Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences

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Aristotelian Ethics in the Early-Modern Period

  • Roger AriewEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-20791-9_552-1

Related Topics

Aristotelian logic in early-modern thought Descartes and scholasticism Jesuit psychology Natural law 


The website Scholasticon provides biographical and bibliographical data for over 2000 Scholastics for the years 1500 to 1800. Some of these, of course, may not have been properly speaking philosophers or Aristotelians and may not have written on ethics or morals. Still, a large proportion of these Scholastics would have been teachers at various colleges and universities, and the collegiate curriculum would inevitably be based on Aristotle and include a course in ethics, along with the usual courses in logic, physics, and metaphysics. This naturally provides a large number of early-modern Aristotelian treatises on ethics to digest. The chapter selects ten fairly representative widely read authors whose works are discussed; in roughly chronological order, they are: the Coimbrans, Eustachius a Sancto Paulo, Scipion Dupleix, Théophraste Bouju, Pierre du Moulin, René de Ceriziers, Pierre Gautruche, Pierre Barbay, Antoine Goudin, and Claude Frassen. Most of these authors were French, though seven out of ten wrote in Latin, a language that transcended national borders; and most of them were Catholics. The works of the one Protestant, Pierre du Moulin, were translated into French and English and widely disseminated during the seventeenth century. Of the Catholics, two were Jesuits (the Coimbrans and Gautruche) and one an ex-Jesuit when he wrote his main work (de Ceriziers). Eustachius was a Feuillant, part of the Cistercian monastic order. Antoine Goudin was a Dominican and Claude Frassen a Franciscan. The Coimbrans published their ethics at the end of the sixteenth century; Eustachius, Dupleix, Bouju, du Moulin, and de Ceriziers, during the first half of the seventeenth; and Gautruche, Barbay, Goudin, and Frassen during the second half.

The initial section “The Structure of Early-Modern Aristotelian Treatises in Ethics” attempts to distill the various structures of the ethics treatises by the above authors. While some of these treatises maintain the loose arrangement of the ten books of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, most do not. After a discussion of the standard preliminary questions, most authors rearrange the contents of ethics into three major topics: (1) Happiness; (2) The Principles of Human Actions; and (3) Passions, Virtues, and Vices. In keeping with their decision, the following section “The Preliminary Questions” proceeds with an account of the preliminary questions; these are discussions of standard topics about the subject or discipline at hand (whatever the discipline, whether it is ethics, logic, physics, or metaphysics), usually treating the etymology of the term by which the discipline is called, its subject and its end, and ultimately its status as science or art, theoretical or practical endeavor, ending with an outline of the divisions and parts of the discipline at stake. The chapter continues in the section called “Happiness” with a survey of their views on happiness and ends in the section “The Principles of Human Actions, Passions, and Virtue” with a brief discussion of their accounts of actions and passions, virtues, and vices.

An important early-modern Aristotelian left out of this account is the Jesuit Francisco Suárez (1548–1616). Suárez together with the Jesuit Gabriel Vasquez (ca. 1549–1604) are the only early-modern Aristotelians discussed in Terrence Irwin’s monumental three-volume study of the Development of Ethics (Irwin 2007–2011), Suárez receiving two chapters. But Irwin’s discussion of Suárez centers almost exclusively on the Tractatus de Legibus ac Deo Legislatore (Brussels, 1612), which concerns natural law, duty, and obligation (these topics are also why Irwin discusses Vasquez). Natural law is a legitimate object of enquiry that fits well with the consideration of ethics from the point of view of the development of modern ethics but fits poorly in relation to early-modern Aristotelian texts treating the good, happiness, passions, and the virtues. Suárez does write some disputations on topics such as the end of man and the good and evil in human actions (in De fine hominis and De bonitate et malitia humanorum actuum, both published in his Ad primam secundae D. Thomae tractatus quinque theologici … (Lyon, 1628)); there is also a manuscript at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (fonds Latin 6775) containing his Commentarii in Ethicam Aristoteli and Explicatio in libros Magnorum moralium, libros Morales ad Eudemum et librum de virtutibus. Still, considerable work needs to be done to put the contents of these treatises together into a single perspective in relation to Aristotelian thought (but see Penner 2011, who uses these materials to argue for Suarez as part of the eudaemonist Aristotelian tradition, rather than moving toward “legalism,” as he is usually interpreted).

