“Those who surpass their fellow citizens in virtue are no longer a part of the city. The city’s law is not for them, since they are a law to themselves.” ~ Aristotle …
Here, Aristotle claims that a virtuous or righteous individual does not need the laws of society, as their own moral laws and conscience embody said laws. This was part of his writings on civic virtue, or the cultivation of habits of personal living that are claimed to be important for the success of the community. Essentially, his belief was that the laws of society are necessary up unto the point in which an individual becomes virtuous enough to embrace the laws as part of their own moral character. At this point in their lives, those laws would become irrelevant, as they no longer have any urge, whatsoever, to do anything harmful to society. This seems logical, after all, since the purpose of laws in a society are to protect the people from those who pose a threat.
In Romans 2:12, Paul similarly wrote, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Both Paul and Aristotle were in agreement that in the absence of explicit laws, a virtuous person still has a conscience that guides them and acts as a book of laws.
Of course, laws have changed a lot over the years. Centuries ago, societies did not have to deal with the multitudes of construction, traffic, zoning, taxation, digital rights, fair use, and other modern laws that make following said laws ever more difficult; still, the messages of Aristotle and Paul remain the same: adopting a life of virtue gives us freedom. Freedom because it enriches our lives and allows us to live a life that truly aligns with our hearts. And since our actions are henceforth guided by a desire to lead a good life… freedom from fear of sinfulness, immorality, or retribution. So strive to find that congruence between how you act and your heart, and know peace this Christmas season.
Do not break any laws of society; nor any of your heart.
Questions to consider:
What is your definition of a “life of virtue?” How does this apply to your life?
Are there any types of laws that you break regularly? What penalties do you face, if any?
Are there any laws that you feel unfairly keep you from being or expressing yourself? What might you do about those laws?
For further thought:
“When people are pure, laws are useless; when people are corrupt, laws are broken.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli, Wit and wisdom of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield