January 8, 2010

Virtue & Vice

Note: This entry is designed to gather into one place the aphorisms in which Gómez Dávila mentions virtue and vice. Other aphorisms relevant to these topics may be found under the heading of God and religion.

The religious life begins when we discover that God is not a postulate of ethics, but the only adventure in which it is worth the trouble to risk ourselves. (#843)

Radical sin relegates the sinner to a silent, gray universe, drifting on the surface of the water, a lifeless shipwreck, toward inexorable insignificance. (#1,914)

Moral perfection lies in feeling that we cannot do what we ought not to do.
Ethics culminates where the rule appears to be an expression of the person. (#529)

The higher part of ethics does not deal with moral behavior, but with the quality of the soul. (#1,418)

God ends up being a parasite in souls where ethics predominates. (#1,709)

Perhaps religious practices do not improve ethical behavior, but they do without question improve manners. (#2,308)

The mechanisms of modern society encourage the annoying virtues and punish the endearing vices. (#2,341)

Rigid moralism dulls the ethical sensibility. (#1,778)

I do not know of a sin which is not, for the noble soul, its own punishment. (#333)

Nobody will ever induce me to absolve human nature because I know myself. (#566)

Nobody who knows himself can absolve himself. (#686)

Today, if a man does not have a good opinion of himself, they think he is a hypocrite. (#2,173)

To condemn oneself is no less pretentious than to absolve oneself. (#1,892)

What is called the modern mentality is the process of exonerating the deadly sins. (#1,194)

In their childish and vain attempt to attract the people, the modern clergy give socialist programs the function of being schemes for putting the Beatitudes into effect.
The trick behind it consists in reducing to a collective structure external to the individual an ethical behavior that, unless it is individual and internal, is nothing.
The modern clergy preach, in other words, that there is a social reform capable of wiping out the consequences of sin.
From which one can deduce the pointlessness of redemption through Christ. (#2,982)

Theoretical affability toward vice is not a proof of liberality and elegance, but of vulgarity. (#2,035)

The sight of the modern world is so repugnant that ethical imperatives are becoming certainties in the indicative for us. (#2,423)

I have only one theme: pride.
Every stain is a vestige of it. (#1,860)

The cause of the modern disease is the conviction that man can cure himself. (#1,478)

We try to excuse the defects we have by supposing they are the reverse of qualities we falsely attribute to ourselves. (#1,549)

In every individual sleeps the germ of the vices and the mere echo of the virtues. (#2,489)

We doubt the importance of many virtues as long as we do not come across the contrary vice. (#2,224)

Man frequently owes to his defects the failures he avoids. (#2,402)

It is easy to believe that we partake of certain virtues when we share in the defects they imply. (#3)

Spiritual maturity begins when we stop feeling like we have to take care of the world. (#6)

To satisfy man’s pride is perhaps easier than our pride imagines. (#10)

Modern man is less proud than presumptuous. (#1,775)

Pride’s shadow smothers the sprouting of a thousand infamies. (#139)

To challenge God, man puffs up his emptiness. (#224)

Every cry of human pride ends as a cry of anguish. (#2,339)

The scent of the sin of pride attracts man like blood attracts a wild beast. (#2,014)

God does not ask for our “cooperation,” but for our humility. (#771)

Sometimes only humiliations leave ajar for humanity the gates of wisdom. (#2,535)

Even if humility did not save us from hell, in any event it saves us from ridicule. (#154)

An extreme ambition protects us against vanity. (#1,963)

When associated with humility, even defects turn out to be unpublished virtues. (#1,677)

Justified pride is accompanied by profound humility. (#2,546)

So-called frustrated lives tend to be merely overweening, frustrated ambitions. (31,846)

Dreams of excellence do not deserve respect except when they do not disguise a vulgar appetite for superiority. (#1,948)

Just as much as by the fact which humbles our pride, I am delighted by the noble gesture which dispels the fear of our radical baseness. (#887)

The soul is man’s task. (#530)

