concerning virtues and vices it ought to be known that the Philosopher, in the first chapter of book seven of the Ethics assigns three grades [gradus] in the acquisition of virtue and similarly three opposing grades in the acquisition of vicious habits. The former three are continence, temperance, and heroic virtue, and are distinguished as follows. According to the Philosopher, the continent person is one who, although he has evil desires, nevertheless does not follow these desires but rather follows right reason. By this I understand that the continent person is he who: 1) apprehends certain desirable objects and strives for them by means of the sensitive appetite, but 2) right reason dictates the contrary of the object which is desired by the sensitive appetite, and then 3) the will, of its own freedom, does not will that object which the sensitive appetite desires, but rather wills that which is dictated by right reason, so that, in regard to that volition, right reason is a partial object of the will (as was shown elsewhere).

<14> Moreover, having been frequently elicited, there follows from this sort of volition a single habit in the will in which the will is inclined to willing that which is dictated by right reason: this habit is called "continence" by the Philosopher. This habit stands with temperance and heroic virtue just as any virtue stands with another, as was shown elsewhere. For to whatever degree someone is temperate or heroic in her will, if she were to have an evil desire in the manner mentioned above, and if she were to have a habit inclining her will toward following right reason, then to that same extent she would be said to be continent. And it is in this way that "continence" signifies principally that inclining habit in the will, and also connotes an act of desiring in the sensitive appetite. Hence, when such acts of desiring occur, it is said that someone is continent; when such acts are absent the person is not called continent according to the intention of the Philosopher, however much the aforementioned habit of the will, which really is virtuous, remains.

<29> "Being temperate" and "temperance" are said in two ways. In one way, according to the intention of the Philosopher, they refer to someone who, though he follows right reason and lives according to it, nevertheless lacks evil desires. In this manner of speaking temperance is not distinguished from continence according to species but only according to its greater or lesser completeness [perfectum], because the very same habit, while wholly slack at first, is afterwards pursued to such a degree that these evil impulses in the sensitive appetite would be reduced or totally abandoned, and another quality is generated -- one which instead inclines the sensitive appetite to acts conforming to right reason. I say that the slack habit, together with desires in the sensitive part of the appetite, is called "continence", and that, once intensified, this very same habit without the desires in the sensitive appetite is called "temperance".

<41> In another way "temperance" is said more strictly and narrowly, referring to a habit inclining the will toward avoiding, not merely evil desires already present, but also the opportunities for such desires in accordance with right reason when right reason in fact dictates both: 1) willing to flee evil desires, and also 2) willing to flee the opportunities for such desires. For example, striving for desirable objects -- say, seeing or touching or hearing such objects -- are opportunities for such acts of desiring in the sensitive appetite. And hence, right reason dictates that the will not only ought to will to flee such desires but also all the aforementioned opportunities for such desires, in order that the desires do not occur. Temperance thus understood is distinguished according to species from continence, because in general those habits whose objects are distinguished by species are themselves distinguished by species.

<53> Now, in addition, right reason is a partial object of an act and a virtuous habit, as was shown elsewhere. A right reason with respect to the habit of temperance is distinct according to species from a right reason with respect to the habit of continence, or (by extending the name of "habit") from another right reason with respect to the habit of prudence. For a right reason that is the object of continence dictates that the will ought to flee evil desires already present when and as it is appropriate so to do. But a right reason which is the object of temperance (understood in the second sense) dictates that the will should not merely flee evil desires which are actually present, but that it should also flee all the opportunities for such desires -- it might, say, will that a man would not see desirable objects, nor touch beautiful objects, nor hear foul speech, and so on for other such opportunities. Both these right reasons are distinguished by species; therefore, both virtues having these right reasons for their objects are distinguished from each other by species. Temperance in this sense [the second sense, i.e., in the sense of always willing to avoid the opportunities for evil desires to arise] is an ongoing act of will, and is rightly called "temperance" whether the sensible passions occur or not; however, when taken in the first sense described above, the habit is not called "temperance" when evil desires do occur. Perseverance is in no way distinguished from continence, because a perseverant person is one who sustains the will in a virtuous act according to right reason and who continues such a virtuous act of will.

