Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Volume 22, 1921-22 by Aristotelian Society

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He believed that living well is living pleasantly, ‘for we recognise pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again, using the feeling as the standard by which we judge every good’ (87). Yet Epicurus was careful never to advocate the unstinted indulgence of our sensual appetites; such a life, he believed, would not, in the long run, prove the most pleasant. 40 Four Ancient Moralists Instead he recommended the cultivation of prudence, because ‘from prudence are sprung all the other virtues, and it teaches us that it is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honourably and justly, nor again to live a life of prudence, honour and justice without living pleasantly’ (91).

Moral appraisal is a matter of applying the general law of love to individual cases: we have to consider in a consequentialist way how best we can benefit our neighbour. Loving people entails caring that their lives should go well; so a person who loves his neighbour looks for opportunities to promote his welfare and helps him in times of trouble. Real love, Jesus stressed, is active, useful love, not merely a passive sentiment of benevolence. The Gospels provide considerable evidence that Jesus shared Mo Tzu’s impatience with ritualistic observances, the inflexible protocol of religious ceremonial, and all rules of behaviour of an ‘unprofitable’ kind.

First: its conception of the happiness or well-being of mankind was ascetical and non-hedonistic…. Man’s greatest felicity is the beatific vision of God that is to be enjoyed after bodily death by those who have been saved (Quinton 1973:12). Second, Christianity ‘in its simplest and most rudimentary form bases the validity of the moral principles it enjoins on the fact that they are the commands of God’ (13). Similarly, Alan Ryan holds that ‘the attempt to pass off Jesus as a utilitarian is special pleading’, a view for which he offers much the same reasons as Quinton: that the main purpose of Christian living is to get to heaven, and that ‘what constitutes moral goodness is obedience to God’s commandments’ (Ryan 1987:22).

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