Summary and Analysis Book X: Chapter IX



As in all subjects, there is a distinction in ethics between theory and practice. To be a virtuous man, it is not enough to know about goodness and ethical conduct; one must also possess and practice goodness and must seek in every way to become a good man himself.

The mass of men are motivated by fear and bodily pleasure. Even when they perform deeds that have good effects, one might not consider them virtuous if he examined their motives or purposes. To develop true virtue, men must have an innate disposition in that direction, but they must also be educated in good habits and characteristics. A good state has laws to insure that men remain good when their education is completed, and it is only in such an environment that human beings can attain virtue and happiness.

Moral education is best left in the hands of the state since it has the power of constraint that makes good habits permanent. Of course moral education becomes the responsibility of parents and private citizens if the state fails in its duty. Individualized methods and instruction are best in moral education because the tendencies and abilities of every student are different, but the teacher must always retain a firm grasp on the appropriate universal principles.

Ethics and politics are closely related and may be considered branches of the same discipline. A good state is one governed by a constitution based on sound ethical principles that has been devised and administered by experienced and moral statesmen, and not by the Sophists who usually teach political science, despite having no real acquaintance with political problems. In our next work, the Politics, we will study the various kinds of constitutions and try to determine what is the best kind of society, i.e., the society in which man can most easily develop virtue and good moral character, thus attaining happiness.