F**k the SuperBowl – Aristotle vs. Socrates is the Match to Witness!

Petrarch, On His Own and Many Other People’s Ignorance (IV):

If I’m not mistaken, I have read all of Aristotle’s Ethics, and I even heard some of them in lectures. But before my ignorance was uncovered for all to see, I had seemed to understand a thing or two, and even appeared more learned than a few of these guys. But I did not, as was proper, find myself become a better person. I often complained to myself and others that in reality there was no fulfillment of that promise, which Aristotle himself had professed at the beginning of his Ethics, that we learn that whole branch of philosophy not for the sake of knowledge, but so that we can become good. To be sure, I see that old Aristotle defined, distinguished, and handled the subject of virtue well, and considered what was proper to virtue and what proper to vice. Since I learned all of that, I know a little bit more than I used to; but my mind is the same, my will is the same, and I am the same.

For it is one thing to know and another to love; one thing to understand and another to will. He teaches – I don’t deny it! – what virtue is. But the goads to virtue, the torches of words by which the mind if urged and inflamed to love of virtue and hatred of vice – reading Aristotle doesn’t have any of this, or has very little of it. If you want any of that stuff, you will find it in our authors, especially in Cicero and Seneca, and (though you might think it wild) even in Horace, who might have a rough pen, but is actually pretty delightful when you look at his thought.

What good will it do to know what virtue is if it isn’t loved once recognized? What good will the understanding of sin do if it isn’t shirked when recognized? I mean goddammit, if your will is depraved, the difficulty of virtue and the licentious ease of vice can impel a lazy and nodding soul into a worse state whenever it notes them. But one shouldn’t wonder if he is a bit sparing in exciting and straightening souls to virtue, since he once called Socrates, the father of ethical philosophy, a “morality merchant,” if I may use his words. And if we can trust Cicero, Aristotle even despised Socrates, though it seems that Socrates reciprocated the sentiment.**

** [This is a little hard to credit, given that Aristotle was born fifteen years after Socrates’ death. Cicero discusses enmity between Isocrates and Aristotle, so this is just a howler from half-digested reading.]

“And finally, when Aristotle is born, tell him that I hate him!”

Omnes morales, nisi fallor, Aristotilis libros legi, quosdam etiam audivi, et antequam hec tanta detegeretur ignorantia, intelligere aliquid visus eram, doctiorque his forsitan nonnunquam, sed non — qua decuit — melior factus ad me redii, et sepe mecum et quandoque cum aliis questus sum illud rebus non impleri, quod in primo Ethicorum philosophus idem ipse prefatus est, eam scilicet philosophie partem disci, non ut sciamus, sed ut boni fiamus. Video nempe virtutem ab illo egregie diffiniri et distingui tractarique acriter, et que cuique sunt propria, seu vitio, seu virtuti. Que cum didici, scio plusculum quam sciebam; idem tamen est animus qui fuerat, voluntasque eadem, idem ego.

Aliud est enim scire atque aliud amare, aliud intelligere atque aliud velle. Docet ille, non infitior, quid est virtus; at stimulos ac verborum faces, quibus ad amorem virtutis vitiique odium mens urgetur atque incenditur, lectio illa vel non habet, vel paucissimos habet. Quos qui querit, apud nostros, precipue Ciceronem atque Anneum, inveniet, et, quod quis mirabitur, apud Flaccum, poetam quidem stilo hispidum, sed sententiis periocundum.

Quid profuerit autem nosse quid est virtus, si cognita non ametur? Ad quid peccati notitia utilis, si cognitum non horretur? Imo hercle, si voluntas prava est, potest virtutum difficultas et vitiorum illecebrosa facilitas, ubi innotuerit, in peiorem partem pigrum nutantemque animum impellere. Neque est mirari si in excitandis atque erigendis ad virtutem animis sit parcior, qui parentem philosophie huius Socratem «circa moralia negotiantem», ut verbo eius utar, irriserit, et, si quid Ciceroni credimus, contempserit; quamvis eum ille non minus.

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