<72> Heroic virtue is taken in two ways. In one sense, it refers to a habit inclining to some act beyond and against the common state of man and contrary to natural inclination. And this contrariety can be both in the type of act it is and in the nature of the act, as for instance sustaining death by burning for the sake of the common good and the Catholic faith.

<77> In the other sense it refers to a habit inclining to some act which does not exceed the common state of man by the nature of the act, but rather exceeds the common state of man by some circumstance. For example, someone has chastity to such a low degree [gradus], that for some cause [re] which is not against right reason, he wills to fornicate. "To nill to fornicate" does not exceed the common state of man, but "to nill to fornicate", while generally a right reason, exceeds the common state of man as far as this situation goes. Because this nilling [nolitio] is in regard to fornication, if right reason were to dictate that he ought to quickly uphold the incarceration or death which fornication would bring, then to be heroic his will would be obliged to will that penalty before it would relinquish chastity.

<89> Both these modes of speaking about heroic virtue can be divided, because a habit which inclines to an act exceeding the common state of man -- whether it so exceeds by its nature or by some circumstance -- may either a) so incline one to an interior act in the will which is such that one would be prepared to elicit an exterior act conforming to the interior one, or b) only incline one to an interior act without the tendency to make one prepared to elicit the exterior act.

<96> It is in the first sense [i.e., sense a)] that the Philosopher speaks of heroic virtue. According to the Philosopher, this is because she is perfectly heroic who has some habit in the will inclining to an act willing or nilling to exceed the common state of man, either by the nature of the act or by the circumstances (in the manner spoken of above), and who together with this is prepared to make an exterior work in conformity to an interior act -- say someone willed, by a volition elicited from a habit, to burn for the purpose of saving the Faith and, sometime later, but before her resolve failed her, voluntarily upheld such a burning in actuality -- this person, I say, is perfect heroic according to the intention of the Philosopher. Alternatively, if someone were to have a habit inclining him to nill fornicating for some cause against which no objection of right reason can be brought, and if right reason were then to dictate that the will ought quickly to undergo blows and whips in actuality, rather than fornicate, and if he himself voluntarily undergoes these things, then he is perfectly heroic.

<110> The second way of speaking of heroic virtue [either 1b or 2b above] concerns a habit inclining toward an interior act alone, without the consequence of an exterior act. Under these circumstances, that virtue is called complete virtue but not properly heroic virtue according to the intention of the Philosopher and [emending et for est, with no authority from the apparatus] according to the common way of speaking, because heroic virtue signifies principally that habit in the will and connotes the concomitant exterior act when it is appropriate, etc. And hence if someone were to have this kind habit in the will, through which he was inclined to willing or nilling something which exceeded the common state of man by its nature or by some circumstance (and therefore were neither striving for nor prepared to make an exterior action in conformity to that volition), then he would most perfectly own that habit which is heroic virtue, granting that it be strictly called heroic only when the exterior action follows.

<123> You might ask the following. "Suppose that, 1) a nilling in accord with universal right reason exists in the will in regard to fornication -- for example, nilling to fornicate for a cause contrary to right reason -- and further suppose that, while this act of will remains, 2) the intellect dictates that incarceration ought to be quickly inflicted rather than fornicating or willing to fornicate. Would then an act of will willing incarceration follow necessarily?" I respond that it would, as long as the aforementioned acts of intellect and will remain.

<130> If it were said that in this sample case such a person is not commendable in willing to uphold incarceration, I admit this is true, because in such a case the act of will [regarding incarceration] is not in his own power [since it is necessitated]. However, he is commendable, as explained above, through willing in regard to the act of fornicating.