Early-Modern Aristotelian Ethics

The Structure of Early-Modern Aristotelian Treatises in Ethics

Some early-modern Aristotelians envisioned their projects as making sense of a number of Aristotle’s works on morals, taken broadly. The Parisian professor Pierre Barbay (d. 1664) divided his posthumously published Commentarius in Aristotelis Moralem (Paris, 1675) into three parts: the first, a major treatise on Generic or Monastic Morals; the second, a shorter work on Oeconomics; and the third, also short, on Politics. This would not be an unexpected configuration of the Aristotelian moral and political corpus. Théophraste Bouju (fl. 1602–1614) in his Corps de toute la philosophie (Paris, 1614), his major work written in French whose subtitle indicates that “all of it has the authority of Aristotle,” also discussed these three subject matters, loosely grouping them together. As the subtitle of his work indicates as well, its second part “contains everything that belongs to prudence, namely, Morals, Oeconomics, and Politics”; this is contrasted with the first part containing philosophical subjects “that belong to wisdom,” namely, logic, physics, and metaphysics. Neither Barbay nor Bouju seem to have felt the need to reconceptualize the materials into a single unified subject. They, like other authors of eudaemonist ethics, produced treatises based primarily on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The early-modern Aristotelians did know of Aristotle’s other properly ethical works, such as the Eudemian Ethics and Magna Moralia – Bouju cites both works – but the Nicomachean Ethics was at the center of their discussions.

Thus, the task of producing an early-modern Aristotelian ethics became one of reconceptualizing the materials of the ten books of the Nicomachean Ethics into a single unified treatise. Although there were a number of direct commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics written during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (see Jill Kray in Garber and Ayers 1997, 1281–1282), even the Coimbrans, the Jesuits of the University of Coimbra, authors of numerous major commentaries on Aristotle’s works, did not attempt to write their ethics in the form of a commentary; instead, they collected “disputations” on the main issues associated with Aristotle’s books of the Nicomachean Ethics, which they arranged according to a new schema, resembling the Nicomachean Ethics, as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas (at least in order, though not necessarily in content). The Coimbrans’ In libros Ethicorum Aristotelis ad Nicomachum aliquot Cursus disputationes (Lisbon, 1593) consisted of nine books of disputations on: (1) the good; (2) the end; (3) happiness; (4) will, intellect, and appetite; (5) the good and evil of human actions; (6) the passions; (7) virtues in general; (8) prudence; and (9) justice, fortitude, and temperance. At this very general level, it is possible to note that the Coimbrans smoothed out some of the disjointed structure of the Nicomachean Ethics, as, for example, rearranging the two apparently disparate topics collected in book 3, on the principles of human action, such as voluntariness and involuntariness, and on the virtues of fortitude and temperance, as well as smoothing out the seemingly unrelatedness of the two books on friendship (8 and 9) with the book that precedes them on continence and incontinence (7), and the one that follows on pleasure and happiness (10) and the doubling of the discussion of happiness in books 1 and 10.

