The abstract of this article reads as follows:
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics serve as a more useful heuristic model for understanding the moral vision of the book of Proverbs than Socrates’ ethical theory. While Socratic ethics provide a general guide to portions of the sapiential material, Aristotle’s emphasis on the organic relationship between the moral and intellectual virtues as well as the role of character in ethical decisions accounts for the variegated materials within the book as a whole. In the view of the differences between Aristotle and Socrates’ ethical theory and their relationship to the book of Proverbs, Aristotle’s ethics illuminate the moral dimensions of the document. Similar to Aristotle, the sages present the collaboration of character and intellect as the acme of moral development: character proves the constitutional base for the appropriation of wisdom and determines the goal of virtuous activity, while wisdom identifies the means for achieving that goal in a particular situation. This teleological thesis captures the fundamental features of sapiential ethics.
Ansberry discerns in ‘virtue ethics’ or ‘character ethics’ an amenable spirit vis-à-vis the Old Testament’s sapiential materials. Yet the author finds Aristotle’s emphasis upon character in knowing and doing right to be closer to the biblical Proverbs than the more purely intellectual approach of Socrates. Socrates—arguably over against not only Aristotle but also biblical wisdom—is more sanguine about the path from knowledge to virtue, since—per a Socratic axiom—virtue is almost equivalent to knowledge.
When the full range of Old Testament proverbial wisdom is taken into account, knowledge does not per se produce wisdom. Rather, a virtuous disposition is required for that alchemy to have its way in the cultivation of moral activity.
Particularly in the ‘sentence literature’ is the close relationship of moral virtue and intellectual virtue placed in evidence. Socrates’ dictum that no one willingly does evil is here called into question. For both Aristotle and the biblical sages ‘unethical behavior is not simply the product of ignorance’.
In the Nicomachean Ethics, according to Ansberry, moral virtues are cultivated by both habituation and instruction, a two-fold path to virtue that finds echo in the Proverbs. So too does the importance of perception keep virtue in both texts from becoming a mere set of universal principles. Sensitivity, contextualization, and shrewd judgment are required for the human actor to act righteously. Though Aristotle’s ethics do not required divine disclosure, they agree with biblical wisdom in these respects (but see also approaches to the biblical proverbs as ‘secular’ material).
Whereas Socrates usefulness as a heuristic model for understanding the biblical proverbs is distinctly limited, Aristotle’s ethics excel by comparison.