Tag Archives: Virtue

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 6

Summarizing my previous five posts: for those that are attempting to lead good moral lives there are three basic moral philosophies: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

I believe that consequentialism, while possibly noble, is one that deemphasize individual choice and performance for the sake of the good of society.  As such, it can be used to justify actions that are harmful to individuals for the sake of the social good.  This philosophy robs the individual of his/her pursuit of happiness and the future flourishing of society.  Ii is very difficult to accept the premise that the ends justify the means, and that the individual is subservient to the will of society.

I believe that deontology, the most widely accepted of the three philosophies, also while possibly noble, is one that emphasizes the individual and his/her actions, but without regard for the consequences of those actions.  Just following what one believes to be the duty or obligation for certain actions, without considering the consequences of those actions, leaves the individual and society at risk.

I believe that virtue ethics is the only philosophy that is concerned with the individual making the right decisions for the right reasons.  The virtues found in good people make sure that this happens.  The virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and love of neighbor, are displayed throughout the fine arts as the models for achieving happiness and the flourishing of society.  A person who possess all or some of the virtues will lead to good actions.  In other words, a good action will only come from a good person, and a good person is one who has earned or is earning the virtues.

Not only do the great masters of the fine arts present the virtues a necessary for good actions, but the great myths, great philosophers, and modern positive psychologists also support the earning of the virtues through hard work and preparation as necessary for a moral life and one that leads to individual happiness.

The virtues are the catalysts for the individual to seek out and capture the boon that is the gift to society.  The virtues (of which at least wisdom and courage are earned from a loving family, and involvement and exposure activities earlier in life before acceptance of the call to adventure) are the instruments by which the individual is awarded happiness and society flourishes.

Let me illustrate with three great artworks:

The Morning Bell by Homer

The Morning Bell by Winslow Homer (1871)

Above is Homer’s interpretation of the acceptance of the call to adventure (Gallery Four in my book).  The girl has the wisdom to see her future course of action and the courage to follow the path, even though it is uncertain where the path will lead her.

Homer - The Veteran in a New Field

The Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer (1865)

In this painting, another one by Homer, we have the adventurer who has fought the many trials and has captured the boon for his society (the end of the Civil War, as displayed in Gallery Five of my book).  He is displaying the virtues of temperance and justice (concern for the common good) – wisdom and courage to accept the adventure were earned earlier before battle.  But one thing is missing, happiness – the veteran has not yet been recognized for his efforts by his fellow countrymen.


The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

In this masterpiece by Rembrandt, we see the protectors of the community being lauded by the military followers as well as the citizens (depicted by the little girl).  They have fought the many battles to capture the boon (safety and security of the community) and have been able to return back to the everyday world as a result of the love and admiration of their friends and neighbors (as seen in Gallery Six of my book).

This great Rembrandt painting illustrates that it is the responsibility of individuals and not the state to determine the future of the community (consequentialism is not supported in this painting).  Also, the painting illustrates that the mere duty or obligation of the few military men to protect the community is not sufficient as well.  The lighting and the placement of the small girl, representing the common community that it relying on the military men, is prominent in the painting, and for a special reason.  She represents the admiration and love for the heroes that have returned from the adventure: it is she, the personification of love of neighbor, who is welcoming the men across the threshold back to the everyday world (a personification missing in the Homer painting above).  It is this love of neighbor that brings happiness to the men (who have earned the virtues to succeed in the adventure) and the gift of their boon of protection to their society.  A mere sense of duty (deontology) would not have been sufficient.  It is the application of the virtues that makes this painting a masterpiece.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 5

In my last few posts I have talked about three moral philosophies that can be followed by those wanting to lead positive lives.  What I would like to do now is provide a quick comparison of each of them.  It is clear that there is some overlap among the three philosophies.  However, I believe that the following are the distinctions:

1) Consequentialism is concerned with the ends and not the means.  It is concerned with providing the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people.  I believe that this goal of the most happiness for the greatest number of people tends to diminish the role of the individual at the expense of the goals of society, as determined by some collective body of people or leader.  I believe that this is not an optimal philosophy and can be greatly abused by the collective bodies or leaders imposing their will on individuals.

2) Deontology is concerned with the duty or the obligation of the individual.  The focus is much more on the individual, requiring reason and intelligence.  However, the lack of focus on a goal or outcome, as well as the lack of concern for unintended consequences, can lead individuals to a false sense of purpose.  I think that this approach may take the individual far along the “journey” segment of the road to happiness, but falls short of encouraging the “adventure.”  This limits the ability of the individual to reach happiness and the promotion of the flourishing of society.

