Thursday, 15 February 2007

Educating in the Virtues (3)

A couple of posts ago I raised the question: ‘what are the virtues?’

There seems to be a bit of a contrast between modern ‘values’ and old-fashioned virtues. And as so often, I think the wisdom of centuries has more to offer than the current consensus.

To take an example, one of the few virtues which is universally applauded these days is tolerance. But I would far rather be treated with charity than be tolerated. By the same token, I would far rather treat others with charity - including ‘tough love’ where necessary, than tolerance.

If someone tolerates me, it often means they simply don’t care or understand enough to engage with me seriously. I’d prefer a good row to that! Not least because I might be wrong, and if tolerated will never discover that.

So the system of virtues we use when considering our children’s upbringing (and therefore our own behaviour - see previous post) is the classic set of faith, hope, charity, justice, fortitude, prudence and temperance.

In The Abolition of Man, C S Lewis describes values commonly held by all civilisations worthy of the name through history, and gives them the label of the Tao. Lewis was a Christian, and clearly the values he is describing are consistent with Christianity. However he was quick to point out, and give examples to demonstrate, that the values he is describing can be found in Norse, Ancient Greek, Roman, Ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Indian, etc etc cultures.

From another point of view, John Finnis, a legal philosopher at Oxford University, tries to establish the basis for good law in his book Natural Law and Natural Rights. He reaches a similar conclusion: that there are certain basic forms of human good on which any civilised society must base its code of law. His list is different, as much in style as in content,
from Lewis’s.

Lewis’ list includes: Beneficence (ie refrain from doing harm to others; do good to them where you can), Justice, Mercy, Good Faith and Veracity, and Magnanimity.

Finnis identifies the following as the basic forms of human good on which any civilised society must base its code of law: Life, Knowledge, Play, Aesthetic Experience, Sociability (friendship), Practical Reasonableness, and ‘Religion’ (or a common philosophy).

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