Each act of resignation is a brief agony. (#583)

Upon each person depends whether his soul, deprived of its many pretensions by the years, is revealed as bitter spite or as humble resignation. (#549)

Serenity is the fruit of uncertainty freely accepted. (#550)

To educate the soul consists in teaching it to transform its envy into admiration. (#505)

A noble society is one where obeying and exercising authority are ethical behaviors, and not mere practical necessities. (#2,964)

Nothing is more common than to despise many persons who should actually arouse our envy. (#2,848)

There is something definitively vile about the man who only admits equals, who does not tirelessly seek out his betters. (#2,655)

Man does not admire anything sincerely except what is undeserved.
Talent, lineage, beauty. (#1,552)

All earthly splendor is the labor of astounded hands, because no splendor depends on the human will.
Because all splendor refutes the radical assertion of sin. (#1,910)

Egalitarian societies strangle the imagination without even satisfying envy. (#1,032)

How many things would seem less irritating if we were less envious! (#1,571)

The number of censurable things is greatly reduced when one ceases to covet. (#2,062)

Envy is not a poor man’s vice, but a rich man’s.
Of a less rich man before a richer man. (#1,441)

The rich man is not disconcerted by anyone except by someone who does not envy him. (#2,348)

Modern luxury disarms envy. (#1,769)

Goodness and beauty are not mutually exclusive except where goodness serves as a pretext for envy and beauty for luxury. (#2,450)

More surely than an accursed wealth there is an accursed poverty: that of the man who suffers not from being poor but from not being rich; that of the man who complacently tolerates every misfortune shared by someone else; that of the man who desires not to abolish poverty, but to abolish the good he covets. (#40)

Envy differs from the other vices by the ease with which it disguises itself as a virtue. (#2,811)

Envy tends to be the true force behind moral indignation. (#2,985)

A paean to justice intoxicates us, because it seems to us to be an apology for the passion, just or unjust, which blinds us. (#2,001)

Reason, truth, justice, tend not to be man’s goals, but the names he gives to his goals. (#2,251)

Justice has been one of the motors of history, because it is the name envy assumes in the mouth of the son contesting his parents' will. (#1,100)

The compassion we display to some helps us to justify the envy which others awaken in us. (#2,000)

It is easier to be compassionate than it is not to feel envy. (#2,249)

We do not always distinguish what harms our delicate nature from what provokes our envy. (#2,592)

Compassion is the best excuse for envy. (#2,049)

Whoever denies the bourgeoisie its virtues has been infected with the worst of its vices. (#1,923)

To unleash great catastrophes today, great ambitions are not required; the accumulation of small envies is enough. (#1,768)

Every society eventually bursts when envy expands too far. (#2,069)

Those whose gratitude for receiving a benefit is transformed into devotion to the person who grants it, instead of degenerating into the usual hatred aroused by all benefactors, are aristocrats.
Even if they walk around in rags. (#831)

Ingratitude, disloyalty, resentment, rancor define the plebeian soul in every age and characterize this century. (#2,472)

The only man who thanks life for what it gives him is the man who does not expect everything from life. (#1,140)

We only know how to carry ourselves with decency in front of the world when we know that we are owed nothing.
Without the pained grimace of a frustrated creditor. (#1,257)

Man prefers to excuse himself with somebody else’s fault rather than with his own innocence. (#41)

Rare are those who forgive us when we make it harder for them to shirk their duties. (#216)

The only antidote to envy, in vulgar souls, is the conceit of believing that they have nothing to envy. (#584)

The downfall of the powerful seems to us like a decree of providence, because it delights our envy. (#1,005)

Power more surely corrupts the man who covets it than the man who exercises it. (#1,894)

The only man who should speak of wealth or power is one who did not extend his hand when they were within his reach. (#2,016)

Common life is so miserable that the most unfortunate man can be the victim of a neighbor’s envy. (#391)

Nobody is completely lacking in qualities able to arouse our respect, our admiration, or our envy. Whoever might appear unable to give us an example has been carelessly observed. (#157)

