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La virtud, sintesis de tiempo y eternidad: La etica en la Escuela de Atenas.

Sison, Alejo G. La virtud, sintesis de tiempo y eternidad. La etica en la Escuela de Atenas. Pamplona: EUNSA, 1992. 471 pp. n.p.--One of the crossroads or paradoxes of which human beings are constituted is that of time and eternity. Of course, our life consists of movement; but we would not be able to understand this were we not in some way or another over and above this plane, ensconced in some form of eternity, that is, in a mode of existence that transcends time. This extremely peculiar, and if you wish, dramatic, situation, readily prods to an interpretative effort. Does eternity mean that we are immortal? Or, on the contrary, is our life an absurdity, an ever-unfulfilled promise? Should we then inhibit our dreams, or should we rather intensify our desires with the hope of the infinite?

There exists a practical response to this paradox, one that goes beyond pure theory, and it was brilliantly developed by the great thinkers of the School of Athens. The solution lies in virtue. Virtue is acquired in time and it demands time, but once possessed--and virtue is something possessed as its very name in Greek indicates--it supposes perfection in its possessor, that is, a transcendence over pure flux or movement. If virtue implies some perfection--the just man, for example, is not he who is learning to be one, but he who in essential matters already knows how to act justly--and if at the same time it is something possessed, then it indicates two ways in which human beings are beyond time. On one hand, if that which is perfect--virtue is perfect activity--is spoken of as having reached its term or--end, and if a thing remains active despite its already being constituted, this is due to its being something more than pure flux. On the other hand, whoever is capable of possessing--and to possess denotes an act--a perfection is in a certain sense over and above it. Only from the standpoint of eternity can eternity be possessed.

As is well-known, the School of Athens distinguishes between intellectual and moral virtues. The technical and artistic habits are not clearly recognized as virtues. The end result of this attitude is, to Sison's mind and to my own, far from satisfactory. It has caused many to think--erroneously, I think--that the intellectual virtues do not have anything to do with the will, and that, on the contrary, moral virtues constitute the place proper for the will. Moreover, it leaves hanging the human status of work, for it does not recognize virtue in techne.

I understand that all virtue, including the artistic and technical ones, supposes the presence not only of the intellect, but also of the will. For this reason, I can claim virtues as mine, and claim that they are fully human. The distinction among them lies in the different use of knowledge and will that each one implies. Thus it is proper to say that they are different forms, since, as a matter of fact, they can be distinguished from one another.

Ordinary language relates "the perfect" to the "divine": a virtuoso violinist, someone irreproachably just, or wise men such as "the divine Plato." The reason behind this is that virtue is at once a knowledge and a power that transcends temporality. Yet, it cannot be acquired without time. Virtue is, therefore, a practical--that is, a real--form of the synthesis or union, in this world, of time and eternity.

Sison's work addresses fully the topics that I have so far alluded to. He demonstrates an enviable command of Athenian philosophy, and at the same time utilizes the recent bibliography with great ease. He is clear in his exposition, not only of the general themes, but also of details. Original and profound in his conceptions, he initiates a highly interesting dialogue which I hope will continue. Those in whom the study of ethics has awakened an increasing interest in contemporary society will find in this book an invaluable point of reference. It will surely lead to heretofore unknown worlds, without which such an Ethics would be but the mere external ornament of a life that continues to be vacuous.
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Author:Alvira, Rafael
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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