Wit and Virtue: Addison Vs. Aristotle

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The difference between Aristotle and Addison are based upon an important similarity: the love of virtue. Nevertheless, there is quite a difference between moral and intellectual virtue. Addison views the virtue of wit as the opposite of buffoonery, and though Aristotle would consider buffoonery a vice, he would not consider wit as an opposite but as a middle-ground. Addison describes wit in terms of truth and falsity which correspond to intellectual virtue. There is good reason to believe it to be an intellectual virtue, but on closer analysis, Aristotle turns out to be right in grouping it with the moral virtues. For Aristotle, wit is a mean between boorishness and buffoonery. Addison agrees that buffoonery is a vice, but would probably argue that the buffoon is rather boorish. The buffoon is not only a man who lacks tact but someone as likely to insult his friends as his enemies. In this, the buffoon seems to share something in common with the gossiper, and how he should be dealt with is similar. First they should not be listened to. Hence, St. Bernard says, "It is difficult to say which is the more to be condemned the backbiter or he that listens to backbiting." Secondly, they should be corrected. Now, this view seems to be more in agreement with Addison, but when taken in this sense, it is to be reckoned under justice in a similar way that other moral virtues are reckoned under justice insofar as our relationship to other people is concerned. Addison does not talk about boorishness in contrast to buffoonery, but how boorishness fits into Aristotle’s habitology is easy to see. When in the company of others for the purpose of amusement, we should aim to please our company in a prudent way. Now, the boorish person seems rather s... ... middle of paper ... ... to think of wit as an intellectual virtue. We may consider it a type of knowledge and, considered with tact, take it to be directed by prudence. This objection, however, does not suffice, since all moral virtues are directed by prudence. For example, the courageous man has his appetite directed by prudence. He does what is reasonable even when faced with something that scares his animal appetite to death. Wit, though presupposing knowledge, is more concerned with immediate and contingent things. It is also a trademark of wit to be able to improvise. A ready wit must be able to apply universal principles to concrete particulars at any given time. Therefore, we ought to say that wit presupposes intellectual virtue and prudence, but that the habit of wit is moral. This is evident because tact requires sensitivity towards various situations and personalities

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