Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.10.27

Halper on Pakaluk on Sedley.   Response to 2001.07.22

Response by Edward Halper, Philosophy, University of Georgia (

Michael Pakaluk had a difficult job reviewing an OSAP volume with 11 papers and reviews. Where others might have confined themselves to describing the volume's contents, he undertook the laudable task of engaging and criticizing many of the volume's papers. Although I appreciate his remarks on my paper, particularly those at the end of his review, some are misleading or incorrect:

1. Pakaluk claims that I infer from Aristotle's use of the adverb "properly" (κυρίως) the existence of a class of "proper virtues." This reasoning is not mine and has no connection with my paper. The distinction I draw between proper and psychic forms of the virtues is not based upon Aristotle's use of κυρίως, except for one component's name. It is rather Aristotle himself who supplies two different definitions of each virtue, as I show in the paper (pp. 121, 126-28). A proper virtue is a disposition for a particular action; a psychic virtue is the disposition of one or more passions to follow practical wisdom. Though this distinction has not been much discussed in recent literature, it should not be controversial. What is new in my paper is the argument that a person might possess a psychic virtue without the corresponding proper virtue.

2. It is a bit misleading to say, as Pakaluk does, that I think that the Unity of Virtue doctrine, the claim that the person who has one virtue must have them all, holds for psychic virtues. I argue that a person who exercises one virtue properly--either one moral virtue or the intellectual virtue of contemplation--must exercise all the others psychically.

3. Pakaluk's final criticism [with my bracketed interpolations] is:

It is a mistake to reason that, [A] if some impulse felt at time t would have deflected [person] P from doing his duty, then P at time t was displaying the virtue that appropriately governs impulses of that sort. [B] If at this moment I were deathly afraid that a meteor was going to burst through my roof and strike me at my desk, I would get up and flee, and thus I would fail to complete this review; it does not follow, on that account, that in completing this review I am in fact displaying 'psychic' or any other sort of courage.

Here [A] enunciates what Pakaluk takes to be my reasoning and [B] explains why he thinks it a mistake. First, the reasoning contained in [A] is not mine. Minimally, he would need to put "P displays a virtue at time t" in the protasis and to negate in the apodosis what now stands as the protasis. (Pakaluk's description of my position in the review's preceding sentence is equivalent to this.) Thus, he would be closer to my reasoning if he had said, "if P at time t was displaying a virtue, then P will not at time t feel the type of impulse that might have deflected someone without the virtue in similar circumstances," but this only approximates my reasoning, as I explain below.

Second, I agree with Pakaluk that [A] is mistaken, but I do not agree that [B] is the reason it is a mistake. Pakaluk seems to think that the reasoning of [A] is mistaken because it would ascribe a virtue to P merely because he lacks a contrary impulse; the example in [B] is supposed to be a case where a person who lacks an impulse contrary to courage is, nonetheless, not acting courageously. In my view, however, [A] is mistaken for a different reason: if P could be deflected from virtuous action by an impulse, then it is clear that he must lack the settled disposition for virtuous action that constitutes virtue. It would be more plausible to reason that P displays a virtue at t if an impulse would not deflect him from virtuous activity, but this is not right either. P might resist the impulse from continence rather than virtue. The virtuous person is precisely the person disposed not to be deflected from virtuous action by any sort of impulse; indeed, he is disposed not even to have an impulse contrary to the dictates of practical wisdom.

