Virtues and Vices

By Aristotle of Stagirus

[1249a] Fine things are the objects of praise, base things of blame; and at the head of the fine stand the virtues, at the head of the base the vices; consequently the virtues are objects of praise, and also the causes of the virtues are objects of praise, and the things that accompany the virtues and that result from them, and their works, while the opposite are the objects of blame.

If in accordance with Plato the spirit is taken as having three parts, wisdom is goodness [1249b] of the rational part, gentleness and courage of the passionate, of the appetitive sobriety of mind and self-control, and of the spirit as a whole righteousness, liberality and, great-spiritedness; while badness of the rational part is folly, of the passionate ill-temper and cowardice, of the appetitive profligacy and [1250a] uncontrol, and of the spirit as a whole unrighteousness, meanness and small-mindedness.

Wisdom is goodness of the rational part that is productive of the things contributing to happiness. Gentleness is goodness of the passionate part that makes people difficult to move to anger. Courage is goodness of the passionate part that makes them undismayed by fear of death. Sobriety of mind is goodness of the appetitive part that makes them not desirous of the base pleasures of sensual enjoyment. Self-control is goodness of the appetitive part that enables men by means of reason to restrain their appetite when it is set on base pleasures. Righteousness is goodness of the spirit shown in distributing what is according to desert. Liberality is goodness of spirit shown in spending rightly on fine objects. Great-spiritedness is goodness of spirit that enables men to bear good fortune and bad, honor and dishonor. On the other hand folly is badness of the rational part that causes bad living. Ill-temper is badness of the passionate part that makes men easy to provoke to anger. Cowardice is badness of the passionate part that causes men to be dismayed by fear, and especially [1250a] by fear of death. Profligacy is badness of the appetitive part that makes men desirous of the base pleasures of sensual enjoyment. Uncontrol is badness of the appetitive part that makes men choose base pleasures when reason tries to hinder. Unrighteousness is badness of spirit that makes men covetous of what is contrary to their desert. Meanness is badness of spirit that makes men try to get profit from all sources. Small-mindedness is badness of spirit that makes men unable to bear good fortune and bad, honor and dishonor.

It belongs to wisdom to take counsel, to judge the goods and evils and all the things in life that are desirable and to be avoided, to use all the available goods finely, to behave rightly in society, to observe due occasions, to employ both speech and action with sagacity, to have expert knowledge of all things that are useful. Memory and experience and acuteness are each of them either a consequence or a concomitant of wisdom; or some of them are as it were subsidiary causes of wisdom, as for instance experience and memory, others as it were parts of it, for example good counsel and acuteness.

To gentleness belongs ability to bear reproaches and slights with moderation, and not to embark on revenge quickly, and not to be easily provoked to anger, but free from bitterness and contentiousness, having tranquillity and stability in the spirit.

To courage it belongs to be undismayed by fears of death and confident in alarms and [1250b] brave in face of dangers, and to prefer a fine death to base security, and to be a cause of victory. It also belongs to courage to labor and endure and play a manly part. Courage is accompanied by confidence and bravery and daring, and also by perseverance and endurance.

To sobriety of mind it belongs not to value highly bodily pleasures and enjoyments, not to be covetous of every enjoyable pleasure, to fear disorder, and to live an orderly life in small things and great alike. Sobriety of mind is accompanied by orderliness, regularity, modesty, caution.

To self-control belongs ability to restrain desire by reason when it is set on base enjoyments and pleasures, and to be resolute, and readiness to endure natural want and pain.

To righteousness it belongs to be ready to distribute according to desert, and to preserve ancestral customs and institutions and the established laws, and to tell the truth when interest is at stake, and to keep agreements. First among the claims of righteousness are our duties to the gods, then our duties to the spirits, {Deities of a minor order, in some cases the souls of dead men of the heroic age; often the object of only local worship. [1250b]} then those to country and parents, then those to the departed; and among these claims is piety, which is either a part of righteousness or a concomitant of it. Righteousness is also accompanied by holiness and truth and loyalty and hatred of wickedness.

To liberality it belongs to be profuse of money on praiseworthy objects and lavish in spending on what is necessary, and to be helpful in a matter of dispute, and not to take from wrong sources. The liberal man is cleanly in his dress and dwelling, and fond of providing himself with things that are above the ordinary and fine and that afford entertainment without being profitable; and he is fond of keeping animals that have something special or remarkable about them. Liberality is accompanied by elasticity and ductility of character, and kindness, and a compassionate and affectionate and hospitable and honorable nature.