<134> You might reply: "But while the previously mentioned interior acts (both in the intellect and in will) remain surely an exterior work [as opposed to an interior act of will] doesn't really follow necessarily, does it? Consider, for example - would the work of voluntarily entering jail be inevitable, if that penalty were threatened to keep the aforementioned person from fornicating?" I respond that the exterior work does follow necessarily, because the same necessity which would make it inevitable that someone will to go to jail would also make it inevitable that he enter jail in fact, unless there were something prohibiting it, since, after all, such a willing [to enter jail] appears to be sufficient for the purpose of causing that work, both in connection with God and with other possible executive powers. All these acts of will are natural causes. Therefore, baring any impediments, while these interior acts of will remain an external action necessarily follows. "But then in what way is that external action meritorious?" The same answer should be given in this situation as concerning the preceding volition [viz., it isn't meritorious, but the act of will prompting it is].

<145> But then it might be wondered: "In what way is heroic virtue distinguished from continence and temperance?" I respond that they are specifically distinguished on account of the reason lately mentioned, namely, because they have specifically distinct objects. Because continence and temperance have a particular right reason for their object but heroic virtue has universal right reason for its object, and because these two reasons are distinct by species, it follows that both habits of which these reasons are objects are themselves distinct by species. And for this reason it is clear that Scotus is mistaken when he posits that they are of the very same species but that they differ only according to degree -- slack [remissum], more complete [magis perfectum], and most complete [perfectissimum] -- because they differ not only in this way but in species as well. Indeed, to whatever extent that habit of will which is continence were augmented, even to infinity, it would never become heroic virtue or even temperance [this must be the second sense of the term]. And this is because heroic virtue has a different object, or rather many different objects, to which temperance and continence in no way incline.

<160> But there is some doubt whether, for the purpose of the generation of these habits in the will, some qualities would be generated in the sensitive appetite inclining a person toward exterior acts which conform to interior acts; and, if such qualities were generated, in what way they would be distinguished in the sensitive appetite. [I.e. -- Does a person developing some virtuous habit also develop a quality, like a desire or taste for doing good external works, which desire helps them further develop the virtuous habit? If so, how are these desires distinguished?]

<164> To the first part of the question I respond that for the purpose of the generation of continence in the will another quality is not generated in the sensitive appetite inclining to exterior acts conforming to continence. This is because a continent person (strictly speaking) has evil desires in the sensitive appetite, from which a quality in the sensitive appetite is generated inclining to an act which is the contrary of continence rather than to an act in conformity it. But for the purpose of the generation of temperance in the will -- whether temperance is taken in the first or second sense -- a slackening of these acts of desire in the sensitive appetite follows, or else the acts of desire are totally abandoned. A temperate person, in the second way of speaking given above, not only flees through an act of nilling the desires which are present but also the opportunities for such desires, and hence through an act of temperance these desires can be totally abandoned. The same ought to be said concerning heroic virtue.

<177> "But surely it is at least possible for these positive qualities to be generated in the sensitive appetite for the purpose of the generation of such habits?" [I.e. -- Even though it doesn't happen in the case of the three virtues discussed above, surely it is at least possible for a person to develop the aforementioned quality [a desire for good works corresponding to the virtue], and thus be helped in developing the corresponding virtue?] I respond: there are some virtues in the will to which acts in the sensitive part of the appetite correspond -- acts which could by a certain extrinsic denomination be called virtuous or vicious, as for instance concerning temperance in regards to foods, drinks, and conjugal chastity, etc. But there are other virtues to which such acts in the sensitive appetite do not correspond, as for instance virginity and poverty. And to those virtues that are of the first kind, some qualities correspond in the sensitive appetite, just as from a regular, temperate consumption of food some quality is generated in the sensitive part of the appetite inclining toward similar acts. And if someone were to be heroic concerning food and drink -- as was Eleazar, who, for no cause that was contrary to right reason [ie., unwittingly], willed to eat pig meat and hence according to the dictate of right reason upheld [his own] death -- then, to such strong virtue there can correspond some quality generated in the sensitive part of the appetite from frequently elicited acts. Just as, for instance, concerning certain sacred matters, we ordain that there are insensible things in bodies because of acts frequently elicited in conformity to virtues of the will from which such a quality is generated. [Could Ockham be thinking of "grace" here?]

