Thursday, January 23, 2014

Situationist Critiques of Virtue Ethics

In her NDPR review of Mark Alfano's new book, Neera Badhwar begins as follows:
Mark Alfano's book adds to the growing literature on empirical challenges to Aristotelian notions of virtue and other character traits. In its most recent avatar, this literature argues that our innate cognitive biases and other flaws make the central moral and intellectual Aristotelian virtues, as usually understood, impossible for the vast majority.
My reason for this post is: But isn't that what Aristotle thought, too? (Isn't that what many virtue theorists think?)

Response: "But if ought implies can and these studies (or the situationists' readings of them) are correct, then it makes no sense to say, to most people, that they ought to be virtuous. Virtue ethics as a normative ethical theory (for general consumption) is thus unworkable."

But I've never thought that was the right way to make sense of virtue ethics. An ideal is to be aimed toward, if never met perfectly. Some ideals are always ever in the distance. We don't need to be able to travel to the North Star in order to navigate the world by referring to it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Check-In from the Hills

I've gone a bit AWOL. I should have time this semester to tease out a few ideas that have been dancing around in my head, especially regarding Murdoch and my ongoing work on patience. Recently, I've been re-reading closely Seneca's On Anger while revising a chapter on Seneca and (vs.) Aristotle on anger. I noticed that Leiter has a link up to a new talk by Nussbaum on anger that I need to watch. The blurb suggests that she is quite close to Seneca's view, but given her past rejection of Stoic ideas (although very sympathetic with Seneca's ideas about anger in The Therapy of Desire), I will be interested to see whether she gets into what dividing line, if any, there is between her position now and Seneca's.

In the therapeutic part of On Anger (Book III), he mentions that, "Pythagoras used to play the lyre to settle his mind when it was upset" (III.9.2).

That's an academic lead-in to the confession that I've also been short on blogging because I bought a banjo over the holiday break. I have been learning to do what some people call "frailing" and others call "clawhammer" (so, not Earl Scruggs' style, if that means something to you), and amassing mountain banjo music albums from the EKU and Berea College libraries. (This is a nice place to be for that.) I've always liked certain old-timey kinds of music (though never actively sought out this kind of music) and the sound of the banjo (though not so much the hard-driving bluegrass stuff). I went into the local music store actually looking to replace a long-broken harmonica (I played guitar and harmonica quite a bit in high school), looked at a couple banjos while there, went home, stewed, researched, looked around some more, and got an open-back banjo. Still haven't gotten the harmonica...

(My wife thinks I've lost my mind...the banjo is so misunderstood. Perhaps I should have opted for the lyre.)

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Some Charming Bastard

[I've been sitting on this post for a few days. Need to post it, to pay some small tribute.]

My good friend Craig Nelson passed away on Saturday, December 21, 2013. He was traveling from Gainesville, Florida, to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and had stopped to visit me the Monday before he passed away (likely of a massive heart attack while traveling through Tennessee; he pulled off into a rest stop, fell asleep and never awoke). I hadn't seen him in several years, and I'm still coming to grips with the fact that it was to be the last time. Certainly the fact that I had just seen him, just broken bread with him, made it all the harder to believe the sad news. He was 46.

I must have been 18 or 19 when I first met Craig at a place called Common Grounds in Fayetteville. I was writing fiction at the time, and we hit it off as fellow writers, smokers, and skeptics. Craig was a passionate person whose mind seemed to race (more than he liked at times). I was drawn--as I think so many were--to his expansive personality. He would always say exactly what was on his mind. Brutally honest but at the same time, somehow, a gentle giant. My children were instantly drawn to him when they met him. (Carissa had "met" him before when she was an infant; he had taken pictures of our family in Fayetteville, and had been the photographer at our wedding.) I'm not sure how the moniker "Some Charming Bastard" came to be attached to Craig, but it fit.

Craig took the picture above Monday night after we had drank a couple beers and visited. He posted, along with the picture, on Facebook that it had been a good day, and we had another good one on Tuesday, too, before he headed to see a friend in Lexington and then to Asheville, NC, before turning toward Fayetteville. We had talked about the usual things. He seemed eager to return to Fayetteville; he was moving back with what he had in his car. He appeared happy with how his daughter and her family were doing, including two young (grand)children. I think he had gone back to Florida (where he was from) in part to be nearer to her, but was now ready to be back in Fayetteville, where he found a lot of artistic inspiration and had made so many friends over the years. He will be missed.

Here's a link to a series of portraits he did, and a blurb on an exhibit of a selection of them in the University of Arkansas' Mullins Library.