The Coimbran pattern and even order of topics can be observed in the works of many early-modern authors, such as Eustachius a Sancto Paulo (1573–1640), Pierre Gautruche (1602–1681), the Thomist Antoine Goudin (1639–1695), and, to a lesser extent, René de Ceriziers (1603–1662). For example, Eustachius follows the Coimbran order but conceives it in a tripartite fashion. After the preliminary questions, the first part of Eustachius’ Ethica, titled On Happiness, is itself divided into three parts: on the good, the end, and happiness itself (corresponding to the Coimbran parts 1–3). Part 2 concerns the Principles of Human Actions and discusses in succession: internal principles of human action, such as will and appetite; acquired principles, such as habit; and external principles, including God and Angels (corresponding to the Coimbran parts 4–5). Eustachius’ third part is about Human Actions themselves, that is, Passions, Virtues, and Vices; it is further divided into several disputations and questions: concerning the good and evil of human actions; passions, such as love and hate; the virtues in general; prudence; justice; fortitude; and temperance ending with a short disputation on vice and sin (corresponding to the Coimbran parts 6–9). Gautruche’s structure is almost identical to that of Eustachius, except that he divides Eustachius’ last part into two further parts, yielding separate discussions of Human Passions and Moral Virtues. Goudin achieves the same schema by collapsing the first three Coimbran books into one, on Happiness, and Coimbrans’ last two books into another single book, on Moral Virtues in Particular (meaning again the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance). This results in a treatise composed of six books, ordered in the same fashion as the nine books of the Coimbrans.

De Ceriziers also follows the same general model, except that he insists that one should discuss ends before means, and, in this case, the end of human actions before the means that lead us to them. De Ceriziers asserts, “Since moral philosophy has no other end than to lead the will in its operations and the will never acts without the understanding illuminating it, I think it is necessary to treat all of the virtues of this master faculty […] so that the first part of my Morals will concern the virtues of the understanding; and because the knowledge of ends precedes the choice of the means, the second part will be to show the nature of the supreme good, in which man’s end truly resides,” (De Ceriziers 1643, 80). This yields a two-part treatise, with the second part being further divided. Thus, de Ceriziers begins with a book on the intellectual virtues: wisdom, intelligence of first principles, knowledge (science), art, and prudence. But he continues with the now established pattern: the nature of the supreme good, internal principles of human actions, external principles of human actions, virtues (involving the passions), still ending with the four cardinal virtues (thereby also doubling the discussion of prudence).

One can say the same for Barbay as well, with some minor variations (see Ariew 2014, 61). Even the Scotist Claude Frassen (1620–1711), in his Philosophia Academica, quam ex selectissimis Aristotelis et Doctoris Subtilis Scoti rationibus… (Paris, 1668 [1657]) follows the Coimbran model, with a few exceptions. He starts with the nature of human action, with disputations about its principles, in three groups: (1) the good, the end, and happiness; (2) intellect, appetite, and will; and (3) conscience, law, and habit. He continues with the species of human actions, such as the virtues in general and in particular, the latter being the usual four cardinal virtues. And he ends his discussion with a third part on good and evil, vices, sins, and passions.

Scipion Dupleix (1569–1661) and Bouju do not follow these models, discussing the supreme good and then giving multiple chapters on the virtues (see Ariew 2014, 61). Let us complete this brief survey of the structure of seventeenth-century Aristotelian treatises on ethics with the one by Pierre du Moulin (1568–1658), whose arrangement of topics is unusual. Du Moulin organizes his Les Elemens de la Philosophie Morale (Paris, 1643 [1624]) into two parts. After an introduction, part 1 is concerned with happiness or the end of human life. Part 2, the bulk of the text, is itself divided into four sections: 2.1, on the means for attaining happiness (virtue in general); 2.2, on the species of moral virtue: temperance, courage, and justice; 2.3, on the communication of virtue or friendship; and 2.4, on the intellectual virtues: wisdom, science, prudence. Du Moulin raises the issue about the four cardinal virtues, which he attributes to Cicero and “others after him,” (meaning he thinks it is due to Thomas Aquinas and not to Aristotle) and makes the point, consistent with Aristotle, that prudence is an intellectual, not moral virtue: “they therefore act in the same way as someone listing the virtue of the squire among the virtues of the horse.” Thus, for du Moulin, there are only “three cardinal or principal virtues: temperance, fortitude, and justice,” (du Moulin 1643, 139–140).

