A VirtuCon Manifesto

 

shutterstock_244246870That’s VirtuCon manifesto, not the VirtuCon manifesto. I suspect there are more visions of how virtue theory and conservatism could interact than there are actual VirtuCons. This rough first draft is a contribution to the conversation Rachel Lu rekindled last week — see Tom Meyer’s response and the conversation that followed it as well — about what an emphasis on virtue means for other parts of the conservative worldview.

Please note: The word “virtue” has recently (in the last century or so) undergone something of a change in meaning. The “virtue” in virtue theory harks back to the older meaning. Do not be misled by this choice of vocabulary, imposed by some 2,000 years of philosophical reflection.

  1. There is such a thing as human nature.
  2. There is such a thing as a form of life that promotes human flourishing. In the past this was also referred to as “happiness.”
  3. Virtues are those habits of character that tend to human flourishing. In the past, the development of these habits was also referred to as “the pursuit of happiness.”
  4. Virtues are not general understandings, but the application of general understandings to particular cases. This is known as practical wisdom.
  5. The virtues are inculcated in childhood through the enforcement of rules, in adulthood through deliberative practice, and in both stages of life through example. Enforcement by — and examples found in — family, local church, and one’s immediate community are better (more effective) than those enforced by or demonstrated in more distant institutions.
  6. Politics is an important area of human flourishing. Real participation in the life of a community requires that the rules and norms of that community are decided by its members, not imposed from afar.
  7. For these reasons, virtue requires a “hard” subsidiarity, where power is (sparingly) delegated upwards from the local to the general polity. (This contrasts with ‘soft’ subsidiarity, where the higher power delegates downwards, but always maintains real control, usually disguised as “support”).
  8. In the past, this was also referred to as “liberty.”
  9. Poverty, ignorance, and dishonour are the enemies of virtue. All three are opposed by the voluntary institution of the free market. Free markets create wealth, spread knowledge, and do not require social position to succeed. A free market requires the exercise of virtues, and assists in promoting them.
  10. In the past, this was also referred to as “life.”
  11. The realization of a continent-spanning republic amenable to human flourishing is a daunting task, but it requires an exquisite modesty. Fortunately, that modesty is the sure route to success, eschewing all temptation to tyranny. We need only have regard to three things:
  • Life – adequate means of existence, provided by the voluntary interactions of persons making choices in a condition of freedom.
  • Liberty – the room to learn and grow in practical wisdom.
  • The pursuit of happiness – the exercise of wisdom and the road to human flourishing.
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  1. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    I am reminded of this passage:

    One danger confronting philosophers is that they may forget that their enquiries begin from and extend the enquiries of plain persons and that they are exercising their philosophical skills on behalf of those same plain persons. … If philosophers do practice [their craft] for the common good, then they will take the trouble to engage in sustained conversation with plain persons, so as not to lose sight of the relationship between their enquiries, no matter how sophisticated, and the questions initially posed by plain persons. Yet, insofar as they include those who are not professional philosophers in their enquiries, they will make those plain persons painfully aware, if they were not already, that there are rival and incompatible answers to their questions and that philosophical enquiry is therefore a source of conflict.

    I’m sure Augustine, whose sustained conversation I have been enjoying, will be able to place this.

    • #511
  2. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    genferei:I am reminded of this passage:

    One danger confronting philosophers is that they may forget that their enquiries begin from and extend the enquiries of plain persons and that they are exercising their philosophical skills on behalf of those same plain persons. … If philosophers do practice [their craft] for the common good, then they will take the trouble to engage in sustained conversation with plain persons, so as not to lose sight of the relationship between their enquiries, no matter how sophisticated, and the questions initially posed by plain persons. Yet, insofar as they include those who are not professional philosophers in their enquiries, they will make those plain persons painfully aware, if they were not already, that there are rival and incompatible answers to their questions and that philosophical enquiry is therefore a source of conflict.

    I’m sure Augustine, whose sustained conversation I have been enjoying, will be able to place this.

    Good quote.  I am reminded of a lecture I once heard on tape (I think by Bertrand Russell), who more or less defined philosophy as the study of questions that have no answers.  I remind myself of that whenever I think I might have found the answer to something.

    • #512
  3. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    genferei:I am reminded of this passage:

    One danger confronting philosophers is that they may forget that their enquiries begin from and extend the enquiries of plain persons and that they are exercising their philosophical skills on behalf of those same plain persons. … If philosophers do practice [their craft] for the common good, then they will take the trouble to engage in sustained conversation with plain persons, so as not to lose sight of the relationship between their enquiries, no matter how sophisticated, and the questions initially posed by plain persons. Yet, insofar as they include those who are not professional philosophers in their enquiries, they will make those plain persons painfully aware, if they were not already, that there are rival and incompatible answers to their questions and that philosophical enquiry is therefore a source of conflict.

