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In Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates seems to identify happinesswith pleasure and to explain the various virtues as instrumental meansto pleasure. On this view (later revived by Epicurus, 341–271 BCE),having a virtuous character is purely a matter of being knowledgeableof what brings us more pleasure rather than less. In theProtagoras, Socrates recognizes that most people object tothis view. The “many” suppose that having a virtuous character requiresmore than knowledge, because knowledge does not guarantee that one willact on one’s knowledge and do the virtuous action. Someone may beovercome by anger, fear, lust, and other desires, and act against whathe believes will bring him more pleasure rather than less. He can, inother words, be incontinent or weak-willed. Socrates replies that suchcases should be understood differently. When, for example, a cowardlyperson flees from battle rather than endanger his life, even though hemay seem to be pursuing the more pleasant action, he is really justignorant of the greater pleasure to be achieved by entering battle andacting bravely. In other words, incontinence is not possible, accordingto Socrates.

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The Stoic philosophers have a view of character that is close toSocrates’, but they reach it through agreement with Aristotle. TheStoics assume that the good life for human beings is a life in accordwith nature. They agree with Aristotle that the human being’s essenceis a life in accord with reason. So to find what accords with nature,they look to the development of the human being’s rational powers. Theythink that as a person begins to use reason instrumentally to satisfyand organize his desires and appetites, he comes to value the exerciseof reason for its own sake. He realizes that conduct that exhibits arational order is far more valuable than any of the natural advantages(such as health, friendship, or community) pursued by his individualactions. Human good, after all, as Aristotle argued, should be stable,under our control, and hard to take from us. The Stoics conclude thathuman good consists in excellent rational activity, for a person canguide his actions by rational choice, no matter what misfortunes he mayencounter. The virtuous person becomes the sage (sophos) whohas and acts on knowledge of the good. His actions are informed by hisinsights about the advantages of perfecting one’s rationality by actingin agreement with the rational order of nature. Like Socrates, theStoic view of virtue focuses on the virtuous person’s cognitive state:it is his knowledge of the rational order of the universe and hisdesire to accord with that rational order that leads him to act as hedoes.

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Even though the natural law theorists tended to assimilate virtue tocontinence, they still admitted that that there was an area of morallife in which motive and character mattered. That was the area of“imperfect duty” (as contrasted with “perfectduty”). Under a perfect duty what is owed is specific andlegally enforceable by political society or courts; but action inaccord with imperfect duty cannot be compelled, and what is owed underan imperfect duty is imprecise. Generosity is an example of thelatter, justice of the former. In the case of generosity, one has aduty to be generous, but one cannot be legally compelled to begenerous, and when or how generosity is shown is not preciselyspecifiable. But in the case of generosity, the motive of the agentcounts. For if I give money to a poor person I encounter on the streetand do so because I want others to think well of me, I have not actedgenerously and performed my imperfect duty. When I give generously, Imust do so out of concern for the good of the person to whom I givethe money.

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Such skepticism may be misplaced. For if good character is based onnaturally occurring psychological responses that most people(including persons brought up to embrace racist and sexist beliefs)experience without difficulty, then most people should be able tobecome better and to be responsible for actions that express (or couldexpress) their character.

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How do one realize these powers fully? Not by becoming adept at everykind of activity in which deliberating and judging on the basis ofreason is called for. For then one would have to master every kind ofcultural, scientific, and philosophical activity. Rather, Aristotle’sidea is that an individual develops these abilities to the extent thathe enjoys and values the exercise of his realized rational powers in awide variety of different and even seemingly unconnectedactivities. When that happens, his exercise of these abilities is acontinuing source of self-esteem and enjoyment. He comes to like hislife and himself and is now a genuine self-lover. In NicomacheanEthics IX.8, Aristotle takes pains to distinguish true self-love,which characterizes the virtuous person, from vulgar self-love, whichcharacterizes morally defective types. Morally defective types lovethemselves in the sense that they love material goods andadvantages. They desire to secure these things even at the expense ofother people, and so they act in ways that are morallyvicious. Genuine self-lovers, on the other hand, love most theexercise of their developed human activity, which is rationalactivity. When they enjoy and recognize the value of developing theirrational powers, they can use this recognition to guide theirdecisions and to determine which actions are appropriate in whichcircumstances. This is the reasoning of those who have practicalwisdom (phronêsis). Moreover, because they now takepleasure in the right things (they enjoy most figuring things outrather than the accumulation of wealth or power), they will avoid manyof the actions, and will be unattracted to many of the pleasures,associated with the common vices. In other words, they will act as avirtuous person would.

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--I wrote this essay in my old high school English days. Our teacher asked us to rewrite Chapter 3 of the book of Genesis from another charater's viewpoint. Naturally, I chose the devil.