Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Evening Note for Tuesday, April 5

Thought for the Evening: Canons of Elegance

 We have an obligation to be temperate. However, temperance is by its nature a virtue very focused on appropriateness, which does not always admit of strict lines, and thus our obligation to be temperate leaves us with a rather vague duty. In some cases, particularly where temperance overlaps with justice, we do get well-defined obligations, but this is generally due more to other virtue than temperance. Further, while it's easy to think of temperance or moderation primarily in terms of oneself, as the virtue that most contributes to spiritual beauty (giving our lives a balance, harmony, and proportion in which the mind can rest and on which it can dwell), has, like all the virtues, a social aspect, in which we are concerned with acting in such a temperate way that by our temperance we facilitate the temperance of others. This adds an additional complexity. In addition, we have an obligation not merely to temperance in a strict sense (which restrains physical pleasures to preserve or further more human things), but to all virtues in the temperance-family, all of the virtues that are like it and contribute to life in a similar way. We are obligated not merely to cultivate the specific virtue of temperance but to live the broadly temperate life, with all the virtues of the whole family of virtues that cluster around temperance.

This messiness is endemic to the temperance family of virtues, which is of all the families the one that deals most with aspects of life that are not reducible to strict rules. But we are not entirely without recourse. We do have guidelines that we can follow, in part because temperance does have a genuine social aspect; these rules we might call the canons of elegance. They are not obligations, but they capture rules that in most cases make our behavior approximate the temperate life by which, through acting temperately, we facilitate the temperance of ourselves and others. I think we can divide these canons into two kinds. One kind is concerned with making it easier to assess what is really temperate as opposed to what is merely apparently so. The other is concerned with making the subordination of pleasure to higher things easier.

On the first, and most fundamental, kind, we can start with the recognition that any genuine temperance must be consistent with the other cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, and fortitude), and facilitating such temperance in others must be consistent with the conditions for these, not imposing undue burdens on those trying to do act in accordance with them.

Therefore, to aid through temperance the prudence of ourselves and others, we get something like the first canon of elegance:

(1) To make allowances for honest differences in judgment.

To aid through temperance the justice of ourselves and others,

(2) To prefer, where different options are available, the options that seem most obviously conducive to mutual benefit.

To aid through temperance the fortitude of ourselves and others,

(3) To make allowances for those who are enduring obvious difficulties, even where it causes some difficulty to oneself.

To aid through temperance the temperance of ourselves and others, directly,

(4) To make one's pleasures, especially one's social pleasures, reside in things that seem most conducive to cultivating virtue in oneself or making the lives of others more quietly pleasant or less difficult.

On the other side, rules that help us and others more easily to do what virtues of the temperance family require, namely, to subordinate the pursuit of pleasure to more fully human things, the guidelines are perhaps more diverse. But there are a number of obvious candidates.

First, virtues in the temperance family are always very obviously concerned with some kind of moderation. Therefore we get the canon,

(5) To avoid apparent extremes that are neither physically nor morally necessary.

That canon is about bringing our actions more in line with what seems moderate to our judgment in the moment. But we are social creatures, and therefore we can also take into account what appears moderate to people in general. Therefore we have another canon,

(6) To defer to reasonable custom.

The moderation of the temperate virtues brings our actions into harmony, proportion, and balance, and thus the temperate virtues are most closely associated with beauty of character. Thus we get the canon,

(7) To respect all things physically or morally beautiful.

If one asks why the 'physically' is there, it is because, first, physical beauty can serve as a reminder of our need for spiritual beauty, and, second, because the physically beautiful is a symbol of the morally beautiful, and to respect the latter properly we must respect its symbols.

Finally, all of the virtues of the temperance family deal in great measure with pleasure, and, as Aristotle notes, pleasure tends to bias us, thus requiring special precaution. From this we get another canon of elegance,

(8) To prefer the obviously virtuous or useful to the obviously pleasant.

The canons of elegance will not make you temperate, in part because they clearly deal with appearances and not directly with realities, but they are guidelines that aid in determining how to be temperate. As noted above, they are not obligations, and there are situations in which they will not be the best rules, as well as situations in which violating them will be morally permissible. But they are the rules that in most situations are most likely to aid you toward the kind of temperate action that facilitates the temperate actions of others.

Various Links of Interest

* Parisa Moosavi, Neo-Aristotelian naturalism as ethical naturalism (PDF)

* Daniel Williams, The Marketplace of Rationalizations

* Dragana Dimitrijevic, St. Monica as Participant in St. Augustine's Philosophical Companionship: A Woman's Voice in a Time of Crisis (PDF)

* Michael Walschots, Kant and the Duty to Act from Duty (PDF)

* Lee Jussim, 12 Reasons to Be Skeptical about Common Claims about Implicit Bias

* A Finnish court has ruled that tweeting Bible verses that can be interpreted as condemnations of homosexuality is not hate speech under Finnish law. It wasn't clear that it was going to do so.

* Bruce Willis recently retired due to an advancing case of aphasia. Further investigations have suggested that his working for the past few years may have been forced by his handlers.

* Todd Buras, Revisiting Reid on Religion (PDF) -- this is a good discussion, although I think Reid on sublimity or grandeur is even more directly relevant to the comparison to Reformed epistemology than Reid on beauty.

* Derek Lowe, The Uselessness of Phenylephrine

* The Brownson Record, "an independent journal for Mount St. Mary's University community".

* Kyle York, Why Monogamy Is Morally Permissible: A Defense of Some Common Justifications of Monogamy (PDF). There is a further point to be made, namely, that the argument by Chalmers to which York is responding makes a serious mistake, in failing to recognize both that monogamy does not exclude all friendships, but only relationships that are inconsistent with the kind at which it aims, and that all friendships whatsoever do this -- that is to say, all friendships exclude relationships with other people that are simply inconsistent with themselves. It is because of this prior point that the common, colloquial justifications that York defends (practicality, specialness, avoiding jealousy) are perfectly good reasons. We could actually add many more.

* A Practical Guide for Modern Indo-European Explorers, a language study book for those interested in learning to speak and write reconstructed Indo-European.

* Dorian Bandy, Musical Humor: The Anatomy of a Musical "Joke"

* Sheila Lintott, Superiority in Humor Theory (PDF)

* Lest one think that Renaissance papal court has a monopoly on scandal, the current Roman Curia is in the midst of a major financial scandal surrounding Cardinal Becciu. It's a tangled web, so The Pillar has an explainer.

Currently Reading

Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda
Jake Spicer, You Will Be Able to Draw by the End of This Book
Jake Spicer, You Will Be Able to Draw Faces by the End of This Book
Alphonso Dunn, Pen & Ink Drawing
Liz Steel, 5-Minute Sketching: Architecture
Gabriel Campanario, The Art of Urban Sketching