The modern sensibility, instead of demanding the repression of envy, demands that we suppress the object which arouses it. (#345)

The left claims that the guilty party in a conflict is not the one who covets another’s goods but the one who defends his own. (#2,927)

In societies where the social position, instead of adhering to the person, constitutes merely a temporary commission, envy bursts out of the gate.
La carriere ouverte aux talents” is the racetrack of envy. (#1,248)

The speed with which modern society absorbs its enemies could not be explained if their apparently hostile clamor were not simply an impatient demand for promotions. (#1,832)

The poor man does not envy the rich man for the opportunities for noble behavior which wealth facilitates, but rather for the degradations which wealth makes possible. (#459)

Envy is the key to more stories than sex. (#2,928)

“Equality of opportunity” does not mean the possibility for all to be decent, but the right of all not to be decent. (#2,276)

Modern man defends nothing energetically except his right to debauchery. (#2,743)

Liberalism proclaims the right of the individual to degrade oneself, provided one’s degradation does not impede the degradation of one’s neighbor. (#1,976)

The businessman’s greed surprises me less than the seriousness with which he satisfies it. (#561)

It turns out it is impossible to convince a businessman that a profitable activity can be immoral. (#2,426)

The carelessness with which contemporary humanity is squandering its goods appears to indicate that it does not expect to have descendants. (#2,060)

Material prosperity is less corrupting than the intellectual and moral prerequisites for achieving it. (#1,151)

The wealthy man’s sin is not his wealth, but the exclusive importance he attributes to it. (#1,483)

Artificially fomenting greed, in order to become rich by satisfying it, is the unforgiveable sin of capitalism. (#1,370)

Socialism makes use of greed and misery; capitalism makes use of greed and the vices. (#2,433)

The economic inflation at the end of this century is a moral phenomenon.
The result, and at the same time the punishment, of egalitarian greed. (#2,297)

What the economist calls the “inflation of costs” is an outbreak of greed. (#2,067)

The problem of increasing inflation could be solved, if the modern mentality did not put up insurmountable resistance against any attempt to restrain human greed. (#2,948)

Whoever who does not agitate without rest in order to satisfy his greed always feels a little guilty in modern society. (#1,843)

Where Christianity disappears, greed, envy, and lust invent a thousand ideologies to justify themselves. (#2,976)

After seeing work exploit and demolish the world, laziness seems like the mother of the virtues. (#2,053)

Natural disasters devastate a region less effectively than the alliance of greed and technology. (#2,228)

Modern society only respects science as an inexhaustible provider of what it covets. (#1,369)

When individual envies come together, we customarily christen them “noble popular aspirations.” (#364)

Victorious revolutions have been outbursts of greed. Only defeated revolutions tend to be insurrections of the oppressed. (#2,135)

Individual egoism believes it is absolved when it is compressed together into a collective egoism. (#390)

The poor man’s patience in modern society is not virtue but cowardice. (#365)

Evil’s greatest guile is its transformation into a domestic, secret god, a comforting presence on the hearth. (#66)

The devil reserves the temptations of the flesh for the most guileless; and he prefers to make the less ingenuous despair by depriving things of meaning. (#2,271)

Wisdom consists in being moderate not out of horror of excess, but out of love for the limit. (#72)

Society rewards screaming virtues and discreet vices. (#77)

Those sins that scandalize the public are less grave than those it tolerates. (#918)

Tolerating even stupid ideas can be a social virtue; but it is a virtue that sooner or later receives its punishment. (#2,821)

Unlimited tolerance is nothing more than a hypocritical way of resigning. (#2,820)

We only have those virtues and those flaws which we do not suspect. (#78)

Our neighbor irritates us because he seems to us like a parody of our own defects. (#2,634)

The devil can achieve nothing great without the careless collaboration of the virtues. (#2,170)

Our maturity must re-conquer its lucidity daily. (#83)

We are in the habit of calling moral improvement our failure to realize that we have switched vices. (#615)

