Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online


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  1. Are courage and strength of body and mind virtues in the law of nature?

  1. Yes, and most important virtues; for they are the efficacious and indispensable means of attending to our preservation and welfare. The courageous and strong man repulses oppression, defends his life, his liberty, and his property; by his labor he procures himself an abundant subsistence, which he enjoys in tranquillity and peace of mind. If he falls into misfortunes, from which his prudence could not protect him, he supports them with fortitude and resignation; and it is for this reason that the ancient moralists have reckoned strength and courage among the four principal virtues.

  1. Should weakness and cowardice be considered as vices?

  1. Yes, since it is certain that they produce innumerable calamities. The weak or cowardly man lives in perpetual cares and agonies; he undermines his health by the dread, oftentimes ill founded, of attacks and dangers: and this dread which is an evil, is not a remedy; it renders him, on the contrary, the slave of him who wishes to oppress him; and by the servitude and debasement of all his faculties, it degrades and diminishes his means of existence, so far as the seeing his life depend on the will and caprice of another man.

  1. But, after what you have said on the influence of aliments, are not courage and force, as well as many other virtues, in a great measure the effect of our physical constitution and temperament?

  1. Yes, it is true; and so far, that those qualities are transmitted by generation and blood, with the elements on which they depend: the most reiterated and constant facts prove that in the breed of animals of every kind, we see certain physical and moral qualities, attached to the individuals of those species, increase or decay according to the combinations and mixtures they make with other breeds.

  1. But, then, as our will is not sufficient to procure us those qualities, is it a crime to be destitute of them?

  1. No, it is not a crime, but a misfortune; it is what the ancients call an unlucky fatality; but even then we have it yet in our power to acquire them; for, as soon as we know on what physical elements such or such a quality is founded, we can promote its growth, and hasten its developments, by a skillful management of those elements; and in this consists the science of education, which, according as it is directed, meliorates or degrades individuals, or the whole race, to such a pitch as totally to change their nature and inclinations; for which reason it is of the greatest importance to be acquainted with the laws of nature by which those operations and changes are certainly and necessarily effected.

  1. Why do you say that activity is a virtue according to the law of nature?

  1. Because the man who works and employs his time usefully, derives from it a thousand precious advantages to his existence. If he is born poor, his labor furnishes him with subsistence; and still more so, if he is sober, continent, and prudent, for he soon acquires a competency, and enjoys the sweets of life; his very labor gives him virtues; for, while he occupies his body and mind, he is not affected with unruly desires, time does not lie heavy on him, he contracts mild habits, he augments his strength and health, and attains a peaceful and happy old age.

  1. Are idleness and sloth vices in the law of nature?

  1. Yes, and the most pernicious of all vices, for they lead to all the others. By idleness and sloth man remains ignorant, he forgets even the science he had acquired, and falls into all the misfortunes which accompany ignorance and folly; by idleness and sloth man, devoured with disquietude, in order to dissipate it, abandons himself to all the desires of his senses, which, becoming every day more inordinate, render him intemperate, gluttonous, lascivious, enervated, cowardly, vile, and contemptible. By the certain effect of all those vices, he ruins his fortune, consumes his health, and terminates his life in all the agonies of sickness and of poverty.

  1. From what you say, one would think that poverty was a vice?

  1. No, it is not a vice; but it is still less a virtue, for it is by far more ready to injure than to be useful; it is even commonly the result, or the beginning of vice, for the effect of all individual vices is to lead to indigence, and to the privation of the necessaries of life; and when a man is in want of necessaries, he is tempted to procure them by vicious means, that is to say, by means injurious to society. All the individual virtues tend, on the contrary, to procure to a man an abundant subsistence; and when he has more than he can consume, it is much easier for him to give to others, and to practice the actions useful to society.

  1. Do you look upon opulence as a virtue?

  1. No; but still less as a vice: it is the use alone of wealth that can be called virtuous or vicious, according as it is serviceable or prejudicial to man and to society. Wealth is an instrument, the use and employment alone of which determine its virtue or vice.

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