I am reading Roger Scruton's Kant, A Very Short Introduction. The following sentence, in the first page, makes me pretty confused (I include the context to make it clearer):

(The greatest modern philosopher was moved by nothing more than by duty. His life, in consequence, was unremarkable.)

For Kant, the virtuous man is so much the master of his passions as scarcely to be prompted by them, and so far indifferent to power and reputation as to regard their significance as nothing beside that of duty itself.

(Having confined his life so that he could act without strain according to this ideal, Kant devoted himself to scholarship, entirely governed by congenial routines.)

I need an analysis for this sentence. I don't understand the phrase "so much ... as (scarcely) to do ...". I wonder the meaning and the usage of this kind of construction, explained in the context, not merely a translation, and I don't understand "so far ... as to do ...".

Incidentally, what's the meaning of "itself" here in the phrase "beside that of duty itself".

I need your help to understand this sentence well.

EDIT: Related: The usage of 'so...as...'

  • Please ask one question at a time! "So much ... as" and "so far ...as" are common English comparatives. "Itself" here is an an emphatic appositive of "it", and that itself (!) warrants an interesting question of its own. Please reword to suit our requirements! – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Oct 17 '16 at 1:29
  • @P.E.Dant As for the comment about comparatives: they are NOT comparatives as shown in the link I've just posted. This post is edited so to be a duplicate or an additional example of that post. – Yai0Phah Oct 17 '16 at 20:19
  • Mr Science - Our objective here is to create discrete question/answer pairs, so that those consulting the database at a later date can easily find the questions and answers that address their concerns. That's why we prefer questions which address a single issue. Your edit is well intended to accomplish that; thanks! Yes, "so much ...as" is as described in StoneyB's answer, not a comparative but an expression of a single measure. Almost a self-comparison. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Oct 17 '16 at 22:24

You picked a difficult sentence! Let's break it down.

the virtuous man is so much the master of his passions...

I would rephrase this as "The virtuous man is the master of his passions. How much is he the master of them? So much that..."

as scarcely to be prompted by them

"So much that he is hardly motivated by them"

and so far indifferent to power and reputation

"He's indifferent to power and reputation. In fact, he's far indifferent to power and reputation. How far indifferent is he? So far that...

as to regard their significance as nothing beside that of duty itself

"...so far that he thinks that their significance is exactly nothing compared to the significance of duty."

so far...as to basically means "So much that".

Itself is a reflexive that refers to duty. I would say that it's not strictly necessary to include "itself" here, but it helps to emphasize that the significance that we're talking about belongs specifically to duty.

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  • I don't deny that this was an interesting sentence to "translate", but let's say I'm a learner of English, and I visit ELL because I'm puzzled by itself used as an emphatic appositive. How do I find this question and answer? What if I'm searching for the comparative "So much ... as"? Isn't this three unrelated questions? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Oct 17 '16 at 2:12
  • Thanks for the answer. I don't understand the first part: here "much" is used as an adverb to modify the whole sentence, or an adjective used to modify the noun "master"? I saw "so (adj/adv) as" before, somewhat similar to "as (adj/adv) as", was used to compare two concrete quantities, instead of two very distinct forms like this: one is a noun/adj, the other is an indefinite. – Yai0Phah Oct 17 '16 at 15:08
  • Basically, you would call much an adverb, because it's describing exactly the way or degree to which he is a master. Note that this sentence uses as to, not just "as"; as to basically means "that", but I don't have a good reference for this usage, because as to can mean a number of different things. – stangdon Oct 17 '16 at 15:24
  • Thanks for clarification. In fact, here "so ... as to" is not a comparison, but a special structure. I found an explanation here. – Yai0Phah Oct 17 '16 at 19:43

The first sentence describes how the "virtuous man" is in control of his passions to the degree that he is unaffected by them. He is scarcely affected by his passions.

The phrase "duty itself" elevates duty to a high level of importance in the sentence, as the prime motivation for a "virtuous man". "Duty itself" becomes a living thing, a calling. Because a virtuous man finds his duty to be more important than power or reputation. He works to fulfill his duty, not to earn rewards.

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