3) Virtue Ethics is concerned with the individual and his/her character.  It is based on an ultimate goal of happiness.  To reach this happiness requires acquiring the virtues.  It is these virtues that lead the individual along the road to happiness.  It includes the goal-focus of consequentialism and the duty-focus of deontology but with an emphasis on individual character and not action.

Final thoughts in my next post.

The Natural – The Book (Part 4)

This is the final post on The Natural.  Whether you read the book or watched the movie, the critical question to ask is: Who is the Natural?  You would think that the obvious answer is Roy Hobbs with his natural talent at baseball.

I don’t think that the author intended the “natural” to be Roy Hobbs.  In the book, Roy was a failure, not unlike many other failures that have lived.  He went very far, having accepted the call to adventure, but soon lost during the adventure to temptations and self-centeredness.  He did not have the virtues of temperance and justice to see himself through the adventure and to the ultimate love of Iris, pulling him out of the adventure back to the everyday world towards happiness and the flourishing of his baseball community.

After Roy struck out and lost the game for his team, he recounted to himself, ” … I never did learn anything out of my past life, now I have to suffer again…. He stared into faces of people he passed along the street but nobody recognized him.”  The only solace that Roy can take is that he did accept the call to adventure and will be given another opportunity at some time in the future to begin a new adventure.  Had he recognized the call and not accepted it, he would not even have been given another opportunity.

Iris is the “natural.”  She represents the virtue of love of neighbor.  She is the one that has the remarkable ability to reach out and help those along their own adventure to return back across the threshold.  Iris was asked by Roy why she first came to see him when he was playing poorly (as a result of his desire for Memo Paris).  Iris answered, “Because I hate to see a hero fail.  There are so few of them…. Without heroes we’re all plain people and don’t know how far we can go…. There are so many young boys you influence…. You’ve got to give them your best…. I felt that if you knew people believed in you, you’d regain your power.  That is why I stood up in the grandstand.  I hadn’t meant to before I came.  It happened naturally.”

And that is the reason that Iris is the “natural.”  Because she exhibits all the virtues.  She had her own adventure earlier in her life.  That adventure required that she possess all the virtues for her to succeed.  And she did succeed.  And now, she is willing and able to welcome those at the threshold of the return back to the everyday world.  She is the invisible hand stretched out in the Homer painting, The Veteran in the New Field, welcoming the veteran to a new world.  She is nature, uncontaminated by vices, having attained happiness, with her boon being to help others cash in their own personal IOUs.

I can’t stress enough reading the book and watching the movie.  I think that it is best to watch the movie first – it will make understanding the book easier.

The Natural – The Book (Part 3)

Continuing from my last post… Iris tries to help Roy by explaining that she believes that “We have two lives, Roy, the life we learn with and the life we live after that.  Suffering is what brings us toward happiness.”

This is one of the central themes of the book: that life is broken into two segments.  The book’s “life that we learn with,” I consider to be the first three galleries of my book.  These three galleries represent the preparation for the journey and the journey itself towards education, preparation, skills, social awareness, and self-esteem.  This is the period of Roy’s life leading up to his return to baseball.

The book’s “life we live after that,” I consider to be the second three galleries of my book.  These galleries represent the call to adventure, the adventure itself, and the return from the adventure.  This is the period from when Roy joins the team to his ultimate demise (unlike the movie).

While Roy had the virtues of wisdom and courage to recognize his future and act on it (the call to adventure of Gallery Four), he never earned the virtues of temperance and justice to win the trials of his adventure.  Temptations of sex, fame, food, and unearned wealth got the best of him.  And what is really sad is that Iris, representing the final virtue of love of neighbor, was there ready to pull Roy across the threshold back to the everyday world.  Had Roy been able to resist the temptations, he would have found happiness with Iris and brought the boon of a pennant to his team and his fans (which is what happened in the movie).  Unfortunately, Roy struck out at his last at bat, the team lost the pennant, Roy lost Iris.   Roy and was forced to return to Gallery Three to live out the remaining years of a life of inconsequential existence.

Final thoughts in my next post.

Book’s Summary in Images – Part 5

In my previous posts, I talked about how the thinkers and artists provide a three dimensional view of happiness, with the thinkers and artists verifying one another.  I also talked about how the harnessing of the entrepreneur within each of us serves as the vehicle for traveling within the three dimensional pyramid.

