Friday, March 28, 2014

Excerpt from "The Nature of True Virtue" by Jonathan Edwards

I ran across this essay in an 
old literature text book and thought I would share a bit. So many people only know the name Jonathan Edwards by his sermon and essay Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God. This essay is from a man who was a very thoughtful philosopher, and is worth a careful read.

At the bottom of this excerpt is a link to the complete essay on-line.

Excerpt from The Nature of Virtue By Jonathan Edwards:

"Whatever controversies and variety of opinions there are about the nature of virtue, yet all (excepting some skeptics, who deny any real difference between virtue and vice) mean by it, something beautiful, or rather some kind of beauty, or excellency. –It is not all beauty, that is called virtue; for instance, not the beauty of a building, of a flower, or of the rainbow: but some beauty belonging to Beings that have perception and will. –It is not all beauty of mankind, that is called virtue; for instance, not the external beauty of the countenance, or shape, gracefulness of motion, or harmony of voice: but it is a beauty that has its original seat in the mind.  –But yet perhaps not every  thing that may be called a beauty of mind, is properly called virtue. There is a beauty of understanding and speculation. There is something in the ideas and conceptions of great philosophers and statesmen, that may be called beautiful; which is a different thing from what is most commonly meant by virtue. But virtue is the beauty of those qualities and acts of the mind, that are of a moral nature, i.e., such as are attended with desert or worthiness of praise, or blame. Things of this sort, it is generally agreed, so far as I know, are not anything belonging merely to speculation; but to the disposition  and will,  or ( to use a general word, I suppose commonly well understood) the heart. Therefore I suppose, I shall not depart from the common opinion, when I say, that virtue is the beauty of the qualities and exercises of the heart, or those actions which proceed from them[1]. So that when it is inquired, What is the nature of true virtue? –this is the same as to inquire, what that is which renders any habit, disposition, or exercise of the heart truly beautiful.  I use the phrase true virtue, and speak of things truly beautiful, because I suppose it will generally be allowed, that there is a distinction to be made between some things which are truly virtuous and others which only seem to be virtuous, through a partial and imperfect view of things: that some actions and dispositions appear beautiful, if considered partially and superficially, or with regard to some things belonging to them, and in some of their circumstances and tendencies, which would appear otherwise in a more extensive and comprehensive view, wherein they are seen clearly in their whole nature and the extent of their connections in the universality of things. –there is a general and a particular beauty. By a particular beauty, I mean that by which a thing appears beautiful when considered only with regard to its connection with, and tendency to some particular thing within a limited, and, as it were, a private sphere. And a general beauty is that by which a thing appears beautiful when viewed most perfectly, comprehensively and universally, with regard to all its tendencies, and its connections with everything it stands related to." 

According to the footnote, this was Edward’s last work, composed after an illness and during the last three years of his life. This essay is in the book The American Tradition in Literature, Third Edition. Vol. 1(1967, New York, Grosset & Dunlap Inc.)
The full text of this same essay can be accessed in a pdf here:

[1] Emphasis mine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jesus you lead me...

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quite waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his  name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Christine Korsgaard on Kant

Here is a quote written by Christine M. Korsgaard, from the introduction of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1997, New York, Cambridge University Press)

“Being of absolute value, human beings should not sacrifice themselves or one another for merely relatively valuable ends. Since it is insofar as we are rational beings that we accord ourselves this absolute value, the formula enjoins us to respect ourselves and each other as rational beings. We should develop our rational capacities, and promote one another’s chosen ends. Respecting someone as a rational being also means respecting her right to make her own decisions about her own life and actions. This leads to particularly strong injunctions against coercion and deception, since these involve attempts to take other people’s decisions out of their own hands, to manipulate their wills for one’s own ends. Someone who makes you a false promise in order to get some money, for instance, wants you to decide to give him the money. He predicts that you will not decide to give him the money unless he says he will pay it back, and therefore he says he will pay it back, even though he cannot do so. His decision about what to say to you is entirely determined by what he thinks will work to get the result he wants. In that sense he treats your reason, your capacity for making decisions, as if it were merely an instrument for his own use. This is a violation of the respect he owes to you and your humanity.

 This example brings out something important about Kant’s conception of morality.  What is wrong with the false promise is not merely that he does not tell the truth. What is wrong with him is the reason that he does not tell the truth—because he thinks it will not get the result he want—and the attitude towards you which that the reason embodies. Even if he told you the truth, if it were only because he thought it would get the result he wanted, he would still be regarding you as a mere means. Instead, we must tell the truth so that others may exercise their own reason freely—and that means that, in telling them the truth, we are inviting them to reason together with us, to share in our deliberations. When we need the cooperation of others, we must also be prepared to give them a voice in the decision about what is to be done. This leads Kant to a vision of an ideal human community, in which people reason together about what to do. Because this is the community of people who regard themselves and one another as wends in themselves, Kant calls it the kingdom of ends.” (pp xxii-xxiii)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Calming the Storm

In the stress of mid semester, I find the most difficult thing for me to NOT do is get angry at people.

I keep wanting to scream, “DON’T YOU SEE I’M BUSY?!”

Don’t you understand I have school work to do?

Don’t you understand that everything you don’t do, promises you don’t keep, and considerations you don’t give me, tear me apart right now!

I am tired and stressed, surrounded by other tired and stressed students; we act like a school of feeder fish, being herded into a food-ball for the barracudas to eat.

In one twenty-four hour period my summer class schedule changed 4 times, a friend dropped a promise, and I had a professor “call-me-out” twice in one class….and I wanted to cry.

I wanted to wail “no-one cares for me!”

I wanted to go find a sympathetic shoulder with a box of tissues.

But in all this chaos, the words that keep floating to the surface of my mind are from the One who calmed that storm,
“Do you trust me?”

Like a life-line,

Like a hand up, when I fall down;

The friend who has neither left me, nor forsaken me,

 and I find shalom.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Some Thoughts on Sacrifice

When you read of the sacrifice that Abraham was asked to make by binding Isaac to that altar, he really was willing to sacrifice his son, his dream of an heir, the child that he loved. 

But he so trusted the promise made to him by God that he was certain that his son would be resurrected even from the ashes.

We know that God stopped his hand, and provided the ram in the thicket.

In my own life, God repeatedly brings me to places of decision; not as extreme as Abraham, yet for me it has seemed as if I was being asked to sacrifice certain hopes and dreams I have held dear; maybe too dear.

And each time I felt as if this was a choice between God’s plan, or my dream. (Or perhaps I should call it an idol?)

I still look around, hoping that there will be some last minute “ram”, some substitute, or a word of consolation from God.

I still look for something that might sound like, “It’s ok Lisa, you don’t really have to give up that dream.”

Those words never come.

Because I realized that there has already been a Lamb slain as a substitute.

And my trust in God deepens.