<196> As far as the second part of the question goes, I say that if these qualities in the sensitive part of the appetite were generated around the same material or the same object that is an object of temperance and of heroic virtue, then they would only be distinguished as more complete and less complete and would be one quality in number. If they were generated around diverse objects then they would be different species. It is clear from this that such distinct qualities never incline to acts of the very same reason, just as it is clear from the quality generated from food and drink and concerning another generated from love.

<204> In the same way, we ought to discuss the aforementioned habits opposed to the three virtues which the Philosopher lays down in the Ethics, namely, incontinence, wickedness, and brutishness. Accordingly, incontinence, as it is found in the will, is a habit in which someone having evil desires ignores right reason and wills freely to follow those desires. Wickedness, or intemperance, is a vicious habit in which someone not only follows desires already present, but indeed wills to seek the opportunities containing such acts. Brutishness is that habit which, contrary to right reason, wills such desires in order to have something contrary to nature in its presence. And these habits in the will are distinguished by species because their objects are distinguished by species, because even though they do not have a right reason for their object, nevertheless they have other objects in distinct species. Concerning the generated qualities in the sensitive part [of the appetite], we can say in that case what was said above concerning virtues.

<How Far Moral Knowledge is Distinguished from Prudence>

<221> Further, it ought to be known how far moral knowledge is distinguished from prudence. It should be understood that moral knowledge is taken in two ways. In one way it refers to any scientific concept which can be held evidently through doctrine. And this proceeds from principles known through themselves, as in this example: 'Every good person ought to do good works; but anyone freeing someone from death is a good person; hence, every such person ought to do good works'. In another sense moral knowledge is a scientific, evident concept which is only held and can only be held through experience and can in no way be held evidently through doctrine. For example, this sentence 'Anyone in irascible temper ought to be assuaged and calmed through pleasant words' cannot be known evidently except through experience. It is clear from this that a man has, through experience, an evident concept concerning many singular propositions, judging that this man ought to be calmed and that that man ought to be calmed, and so on concerning each individual man.

<233> Similarly, prudence is taken in two ways. Narrowly, it means a concept of some singular, evident proposition which is only held by means of a mediating experience. For example, this evident concept: 'that man ought to be calmed through pleasant words', which is evident in virtue of this contingent sentence: 'that other man has been calmed through such a means' when the latter is recognized through experience. In another, more general way, prudence means a concept of some universal, evident practice which is only recognized through experience, as for example that every irascible man ought to be so assuaged.

<242> Given this, I say that in taking moral knowledge in the first sense, as an evident, scientific concept which can be acquired evidently through doctrine, it is thus distinguished from prudence in either sense given above. This is because however prudence is taken, it can be acquired solely through experience. Taking moral knowledge the second way, moral knowledge and prudence said in the broad sense are the same, as is clear from the preceding discussion. But moral knowledge in the second sense is still distinguished from prudence in the narrow sense, because this sense of prudence concerns singulars, and moral knowledge in the second sense concerns universals. And so it is clear in what way moral knowledge and prudence are distinct.

<252> From this it is clear that Scotus is not correct to assign a difference in the first sense between moral knowledge and prudence on the ground that 1) moral knowledge is about universals and directs us remotely and mediately only, and 2) prudence is about particular things and directs us immediately and closely. In the first place, he is mistaken because he supposes that moral knowledge does not direct us except mediately by prudence. But notice that someone can have 1) an evident concept of some universal proposition through doctrine (for example, a proposition of this kind -- i) 'every good person ought to do good works') and can also have, 2) an evident concept of some contingent proposition subsumed under that universal proposition, which contingent proposition is held through experience (for example, a concept that ii) 'a particular person P is good' because I saw that P behaves in a good way); and, notice further that the concept of ii) is not a concept of prudence because it is not a directive concept. Now from the [non-prudential] propositions i) and ii) above it is evidently to be concluded that iii) 'P ought to do good works'. But while that concept of the particular proposition iii) directs us immediately to following its directive in practice, either internally or externally, nevertheless the concept of iii) is not prudence because it is acquired through doctrine and not through experience. [Hence, we have a case of moral knowledge directing without the mediation of prudence, pace Scotus.]

