Monday, April 15, 2013

Kind of virtuous

Wrapped up a lightning-speed tour of the four cardinal virtues in Aquinas with the suggestion that the way to understand something as a virtue - if it is one - is to submit it to the sorts of questions Aquinas aska: what is it in itself and how is it distinguished from similar-seeming virtues? does it have parts, or is it a part of another virtue? what are its contrary vices - for virtues in this tradition are means between extremes, and so have not one but two opposites? The explications of the virtue tradition generate or discover lots of normative terms, distinctions, dependencies and interdependencies and eventually hierarchies.

We only had a few minutes but I think we did pretty well on everyone's favorite contemporary virtue "kindness." (I'd proposed "being nice" and told that was just a wimpy version of "kindness.") Try it yourself! Some questions from our quick discussion. Is kindness a part of consideration, of justice, of liberality, of charity, of love? Is it in the will? Is it a general virtue (a characteristic of any virtuous act) or a specific virtue? Are its contraries selfishness and self-annihilation or coldness and smothering? What about "killing with kindness"? Is cruelty a part of unkindness, or a potential part of kindness (as in "you've gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure...")? Is prudence necessary to kindness? Is it really a virtue at all?

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