The Preliminary Questions

The preliminary questions on ethics are usually brief, perhaps because there are few issues that arise from standard questions such as: what ethics is, its subject or object, its end, and its division or order. The only outliers to this claim are Dupleix, who allocates a whole book to the preliminary questions, and du Moulin, who seems to skip them entirely and devotes his introduction to the soul, its faculties, and passions: sensitive faculty, appetite, intellect, will, and perturbations or affections of the soul – although du Moulin also inserts a short chapter at the beginning of book 1 on “The Parts, Order, and End of Moral Science” (du Moulin 1643, 42–49).

The early-modern Aristotelians mostly agree that ethics or morals are not properly an art but a genuine science. The question about whether ethics is the same as “prudence,” that is, advice about how best to behave in particular situations, is usually raised and answered negatively. Goudin identifies the view with “Epicurus and several other philosophers.” The negative argument against it, which he claims to derive from Aquinas, is that principles of prudence are particular principles, allowing us to determine what to do in a given circumstance. Principles of morals, in contrast, are universal and certain; because of their universal nature, a person can know the principles of morals and what is good or bad in general, but still choose what is bad in a particular case: we do not always act according to what we know but may be corrupted by our passions or vice (Goudin 1726 [1668], iii. 4–5; 1864, iii. 6–8). Goudin concludes, like others, that ethics is a science. He even asserts that ethics is subalternated to physics, meaning, that it bases its conclusions on the principles of physics, which are certain as well. As with all subalternate sciences, the object of subalternated science (ethics, in this case) is defined by the addition of some difference to the object of the subalterned science (physics, in this case), with which it shares a genus. According to Goudin, the difference between ethics and physics is that the object of physics is vital motions and human affections insofar as they proceed from a living soul, while ethics studies those same affections insofar as they apply to morality and are considered by reason as good or bad (Goudin 1726 [1668], iii. 3; 1864, iii. 5).

There is, in addition, a general consensus among these authors that ethics is a practical science, as opposed to a theoretical science. By this they mean that the aim of ethics is activity, as opposed to contemplation. Eustachius asserts that the end of all philosophy is human happiness, but happiness consists partly in the contemplation of the truth and partly in action in accordance with virtue. Hence, in addition to the contemplative sciences there must be a science that provides an account of what is right and honorable and instructs us in virtue and moral probity. Eustachius identifies the latter science as “ethics, that is, moral learning, or the science of morals,” which is “traditionally reckoned as one of the chief parts of philosophy,” (Eustachius 1629 [1609], ii. 1. Cf. also Bouju 1614, 4–5).

Dupleix also agrees with such sentiments. According to him, “Morals is a [branch of] Philosophy that teaches us to regulate our actions by our reason.” He specifies that the genus of ethics or morals is philosophy, “insofar as Philosophy in general is divided into theoretical and practical, that is, into contemplative and active. The latter is nothing other than morals; the former includes all the sciences that have knowledge and not action as goal, such as Metaphysics, Physics, and Mathematics.” His definition serves to distinguish morals both from the contemplative sciences and the professional arts: “of the latter because they do not teach one to regulate mores, but only give some precepts and some rules of the professions; of the former because they do not consist in action, but only in contemplation,” (Dupleix 1993 [1610], 69–70). But this is where Dupleix’s agreement with the other writers ends. The remainder of his definition refers to the object of morals, and while there is near unanimity, among the other writers, for a Thomist position about the end of ethics, Dupleix disputes the position. Dupleix’s criticism of Aquinas is that he does not specify the end to which human actions are regulated (namely, honesty and propriety). And the alternative subject given by Aquinas and the Thomists misses the mark, according to him, because man himself, who is the subject of physics, cannot be the subject of morals. Dupleix speculates that Aquinas and the Thomists may have been led astray by an analogy between medicine and morals: as medicine has as its object man, who can be cured from the illnesses of the body, morals would have as its object man, who can be cured by the illnesses of the soul. He thinks of this as a bad analogy, since medicine proposes to cure the human body, not the whole man, and morals proposes to cure neither the man nor his soul, but only his actions, “so as to get them to conform with honesty and decency.” Finally, those who think that the happy life or the supreme good of the active life is the subject of morals, confuse the subject and the end of the discipline. Dupleix gives as the true object of morals “human actions insofar as they can be regulated and composed with respect to honesty and propriety,” (Dupleix 1993 [1610], 57–58).

Dupleix’s disagreement with Aquinas is minor. Still, it is important to note that he and some of the other authors clearly wish to call attention to their disagreements with the Thomists. (Jill Kraye also notes that “some authors occasionally (and very cautiously) disagreed with Thomas,” and refers to Eustachius and Dupleix in this respect – Kraye in Garber and Ayers 1997, 1284, and 1310). Dupleix also criticizes, or rather dismisses, many other philosophical positions. For example, he dismisses Ficino’s and the Platonist position on the object of ethics. And, as we have seen, others, such as Goudin reject the Epicurean position on prudence. When early-modern Aristotelians bring up non-Aristotelian doctrines, such as Platonist, Stoic, or Epicurean ones, it is usually not to take them seriously as live philosophical options but to catalog them and to reject them out of hand. We can see this as well with respect to the Platonist, Stoic, and Epicurean views of happiness, virtue, etc. (The point is also made by Jill Kraye who states: “Classical philosophers apart from Aristotle, when not brought in simply to be disagreed with, as they commonly were, tended to play an ancillary role in support of the major authorities”; she cites in this respect Barbay and Dupleix, the former discussing “the Stoic and Platonic views of happiness in order to dismiss them in favor of the Peripatetic position” and the latter doing “the same for Stoic and Platonic views of the supreme good and of moral virtues.” She also affirms that “the Stoic belief that all passions were morally evil was regularly used in this way” and cites Eustachius and Barbay to this effect – Kraye in Garber and Ayers 1997, 1284 and 1310.)


De Ceriziers begins his chapter on the supreme good by asserting “Everyone desires beatitude in this life; no one possesses it,” (de Ceriziers 1643, iv. 108). He defines the supreme good as something in our power, something we can acquire with the force of our own nature, and not just what is supernaturally graced. He then proceeds to detail man’s unhappiness in this life – man being the only animal who feels, imagines, and remembers his own misery – and ends by referring to Varro, who counted 288 different opinions concerning felicity. Still, de Ceriziers thinks that these things only prove that men are not happy, not that they cannot become happy. De Ceriziers argues that if beatitude were impossible for man, “God and Nature (who do nothing superfluous) would be giving man this desire in vain. Why would man be the only intelligent being, if he cannot be content?” (de Ceriziers 1643, iv. 110). His response is that subjects that are capable of receiving a particular accident are capable of receiving its contrary: whoever suffers heat, suffers cold, that which can be black can be white. Men who can be miserable in this life by being full of vice can possess the felicity which is opposite to misery and vice; we can be happy and virtuous because we can be miserable and full of vice. However, de Ceriziers continues, happiness does not consist in accidents, riches, and honors; it does not reside in the goods of the body or in the habits of virtue in which the Stoics think it consists.

