Friday, December 26, 2014

Good Counsel

Prudence is an interesting virtue in that it is inherently communicable: significant aspects of human life would not even be possible if we were not able to participate, at least in principle, in the prudence of others. The obvious example of this is parenting, since parenting is nothing other than sharing one's prudence (or as close to it as one happens to have) with one's children, who are, of course, still in the process of developing their own. Good parenting, of course, is when one genuinely shares the genuine virtue of prudence; to the extent that parenting falls away from that ideal, it is either because the parent doesn't actually have the virtue of prudence (although, children being rather more durable than some people seem to think, one can usually make do as long as one is not actually foolish, i.e., anti-prudent) or because something goes wrong with the sharing. The most general form of prudence-sharing, though, is not parenting but advising, prudence being the virtue not just of good decision but also of good advice.

Aquinas identifies a number of quasi-integral parts of prudence -- these are sub-virtues that together yield prudence, and when you develop prudence it is by developing these quasi-integral parts. Because prudence is also the virtue of good advice or counsel, however, all the quasi-integral parts of prudence are relevant to good advice, and we can see in the quasi-integral parts of prudence a basic template for assessing the quality of advice, which might roughly go something like this, at first approximation:

Integral Part of Prudence  Relevant Feature of Good Advice
memory based on experience
understanding consistent with fundamental principles
teachableness (docilitas) consistent with other probably good advice
eustochia connects ideas in a plausible way (internal consistency and plausibility)
reasoning (three parts)
(1) circumspection
(2) caution
(3) foresight

(1) takes into account actual circumstances
(2) seriously considers good and bad
(3) takes into account possible ramifications

Music for Christmas VII

Blackmore's Night, "Good King Wenceslas". The Feast of Stephen, of course, is today.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Music for Christmas VI

Club for Five, "Kun Joulu On".

Equality of Honour Between Heaven and Earth

This is the festival of the virgin birth! Our address must be exalted therefore in accordance with the greatness of the feast, and enter into the mystery, as far as this is accessible and permissible, and time allows, that something of its inner power might be revealed even to us. Please strive, brethren, to lift up your minds as well, that they may better perceive the light of divine knowledge, as though brightly illumined by a holy star. For today I see equality of honour between heaven and earth, and a way up for all those below to things above, matching the condescension of those on high. However great the heaven of heavens may be, or the upper waters which form a roof over the celestial regions, or any heavenly place, state or order, they are no more marvellous or honourable than the cave, the manger, the water sprinkled on the infant and His swaddling clothes. For nothing done by God from the beginning of time was more beneficial to all or more divine than Christ's nativity, which we celebrate today.

Gregory Palamas, Homily Fifty-Eight, The Homilies, Veniamin, tr. Mount Thabor Publishing (Essex, UK: 2009) p. 477.

Music for Christmas V

The King's Singers, "Gaudete".

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics VIII

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics appears to be, like most of Aristotle's extant works, a set of lecture notes. The reason for the title is not entirely clear; the usual suggestions are that either Aristotle edited the notes and dedicated the work to his son Nicomachus, or Nicomachus is the one who edited the notes. The work is closely connected to Aristotle's Politics, and, indeed, it is important to understand that Aristotle's conception of 'ethics' is in some ways narrower than our usual conception of it: 'ethics' concerns the customary behavior of the civilized, that is, of the citizen actively occupying his proper place in his city. For instance, Aristotle's virtues (courage, temperance, liberality, munificence, and the like) are concerned with the character of a civilized person, and are always explained in those terms.

The Nicomachean Ethics is one of three major works in Aristotle's ethics, the other two being the Eudemian Ethics and the Magna Moralia. NE and EE are both generally recognized as authentic, while the authenticity of MM is disputed. EE shares three chapters in common with NE (EE chapter IV, V, and VI are identical to NE chapters V, VI, and VII); otherwise the relation among the works is quite unclear.