    I’m sure Augustine, whose sustained conversation I have been enjoying, will be able to place this.

    Excellent!

    I am ashamed to say that I had to use the internet to place it.

    I was gonna stay off till morning, but oh well.  Here are some more comments below.  Then I really must be finished for at least half a day.

    • #513
  4. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435:On the subject of your assertion that there “is such a thing as human nature,” I stand by my claim that this statement is absolutely useless. . . .  It becomes useful only when you use it as a Christmas tree on which to start hanging various attributes of “human nature” (attributes which you call “virtues”).

    So you don’t mean it’s useless.  You mean it’s useless by itself unless we know something about human nature?  Of course!

    Now how is that an objection?

    You say I don’t understand the purpose of the assertion that there “is such a thing as human nature.”

    I don’t believe I said that.  Could you please cite whatever comment of mine you’re referring to?

    I have an understanding of it, and you have said nothing that disabuses me of my understanding. The purpose is to allow you to smuggle any prejudice or prediliction you want into your theory of ethics, by your unsubstantiated claim that it is a “virtue.”

    If this is anything but an accusation that I converse in bad faith, I can’t make heads or tails of it.  Do I need to respond to that?  Can I, beyond denying it?  (I deny it, by the way.)

    • #514
  5. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry:

    You have given no definition of “virtue.” You give only examples.

    Not examples, but pieces of the whole picture–some of them rather large pieces.  And I’ve been responding to various objections, such as (more recently) that there is no content in my assertions, for which a single tiny piece (or undetailed reference to Aristotle) is sufficient.

    You actually write as if I have not answered your objections (although I have answered each one which I could understand) and as if I cannot answer them until I either summarize the entire Nichomachean Ethics for you, or else re-write it!

    Any objection which requires such an answer is surely an improper objection.

    But if you’re asking me to explain virtue ethics from top to bottom, and that for some reason other than an objection you offered to it, perhaps I can begin to do it–in a new thread, such as that where I am already planning to introduce MacIntyre (inshallah).

    • #515
  6. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry: You give no test for determining whether a particular behavior is virtuous.

    No, actually I have given it: happiness.

    And even the examples you give fall apart at a glance. Courage is a virtue; rashness is a vice. But, standing alone, they are indistinguishable.

    Recycling obsolete objections.  (The interested reader may consult comments on page 23.)

    Larry3435:So don’t tell me, please, that I have one foot in the door of accepting your analysis. I reject it utterly, and at every step.

    In fact you have approved of all the components of an Aristotelian ethics, save one premise.  (The interested reader may consult comment # 506.)

    • #516
  7. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry:

    And you have said nothing to justify it. Nothing at all. . . . If you are aware of something Aristotle wrote that might persuade me that things have a “nature,” or any of the other steps in your analysis, then by all means quote it to me. Maybe I missed it.

    What you have missed, my good man, is that a pretty thorough explanation of the methodology of Aristotle has been given, in no small part by you yourself! It was all summarized here and here.

    To me at least, it is not intuitively obvious.

    Well, it is perfectly obvious to me that it is correct.

    It is, in fact, intuitively ridiculous.

    Are you so forgetful?  You’ve denied that you are able to make such a charge.  (And when you make it in detail, you seem to use double standards–documented here, here, and here.)

    There is nothing you can say about the “nature” of anyone or anything that is not (in my opinion) just a subjective and unsupported assertion on your part.

    So, according to you, we are equally reasonable men.

    Larry3435:I have said that premises are necessarily intuitive and beyond proof. But that is not an open invitation to make up any subjective assertion you want, and call it a premise.

    HEAR, HEAR!  Now do you really think that Aristotle or I ever did such a thing?

    • #517
  8. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Owen Findy:

    Mike H: I’m [referencing my intuition]… ;)

    Hee-hee. But, seriously, I’m skeptical that intuition alone can point to something objective. If I intuit X, and hope to persuade others of its validity, don’t I have a responsibility to find a more reliable way to support X? And then, if I can do that, the intuition may have pointed the way to X, but is not the reason others should embrace X.

    (Or, , maybe that’s what you guys have been doing since you first locked horns. And, perhaps I don’t have as rich an understanding of what you mean by “intuition” either.)

