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Natural Means to be Taken in Character Formation

from Dr. A.M. Woodbury's Basic Morals ©

These natural means are chiefly the following:

A. DEVELOPMENT OF BODILY HEALTH: This is required because of the dependence of character upon temperament. which in turn is not easily such as to be consonant with the practice of virtue without bodily health.

a. Therefore, normally required is suitable physical development (involving apt nutrition, hygiene, physical exercise etc.)

b. Though indeed heroic virtue, and above all divine grace, can supply for what may be lacking in physical health and development.

B. CONTROL OF MOODS: This is necessary because of the dependence of our practical and moral judgments upon our subjective dispositions, according as Aristotle says: 'Of what sort each one is, of such sort is the end to which to him seems good.' (Ethic. 111, c. 5). Thus do such moods as despondency, melancholy, elation etc., sway our practical and moral judgments.

C. REFINEMENT OF SENSIBILITY THROUGH ARTS AND POLITE SOCIAL INTERCOURSE: Such refinement bestows appreciation of the needs and feelings of others, and hence leads to exclusion of coarseness and of unthinking egoism.

a. Thus does Aristotle say that the end of dramatic tragedy is purgation of the emotions through the excitement of pity for the tragic hero. Thus also did Wellington say that 'The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton;' and again that the excellence of the British was much due to its being officered by gentlemen.

b. Accordingly, does Aristotle say that 'He who does not associate with others is either a beast or a god,' (Polit., 1, c. 2), i. e. either he is subhuman owing to lack of what association with others bestows, or is superhuman as able without such help to avoid falling below human level.

D. AVOIDANCE OF CONTINUAL BUSTLE AND DISSIPATION: Owing to the dependence of the human intellect upon the senses, continual rush and bustle and dissipation is unto our mental harm.

a. Accordingly, such 'hustle and bustle' impedes development of habits of right judgment (since it does not permit of sufficient deliberation and reflection) and consequently it impedes firm rectitude of will.

b. This is a reason why masters of the moral life inculcate the necessity of a certain amount of solitude for the due evolution of character and of good moral habits.

E. SELF-DISCIPLINE BY ACTS OF SELF-DENIAL: By repeated acts of self-denial whereby we refuse to ourselves legitimate pleasures, we gradually acquire such self-mastery that we become able to refuse to ourselves illegitimate pleasures whereto we are tempted even most vehemently.

a. In this manner do we secure the liberation of our intellective powers (intellect and will) wherein freedom formally resides from subjection to our animal inclinations which are lower and unfree, and from the influence of whim and capriciousness and mood.

b. Thus says St, Paul: 'All things are lawful to me, but not all things are expedient.'

F. GOOD COMPANIONSHIP: Companionship of the good is necessary because 'exempla trahunt - example draws', as is attested by the very existence of the sin of scandal.

a. Therefore, a good moral environment is of the utmost necessity save perhaps for those whose virtue is already heroic.

b. It is indeed in this manner that the 'spirit' of a school or college or team is developed.

G. FRIENDSHIP WITH THE GOOD: Friendship with the virtuous is especially necessary, since by love of goodwill we tend to hold our friend for 'another self' and to will what he wills.

a. Indeed since love is by way of inclination towards its object, the loving being drawn towards the loved (wherein love differs from knowledge, forasmuch as by knowledge is known is drawn to the knower), we are ennobled by love of the noble and debased by love of the base (whereas it is possible to know the noble without being ennobled and to know the base without being debased).

b. From this is had the proverb: 'Tell me your friends, and I will tell you what you are.''

c. Here indeed it is to be observed with regard to love of the wicked, that:

c1. they are indeed to be loved both on account of what is good in them, and forasmuch as virtue is to be willed to them;

c2. but they are not to be loved on account of their wickedness, i.e. in such manner that their wickedness would be loved.

H. 'LIBERAL EDUCATION!': By this is meant education in the sciences and arts and other disciplines which more tend to confer an understanding and appreciation of properly human values (i.e. of things which contribute to man's goodness as man).

a. Thus such disciplines as literature (both classical and postclassical), history, and the fine arts, tend to broaden the mind and to confer an intimate understanding of human strengths and weaknesses and aspirations and ideals and motives, thus excluding narrowness, pettiness, parochialism and 'plebeianism' of mind.

b. Thus philosophical disciplines guard against' most fundamental and damaging errors, give a profound understanding of reality, lead to knowledge of God, and correct, since philosophy is as it were a universalizing science, the narrowness that easily results from 'specialization.'

c. Thus the moral and political and economic sciences confer a knowledge or virtue and of the 'good life.'

I. CULTIVATION OF MORALLY ELEVATED INTERESTS: Since will follows intellect, we tend to love those things to whose goodness we give sustained consideration; and thus We become so disposed that lofty and exalted things and pursuits appeal to us.

a. Thus does Aristotle say that 'of what sort each one is, of such sort is the end which seems to him good.' (Ethic. III, c. 5).

b. Accordingly, it is most necessary for our virtuous life that we rise far higher than 'the rock-and-roll mentality.'

J. PRACTICE OF THE MORAL VIRTUES: This indeed is the supreme proximate end of all the previously mentioned means, and without this they are of little avail for the development of good character,

a. For moral virtue makes its possessor SIMPLY good, that is, a good MAN.

b. While arts and sciences of themselves alone make their possessor merely 'secundum quid' good, that is, a good ENGINEER or a good MUSICIAN or a good MATHEMATICIAN or such like.

Dr. Austin M. Woodbury, SM ©


Dr. A.M. Woodbury, SM, Ph.D., S.T.D. (1899-1979) was a leading Catholic philosopher and the inspiration for the 1985 establishment of the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.

This article posted April 1997. It was published in Universitas, Vol 2 (1998), No. 1.
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