To greatness of spirit it belongs to bear finely both good fortune and bad, honor and disgrace, and not to think highly of luxury or attention or power or victories in contests, and to possess a certain depth and magnitude of spirit. He who values life highly and who is fond of life is not great-spirited. The great-spirited man is simple and noble in character, able to bear injustice and not revengeful. Greatness of spirit is accompanied by simplicity and sincerity. 6.

To folly belongs bad judgement of affairs, bad counsel, bad fellowship, bad use of one’s resources, false opinions [1251a] about what is fine and good in life. Folly is accompanied by unskilfulness, ignorance, uncontrol, awkwardness, forgetfulness.

Of ill-temper there are three kinds, irascibility, bitterness, sullenness. It belongs to the ill-tempered man to be unable to bear either small slights or defeats but to be given to retaliation and revenge, and easily moved to anger by any chance deed or word. Ill-temper is accompanied by excitability of character, instability, bitter speech, and liability to take offence at trifles and to feel these feelings quickly and on slight occasions.

To cowardice it belongs to be easily excited by chance alarms, and especially by fear of death or of bodily injuries, and to think it better to save oneself by any means than to meet a fine end. Cowardice is accompanied by softness, unmanliness, faint-heartedness, fondness of life; and it also has an element of cautiousness and submissiveness of character.

To profligacy belongs choosing harmful and base pleasures and enjoyments, and thinking that the happiest people are those who pass their lives in pleasures of that kind, and being fond of laughter and mockery and jokes and levity in words and deeds. Profligacy is accompanied by disorder, shamelessness, irregularity, luxury, slackness, carelessness, negligence, remissness.

To uncontrol it belongs to choose the enjoyment of pleasures when reason would restrain, and although one believes that it would be better not to participate in them, to participate in them all the same, and while thinking one ought to do fine and expedient things yet to abstain from them for the sake of one’s pleasures. The concomitants of uncontrol are softness and negligence and in general the same as those of profligacy.

Of unrighteousness there are three kinds, impiety, greed, outrage. Transgression in regard to gods and spirits, or even in regard to the departed and to parents and country, is impiety. Transgression in regard to contracts, taking what is in dispute contrary to one’s desert, is greed. Outrage is the unrighteousness that makes men procure pleasures for themselves while leading others into disgrace; in consequence of which Evenus says about outrage: "She that wrongs others e’en when she gaineth nought."

And it belongs to unrighteousness to transgress ancestral customs and regulations, to disobey the laws and the rulers, to [1251b] lie, to perjure, to transgress covenants and pledges. Unrighteousness is accompanied by slander, imposture, pretence of kindness, malignity, unscrupulousness.

Of meanness there are three kinds, love of base gain, parsimony, niggardliness. Love of base gain makes men seek profit from all sources and pay more regard to the profit than to the disgrace; parsimony makes them unwilling to spend money on a necessary object; niggardliness causes them only to spend in driblets and in a bad way, and to lose more than they gain by not at the proper moment letting go the difference. It belongs to meanness to set a very high value on money and to think nothing that brings profit a disgrace — a menial and servile and squalid mode of life, alien to ambition and to liberality. Meanness is accompanied by pettiness, sulkiness, self-abasement, lack of proportion, ignobleness, misanthropy.

It belongs to small-mindedness to be unable to bear either honor or dishonor, either good fortune or bad, but to be filled with conceit when honored and puffed up by trifling good fortune, and to be unable to bear even the smallest dishonor and to deem any chance failure a great misfortune, and to be distressed and annoyed at everything. Moreover the small-minded man is the sort of person to call all slights an insult and dishonor, even those that are due to ignorance or forgetfulness. Small-mindedness is accompanied by pettiness, querulousness, pessimism, self-abasement.

In general it belongs to goodness to make the spirit’s disposition virtuous, experiencing tranquil and ordered emotions and in harmony throughout all its parts; this is the cause of the opinion that the disposition of a good spirit is a pattern of a good constitution of the state. It also belongs to goodness to do good to the deserving and love the good and hate the wicked, and not to be eager to inflict punishment or take vengeance, but gracious and kindly and forgiving. Goodness is accompanied by honesty, reasonableness, kindness, hopefulness, and also by such traits as love of home and of friends and comrades and guests, and of one’s fellow-men, and love of what is noble — all of which qualities are among those that are praised.

To badness belong the opposite qualities.

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Aristotle of Stagirus
384 – 322 B.C.
Ancient Greek philosopher and scientist,
one of the greatest intellectual figures of Western history; author of the philosophical and scientific system that became Christian Scholasticism.
However, Aristotle’s ‘homo mensura’ materialism draws man from the transcendent Light of reality into the cave of illusions.



Aristotle. "Virtues and Vices," Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 20. H. Rackham, translator. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1952.