1 Maimonides, "Eight Chapters," in Ethical Writings of Maimonides, ed. by Raymond L.Weiss and Charles Butterworth, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1975, pp. 83-84.
2 Aquinas, Summa Theologica, excerpted in Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. by Anton
C.Pegis, The Modern Library, New York, 1948, Q. 63. Art. 1 (p. 599).
3 See, for example, "The Laws of Repentance" in the Book of Knowledge, (This is the first of the fourteen books of his Mishneh Torah (Moses Hyamson 1981). There is in that text a discussion of what sort of discipline is needed for altering one's dispositions in such a way that repentance is more than apology and remorse, but a change in the character of the individual.
4 I should note here that Maimonides distinguishes between wisdom and piety. In "Eight
Chapters" there is a very Aristotelian sounding commitment to the mean. In "Laws Concerning Character Traits" (in the Book of Knowledge) the standard of piety is distinguished from the standard of wisdom. He writes, "In the case of some character traits, a man is forbidden to accustom himself to the mean. Rather, he shall move to the other [i.e., far] extreme" (Maimonides, "Laws Concerning Character Traits" Ch. II, 3; Weiss and Butterworth). Maimonides refers here to humility and anger. In the aspiration to be holy, the pious man has a task different from the task of the wise man. The latter seeks to have dispositions in the mean; the former seeks to be as like God as he can be, freeing himself from certain passions (such as anger and pride) even if sometimes he shall need to feign anger, as when admonishing his children. In this text he says both " .the middle way that we are obliged to follow, this way is called the way of the Lord" (Maimonides, "Laws Concerning Character Traits" Ch. I, 7; Weiss and Butterworth) and "Whoever is exceedingly scrupulous with himself and moves a little toward one side or the other, away from the character trait in the mean, is called a pious man."..."This is the meaning of 'inside the line of the law"' (Maimonides, "Laws Concerning Character Traits" Ch. I, 5; Weiss and Butterworth).
The distinction that Aquinas makes between the rule of reason and the divine rule is, in some ways, a counterpart to this. (See S.T., Q. 63. Art 4, e.g., "Now it is evident that the mean that is appointed, in such concupiscences, according to the rule of human reason is of a different nature than the mean which is fixed according to the divine rule.") (p. 604 in Pegis)
5 See my "Taking Ethical Disability Seriously" for a fuller discussion of this issue. I argue that on a basically Aristotelian view, while ethical considerations are objective, they may not be equally accessible to all agents. The accessibility of them to an agent depends upon the agent's character. Thus, an agent who is firmly established in vice is still a voluntary, responsible agent, but there may not be any real practical possibility of that agent coming to a sound appreciation of ethical considerations. The fact that the agent cannot correctly appreciate ethical considerations may not be a reason for diminished responsibility, if the failure is due to states of character which are voluntary in substantial respects (Jacobs 1998).
6 Aquinas writes, "the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature's participation of the eternal law" (S. T, Q. 91. Art. 2). And according to Maimonides, it is the Law that perfects us, and our knowledge of it is needed in order to find the mean. In his Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law: An Analytic Reconstruction, Anthony Lisska has argued that theism is not essential to the Thomistic conception of natural law. He argues that "the existence of God is, in a structural sense, neither a relevant concept nor a necessary condition for Aquinas's account of natural law" (Lisska 1996, 120). And, "what Aquinas needs for his theory of natural law is a dispositional theory of natural kinds, not a divine being" (Lisska 1996, 125). Right here I will not rehearse my reasons for skepticism about this claim, except to say that I believe that an argument could be made that theism may be essential for the promulgation of natural law and for its bindingness, in order to preserve some of the main features of the Thomistic conception of natural law. See Lisska 1996.
7 Maimonides does regard ethical virtue as a human perfection, but he does not take practical wisdom or prudence to be a regulative virtue in the way that either Aristotle or Aquinas does. The role of it is, as it were, taken over by the Law. See, for example Bk. III, ch. 54 of the Guide. Writing of ethical virtue, he says
Most religious prescriptions are designed for the attainment of this kind of perfection. This kind of perfection is, however, merely a prerequisite to something else, not a purpose in itself, because all ethical qualities refer to relations between a person and others. In a way this perfection in his ethical qualities is nothing but a prerequisite for the benefit of society. (Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed 3.54; 199 Rabin)
8 Weiss 1991, p.30. Weiss discusses why Maimonides does not recognize practical wisdom as a virtue on pp. 30-31 and 187-188.
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