Humanity usually locates the pain where the injury is not, the sin where the fault is not. (#2,015)

The hero and the coward define in the same way the object which they perceive in antagonistic ways. (#90)

Poverty is the only barrier to the throng of vulgarities that whinny inside souls. (#103)

The vile man is amused only by what would hurt him if it happened to him. (#2,275)

Modern man imagines that it is sufficient to open the windows in order to cure the soul’s infection, that it is not necessary to clear out the trash. (#2,077)

Human nobility is a work that time occasionally fashions in our daily ignominy. (#122)

Nothing is more common than to transform a duty that inconveniences us into an “ethical dilemma.” (#1,431)

Pain leaves a deep impression, but only the ethical conflict educates. (#1,379)

Despair is the dark valley through which the soul ascends toward a universe no longer sullied by greed. (#135)

Nothing is rarer than someone who affirms, or denies, but does not exaggerate in order to flatter or to injure. (#149)

Vanity is not an affirmation but a question. (#165)

Let us not attribute to the intellect the catastrophes caused by the covetousness that blinds us. (#1,280)

Man is made vain by his works, because he forgets that, though what he makes belongs to him, it does not belong to him to have the capacity to make it. (#855)

Aging is a catastrophe of the body which our cowardice turns into a catastrophe of the soul. (#173)

To attribute to old age the dregs accumulated throughout life is the consolation of the old. (#175)

Man assures himself that life vilifies him in order to hide the fact that it merely reveals him. (#1,008)

The fool, seeing that customs change, says that morality varies. (#2,922)

Ethical rules vary; honor does not change.
A man is noble if he prefers to fail rather than to debase the tools of his triumph. (#1,744)

The surest ways of winning are more disastrous than any defeat. (#1,763)

Modern souls do not even become corrupted; they become rusty. (#1,249)

Nations or individuals—with rare exceptions—only behave themselves decently when circumstances do not allow for anything else. (#984)

Moral delicacy forbids to itself things it allows to others. (#176)

Succumbing to noble temptations prevents surrendering to base temptations. (#177)

The individual today rebels against immutable human nature so that he might refrain from amending his own correctable nature. (#210)

There is something unforgivably vile in sacrificing even the most foolish of principles to the most noble of passions. (#236)

There are vices of a fallen archangel and there are vices of the simple, infernal crowd. (#802)

Good will is the panacea of the foolish. (#247)

“Human” is the adjective which serves to excuse any infamy. (#252)

History erects and topples, incessantly, the statues of different virtues on top of the unmoving pedestal of the same vices. (#276)

The increasing integration of humanity merely makes it easier to share the same vices. (#1,857)

Individuals or nations have distinct virtues and identical defects.
Baseness is our common patrimony. (#338)

There is no villainy equal to that of the man who supports himself with the virtues of his adversary in order to conquer him. (#283)

Honesty in politics is not stupidity except in the eyes of the swindler. (#298)

The vice which afflicts the right is cynicism, and that which afflicts the left is deceit. (#2,730)

It is not possible to choose between injustice and disorder. They are synonyms. (#479)

The stupidity of immoralism consists of seeing in the crime nothing but the murderer’s fearlessness. (#2,156)

Depravity always arouses the secret admiration of the imbecile. (#2,482)

Sins that appear “splendid” from afar are from close up nothing more than small sordid episodes. (#2,155)

The ancient who denied pain, the modern who denies sin—they entangle themselves in identical sophisms. (#300)

It has taken Christian philosophers work to take sin seriously, that is to say: to see that it transcends ethical phenomena. (#2,033)

Modern man does not escape the temptation to identify what is permitted with what is possible. (#301)

Everything that is physically possible soon seems morally plausible to modern man. (#2,619)

The modern world demands that we approve what it should not even dare ask us to tolerate. (#882)

Even when sin does assist in the construction of every society, modern society is the beloved child of the capital sins. (#319)

Man’s full depravity does not become clear except in great urban agglomerations. (#2,893)