Chapters VIII and IX of the Nicomachean Ethics are concerned with friendship (philia). You can read them online in English at the Perseus Project.

Aporetic Method

Aristotle is often said to use an aporetic method, and his discussion of friendship is an excellent case in point. In an aporetic method, one begins with what is apparently true, based on common beliefs, the authority of wise and informed people, and the like. As one examines the apparent truths, however, puzzles (aporia) arise -- things that do not fit together properly. We then find a resolution to these puzzles that not only makes them fit together properly, but also, when common opinions turn out to be wrong, explains how these wrong opinions could have become common. We see this in Aristotle's discussion of friendship.

He starts with noting the common opinions and practices that indicate that friendship is important.

Then he notes some points of inconsistency and dispute in what people commonly believe about friendsihp.

He then analyzes friendship itself as way to begin to clarify these points of dispute: both what friendship seems to require, and what kinds of friendships there are. This enables him to start resolving some of the disputes.

Recognizing the features and kinds of friendship, however, raises additional puzzles, which he also begins to solve.

The result is not a discussion with simple organization, but it does end up being a very substantive and quite thorough discussion of the essential character of friendship; it is unsurprising that it has been one of the most influential discussions in Western philosophy.

Kinds of Friendship

Aristotle begins by noting a number of reasons why friendship is worthy of our attention: it is virtue or pertinent to virtue, it is necessary for genuine human life, and it is kalos (beautiful/fine/noble/splendid). There are a number of puzzles about friendship, however. One very obvious one is that some people say that friendship is based on similarity or likeness ('birds of a feather'), while others say that it is based on difference. In order to settle this question, Aristotle sets aside the common way most Greek philosophers tried to handle it, by identifying underlying cosmic principles, and suggests that one focus on actual human passions and character. If we focus on this, we get a number of key questions that we will want answered: What kinds of people make friends with each other, and what kinds of friendship are there?

To start this kind of classification, Aristotle looks at what it is for something to be lovable. Why do people love things? Some things are loved as good in themselves, and others as pleasant or useful. Not all kinds of love are friendship; you can love inanimate things, for instance, but this kind of love differs from what we take to be friendship because if you love wine (for instance), you don't wish good things for wine, whereas we do have this kind of goodwill for a friend. In addition, love of the inanimate is not mutual, but the goodwill in friendship is mutual and conscious. Given this, we can recognize that friendship, the kind of love involving conscious mutual goodwill, falls into three classes: friendships of excellence (virtue), friendships of use, and friendships of pleasure. Some people we love as friends because they are useful for us; others because they are pleasant to be with; and others because they are good in themselves. Aristotle thinks that older people are especially prone to form utility-friendships, and young people are especially prone to form pleasure-friendships; both of these kinds of friendships, however, are incidental and highly changeable. Virtue-friendships, on the other hand, are not incidental or easily changed, because the kind of goodwill involved with them is one in which you wish good for someone for their own sake, and not because they happen to be enjoyable or beneficial to you. They are also fully mutual, since both friends want fundamental goods for each other, and the degree to which friendships are mutual seems to have a significant effect on how durable the friendship itself is. Virtue-friendships are relatively rare, though; bad people cannot form them, and even good people have to work to cultivate them.

In general we tend to think of friendships as being among equals, but certain kinds of friendship among unequals are possible: father to son, elder to youth, and so forth. These by nature cannot be perfectly mutual, although, they can be made enduring if the two consistently fulfill their roles in a proportionate way. In all such cases, and, indeed, in friendship generally, the primary activity of the friendship is loving rather than being loved.

Friendship, Community, and Dispute

The two major things establishing a community (koinonia) are justice and friendship. Both of them have to do with common good, and while they are distinct, they do tend to support and require each other in various ways in the making of communities. This includes political or civil communities. Legislators tend to emphasize friendship, particularly utility-friendship, even more than justice. Because of this we can think of civic friendship in terms of the different kind of political systems: monarchy, aristocracy, polity, and their unjust counterparts, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. (Even in non-political communities, like families, there are analogues to these constitutions.) For obvious reasons, unjust constitutions sharply limit the capacity of the community for civic friendship.

