Moral and intellectual virtues in the earliest Latin commentaries on the Nicomachean ethics

In István Pieter Bejczy (ed.), Virtue Ethics in the Middle Ages: Commentaries on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, 1200 -1500. Brill (2008)
The commentaries on the Ethica nova and the Ethica vetus written by some masters of the arts – presumably operating in the Paris faculty – in the first half of the thirteenth century expound in an original way the doctrine of the virtutes consuetudinales which Aristotle, at the end of the first book of his Ethica (I 13), distinguishes into the two main classes of the “moral virtues” and the “intellectual virtues”. The present paper aims at highlighting the particularly important task which is assigned to the intellectual virtues in these early commentaries: joining man to God directly, through a contemplation which becomes love. The masters of the arts maintain that the moral virtues, in spite of the definition given by Aristotle (habitus a quo quis bonus est et opus eius bene reddit), are not sufficient alone to bring man to perfection, but that other more perfect virtues, namely the intellectual ones, are needed in order to make him know and love the supreme good. Having no knowledge of the sixth book of the Ethica, in which Aristotle deals in particular with the intellectual virtues, our masters know only their general description and are concerned with clarifying their relationships with the moral virtues, compared to which they appear to be sometimes really distinct and sometimes united to them in sharing the recta ratio, so much that they may constitute a double virtue. Although the masters of the arts seem to be well-informed about the teaching of the theologians – which they often cite without opposing to it, albeit stressing their own philosophical point of view –, it is significant that no reference whatsoever is made by them to the theological virtues and that they have recourse to the themes of Avicennian mysticism such as the doctrine of the two faces of the soul. Besides presenting the commentaries on the Ethica vetus from a general point of view, I will focus on the Paris commentary in Ethicam veterem (Paris BN lat. 3804A, ff. 152ra-159vb, 241ra-247vb; Paris BN lat. 3572, ff. 226ra-235ra), of which I am preparing a critical edition. The Paris commentary contains in fact a special and original discussion of the doctrine of the virtutes intellectuales.
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