Industrial society is the expression and fruit of souls in which virtues destined to serve usurp the place of virtues destined to command. (#480)

In an egalitarian society neither the magnanimous nor the humble fit in; there is only room for pretentious virtues. (#610)

The effectiveness of an individual is less a virtue than a threat to his neighbors. (#535)

The fool does not content himself with violating an ethical rule: he claims that his transgression becomes a new rule. (#304)

Today they are trying to make “to pardon” mean to deny that an offense was committed. (#1,991)

Intellectual honesty is a virtue which every successive generation presumes it is practicing for the first time. (#1,336)

May God preserve us from purity, in all fields.
From the mother of political terrorism, from religious sectarianism, from ethical severity, from aesthetic sterility, from philosophical stupidity. (#1,246)

Virtue that does not doubt itself culminates in attacks against the world. (#308)

Evil, like the eyes, does not see itself.
May he tremble who sees himself as innocent. (#321)

It fell to the modern era to have the privilege of corrupting the humble. (#2,884)

Nothing makes more evident the reality of sin than the stench of souls that deny its existence. (#1,907)

There is nobody who does not suddenly discover the importance of virtues he scorns. (#749)

The prophet who accurately foretells the growing corruption of a society is not believed, because the more that corruption grows, the less it is noticed by the corrupt. (#335)

Loyalty is sincere as long as it does not believe itself to be a virtue. (#366)

Just as evil was the first betrayal, betrayal is the only sin. (#1,562)

Eroticism, sensuality, and love, when they do not converge in the same person are nothing more, in isolation, than disease, vice, and foolishness. (#414)

Yesterday’s bourgeois forgave himself everything, if his sexual conduct was strict.
Today’s forgives himself everything, if it is promiscuous. (#1,320)

Once youth is past, chastity forms a part not so much of ethics as of good taste. (#955)

Virtue has become less rare than good breeding. (#1,271)

Decadence does not derive from an excess of civilization, but from the attempt to take advantage of civilization in order to elude the prohibitions of which it consists. (#1,344)

Sin ceases to seem like a fiction when we have been slapped in the face by its aesthetic vulgarity. (#1,772)

More so than the immorality of the contemporary world, it is its growing ugliness that moves one to dream of a cloister. (#2,832)

Ethics and aesthetics, when divorced, each submit more readily to man’s whims. (#2,526)

Ethical conduct is the aesthetically satisfactory conduct. (#2,406)

Whoever abandons himself to his instincts degrades his face as obviously as he degrades his soul. (#476)

To refute the new morality, all one needs to do is examine the faces of its aged devotees. (#1,854)

By merely looking at the face of the modern man one infers the mistake in attributing ethical importance to his sexual behavior. (#2,480)

The ugliness of the modern face is an ethical phenomenon. (#1,877)

Souls become vitiated when bodies make themselves too comfortable. (#1,497)

Religious austerity fascinates; ethical severity repels. (#1,776)

An ethics that does not command us to renounce is a crime against the dignity to which we should aspire and against the happiness which we can obtain. (#1,148)

Any rule is preferable to caprice.
The soul without discipline disintegrates into the ugliness of a larva. (#525)

Discipline is not so much a social necessity as an aesthetic obligation. (#477)

Ethics should be the aesthetics of conduct. (#986)

Where gestures lack style, ethics itself becomes debased. (#1,415)

Individualism degenerates into the beatification of caprice. (#569)

Sincerity, unless it is in a sacramental confession, is a factor leading to demoralization. (#2,697)

When a Catholic defends himself better against vices than against heresy, already there is only a little Christianity left in his head. (#813)

The Christian knows with certainty what his personal behavior should be, but he can never state for certain that he is not making a mistake by adopting this or that social reform. (#2,923)

The Gospels, in the hands of a progressive clergyman, degenerate into a compilation of trivial ethical teachings. (#1,688)

An atheist is respectable as long as he does not teach that the dignity of man is the basis of ethics and that love for humanity is the true religion. (#1,049)

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