Humility as a Virtue and the Crux of Magnanimity

In his paper on Anger as a Vice: A Maimonidean Critique of Aristotle's Ethics, Daniel Frank argues for Maimonides' interpretation of Aristotelian Virtue in the light of the fundamental Old Testament virtue of Humility before God (Frank, 1990). He notes that "Maimonides' praise of in-irascibility betokens an un-Aristotelian conception of the self and, likewise an un-Aristotelian notion of what constitutes self-esteem" (Frank, 1990, 277) and "Contradiction notwithstanding, Maimonides' final word on the matter is that total lack of anger, total inirascibility is normative. No one aspiring to virtue may accustom himself to the mean in the sphere of anger. In adopting this position Maimonides sets himself in direct opposition to Aristotle" (Frank, 1990, 275).

Roger Bacon in Moralis philosophiae (= Opus mains, pt. seven) provides his account of Virtue and Virtues (Bacon, Moralis philosophiae, Massa, pt. three). He takes up Aristotle's theory of the virtues, including Magnanimity, but very quickly trumps Aristotle by making the argument that where true Virtue reigns there is no room for Vice, especially the chief vice, anger. He is totally opposed to the notion of a reasonable anger, that is, of a mean with reference to anger such as one finds in both Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Bacon takes his material from Seneca's Stoic inspired criticism of Aristotle on Anger (Hackett, 1995, 367-77). As he proceeds, he subordinates the Aristotelian virtues not only to this Stoic doctrine but also to the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. These latter presuppose the notion of humility before God. The result is that Bacon, making use of Ancient Latin Stoic sources, comes to the same conclusion as Maimonides concerning the place of Anger in relation to Virtue. And although Bacon does emphasize the importance of both Aristotelian and Stoic Magnanimity, he too subordinates them to the properly theological virtues and to humility before God as the true path of Christian righteousness.

My argument here is simply that there is a complete match between Maimonides and Bacon on this topic. I am not arguing that Bacon got this doctrine in Maimonides. Still, this does not rule out the possibility that he may have been influenced by Maimonides' Guide in his interpretation of Pagan Virtue within the context of a Christian theology with its great debt to Judaism. He could have used Maimonides's remarks on anger, virtue and humility as a guide for his thinking.

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