Squidgy, eh? I mean, I hear what you’re saying. And the comments you raise are valid . . .
For example, my comments about self-interest and prudence. Behind those comments are two and a half centuries of argument, starting with Rousseau’s distinction between amour-propre and amour-de-soi – self-love and the love of oneself. That distinction goes back a thousand more years to St. Augustine and is picked up from Rousseau by Adam Smith in TMS and WN. Still, I did a very bad job of explaining what I was trying to say. What I meant was that most of the time we think of Prudence as self-interest, but that is a mistake. Prudence comes from an instinctual desire for self-preservation, but it must stop short of pride or selfishness in order to be a virtue. Because it’s on a continuum, it’s true that virtue can slide into vice and depends on perspective.
If it’s squidgy, I would say that’s because life itself is squidgy. We’re making choices in unique conditions. Those choices aim at virtue or vice, and achieve virtue only to the extent that there is knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and to the extent that we choose the good. Moreover, what we say about what we do can often redefine action in ways that are either legitimate/illegitimate, &c.
As for temperance, you make a good point. I was citing Pieper, who was citing Aristotle and Aquinas – all of whom wrote before the invention of the television and the full flowering of the cinematic arts. Perhaps we could make a case that it applies to vision, but traditionally it did not. (See the emphasis on experience.) What you raise about it being handed down from on high is a more valid point, I think. Many of these arguments are arguments from authority, but that evolved, I think, because virtue can be taught and the role of teachers made a big difference. It’s all about training and habit and being guided toward them.
As for the next installment . . . well . . . we’ll have to wait just a bit longer. It’s nice to know you’ve made your mind up either way.
Many of these arguments are arguments from authority, but that evolved, I think, because virtue can be taught and the role of teachers made a big difference.
I don’t think I buy that. I think that when it is successfully taught, what’s ultimately taught is utilitarian. The vague notion of “being prudent” doesn’t actually mean anything until you talk about the outcomes of one’s actions. Investment is prudent, but not if you invest with a con man — the difference is in the outcome. The idea of temperance can easily be extended beyond the realm of touch — watching TV is bad when the outcome is that it consumes too much of your life.
That’s what I meant about it failing to be prescriptive. “Be Just” doesn’t mean squat, while “the greatest good for the greatest number” starts to capture something — but the difference between the two is a shift of focus from virtue to utility.
At best, virtue ethics is a kind of notational framework in which to discuss real ethics.
Faith is not a virtue. Not once in the history of the world has anyone placed their “faith” in a god — instead, they misplace it in self-proclaimed earthly representatives of the gods.
But, of course, just about this whole virtue framework reeks of 19th century Victorian “social order” thinking. It needn’t really be prescriptive because the “right people” will just know what it means.
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