Before giving his own opinion on the subject, de Ceriziers formulates a distinction and lays out some conditions. Happiness is dual: objective and formal; objective happiness is the good (or object) enjoyed by the blessed and formal happiness the enjoyment (or condition) of the blessed. He then states: “Man has his ultimate and perfect felicity only in heaven, though there is something of it on earth that corresponds to this supreme good that we await as the ultimate end of our desires and which we cannot possess without being happy,” (de Ceriziers 1643, iv. 118). The conditions for this happiness (that corresponds to the supreme good in heaven) are five-fold: the good that serves as the object of our happiness must be most good, most perfect, most beautiful, most sufficient, and most delectable. Having considered these conditions, de Ceriziers concludes that the only possible object of felicity for man is God; he alone satisfies these conditions. Hence, de Ceriziers also concludes that formal human felicity is a most perfect operation of the principal human faculty (this is allegedly in agreement with Aristotle); the question left to be resolved is whether this action belongs to the faculty of understanding, as Aquinas thinks, or that of the will, as Duns Scotus believes. De Ceriziers’ answer to this final question is dual, depending upon whether one is speaking about our future life in heaven or our present life here below. In heaven one cannot perceive God without loving him or love him without perceiving him; nonetheless, de Ceriziers argues that the essence of supernatural felicity consists in the action of the understanding, the noblest of our faculties – and in that way he believes that he comes to agree with Aristotle, Plato, and biblical prophecy. In contrast, de Ceriziers places the felicity for our present life in the love of the supreme being, meaning in our faculty of will, though he admits that something would be missing from our felicity here below if we were to love God without tasting the sweetness of the divine object. De Ceriziers summarizes his thought by asserting “eternal beatitude consists in the knowledge of God and temporal beatitude in his love” (de Ceriziers 1643, iv. 124).

The Scotist Frassen holds a broadly comparable view. He also divides beatitude into natural and supernatural, perfect and imperfect (Frassen 1668 [1657], pars 4, 39–42), and distinguishes between objective and formal beatitude (42–43). But he argues against the philosophers, including Aristotle, claiming that objective beatitude does not consist in a good soul or in its habits nor in the goods of the body, or honor, etc. (43–55). Objective human beatitude resides in God alone, who is the object of that beatitude (55–57). Formal human beatitude consists in the contemplation of God and more principally, in the love of God (57–62), the former residing in the understanding and the latter in the will.

Bouju follows the same kind of argumentative path as that traced by de Ceriziers but comes to radically different conclusions. Like de Ceriziers, he argues that God and nature do not operate in vain and would be doing so if everyone sought for an illusory felicity they could never attain. He also attributes to Aquinas the argument, of which he approves, that human nature cannot be deceived at all times – as, for example, if it were to believe that felicity is a true being, if there is no such thing. A false opinion is only an infirmity of the understanding, and since defects are accidents, they cannot be in us universally and always; thus a judgment held always and by everyone cannot be false (Bouju 1614, Morale, 6). Like de Ceriziers as well, Bouju lists conditions for the human happiness we can have in this life (as understood through our “natural light”): it is a good; it is pleasurable and brings the greatest joy; it is something within our power; it can be gotten easily; it is the most desirable of all human goods; it is sufficient, perfect, and desirable in itself, not for something else; it brings tranquility; and it is the ultimate end of all human actions, though not something fleeting, but for the long run (Bouju 1614, Morale, 9–12). Given these conditions, it becomes clear that happiness does not consist in external goods, such as riches, power and worldly authority, the favor of eminent people, good fortune, the goods of the body, such as pleasure, health, and beauty, and the goods of the mind, such as contentment and pleasure, the affection of the person loved, amusement and diversion, honor, praise and glory, or even the habit of virtue (Bouju 1614, Morale, 12–19 and 26–34). According to Bouju, human felicity consists in activity of the soul in accordance with the virtues of perfect wisdom and prudence. This alone, he argues, fits his conditions: wisdom and prudence are goods of the noblest part of our souls and are accompanied with pleasure and contentment; in our power; easy to exercise; the most excellent good for man; the only sufficient, perfect, accomplished goods; they cause in us tranquility and rest; and they are such that the ultimate end or perfection of man consists in their activity (Bouju 1614, Morale, 34–39).