My argument in the paper is, in part, that since Aristotle shows, in his discussion of akrasia, the possibility of one wayward impulse's deflecting what would be an act of a seemingly unrelated virtue, to be disposed to perform acts of this latter virtue (call it y) one would need a soul disposed not to be deflected by this (or any other) wayward impulse. The potentially deflecting impulse stems from a passion that is not properly disposed to follow the dictates of practical wisdom; were it so disposed, then some virtue (call it x) would be present. Hence, the failure to possess virtue x would imply the failure to possess y. One might suppose that mere continence with respect to virtue x would suffice for its not interfering with y, but I argue that the presence of a wayward impulse contrary to virtue x would displace the passion characteristic of virtue y. Hence, the performance of a paradigmatic act of virtue y requires the exercise of virtue x, not in acts paradigmatic of virtue x but in the habit of the soul that Aristotle also uses to define this virtue. Such a habit of soul is what I term "psychic virtue." Thus, Pakaluk's formulation should be modified as follows: To exercise any virtue at time t person P must be disposed so as not to be deflected by impulses contrary to that virtue. But P can be so disposed only by having every passion properly disposed to follow the dictates of practical wisdom. Hence, in performing a proper act of one virtue, P performs psychic acts of the other virtues.

What may be bothering Pakaluk is my contention that a person exercises a virtue by not performing acts characteristic of a virtue or even feeling the passions that define it. I'll grant that this is unintuitive, and there are perhaps those who will think that just for that reason it could not be Aristotle's view. Consider, however, that it is Kant, rather than Aristotle, who sees moral action as emerging from a struggle against inclination. Aristotle's virtuous person experiences no struggle because passions are entirely in accord with practical wisdom. What of those situations where practical wisdom dictates that some passion not be felt at all? A person in whom this passion is properly disposed will not feel it, and yet he will just in not feeling the passion meet the formal requirements for the exercise of the virtue in whose definition it figures. Clearly, this cannot count as a paradigmatic or proper use of the virtue; it is, I contend, an exercise of psychic virtue.

In the light of all this, reasoning in Pakaluk's [B] is invalid but hardly the absurdity he takes it to be. The problem with it is that he has omitted the information about disposition and circumstances that we would need to judge whether or not any act is courageous. A casual reader might suppose that, since Pakaluk is objecting to a person not fearing meteors' being called courageous, Pakaluk must think that the person who does indeed fear meteors but nevertheless writes a review would be courageous. But Pakaluk surely knows that this is not Aristotle's view. Rather Aristotle's courageous person will fear meteors just as much as practical wisdom dictates, which is, nearly always, not at all. Suppose, then, that Pakaluk writes the review with his passion of fear disposed to follow practical wisdom and that the latter dictates that, under the circumstances, he feel no fear. Then, in writing the review without fear, he would satisfy the formal requirements of one of Aristotle's definitions of courage; thus, he would exhibit psychic courage. Suppose, on the other hand, that he is deathly afraid of meteors because he sees one heading towards him. Despite what some recent films would have us believe, standing one's ground against incoming meteors is not dictated by practical wisdom; hence, writing the review in such circumstances is not an act of courage. Rather, the person whose passions follow practical wisdom will fear the meteor and flee; in this circumstance, flight is the act of courage. It should be clear that a wide variety of feelings and acts could be courageous if they were both appropriate to the circumstances and the result of a passion's disposition to follow practical wisdom. We cannot infer from any mere fear or lack of fear that a person is courageous; but, by the same token, fear or lack of fear could indeed, depending on the circumstances, be a manifestation of the psychic state of courage.

It is important to realize that the properly disposed passion is trained to be in accord with practical wisdom in all circumstances. So we cannot infer that a person is courageous from his having the right sort of fear in a single instance. However, if we could somehow tell that his manifestation of fear in an instance were the result of rightly disposed passion, we would be able to infer that he possesses courage. Not only that, but we could infer (from the unity of virtue doctrine) that each of his other passions is rightly disposed and, thus, that he has every other virtue as well. Thus, something like Pakaluk's [B] is a consequence of Aristotle's unity of virtue doctrine: we could infer from his not completing the review because of a correctly disposed passion of fear, that when he completes the review his passion is also correctly disposed and, thus, that he manifests [psychic] courage. It should be apparent that the unity of virtue doctrine and Aristotle's case for it are more complex and interesting than Pakaluk would have it; whatever we are ultimately to make of it, it deserves our serious attention.

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