19 June 2021

The Fours

 It was a Medieval through Early Modern into per-Great-War fashion to list virtues.

Virtues are a lot; the point of virtues is, somewhat, that they're rare.  You can't expect anyone to be virtuous all the time, and you can't expect everyone to be virtuous.

What you can reasonably expect are the fours -- forthrightness, forbearance, foresight, and fortitude.

People who aren't consistently and reliably demonstrating the fours in their conduct are not people who should have responsibility.  Which means don't subscribe to them as much as it means don't vote for them.  It means working on your forthrightness and not making excuses for them, too.


James said...

Your construction of the word "virtue" may be too narrow, reflecting an Augustinian understanding (in which a continuing display of virtue, especially of the three supernatural virtues, was taken to be impossible to the unaided human). Certainly the Aristotelian virtues, later referred to as the "natural" virtues, were not understood to be intermittent, although it would have been a relatively rare individual who displayed them all in full form

Some of them map onto your list - fortitude maps to courage and forbearance to patience. But temperance, generosity, and magnanimity have a role to play as well, especially as regards a public role; the Aristotelian ideal was the magnanimous man. (Magnificence, that most aristocratic of virtues, is entirely out of fashion.)

Graydon said...

The construction of virtue is indeed narrow, so I can rhetorically dismiss it as an unreasonable expectation.

It would be absolutely splendid if we had competing virtuous people in public life, so that the choice was between imaginations of good. As a materialist, an atheist, and a consequentialist, I observe that the actual choice is between numeracy and innumeracy; it's impossible to get anything too much like a difference of policy. One can have vaguely dispassionate mammonism able to count or smirking sadistic mammonism indifferent to any consequence not experienced personally.

Given that, the role of virtue in public life is small, on the one hand, and there are a great many people who can't manage the basic-adulting amounts of their fours, on the other. I am (I think) producing a plea to start with the regular functional adult human amounts of the fours, and insist on them in public life.

Neither the best thing nor the final thing, but surely enough something like a start.

James said...

Quite coincidental to this discussion, I see that Robert Schuman, certainly a politician and a founder of the European Union, has just been declared Venerable...

In terms of who is actually out there, I agree: my parsing of the situation is that the context of modern media-driven politics has triggered some kind of political equivalent of Gresham's law, actively providing incentives for the "bad" and disincentives for the "good" (with bad and good not necessarily having a moral meaning but also just with regard to competence at actual governance rather than campaigning).

Although a general practice of demanding competence and/or moderate display of the fours would clearly affect this trend, I am inclined to think that we need to start a step before that, with getting people to accept for themselves that they are not the centre of the universe - because once they stop thinking that the appeal of the Trumps, Johnsons, and Fords diminishes markedly. (Humility would be even better, but just less self-centered might be enough. It would also defang much mammonite advertising.)

Graydon said...

Modern media is a consequence of advertising; the core goal of advertising is to increase your insecurity so you will spend to reduce it. So by now we're dealing with a public sphere that would be dysfunctional even without the mammonites, because it's stuck in an id amplifier.

Humility is a real virtue, and one of the more difficult ones in the bargain. (Since in functional terms it's about not granting your feelings general significance, and this is something neurochemistry exists to do. Wrestling with the substrate is inherently hard work.) Having people de-centre themselves generally takes a construction of security that's proactively reliable -- it will act to take care of you without you having to explain to it why it should -- and that gets back to the mammonite frame problem.