March 30, 2008

Old wisdom...

I've started a great book, Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion, by Peter Kreeft. The subject is the Virtues. "Classical virtue theory." A badly neglected topic. As the author puts it, "We have reduced all virtues to one: being nice. And, we measure Jesus by our standard instead of measuring our standard by him." (Well that at least defines what I don't like.)

The study of the Virtues is something I'm grossly ignorant of, as is most of the modern world. It used to be central. We've lost a lot. For instance I recently was given the advice that the way to combat a persistent sin is to practice the corresponding virtue. I don't even have a clue how to put that notion into practice! Luckily I'm among the Dominicans, who used to make the Virtues something of a specialty, so I'm at least on the right track.

A little excerpt:

...Meanwhile, while ethics languish, discussion of ethics flourishes. One of the most popular courses in high schools and colleges is ethics. But the kind of ethics that is usually taught is ethics without bite, without substance, without power, for ethics without a vision of what a good man of woman is, without virtues or vices, concentrates on doing instead of being, just as our whole modern society does. Such ethics never asks the two most important questions: What is man? and What is the purpose of his life on this earth?

C. S. Lewis uses the image of a fleet of ships to show that ethics deals with three great questions, not just one. First the ships need to know how to avoid collisions. That is social ethics, and it is taught . In the second place, they need to know how to stay shipshape, how to avoid sinking. That is the question of virtues and vices, and that is not taught. Finally, they need to know their mission, why they are at sea in the first place. That is the question of the ultimate purpose of human life. It is a religious question, and of course it is not asked, much less answered....

HOW can people not ask such questions? It just floors me to think that most of the people around me think of such things as "cans of worms" they don't want to open. I don't blame people for getting the wrong answers. But asking the wrong questions, or no questions, I find contemptible.)

Posted by John Weidner at March 30, 2008 5:16 AM
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