The vehicle takes us upward to the apex of the pyramid if we use our entrepreneurial instincts.  Once prepared for the journey with assistance from our family and a just society, we enter into “involvement” activities and then “exposure” activities leading to proper self-esteem.  We then must recognize and accept the call, if sent, to begin the adventure.  The virtues of wisdom and courage help us with this segment of the adventure.  We must all resist temptation and use the preparation earned earlier to fight the many battles to secure the boon.  Once the boon is secured, we must be willing to return to the threshold (justice) and await help to return back to the everyday world with the boon intact.

The following work by Homer is a great representation of this moment in which the hero adventurer, aided by the virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice, is at the threshold looking for the love of others to pull him back to the everyday world.  In this painting, the veteran has put aside his Civil War gear for those of the farmer.  He has survived the war and is now willing to help his country begin a new period of growth and prosperity.  But, he is alone.  He needs help to reconnect to his community that he left to fight the war.  In 1865, when this work was completed, is was uncertain if he would be accepted.  Fortunately, he was accepted and the boon of his desire to help rebuild a new country was delivered to his countrymen and happiness was achieved for the veteran.

Homer - The Veteran in a New Field

The Veteran in a New Field, Winslow Homer (1865)

As mentioned above, only with the love of one’s neighbor from those in the everyday world is the adventurer able to cross the threshold.  This crossing brings great happiness to the adventurer and the boon to society.  Just as with the veteran in the painting, the IOUs of life are now cashed in for happiness – the happiness of the returning veteran and the flourishing of society.

The IOUs are the many trials and suffering of the veteran during battle that he was courageous enough to accept, remain focused to the task at hand, and noble to secure the boon that was his to find.  He reward for these many IOUs are his happiness and the flourishing of his society.  Spectacular art representing a spectacular way of living!

The Natural – The Movie (Part 4)

Continuing with my last post, Roy has earned four cardinal virtues, but one remains: love of neighbor.  Without this last virtue, Roy will not be able to achieve happiness.

Roy has accepted the adventure, has fought many trials to secure the boon, avoided many temptations and, through his concern for the welfare of his community, has approached the threshold of the return back to the everyday world.  But he still needs to be brought over the threshold with the help of others.  As depicted in the movie, Roy is batting in the bottom of the ninth, with two strikes: he is at the threshold looking for the help he needs to bring the boon he has captured to society.  The help he needs is to win the game – the boon would be delivered to society and he would achieve the happiness that has eluded him all his life.

Roy’s high school sweetheart is the one to bring him back across the threshold.  She tells him that the son that she has brought with her to Roy’s last game is also his son.  She has kept this a secret from him but she decides at the last moment that Roy must know the truth.

It is this love for Roy, as well as her son, that pulls Roy across the threshold – he hits the final pitch for a game winning home run.  It is at this moment that the boon of a pennant win is delivered to the Knights.  It is also at this moment that Roy achieves happiness.  He never hits another pitch, her never plays in another game. The pennant is delivered to the team, and the community flourishes.  Roy is reunited with his high school sweetheart and his son, living on a farm where he grew up.  Happiness is finally realized – for the entire Roy Hobbs family.

Great movie!

The Natural – The Movie (Part 3)

Continuing with my last post, Roy is now a regular player for the Knights, thanks to his wisdom and courage to recognize and seize the opportunity to play for the team, an opportunity that would normally only go to young players with well-known prospects.

But, given the monumental success of Roy’s playing, the corrupt owner hires a beautiful woman to seduce Roy.  She is successful at first and the team starts to decline in the standings.  However, Roy’s high school sweetheart reads about Roy’s return to baseball and contacts him.  She is successful at pulling Roy away from the manipulating woman.  Roy is also offered a bribe to throw the game, but he declines the offer and tells the corrupt owner that he will do his best to win the pennant for the team.

It is at this moment in the movie that Roy exhibits the virtues of moderation and justice.  He is able to withstand the temptations of sex and money.  He is also determined to remain honest and bring the team out from under corruption and into the light serving as a role model for baseball.  Roy, ever modest, is very concerned for the welfare of the team and its impact on the community, especially the children who are devoted to the game, a game that must remain free from corruption.

In my next post, I will end by discussing the final virtue.

The Natural – The Movie (Part 2)

Continuing with my last post, Roy Hobbs returns to baseball after more than a decade in silence, joining a losing baseball team called the Knights.

