The first person who followed a morality based on reason was Socrates. Socrates said that ‘No man is voluntarily wicked’, that one is wicked through ignorance of the good, that furthermore, the good is neither pleasure nor power and that one cannot be master of anything, whatever it is, unless one is first master of oneself. He used to say that the good is to keep one’s soul free from all impurity, from all attacks of passion. Evil is always a weakness, and virtue is always strength, even if things appear to be quite the opposite (a tyrant, and men tortured by a tyrant). A tyrant is, although he does not know it, weaker than the person who, fully aware of what is happening, allows himself to be killed by tyrants. Socrates, if we can believe Plato’s dialogues, used to set forth his ideas in myths. The highest principle is clearly: ‘Know yourself’, since evil is defined as self-ignorance.

                           - 'Lectures on Philosophy' By Simone Weil

The usage of the indefinite article 'a' evades me. 'a weakness' means to me that 'a thing that is weak'. But what about 'strength'? Is it a kind of ellipsis?

  • Evil is one of several possible weaknesses, while virtue is synonymous with strength. – Hot Licks Feb 2 '18 at 5:20
  • An ellipsis of 'a' is allowed - but it sure sounds odd to me. The choice which appeals to me is 'and virtue always a strength'. – Ross Murray Feb 2 '18 at 9:04

Congratulations on your careful reading. I'd say that this is just slightly sloppy grammar on the part of the author rather than that she is trying to make some point with the difference. It could also be argued, as you do, that it is an ellipsis.

That she means the same is borne out by the example of tyrant and tortured, which are both specific instances, arguing that "a" is needed in both cases.

So whether it is sloppiness or ellipsis, I don't think that you are missing any special meaning here.


Looks like bad parallelism to me. The author should either omit the "a" in the first clause, or add an "a" to the second.

That is, either "Evil is always a weakness, and virtue is always a strength...", or "Evil is always weakness, and virtue is always strength..." would be more syntactically sound (although the former is more standard phrasing).

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