Of the three kinds of friendship, utility-friendships are the ones most likely to break down into accusation and recrimination. Virtue-friendships are unlikely to do so because they involve love for persons themselves; even if one friend fails another, it will be recognized as accidental, and incidental to the friendship itself. Pleasure-friendships are unlikely to break down in this way because we tend not to accuse and reproach people merely for not pleasant enough, since we generally only spend as much time with pleasure-friends as pleases us. Utility-friendships, however, are protected from recrimination by neither of these: we are use-friends with those from whom we expect benefits, and there are any number of ways for us not to be getting the benefits that we think we should be getting. Like pleasure-friendships, utility-friendships can be very changeable, but we tend to be more entangled with them than we are with pleasure-friendships. Some utility-friendships, for instance, are contractual. Others are more matters of honor. In both cases, the change of the friendships requires definite consent on both sides. Pleasure-friends can just drift away from each other if things change; utility-friends generally cannot, and are likely to get disputatious and resentful if the friendship changes on them. While Aristotle doesn't elaborate much on the political ramifications of this, that it does have political ramifications is clear enough, since the primary structures of political communities as such are all utility-friendships. He does, however, explicitly note that it has bearing on who receives honor and recognition in a community.

Music for Christmas IV

Johanna Kurkela, "Oi Joulunajan Ihmiset".

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lord of Terrible Aspect

When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some "disinterested," because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the "lord of terrible aspect," is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as an artist's love for his work and despotic as a man's love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father's love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Collier (New York: 1962) pp. 46-47. "Lord of terrible aspect" comes from Dante, of course, in La Vita Nuova. Dorothy Sayers reflects on the same idea in the chapter on the love of the creature in Mind of the Maker.

Music for Christmas III

Frank Sinatra, "O Little Town of Bethlehem".

Monday, December 22, 2014

Music for Christmas II

Bing Crosby and David Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth".

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fortnightly Books Index

December 7: First, Second, Third, and Fourth Maccabees
Introduction, Review, Supplementary Timeline

November 23: Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson
Introduction, Review

November 9: Marjorie McIntyre, The River Witch
Introduction, Review

October 26: Yevgeny Zamyatin, We; and Ayn Rand, Anthem
Introduction, Review

October 12: J. Michael Straczynski, Demon Night
Introduction, Review

September 28: Bret Harte, Tales of the Gold Rush
Introduction, Review

September 14: Sigrid Undset, Catherine of Siena
Introduction, Review

August 31: Taylor Caldwell, Never Victorious, Never Defeated
Introduction, Review

August 17: Friedrich von Schiller, William Tell
Introduction, Review

August 3: Shusaku Endo, Silence
Introduction, Review, Supplementary Timeline

July 20: Eugenia Price, The Beloved Invader
Introduction, Review

July 6: Beowulf; and J. R. R. Tolkien, "Sellic Spell"
Introduction, Review

June 15: Alexander Solzenitsyn, August 1914
Introduction, Review

May 11: Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Introduction, Review

April 27: Dorothy Sayers, Have His Carcase
Introduction, Review

April 13: Louisa May Alcott, A Long Fatal Love Chase
Introduction, Review

March 30: Willa Cather, My Antonia
Introduction, Review

March 16: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust
Introduction, Review

March 2: Czenzi Ormonde, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
Introduction, Review

February 9: Joseph Bedier, The Romance of Tristan & Iseult
Introduction, Review

January 26: Honore de Balzac, Eugenie Grandet
Introduction, Review

January 5: James Fenimore Cooper, The Spy
Introduction, Review

Fortnightly Books Index for 2012-2013

Music for Christmas I

Pentatonix, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel".