Virtue and Values III

Being Virtuous is a dead end profession.
It doesn’t have any future,
not only that, it’s got no ‘go-forward’, no ‘oomph’.
It doesn’t exactly reach out and grab you by the kidneys, you know…

Those who argue that virtue is its own reward are already giving the game away. For an ethical system to work, there needs to be something to motivate the average Punter to Be Good – even if it’s just that being good is good.

Oak TreeEthics is concerned with Subjects and Actions, or more properly put: Ethics is concerned with Subjects in Action. Not only does the Ethical Subject only become the Subject of Ethics when he or she is faced with a decision, the Ethical Subject does not act at all without desires, goals, hopes, and plans. In short, just as the Subject conceives of him or her self along a teleological axis, so Ethics needs a telos.

Of course, Aristotle was aware of this and solved it (to his own satisfaction) by locating the telos in the Subject’s Formal Cause – whether that works through genetics, or some other weird ontological reverse causality. However, the chief problem is that the Formal Cause is attractive in precisely the wrong way.

The Formal Cause attracts Being like a gravitational pull, almost as though we were being sucked into a Virtue-shaped jelly mold.
However, unfortunately for Aristotle and me, the Good doesn’t Suck.
(seems obvious when you say it…)

Our experience of being Ethical subjects is not one in which we are drawn toward the Good in the same way that an Acorn is drawn toward being an Oak.

If Aristotle’s notion of causality is laid aside and Virtue is located instead within patterns of moral excellence enmeshed in particular cultures, then the attractive power of Virtue either becomes virtually inexplicable, or seems to really be an enlightened pragmatics. The first is unacceptable, the second is just a more noble sounding consequentialism.

Precisely how we are drawn to the Good we will leave undefined for now.

As if all that isn’t enough, I’ve got a few more anti-Virtuous remarks to get off my chest.


3 thoughts on “Virtue and Values III

  1. Well I would like to suggest that Aristotle was half right but for the wrong reasons. WE are drawn towards the Good at the level of God's providence. That is, through the personal mediation of God's Spirit the eschatalogical good of creation is manifest in creation through the Son. God's Spirit is pushing us towards the manifestation of the God's Messiah, the Lord Jesus as the King over all the world and the one through whom the New Creation will experience the glory of God.
    So at the big picture level, Good does occur in the creation because God makes sure that it does. At the local level God's Spirit instantiates the filial relationship that God has with his Messiah. This local level is called the Church – it is here that the frutiness of the Spirit is manifest as a church is constituted as people with a filial relationship with God the Father through the Son.
    For the individual it means that the inspired intent to "be like Jesus" means expecting the Spirit to instantiate the frutiness of God's perfected Son – to manifest His virtues that come to me by the Spirit, through the Word and amidst the church.


  2. Talking about big pictures – that is one awesome tree! If I was an acorn I would certainly want to be a tree like that.
    – JRS


  3. John,
    … yeah!

    this is really what I need, thankyou.
    I think that your comment substantiates my point. An eschatological and Christian ethic differs from Aristotle precisely over the matter of the Spirit. Aristotle's Unmoved Mover cannot operate to manifest the eschatological future in our subjective present. Aristotle's conception of The Good fails because it is not trinitarian.


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