Splendid Vices? Augustine For and Against Pagan Virtues

Splendid Vices? Augustine For and Against Pagan Virtues

Irwin, T. H. (Cornell University)

Medieval Philosophy and Theology 8 (1999)


Augustine is notorious for his claim that the so-called virtues of pagans are not genuine virtues at all. Bayle refers to this claim when he describes the sort of virtue that one ought to be willing to attribute to atheists:

Please notice carefully that in speaking of the good morals of some atheists, I have not attributed any real virtues to them. Their sobriety, their chastity, their probity, their contempt for riches, their zeal for the public good, their inclination to be helpful to their neighbor were not the effect of the love of God and tended neither to honor nor to glorify him. They themselves were the source and end of all this. Self-love was the basis, the boundaries, and the cause of it. These were all glittering sins, splendida peccata, as St. Augustine has said of all the fine actions of the pagans.

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