Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION LXIV.: OF THE MEAN OF VIRTUES. - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION LXIV.: OF THE MEAN OF VIRTUES. - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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OF THE MEAN OF VIRTUES.1
Article I.—Are moral virtues in a mean?
R. The proper function of moral virtue is to perfect the appetitive part of the soul with regard to some determinate matter. Now the measure and rule of the movement of the appetite towards its object is reason. But the goodness of everything that comes under measure and rule consists in its being conformed to its rule. Consequently, evil in these things lies in departure from rule or measure either by excess or defect. And therefore it is clear that the good of moral virtue consists in being up to the level of the measure of reason: which condition of being up to the level, or of conformity to rule, evidently lies in the mean between excess and defect.
§ 2. The mean and the extremes in actions and passions are determined according to circumstances; and circumstances differ. Hence there is nothing to hinder a virtue exhibiting what is an extreme according to one circumstance, and yet is a mean according to other circumstances by conformity to reason; and such is the case with munificence and magnanimity. For if we consider the absolute quantity of that unto which the munificent and magnanimous man tends, it will be called an extreme and a maximum: but if this same degree is considered in respect of other circumstances, at that rate it has the character of a mean, because the said virtues tend to this maximum according to the rule of reason, where they ought, and when they ought, and for the motive for which they ought: whereas excess would be to tend to this maximum when one ought not, or where one ought not, or for a motive for which one ought not; and defect would be not to tend to this maximum where one ought and when one ought.
§ 3. The same is the explanation of virginity and of evangelical poverty as of magnanimity. Virginity abstains from all sexual pleasure, and evangelical poverty from all riches, for the motive for which and according to the rule by which they ought, that is, according to the command of God and for life everlasting.1
Article II.—Is the mean of moral virtue the mean of the objective thing or the mean of reason?
R. The mean of reason may be understood in two ways: in one way as a mean existing in the act itself of reason, as though it were the act of reason itself that was reduced to a mean. In that sense the mean of moral virtue is not the mean of reason: because moral virtue does not perfect the act of reason, but the act of the appetitive faculty. In another way, by the mean of reason may be understood that mean which is fixed by reason in any matter. In that sense every mean of moral virtue is the mean of reason; because moral virtue is said to stand in a mean by conformity to right reason. But sometimes it happens that the mean of reason is also the mean of the objective thing; and then the mean of moral virtue must also be the mean of the objective thing, as in the case of justice. Sometimes, again, the mean of reason is not the mean of the objective thing, but is taken in reference to ourselves; and such is the mean in all the other moral virtues. The explanation of this is, that justice deals with acts that are about exterior things; and there the standard of right must be set up simply and objectively, as things are in themselves. And therefore the mean of reason in justice is the same as the mean of the objective thing, inasmuch as justice renders to every man his due, no more and no less. But the other moral virtues are concerned with interior passions, in which the right measure cannot be fixed in the same way, because different men stand differently towards the passions. And therefore the right measure of reason in the passions must be determined in reference to us who are moved by passion.1
Article IV.—Do the theological virtues observe the golden mean?
R. There are two measures of a theological virtue: one with regard to the virtue itself, and the other in our regard. The measure and rule of the theological virtue in itself, is God. For our faith is ruled by God’s truth, our charity by His goodness, and our hope is measured by the greatness of His omnipotence and loving kindness. But this is a measure exceeding all human ability; and therefore never can man love God so much as He ought to be loved; nor believe or hope in Him as much as is due. Much less can there be excess there; and therefore the goodness of such virtue does not consist in any observance of a golden mean, but the observance is all the better the more it is carried to a height.
The other rule or measure of a theological virtue is in regard of ourselves: because though we cannot go out to God as we ought, still we ought to go out to Him, believing in Him, hoping in Him, and loving Him, according to the measure of our condition. Hence a mean and extremes may be made out in a theological virtue incidentally, in regard of ourselves.
[1 ]Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 77—84. (Trl.)
[1 ]Ethics and Natural Law, p. 84, n. 8. (Trl.)
[1 ]The golden mean must be taken in relation to ourselves. (See Ethics and Natural Law, p. 80.) In justice alone there is question, not of ourselves, but of our neighbour’s right, and of any contract we have made with him. The mean then must be fixed, not by what suits us, but by the objective letter of the contract, so far as justice alone is concerned. (Trl.)