In most ways, Dupleix is closest to Bouju. He argues for Aristotle’s position that “the supreme good or human felicity is activity of the soul in conformity to virtue in a perfect life” (Dupleix 1993 [1610], 131), with the addition that this is to be understood for both the active and the contemplative life (135–138) and contends that the doctrine is in conformity with, or at least is not repugnant to Christian theology. Du Moulin likewise argues that felicity, or the end of human life, must be praiseworthy and desirable in itself and that the means toward this end must be so as well. Felicity is the end for man, not qua citizen or king, policeman, or student but qua man –not for a portion of life but for a whole life. Moreover there must be such an end: “God and nature do nothing in vain … and there is a natural desire in man for felicity, which would be in vain if it were impossible to be satisfied,” (du Moulin 1643 [1624], 48–49). Similarly as well, du Moulin discusses the false supreme goods, such as honor and riches, and argues that happiness does not reside in power, pleasure, or habit, but in activity, and this activity must be proper to the noblest of our faculties, meaning the understanding rather than the will (du Moulin 1643 [1624], 51–52). Where du Moulin deviates from Bouju and Dupleix is in his final chapter, devoted to the degrees of felicity. According to du Moulin, there are two kinds of happiness: imperfect happiness, to be sought on earth, and perfect happiness that we hope for in heaven; imperfect felicity is a degree or step toward perfect felicity, which is the vision of God in our future life.

The apparent consensus doctrine, which is shared by Goudin and Eustachius (and in most respects the Coimbrans and Gautruche), is a mixture of these elements, making particular use of the distinction between objective and formal human blessedness already noted in de Ceriziers and Frassen. Goudin, for example, argues that there is an ultimate end to human life, because there cannot be an infinite chain of final causes without a first final cause that begins to move the will. And if there were not an ultimate final cause for human life, human desires would be in vain. This ultimate end of human life must be sought in and for itself (Goudin 1726 [1668], iii, quaest. 1, art. 1, 8–16). There are two features in happiness: the object whose possession makes us happy and the state that results from possessing this object; thus happiness can be objective or formal, depending upon whether one refers to the object or to the state. Thinking of the object of happiness, we can easily conclude that happiness cannot reside in any created good – not in riches, honors, glory, power, and corporeal pleasures. Man’s happiness, both natural and supernatural, resides only in God (Goudin 1726 [1668], iii, quaest. 1, art. 2, 16–32; cf. Eustachius 1629 [1609], ii. 14–15). Referring to the formal happiness we can acquire, Goudin argues that perfect happiness cannot be obtained in this life, but man can obtain an imperfect happiness in this life. Perfect formal happiness resides in the intellect, in the vision of the divine essence – Goudin siding with Aquinas and against Scotus – and natural formal happiness resides in the activity of the intellect, that is, in the most perfect contemplation one can have of God in the natural order (Goudin 1726 [1668], iii, quaest. 1, art. 3, 32–56. Cf. Eustachius 1629 [1609], ii. 16–18. See also Conimbricenses (1593), 26–28).

To sum up, while some Scholastics argue for a naturalistic, anthropocentric ethics in which happiness resides in activity of the mind, the general agreement is theocentric: happiness is divided into objective happiness, which has God as its object, and formal happiness, whether natural or supernatural, which resides in the intellect and requires both of its faculties, the understanding and the will. There is still some division about whether the essence of that formal happiness resides principally in the understanding, that is, in the vision of the divine essence, which entails the love of God, or more principally in the love of God, that is, an act of the will, that requires the contemplation of God as well.