<268> In the second place, Scotus is wrong since he supposes that moral knowledge does not direct immediately because it is knowledge of the universal, and that prudence does direct immediately because it is knowledge of the particular, for this requires, as regards practical action, that whatever is particular is more immediately given than what is universal; but this is false. The reason is because to direct toward practical action is nothing more that to cause a practical action, and a concept of a universal proposition can immediately cause a practical action just as a concept of a particular proposition can. Just as it is clear that [in a syllogism] concepts of a universal major premise and of a particular minor premise both equally direct us to following in practice, because both those concepts are each partial causes in regard to the concept of a particular conclusion which immediately directs or causes a practical action, so too it is clear that 1) neither concept causes the conclusion more preeminently than the other, but both concepts equally immediately cause that concept which immediately directs us toward practical action, and that 2) both concepts are a cause of the cause [of the practical action].

<A Doubt Concerning the Connection of the Virtues>

<281> But there is a doubt whether the virtues are connected. I have spoken concerning this issue elsewhere, in my Reportatio on the third book of the Sentences. But, in addition to what is said there, it ought to be known that some virtues are compatible with the vicious habits associated with other virtues, and others are not. For both continence and temperance, which are discussed above, are compatible with the vices opposed to other virtues to whatever degree these vicious habits are augmented, either to infinity or to the highest possible degree appropriate to each such particular vice. The reason for this is because continence and temperance have a particular right reason for an object, for instance that an action of a particular type ought to be elicited when it is fitting and in just the way it is fitting. Now, in addition, a particular reason can be a "right reason" concerning a certain subject matter, even that same reason were not right concerning a different subject matter, for instance a situation involving acts of love but not involving money, because the reasons are distinct in origin.

<295> As a consequence of this, a reason can be right concerning a certain subject matter and erroneous concerning another. Hence, when the will elicits an action conforming to those reasons it elicits one action that is virtuous according to right reason and another action that is vicious, or at least non-virtuous, conforming to erroneous reason. And I often say that each such reason would be correct to the extent that the will can, from its own liberty, concordantly elicit an action for one reason and do so virtuously, and that it can yet be in discord and elicit an action for another reason, and do so viciously because such a willing is contrary to right reason.

<304> But simply complete virtue, which could be called by the name "heroic virtue" -- whether it is heroic from the nature of the act or from some circumstance surrounding the act (according to Aristotle's intention it is not properly heroic virtue except when an exterior act corresponds to the inner act of the will) -- that virtue, I must say, is not compatible with any vice which is the opposite of the other virtues, and such virtue cannot occur without the existence of every other virtue. The reason for this is that such a virtue has universal reason for an object and does not have an object of such particularity as other virtues do, for example, a person having chastity simply and completely as an heroic virtue has as an object the following universal reason -- that on no account which is contrary to right reason will he will to act against chastity. And hence if such a person were threatened with the punishment of death, or were promised a bunch of money, and so on concerning similar motivations, so that he would fornicate, and if a particular right reason then said that he ought not fornicate, either for avoiding a punishment of death or for receiving money or for another such reason, then, while such a person remains in complete virtue, both by particular and universal reason, he cannot on pain of contradiction be made frightened, or greedy, etc. This is because, as I often say, insofar as he would will to fornicate for money, he would then will to fall from chastity for the sake of something which is contrary to right reason. But according to universal right reason, he ought not will to fall from chastity for anything contrary to right reason. And in consequence, complete virtue would stand with universal reason, and on account of some particular action contrary to right reason that complete virtue would not be complete, and so would be at once both complete and not complete.