Book 4: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices—Continued.

Chapter 9: Of the feeling of shame

Shame (αἰδώς) cannot properly be spoken of as a virtue; for it is more like a feeling or emotion than a habit or trained faculty. At least, it is defined as a kind of fear of disgrace, and its effects are analogous to those of the fear that is excited by danger; for men blush when they are ashamed, while the fear of death makes them pale. Both then seem to be in a way physical, which is held to be a mark of a feeling or emotion, rather than of a habit or trained faculty.

Again, it is a feeling which is not becoming at all times of life, but only in youth; it is thought proper for young people to be ready to feel shame, because, as their conduct is guided by their emotions, they often are misled, but are restrained from wrong actions by shame.

And so we praise young men when they are ready to feel shame, but no one would praise a man of more advanced years for being apt to be ashamed; for we consider that he ought not to do anything which could make him ashamed of himself.

Indeed, shame is not the part of a good man, since it is occasioned by vile acts (for such acts should not be done: nor does it matter that some acts are really shameful, others shameful in public estimation only; for neither ought to be done, and so a man ought not to be ashamed); it is the part of a worthless man and the result of being such as to do something shameful.

But supposing a man’s character to be such that, if he were to do one of these shameful acts, he would be ashamed, it is absurd for him to fancy that he is a good man on that account; for shame is only felt at voluntary acts, and a good man will never voluntarily do vile acts.

At the utmost, shame would be hypothetically good; that is to say, supposing he were to do the act, a good man would be ashamed: but there is nothing hypothetical about the virtues.

Again, granting that it is bad to be shameless, or not to be ashamed to do shameful things, it does not therefore follow that it is good to do them and be ashamed of it.

Continence, in the same way, is not a virtue, but something between virtue and vice.

But we will explain this point about continence later; let us now treat of justice.


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