Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Virtues" essay

Here is another essay from the first book of the Idius (“Needs”); I continue with the topic of virtues, which will be further developed in the rest of the book with a closer look at eight specific virtues.

Daniel Christopher June


Michelangelo - Tomb of Giuliano de' Medici (detail).JPG




            Man feels, thinks about the feeling, speaks his thoughts, and enacts his words. The first feelings were instincts. The later feelings were programmed through thought. Therefore, the basis of virtue, the habit of seeking and gaining our values, begins with the thinking mind, with creative logic. Even an infant thinks a sort of logic that creates an edifice of mind that stands for life. As there are four types of habits – feelings, thinking, saying, and doing – so there are four types of virtue, and the virtue of unifying all of them together.

            The virtues of mind begin with activity. The mind must act and move, explore and expand, breath and leap, dance and fly. It must play over problems, force and sculpt them, unravel and unriddle them. Activity begins in children with imitation and ends in adults with independence. Mental activity seeks focus through inquiry. Through asking questions, one directs the mind towards goals. A child ought to be taught not just to read, listen, and watch, but to question, hypothesize, and to explore how to guide further attention. Questions resolve through sustained focus. Focus dismisses everything but its one object, abstains from every interest save one. Focus stays a problem until it is solved, and so directs activity toward effectiveness. Focus creates. All logic and reason is patterned creativity: we move from premises to create a solution. Aside from thinking logically, which makes mind obedient to form, we must think spontaneously, which makes form obedient to mind. We think of a problem, realize it is unique and unprecedented, and create a solution unique and unprecedented. We must answer child with child, man with man, sunrise with sunrise, and not refer to a manual of answers. In all a man creates, he prides in his integrity, the unity of attitude, belief, personality, and character. You must be brave enough and strong enough to never forfeit an iota of the truth you have earned, but cling to the truth of these convictions and principles in the face of all opposition. This implies not only self-honesty, the prerequisite for knowing the inner and outer world, but implies also the continual integrating of all knowledge into one system. Integrity is the honesty which accords belief and action. Thus five virtues of the mind: activity, inquiry, focus, creativity, integrity.

            The mind moves the body, and so creates four virtues of action. Work is the habit of producing goods, or producing what can be traded for goods. Work is the basic action by which all material and spiritual goods come to man; only by the sweat of your brow will you own anything. If you want it, deserve it. Effectiveness in work comes from strength and skill. Strength is the capacity to force one’s desires into the world. This creates health, competency, and pride. Through repeated production, one learns the skill of acting effectively, with the least effort for the most output. This implies economy of effort as well as wisdom of effort. One must also have the perseverance through physical endurance and dogged consistency to do the job till it is done. Thus four virtues of acting: productive work, strength, skill,  perseverance.

            These actions are inspired and rewarded by virtuous feelings. Sensitivity is experiencing appropriate feelings at their appropriate degree during their appropriate context. We must program our impulses to serve us best, loving the lovely, loathing the loathsome, fearing the frightening, despising the despicable, admiring the admirable, etc. Of special concern to seeking values, and so of goal setting and achieving, is the feeling of ambition. Ambition craves to accomplish greatness. Ambition must persist through confidence. Even if I am wrong, it is my ambition to do it until I am certain of that; and so I will not beg, apologize, or skulk, but will boldly gain my intent in the face of any opposition. If all the armies of heaven oppose me, still I will not flinch until I am thoroughly proven through valid argument to be wrong. To persist, we must cultivate the virtue of optimism, which enjoys sustaining long concentration, even in the hiss of discouragement and failure. Failure is merely one more encouragement and promise of success, for optimism is faith in our goals. Finally, when we have achieved our goals, we are rewarded with the feeling of pride, that we have succeeded, that we applaud our own power and effectiveness, that we esteem our own achievements. Thus five virtues of feeling: sensitivity, ambition, confidence, optimism, pride.

            In all these, there are three basic virtues: activity, skill, persistence. The essence of virtue is health the form of virtue is unity.

            Unity is the head of all virtues, and brings every element of man, every idiosyncrasy, into unity with his purpose. Unity is the virtue of virtues. A man must choose, define, and maintain his own unity. Unity sacrifices the vices that upset the singleness of the system, yes, and also the virtues that upset the singleness of the system. A perfect person strives for the excellence of a unified self, every part derived from the central principle. Every act, every whim, every feeling, every slip of the tongue, pours from and ornaments this principle. What beautifies man is that he sees the principle of his core, and that he gives it structure and visible order. For there are principles that spread fruit trees randomly throughout fields, but it is a conscious principle that grows an orchard. Even if all principles were once conscious in the mind of the child, the mature mind is better cultivating them. Man the artist makes his soul his canvas.

            Does this make morality relative? Morals aren't relative. And neither are men, you maintain? Yet there are followers and there are leaders. One law of lords and men is tyranny. Morals aren't relative. Yet they had better be relative to me or I have no use for them. Morals aren't relative. To what? Personal choice? Yet no other choice is moral. Morals aren't relative. Aren't relative to what? Whim? Yet whim isn't relative either. It too serves need. Thousands of different diets are healthy, are possible. Yet even diets differ in need from person to person. I need more calcium, you are allergic to peanuts. It is universal that all men must choose their standard, relative to personal needs and environment. We all need to execute justice. Yet each must execute justice according to his personal understanding, and with the power and procedure appropriate to his abilities. This is moral for him to do, for he is able to do it.

It is morally absolute that “If you believe an action is immoral, do not do it.” That would apply to everybody. For if they make an honest mistake, they are at least honest. Is there any other specific moral absolute that everyone ought to follow? Yes, self-honesty.

Yet much of morality is personal. I want to study carpentry. Should everyone? I want to eat as a vegetarian. Should everyone? I want to attend a symphony. Should everyone? Rather, what is the general principle behind each specific choice? It is this: Every man produces his moral code in accordance with his needs as he understands them. What is imperative? That a man is mindful enough to let this morality grow. Each man ought to cultivate a moral system that grows to better fulfill him. And ought means for life.

            Consider the principled man. His choice: "you may rescue these 500 innocent prisoners if you murder a single man." No. My principle is that you must never sacrifice an innocent. If you were to offer me the cure for cancer, if you were to rescue the entire human race, if you were to lasso the deity and pour him into every man's heart, whatever you could possibly deliver, offer, provide, or save is out of the question, for nothing can dominate a principle. No innocent man should be murdered for another’s well being.

Utility ethics is good for utility companies: those who make laws for the masses must assume them to be of the same stuff. On the other hand, no individual should consider other human beings as “majorities” or “the many” or “the greatest number.” We are individuals, some greater, some lesser.

            Morality is different than virtue. Morality is what you follow to fit with the group and avoid the alienation of being snubbed or imprisoned. This has little to do with virtue: virtue is increasing power. Virtue stands on courage.

            Family values and community solidarity are morals, not virtues. Virtues are those virile things like courage and honesty. Communities and families are often built on euphemisms, silence, if not downright deceits.

Virtue is in power. A virtuous woman is by no means a chaste woman. Christianity confused our terms. A virtuous woman would have mastered her sexuality, not subdued it.


No comments: