Tag Archives: virtue

Sense, Sentiment, and Civilization

"Inferno, Canto XVIII" by Boticelli (c. 1500)
“Inferno, Canto XVIII” by Botticelli (c. 1500) illustrates the circle of fraud in Hell

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy: Inferno examine ideals of morality, friendship, and happiness in ways that still ring true. Aristotle’s model is centered around the concept of kosmos (order) and telos (end or purpose), with nothing in excess. Human passions and desires are to be tempered by reason; likewise, human rationality is made complete by proper desires and sentiments. Dante follows Aristotle’s ideas and brings them further, demonstrating that passion— or as he terms it, love—is a good thing so long as it is directed toward its appropriate object and in proper measure. In both the Ethics and the Divine Comedy, true fellowship is found among the virtuous, who order their passions and sentiments according to what is good. In order to develop a wise and gracious character—from which springs wise and gracious discourse—one must learn to love and value the good in its appropriate measure, and to approach every subject with a humble understanding of one’s own limitation. Continue reading Sense, Sentiment, and Civilization

Seneca’s Call to Live Well

Seneca (ca. 4 BC–AD 65) is my favorite thinker studied in Core Philosophy at Concordia University Irvine. Alas, he also comes at the end of the semester, and I rarely have a chance to marinate in his work for as long as I’d like. Seneca isn’t just concerned with bare concepts; he’s interested in how ideas help us cope with this complex and sometimes maddening world. He also tells students (and professors) to remember to live while they have the chance. We read selections from his Epistles on Virtue and Vice, including a letter entitled, “On the True Joy which Comes from Philosophy (XXIII).” His epistle’s closing line is memorable:

“Some men only begin to live when it is time for them to leave off living. And if this seems surprising to you, I shall add that which will surprise you still more: Some men have left off living before they have begun. Farewell.”

So, how does Seneca think we should live? Continue reading Seneca’s Call to Live Well

Defining Happiness

This is the second of two posts on the question of happiness.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence is among its most remembered words. Embedded within this sentence is a statement of human rights and of natural law. It is a summary of why America was declaring her independence, even at the cost of war. There are many potential topics of discussion from this sentence that have been examined by philosophers, historians, and political scientists.  Of particular interest to myself, as a psychologist, is the “unalienable Right(s)…the pursuit of Happiness.” Continue reading Defining Happiness

Philosophy and Virtue

Plato and Aristotle in the School fo Athens

As a father, I want to help my children develop good character—to learn self-control, humility, wisdom, perseverance, and similar virtues. I want the best for my children, and I believe that adults who exercise such virtues are more likely to achieve what is best for them. I have a similar attitude toward my students. I want the best for them, and I think certain virtues will help them achieve it. My role with my students, however, is more limited than with my children. I’m not likely to help my students develop more self-control than they already have, and life will probably teach wisdom better than I can ever hope to. However, there are two virtues I can help my students develop: humility and perseverance. Continue reading Philosophy and Virtue

Negotiating Honor in Cicero’s De Officiis

Maccari-CiceroThis is the third in a series of four essays on core texts connected to the educational goal of developing wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens.

Concordia University Irvine’s Core Curriculum seeks an ambitious vision set forth in the words of Martin Luther: “to develop wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens.” One danger in running with a vision that’s so catchy is that the virtues these words espouse may eventually become confused, diluted, or even meaningless. The hazard is compounded when the word “honorable” enjoys center stage in that vision, a word that for many has eluded a simple definition distinguishable from a kind of vanilla “moral uprightness.” One purpose of this essay, then, is to seek whether clarity can be at least provisionally attained about what we mean by “honor.” To do this we will aim at a discrete delineation along the lines suggested by one core text, Cicero’s De Officiis (“On Obligations” or “On Duties”). Continue reading Negotiating Honor in Cicero’s De Officiis