It is due to the corruption of the owner of the Knights franchise that Roy is offered the opportunity to play baseball for the Knights.  He recognizes this opportunity to live a life in the future above his expectations of today.  He capitalizes on this opportunity and accepts the contract to play.  He is allowed to play because the corrupt owner is told by his scouts that Roy is washed-up and can no longer play the game (the corrupt owner wins total control of the team if the team does not win the pennant).

The manager is reluctant to put Roy in the game, but Roy is courageous to persevere and eventually his talent is displayed to the team and the manager.  Soon, Roy’s natural gift as a hitter propels the team forward in the standings and Roy’s natural abilities are infectious to the rest of his teammates.

It was during his journey, prior to arriving to play with the Knights, that Roy earned the virtues of wisdom and courage.  He displayed the wisdom to see the opportunity to pull himself out of the darkness of his life and join the Knights when offered the contract.  He displayed the courage to accept the contract, present himself – a middle-aged player of little note – to the manager, and withstand not being put into the game until his time to be rediscovered has arrived.

In my next post, more on the other virtues.

Virtue Ethics: Alisdair MacIntyre (Part 2)

In my last post, I mentioned that the philosophy of virtue ethics, as suggested by Alisdair MacIntyre sounds very reasonable, but it has drawn four main criticisms.  The four are: 1) it is a way of life that is self-centered, 2) it is a way of life lacking any guidance as to appropriate actions to reach happiness, 3) it is a way of life based on luck of one’s circumstances in life, and 4) it is unreasonable to suggest that in today’s world people should live in small communities as the means of achieving happiness.

Let me address each of these criticisms.  1) It may appear to be a self-centered way of life but, as discussed in my book, Campbell teaches that a call to adventure to secure a boon for the benefit of society is needed to reach happiness.  In addition, the virtues are needed to recognize the call, act on it, and be successful in the quest.  The virtues are needed to secure the boon and deliver it to society, which, is also needed for the individual to reach happiness.  This action is anything but self-centered and contributed to the flourishing of society.

2) there is no lacking of guidance.  Campbell is very clear as to the steps needed to accept the call, win the battles, and return with the boon intact.  The virtues are needed to take the steps needed to reach happiness and the flourishing of society.

3) Indeed, luck does play a part in life and for everyone, especially regarding one’s family and society.  A dysfunctional family and/or society will make it very hard for anyone to achieve happiness.  However, luck is not the only variable, one must also be willing to be involved with others, take risks, and develop the virtues so that when the call is sent, the adventure can be accepted.

4) I think that the best vehicle for a virtuous life is to harness the gift of the entrepreneur within each of us.  I agree that in today’s world it would be very difficult to lead a life as a member of a small Medieval group.  It is very appropriate to learn how to take risks, recognize opportunities, and take action to capitalize on those opportunities so that one’s future is live above today’s expectations.

This entrepreneurial approach prepares each of us through education, social interactions, and risk-taking, to apply our virtues in ways that enhance our happiness while helping society to flourish.

Virtue Ethics – Alisdair MacIntyre (Part 1)

Alisdair MacIntyre is an esteemed philosopher and professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.  He is one of the leaders of the virtue ethics movement whose aim is to reintroduce virtue and moral character back into the means for achieving happiness.

MacIntyre wrote an influential book, After Virtue, which explains the importance of virtue ethics in today’s world.  The book is informative and creative but, I must admit, very difficult to read.  Basically, MacIntyre makes the case that Aristotle and St. Aquinas were correct in their philosophies.  MacIntyre claims, like Aristotle, St. Aquinas (and the positive psychologists), that we are all motivated to seek happiness (or the actualization of our potential) and that the virtues are the best means to find the happiness that we all seek.  He claims that those individuals who live virtuous lives are the ones most likely to find happiness.

He proposes that the best way to lead a virtuous life is to be a member in a small community, much as existed in the Medieval Ages.  The members of these small communities would be motivated to act virtuously with one another, leading to the happiness of everyone.

This also sounds very reasonable, but virtue ethics has drawn four main criticisms.  The four are: 1) it is a way of life that is self-centered, 2) it is a way of life lacking any guidance as to appropriate actions to reach happiness, 3) it is a way of life based on luck of one’s circumstances in life, and 4) it is unreasonable to suggest that in today’s world people should live in small communities as the means of achieving happiness.

In my next post, I would like to address these four criticisms.