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Sir Philip Sidney – poet as virtue ethicist

September 11, 2014

“[S]ome that thought this felicity principally to be gotten by knowledge, and no knowledge to be so high and heavenly as acquaintance with the stars, gave themselves to astronomy; others, persuading themselves to be demi-gods if they knew the causes of things, became natural and supernatural philosophers; some an admirable delight drew to music; and some, the certainty of demonstration, to the mathematics. But all, one and other, having this scope, to know, and by knowledge to life up the mind from the dungeon of the body to the enjoying his own divine essence. But when by the balance of experience it was found that the astronomer, looking to the stars, might fall into a ditch, that the inquiring philosopher might be blind in himself, and the mathematician might draw forth a straight line with a crooked heart, then lo did proof, the overruler of opinions, make manifest that all these are but serving sciences, which, as they have each a private end in themselves, so yet are they all directed to the highest end of the mistress knowledge, by the Greeks called architectonike, which stands (as I think) in the knowledge of a man’s self, in the ethic and politic consideration, with the end of well doing and not of well knowing only; even as the saddler’s next end is to make a good saddle, but his farther end, to serve a noble faculty, which is horsemanship; so the horseman’s to soldiery, and the soldier not only to have the skill, but to perform the practice of a soldier. So that, the ending end of all earthly learning, being virtuous action, those skills that most serve to bring forth that have a most just title to be princes over all the rest.”

(from An Apology for Poetry [1579/1595])

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