    Basically, intuitions are observations. If we didn’t believe our intuitions told us about real things we’d have to be radical skeptics because otherwise we couldn’t believe what our senses were telling us about the external world, since “our senses give us real information about the external world” is nothing but an intuition.

    That means our moral intuitions are reasonable to believe as a starting point (prima facie knowledge) until we receive enough information that contradicts them.

    Ethical Intuitionism

    • #518
  9. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Augustine:

    Larry3435:  You say I don’t understand the purpose of the assertion that there “is such a thing as human nature.”

    I don’t believe I said that.  Could you please cite whatever comment of mine you’re referring to?

    Sure.  You said this at #502:

    Larry3435:  I don’t see how the statement “There is such a thing as human nature” allows me to reason my way to anywhere.

    If you really think this then, despite your protestations that you know my views and Rachel Lu’s and genferei’s and Aristotle’s so well as to be able to dispute them, you have never understood them at all.

    • #519
  10. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Augustine:

    Larry3435:  There is nothing you can say about the “nature” of anyone or anything that is not (in my opinion) just a subjective and unsupported assertion on your part.

    So, according to you, we are equally reasonable men.

    Equally “reasonable,” I suppose, because (as I have said over and over) “reason” has nothing to do with this.  Moral intuition is not the result of “reason.”  But that fact does not mean that all moral intuitions are equal.  There are, I think, statements that are self-evident truths.  And there are statements that are self-evidently silly.

    • #520
  11. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Larry3435: I remind myself of that whenever I think I might have found the answer to something.

    I agree it’s a great quote, and your point is well worth remembering as well.

    • #521
  12. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435:

    Augustine:

    Larry3435: You say I don’t understand the purpose of the assertion that there “is such a thing as human nature.”

    I don’t believe I said that. Could you please cite whatever comment of mine you’re referring to?

    Sure. You said this at #502:

    Augustine # 502:

    Larry3435: I don’t see how the statement “There is such a thing as human nature” allows me to reason my way to anywhere.

    If you really think this then, despite your protestations that you know my views and Rachel Lu’s and genferei’s and Aristotle’s so well as to be able to dispute them, you have never understood them at all.

    So I suppose you are darn close to being right that I said this.  Not exactly right, because, like Cinderella’s evil stepmother in the Disney movie, I said “if.”  More importantly, my ifthen statement was correct, if awkwardly phrased.  I’ll try phrasing it less awkwardly: If you don’t know how the claim that human nature exists leads to any practical conclusion, then you don’t understand VirtueCons or, more importantly, the virtue ethics tradition of Aristotle-Aquinas-MacIntyre-etc.

    (Alternatively, you might have meant that the claim that human nature exists doesn’t lead to any practical conclusion unless it’s joined to some account of human nature.  You’re right.  And I still don’t know how that’s supposed to be an objection.)

    • #522
  13. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435:

    Augustine:

    Larry3435: There is nothing you can say about the “nature” of anyone or anything that is not (in my opinion) just a subjective and unsupported assertion on your part.

    So, according to you, we are equally reasonable men.

    Equally “reasonable,” I suppose, because (as I have said over and over) “reason” has nothing to do with this. Moral intuition is not the result of “reason.” But that fact does not mean that all moral intuitions are equal. There are, I think, statements that are self-evident truths. And there are statements that are self-evidently silly.

    Indeed.  And there are a great many in between the self-evidently silly and the self-evidently true.  And it is still obvious to me that there is such a thing as a proper human function.

    (In the same way it is obvious to both of us that a lung has its own proper function; if you have any way of drawing a distinction between the two which does not rely on the poor reasoning documented herehere, and here, I’d be happy to hear it.)

    • #523
  14. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Augustine:  And it is still obvious to me that there is such a thing as a proper human function.

    There is actually a lot of room for agreement here.  If you would give up on your insistence that human nature and the virtues that lead to effective functioning are first principles (and therefore “self-evident” or “intuitively obvious”), then I think you would open up a fertile area for study, discussion, and thought.  The effective modes of human functioning are not first principles.  They are not necessarily universal.  They are not self-evident.  And we are not always going to agree on them.  But they do exist, and they are worthy of consideration.

    Earlier in this thread I gave an example of one such mode of functioning.  I said (and I stand by this) that people function better if they take personal responsibility for whatever happens in their life, and that people function worse if they see themselves as helpless victims of outside forces beyond their control.

