To have virtue is to feel good about doing what is right; the opposite is vice.
But how can you tell if someone is of a certain character by their actions when they are acting because of some rule (or otherwise have to do something regardless of whether or not they want to)? You can tell based on whether they are happy to do the thing or unhappy that they had to. The one that is happy to do the thing has the virtue. For instance, think of two soldiers that are put on the front lines to serve their country. The enemy approaches and running away is not an option. The one who is cowardly would like to run, but cannot, and feels pain at the oncoming danger. The one who is courageous also feels the danger, but is happy because this is their chance to shine; they are not happy that there is danger, but that they can handle it, and that because of that they are able to do their job right and do well for their country.
The moral virtues are about pleasures and pains because these will be reasons why we do what is right or what is wrong. Pleasure can some times get us to do things that we ought not; pain can likewise make us try to shy away from things that we ought rather to take on, things that it would be noble for us to do. So it is like Plato says, there is a certain way we ought to have been brought up from our youth; I mean, so as to like the things we ought to and go after them, and also to dislike the things we ought and stay away from them. This is right education.
Now, the virtues have to do with actions and also passions. Feeling passion means also feeling some pleasure or pain to go with it. Likewise, taking action results in some good or bad feeling from that also. From this we can see it follows that virtue is tied to pleasure and pain. We can see this by the fact that we tie pain to bad actions by punishment, and by this we hope to keep from doing what is not right. If feeling good about things that are really bad is like a disease, then pain is like a cure for that disease.
We have said elsewhere that each and every piece of us, of our souls, has some thing which it does and that is the reason why it is kept up. For instance, the thing in us that makes connections is kept by us making connections. A piece comes into play when it is called for by things which relate to its good or bad, its keeping. So when we have to make a connection, the piece by which we make connections comes into play, and we use it, and we keep it up. But it is by pleasure and pain that a person as a whole keeps or not, is made good or bad. A person will not keep a good character, but will instead let themselves go, by going after the wrong pleasures or keeping away from the wrong pains, or the right ones, but at the wrong time or in the wrong way.
And this is what has made some thinkers say that having virtue means that a person cannot at all be pushed in one way or another by pleasure or pain. Pleasure and pain have no effect on a person of virtue, and so they cannot make the virtuous to do wrong things. This sounds good, but we do not agree with these people because they go too far in what they say. We might have agreed if they had added that they do not move people of virtue when the virtuous do not agree with the pleasure and do not take the bad thing as good, or they do not agree with the pain and take the good thing as bad. You see, we think and set it down that moral virtue means taking pleasures or pains in a way that is right, to agree with pleasure when a thing is good, but not to agree when it is bad, to agree with pain when we have or are doing wrong, but not when we have or are doing right. And since that is what moral virtue means, moral vice means doing the opposite: taking pleasure in things that are bad and going for them, and being pained at things that are good and keeping away from them.
Let us consider the following, and see here if you do not agree that virtue and vice are both about the very same things.
There are three different kinds of things we go for and three opposite kinds of things we keep away from. We go for (1) things that are fine and good, (2) things that will do us help, and (3) things that make us feel good. We keep away from (1) things that are low and bad, (2) things that will do us harm, and (3) things that give us bad feeling. Now, about these, the good man will go the right way and get the things that are good, and the bad man will go the wrong way and end up with things that are bad. But most important of all, the good man goes right when it comes to pleasure. Pleasure is tied up with so many things that not only do animals have it for things they do, but even we humans feel pleasure in getting something that is fine and good or in getting something that will be a help to us. We can say that pleasure is tied to anything that we would pick and choose and anything that we would go for (pursue).
If you think about it, ever since we were little children, we have been drawn towards things and drawn after things because of pleasure. That is why it is so hard get rid of our tendency to go after things we think to be pleasing: it is as if we have been trained so long a time to figure out how to get at what seems like it will give us pleasure. This is why we have to be very much concerned with pleasure in our study here. Whether or not we are able to learn to be pained or pleased in the right way or the wrong one will have a big influence on what we do in life.
It is true that it is even harder to fight against the pull of pleasure than it is to keep down our temper, as Heraclitus says. But both art and virtue are about doing hard things, not easy ones. The harder something is to do, the better is the having done it. And from this we can see why both virtue and politics must always reckon with pleasures and pains. A person that deals with them right will be good, and one that deals with them wrong will be bad.
So at this point we will take it as settled: (1) virtue relates to pleasure and pain, (2) taking the right or wrong course of action will either make a virtue or break a virtue over time, and (3) virtue shows itself in the same kinds of actions as those by which it gets built up.
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