The Ethics of Maimonides
people, unacquainted with the science of medicine, realize that they are sick, and consult a physician, who tells them what they must do, forbidding them to partake of that which they imagine beneficial, and prescribing for them things which are unpleasant and bitter, in order that their bodies may become healthy, and that they may again choose the good and spurn the bad, so those whose souls become ill should consult the sages, the moral physicians, who will advise them against indulging in those evils which they (the morally ill) think are good, so that they may be healed by that art of which I shall speak in the next chapter, and through which the moral qualities are restored to their normal condition. But, if he who is morally sick be not aware of his illness, imagining that he is well, or, being aware of it, does not seek a remedy, his end will be similar to that of one, who, suffering from bodily ailment, yet continuing to indulge himself, neglects to be cured, and who in consequence surely meets an untimely death.
Those who know that they are in a diseased state, but nevertheless yield to their inordinate passions, are described in the truthful Law which quotes their own words, “Though I walk in the stubborness of my heart, in order that the indulgence of the passions may appease the thirst for them.” This means that, intending to quench the
- Dt. XXIX, 18.
to some are pleasant to and liked by others. The same is the case with sweet things; the same will not seem so to the man in a fever as to him who is in health; nor will the invalid and the person in robust health have the same notion of warmth. The same is the case with other things also.” Cf., also, H. Deot, II, 1, “To those who are diseased the bitter tastes sweet and the sweet bitter. Some sick people, moreover, crave and long for food that is unfit to eat, such as dust and charcoal, spurning food that is beneficial, such as bread and meat, according to the intensity of their illness. Likewise, people whose souls are diseased desire and love evil characteristics, and hate the moral path, being loathe to pursue it, since, on account of their illness, it is very difficult for them to do so. Thus, Isaiah says of such people, ‘Wo unto those that say of the evil it is good, and of the good it is evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter’ (V, 20). Concerning them it is also said that ‘(they are those) who leave the path of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness’ (Prov. II, 13).”