The Principles of Human Actions, Passions, and Virtue

There is general agreement among early-modern Aristotelians about the varieties of virtues and their definitions. They distinguish between intellectual and moral virtues. A few authors – de Ceriziers, for example – spend some time describing the intellectual virtues, distinguishing among wisdom, intelligence of first principles, science, prudence, and art. Dupleix also lists the same five intellectual virtues and considers but rejects others, such as subtlety of mind or wit (ingenium). But all of them spend considerable time discussing passions and moral virtues. Passions, according to Goudin, following Thomas Aquinas, are motions of the appetitive faculty arising from one’s imagination of something good or harmful; they come in two kinds, concupiscible – such as love and hate, desire and aversion, and joy and pain – and irascible, such as hope and despair, audaciousness and fear, plus anger (which does not have an opposite). Almost all early-modern Aristotelians argue against the Stoics that one should control the passions, not get rid of them; Goudin thinks likewise about controlling the passions but considers the disagreement between Scholastics and Stoics to be merely verbal (Goudin 1726 [1668], iii, quaest. 3, art. 1, 93). Moral virtue, on the other hand, as du Moulin puts it, “is the habit of an upright will that leads the appetite to honest things, to choosing a mean with respect to us and according to the dictates of reason,” (du Moulin 1643 [1624], 72). Du Moulin explains that moral virtue is a habit because it is not innate, but something acquired by exercise, like all powers of the mind, whether they are natural powers, habits, or passions. It resides in the will, rather than in the sensitive appetite. Thus, no action is praiseworthy if it is not voluntary. The will holds the sensitive appetite in check, choosing the mean, though not the arithmetical or geometric mean, between doing too much or too little, that is, determining when, how, for what cause, how much, and whether to act on a particular desire.

Given that virtue consists in the choice of the mean between extremes and that happiness lies in activity of the soul, some authors consequently feel the need to discuss the faculties of the soul or principles of human action. All early-modern Aristotelians distinguish the two faculties of the soul, understanding and will; a few of them add considerations about appetite and habit. All are in agreement that the will inclines only toward the good. The issue of whether the understanding moves the will or is moved by the will is usually raised. As Eustachius puts it: “The intellect is said to move the will, since there can be no action of the will unless, as a precondition, there is a prior action of the intellect. … However, with respect to its exercise, the intellect is moved by the will in its free acts.” (Eustachius 1629 [1609], ii. 20–21.)

After their discussion of the understanding and the will and virtue in general, early-modern Aristotelians usually proceed to detail the particular virtues. Some of them attempt various classifications of the virtues, discussing the four cardinal virtues, for example. Dupleix raises and rejects a number of opinions about whether the virtues are one or several kinds, including the opinion of the Stoic Chrysippus that there are as many virtues as there are qualities, and two versions of the opinion of other Stoics and Academics, following Zeno and Plato, that there is only one moral virtue, namely, prudence. He concludes for Aristotle’s view that there are different kinds of virtues, settling on eleven moral virtues, together with their extremes in both lack and excess; these are justice, courage, temperance, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, regulated ambition, sweetness or clemency, truth, right behavior, and affability or courtesy. (Dupleix 1993 [1610], 231–234). Dupleix discusses these in great detail in the chapters that follow. Surprisingly, however, he introduces another set of virtues. Some of these, such as sobriety, chastity, and taciturnity, he reduces to temperance; patience and modesty to sweetness or clemency; and hardiness and constancy and vigilance and diligence to courage. But he keeps continence and obedience as semi-virtues or dispositions to virtues, and he maintains virginity and saintliness as heroic Christian virtues. Finally, he argues that faith, hope, and charity are theological, not moral virtues, that is, gifts or graces from God (Dupleix 1993 [1610], 235–236. See also book 7, 413–490. Dupleix calls charity “a liberality ordered by Christian law,” 235.).

Bouju classifies the moral virtues according to whether they are exercised more for one’s good than for the good of others and according to whether they are exercised more for the good of others than for one’s good. He then devotes a book on justice and equity and another on friendship. He places, in the category of more for one’s good, such virtues as temperance, honesty, sobriety, continence, and clemency, but also abstinence and virginity, which Dupleix considered heroic Christian virtues. In the second category, he treats courage, magnanimity, liberality, etc. He lists, in the category of justice and equity, such concepts as right and law, but also religion, piety, and grace or gratitude. He seems, like all authors (except Dupleix), to want to treat the virtues naturalistically, not mentioning theological or Christian virtues, by subsuming as many of them as possible into the moral virtues.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Martin Lenz
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands