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Buridan on the Connection of the Virtues Walsh, James J. (James Jerome), 1924Journal of the History of Philosophy, Volume 24, Number 4, October 1986, pp. 453-482 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press For additional information about this article Access Provided by Project Muse/Jhup at 03/26/12 1:46PM GMT Buridan on the Connection of the Virtues JAMESJ. WALSH FROM PLATO'S PROTAGORAS TO MAciNTYRE'S AFTER VIRTUE the apparently innocuous question of how the virtues are connected has led deep into the problems of moral philosophy. This was as true for medieval thinkers as for any others, and the later medievals may well have played a significant role in the emergence of modern positions. Among those later medievals John Buridan has a special place because of the depth and detail of his discussions and because of his widespread and long-lasting influence.1 In his Question on the connection of the virtues he tried to go beyond standard treatments and even congratulated himself on turning the issue over to others in a more tractable condition.· He may not have been quite as original as he thought, but his treatment has historical importance; and perhaps those engaged in the contemporary debate over the nature and role of the virtues could profit from his exploration. In what follows, I shall first briefly review his background , then rehearse his treatment, which leads to the related topics of the Several people have kindly looked over this study. I especially wish to thank Deborah Goldberg for her suggestions on organization, the editors ofMedieval Studies for similar suggestions , Charles Larmore for several searching questions, and Bonnie Kent for her generosity with her considerable erudition on this topic. I See J. Walsh, "Nominalism and the Ethics: Some Remarks about Buridan's Commentary," Joumal of the History of Philosophy, 4 (1966): 1-13, esp. 4-5. • Buridan's commentary is titled Questiones in decem Libros Ethicorum Aristotelis ad Nicomachum. It was printed in Paris in 1489, 1513, and 1518, and at Oxford in 1637. I use the Oxford edition, which differs little from the 1513 edition, and from Ms. Paris Bib. nat. lat. 16128. J. Trenunan has recently remarked that just because a work was printed need not imply that it was much read. See his chapter on scholasticism in the seventeenth century in N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny, and J. Pinborg, eds., The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge, 1982), esp. 834-35. I think that Langholm shows that Buridan was read, and quite intently. See O. Langholm, Price and Value in the Aristotelian Tradition (Bergen, 1979), esp. Chap. 5. Although this is a work on the history of economic theory, it contains a wealth of information extremely useful for the historian of medieval moral philosophy and the historian of the Aristotelian tradition. Buridan's Question on the connection of the moral virtues is Question 21 of Book VI. [453] 454 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 24:4 OCTOBER 1986 location and differentiation of the virtues, and finally offer some conjectures on the bearing of all this on claims made by MacIntyre in After Virtue. THE EARLIER BACKGROUND Some background should be given on the problem of the connection of the virtues, but there is only room here for an outline of what became an intricate and subtle running debate. Everyone knows of Plato's raising of the issue in the Protagoras, and his various attempts to reduce the virtues to, or at least found them on, wisdom. His suggestion in the Statesman that there might be a conRict among virtues is not so widely recognized.s The Magna Moralia sometimes attributed to Aristotle rejects the suggestion that virtue might be opposed to virtue, and in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle dismissed the problem in a text which became the canonical point of departure for medieval treatments: "Moreover, this might supply an answer to the dialectical argument that might be put forward to prove that the virtues can exist in isolation from each other, on the ground that the same man does not possess the greatest natural capacity for all of...


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