    I make this claim on the basis of empirical observation.  Life experience.  Trial and error.  Observation of who in the world succeeds, and who fails.  I would not make this claim as some self-contained and self-validating “Truth” – that self-reliance is a virtue “because I say so” or “because Aristotle says so.”

    Auggie, I think you and I probably agree on the value of self-reliance.  But I insist on getting there the hard way.  No short-cuts.

    • #524
  15. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435:

    There is actually a lot of room for agreement here. If you would give up on your insistence that human nature and the virtues that lead to effective functioning are first principles . . . .

    You misread me again.  I have persistently expressed skepticism about the claim that human nature is a first principle (though I did say it was obvious to me).

    never said anything of the sort about the virtues; that was you eisegeting me.

    The effective modes of human functioning are not first principles. . . . They are not self-evident. And we are not always going to agree on them. But they do exist, and they are worthy of consideration.

    . . . an example of one such mode of functioning. . . . that people function better if they take personal responsibility for whatever happens in their life, and that people function worse if they see themselves as helpless victims of outside forces beyond their control.

    I make this claim on the basis of empirical observation. . . . of who in the world succeeds, and who fails.

    Very Aristotelian!  (If it is not a first principle it depends, like the assessment of the function of a lung, on some first principle.)

    Amazingly, you’ve now affirmed (so far as I can tell) all of the components of basic Aristotelianism.

    I would not make this claim as some self-contained and self-validating “Truth” – that self-reliance is a virtue “because I say so” or “because Aristotle says so.”

    Neither would I or Aristotle say that.

    • #525
  16. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Auggie,

    So far as I can tell, your argument at this point has devolved into attempting to prove that I agree with the Aristotalian approach to ethics.  I don’t, and I have set out numerous points of disagreement.  I don’t know why you have undertaken this line of argument.  I would rather that you would have followed through on your assertion (early on in the discussion) that the Utilitarian Axiom is inadequate or incomplete, and that other first principles are applicable to the question of the proper role of government.

    You have variously said that the statement “there is such a thing as human nature” is or is not a first principle, or that it will guide us to other first principles, which either are or are not various virtues, which either do or do not meet the qualification of being self-evident truths.  In short, while you seem to have a very firm (although wrong) conviction of what I believe, I have no idea what you believe on this subject.  Perhaps your next post will clarify.

    I will leave you with one last point of clarification.  I do not object to basing an argument on unproven and unprovable first principles, because that is a necessity.  What I do object to is being less than clear and honest about what those first principles are, or to smuggling subjective assumptions into the argument disguised as something else.

    • #526
  17. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435, the convergence of two facts is remarkable.

    One fact is that you have spent so many recent pages objecting to Aristotelianism and to me, who was representing Aristotelianism; and you maintain that you “have set out numerous points of disagreement.”

    Another fact is that you “have no idea” what I, who have been representing Aristotle on all those pages, think–i.e., no idea what you’ve been objecting to.

    In light of this a third fact is hardly surprising: that you have actually endorsed, as I have documented, all of the essential points of basic Aristotelian ethics.

    You wonder why I point this out.  It’s not because I hope to have you as an ally, although that would be rather nice.  It’s to emphasize that your “numerous points of disagreement” all fail as interesting objections–or at least as objections you can put forth without contradicting yourself.

    You seem interested in my clarifying, but I don’t see the point: I’ve nothing new to say unless you offer a new objection of some sort or ask a relevant question, so I could only clarify by repeating myself.  And since you have a strong record of misreading me, I don’t know that it would do any good.

    A few particular responses will follow.

    • #527
  18. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Larry3435:

    I would rather that you would have followed through on your assertion (early on in the discussion) that the Utilitarian Axiom is inadequate or incomplete, and that other first principles are applicable to the question of the proper role of government.

    I don’t believe I said that exactly, but perhaps a citation would help me clarify (or remember).

    What I said was probably just that the Utilitarian Axiom by itself is inadequate if other first principles are true, and that VirtueCons happen to think they are.  (A useful overview in comments 411-412.)

    Other than that, all I can remember at the moment is replying to various objections.

    You have variously said that the statement “there is such a thing as human nature” is or is not a first principle, . . . .

    I never said it was a first principle.  I’ve been suspicious throughout that it is not, but happy to treat it as one because that’s close enough and because it seemed to parallel what you were doing at the time (though not what you were doing later).

    What I do object to is being less than clear and honest about what those first principles are, or to smuggling subjective assumptions into the argument disguised as something else.

    I agree.  I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing intentionally.  Why on earth do you feel the need to say this to me?  Do you really suspect me of doing this?  I really don’t understand why.

    • #528
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