As of late, being rather infirm to the extent that I am generally house-ridden, I have taken up rereading Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In particular, I have read through the sections concerning existence or, as Aristotle calls it, substance. What I am left to ponder, and what I will ramble about here in such ponderings, is what of the virtues themselves?
According to Aristotle, all things that are have four causes: the material, the formal, the agency, and the final. By these measures, the virtues seem to fall short. Yet, they still cling to all human minds, regardless of culture or intelligence or any other such distinguishing characteristic.
I would argue, however, that the virtues do indeed have such causes albeit in different manifestation than Aristotle would have envisioned it. For the sake of demonstration, I will use Love as an example from here on out.
The most obvious issue is that Love has no material cause, is not made of anything physical, cannot be touched under any circumstance. Yet, Love can be seen, as can all virtues: they simply require the agency-cause to act first and imbue an existing substance with a secondary is. That is to say that the virtues are dependent upon other substances to be expressed materially. This does not disqualify them from being substances. In example, bronze consists of two different elements, and thus the bronze is dependent upon them for its substance.
The virtues do possess the other causes in and of themselves though. Love has a form. Now, that may sound a bit mad to say of something that is dependent upon other substances for physical expression. Yet, if we examine the ideas of Love from vastly different sources, at its quintessence, it is valuing the beloved above the value of all other things, if it is of the purest sense. The idea that Love has varying degrees points us to the notion that there is an ideal, perfect form to which all love aspires. Funny enough, this echoes Aristotle’s idea that there is a higher plane or world that exists with all the perfect forms of what we see in the physical world.
Love may be attributed to the First Mover, God as it were, and He is at cause for its agency-cause. Particularly from a Christian world view, of which I subscribe, I would parallel much of Thomas Aquinas in combining the reason of Aristotle with the faith of Christ. As such, the agency-cause of Love being God can be represented by the sense that humanity was made in the image of God, who identifies Himself as Love, and so being a likeness of Love itself, we too contain Love, though only in part as reflection of the whole.
Love, at its purest and most divine expression, is in itself one in being with the First Mover and so is also at cause for everything else that exists. Aristotle draws to this same conclusion. This then gives Love its final-cause, or purpose. Love is because God is, because God is good and so Love is good.
Such maddening ponderings though. How is it that every culture has tried to define Love and yet fallen short? How is it that Love has eluded such a simple thing? How can a person put words to such a thing, though? Insomuch as the virtues rely upon physical expression through any number of substances, how can we define what we know only in part?
Ahh. I best end this now. My mind is filled with far too many questions unanswered. More to ponder…