The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 54 pages of information about The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics.

Virtue, therefore, in so far as it is based on internal freedom, contains a positive command for man, namely, that he should bring all his powers and inclinations under his rule (that of reason); and this is a positive precept of command over himself which is additional to the prohibition, namely, that he should not allow himself to be governed by his feelings and inclinations (the duty of apathy); since, unless reason takes the reins of government into its own hands, the feelings and inclinations play the master over the man.

{Introduction ^paragraph 195}

XVII.  Virtue necessarily presupposes Apathy (considered as


This word (apathy) has come into bad repute, just as if it meant want of feeling, and therefore subjective indifference with respect to the objects of the elective will; it is supposed to be a weakness.  This misconception may be avoided by giving the name moral apathy to that want of emotion which is to be distinguished from indifference.  In the former, the feelings arising from sensible impressions lose their influence on the moral feeling only because the respect for the law is more powerful than all of them together.  It is only the apparent strength of a fever patient that makes even the lively sympathy with good rise to an emotion, or rather degenerate into it.  Such an emotion is called enthusiasm, and it is with reference to this that we are to explain the moderation which is usually recommended in virtuous practices: 

{Introduction ^paragraph 200}

        Insani sapiens nomen ferat, aequus uniqui

        Ultra quam satis est virtutem si petat ipsam. *

* Horace. ["Let the wise man bear the name of fool, and the just of unjust, if he pursue virtue herself beyond the proper bounds.”]

{Introduction ^paragraph 205}

For otherwise it is absurd to imagine that one could be too wise or too virtuous.  The emotion always belongs to the sensibility, no matter by what sort of object it may be excited.  The true strength of virtue is the mind at rest, with a firm, deliberate resolution to bring its law into practice.  That is the state of health in the moral life; on the contrary, the emotion, even when it is excited by the idea of the good, is a momentary glitter which leaves exhaustion after it.  We may apply the term fantastically virtuous to the man who will admit nothing to be indifferent in respect of morality (adiaphora), and who strews all his steps with duties, as with traps, and will not allow it to be indifferent whether a man eats fish or flesh, drink beer or wine, when both agree with him; a micrology which, if adopted into the doctrine of virtue, would make its rule a tyranny.


{Introduction ^paragraph 210}

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