29 September 2016

Money Makes the World Go 'Round

Aristotle offers up some observations and guidance on money matters. None of this will be talking points on CNBC or FOX Business network.

It is more about the character of a man and what we learn about him from the way he uses his money.

So what did Aristotle have to say about the one per-centers that inhabited Classical Greece?

If honorable men, they exhibit the virtue of magnificence. They spend  enormous amounts of the wealth--not on themselves "merely to display his wealth and thereby gain admiration," but for the benefit of their fellow citizens. The magnificent man " does not lavish money on himself, but on public objects." In Aristotle's day, such objects included warships, public buildings, public festivals, etc.

We see something like Aristotle's idea of magnificence in America's one per-centers. In our more complex society, they work largely through foundations. America's first generation of super-rich--Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, all established foundations to contribute to the public good. The work of the Carnegie Foundation remains the most visible of all--from Carnegie Hall in to libraries in small towns all across America.

Today's one per-centers continue that tradition. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, David Packard, the Koch brothers, the Walton family have all established foundations to put their wealth to serving the public good in some fashion or another.

But what about the rest of us--the ninety-nine per-centers?

Aristotle identified the similar virtue  as it is manifested by the rest of us as liberality--or as we might put it today, generosity.

As with other virtues, Aristotle provides no hard and fast rules about generosity. He reiterates his usual approach. "The liberal man will give with a view to, or for the sake of, that which is noble, and give rightly--he will give the right things to the right persons at the right times--in short, his giving will have all the characteristics of right giving."

According to Aristotle, right giving includes giving of "the right sources--his own property." It includes giving the right amount, "proportioning the gift to the fortune of the giver." A man who gives a smaller sum may be described as more liberal "if his means be smaller." (Jesus was not the first to recognize this principle.) It also includes giving to the right persons--people with "a well-regulated character"--rather than enriching those "who ought to be poor." Who ought to be poor? Aristotle does not specify. In the context he seems to mean undisciplined persons who will not work and/or those who waste their own meager fortunes on the wrong things. Never give to those Aristotle calls "casual persons," even if Jesus says so.

 Imagine Jesus and his disciples with Aristotle walking home after sharing a few glasses of retsina over at Parmenides' Place. They encounter a beggar reeking of alcohol. Jesus would instruct Judas to reach in their money bag and slip him some cash. God will provide a reward, Jesus says,  because of the good motives--even if the beggar uses the money for drinking and whoring. Aristotle would say no--the beggar's character is such that it is just that he remain poor and do without. (Aristotle's concept of justice is that each person receives his due--what he deserves.) Moreover, Aristotle says, giving to the beggar depletes the resources needed for giving to the right person.

Aristotle notes the vices surrounding money--those vices of excess and deficiency. The vices of deficiency is not giving at all but only taking. The taking includes both "common thieves" and those who acquire money through debased means such as "brothel  keeping" or loaning small amounts of money at high interest. He says illiberality is incurable.  The vice of excess he calls prodigality. It means giving too much money, to the wrong persons, for the wrong reasons. Overspending on the wrong things means less money to spend on the right ones.

So which vice is worse?

In Aristotle's view, the prodigal is better than the illiberal man for "the former does good to many while the latter to no one--not even to himself."

27 September 2016

Temperate Zone

Another of Aristotle's virtues that need not be exclusive to Athenian elites of his day is temperance.

Aristotle defines this virtue as the "moderation or observance of the mean with regard to pleasures."

He notes the difference between the pleasure of the mind and the pleasures of the body; it is with this latter pleasure that moderation assumes such importance. According to Aristotle, moderation should govern every individual's use of food, drink, and sex. With all of these pleasures, one ought to consider the right amount, in the right way, in the right social context, etc.

One vice regarding moderation is those who for whatever reason deny themselves the pleasures of food, drink, and physical intimacy. Few people exhibit this trait--"for this sort of insensibility is scarcely found in human nature." 

The most common vice regarding human appetites is overindulging--what Aristotle calls "profligacy." This is the behavior of gluttons, drunkards, whores, and whoremongers.

In his words, the profligate in no longer acting fully human--reasonably.

"That sense, then, with which profligacy is concerned is of all sense the commonest or most widespread; and so profligacy would seem to be deservedly of all vices the most censured, inasmuch as it pertains not to our human but to our animal nature."

He writes that to "To delight in things of this kind, then, and to love them more than all things, is brutish."

Profligates violate several moral principles. "Whereas people are called fond of this or that because they delight either in the wrong things, or to an unusual degree, or in a wrong fashion, profligates exceed in all these ways."

And this is one of those areas where both  secular conservatives and a religious conservatives see eye to eye--somewhat. The Bible repeatedly warns about gluttony, drunkenness, and fornication. And religious conservatives who take these warnings seriously and abide by them habitually, exhibite the kind of moral character that any secular conservative approves.

 For a secular conservatives, moderation serves as an example of good character. For the religious conservatives, moderation glorifies their god.

In either case, it yields good consequences for society. Obesity, alcoholism, drunkenness, illegitimacy, ignorance, and crime afflict the body politic because of the lack of moderation.

This is one reason why conservatives believe that most social problems and political problems stem from moral problems.

Aristotle called a life devoted to pleasures as "a bovine existence." Below, a herd of modern day heifers:

26 September 2016

Fear Factor

At the risk of boring my handful of readers and exceeding my level of competance, the first of several observations on specifics examples of Aristotle's virtues.

First--a question.

What do you fear?

Death? Disease? Failure? Poverty? A Clinton Presidency?

We experience all kinds of fears throughout our lives. They are all but unavoidable. According to Aristotle, however, the appropriate response to fear is not emotional collapse but the virtue of courage. In his words, the courageous "He endures and fears what he ought from the right motive, and in the right manners, and at the right time, and similarly feels confident, is courageous. For the courageous man regulates both his feeling and his action according to the merits of each case and as reason bids him."

He notes the many sources of fear:

"Fear, then, is excited by evil of any kind, e.g., by disgrace, poverty, disease, friendlessness, death." 

As one might expect, the man who exhibits courage in the strictest sense is the man who overcomes the fear of death. In Aristotle's words, courage best describes one who "faces an honorable death and all sudden emergencies which involve death, and such emergencies mostly occur in war." But in such emergencies, "the courageous man always keeps his presence of mind (so far as a man can."

While Aristotle's thoughts on facing with courage those fears that endanger our lives seem obvious to anyone, he notes another not so obvious object of fear that few people reflect upon these days--the fear of disgrace. He writes that disgrace, too, is something that every honorable man should fear.

Those who exhibit no such fear Aristotle calls "shameless." Public officials are notorious for this. The presidential candidates representing the two major parties serve as Exhibit A. They seem unperturbed when  they are caught lying--even when confronted with video footage that proves it. Of course, Mrs. Clinton is the worst, by virtue of acting as a public figure for several decades. She has a record of thirty years of lying and covering up scandals. Observers have so saturated the internet with collections of Hillary's greatest hits that it is difficult to choose one that best encapsulates her history. Here is just one:

It is difficult to imagine anything more shameless that President Bill Clinton's career as a serial adultery. Fear of dishonor and shame was evidently not one of the things on his mind when Monica Lewinsky kneeled before him. The public humiliation seem to have impacted the first couple not one iota. They remain shameless serial liars.

25 September 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: Revelation Through Dreams

This week's Sunday School Lesson will cover the subject of revelation through dreams.

In today's more scientific era we investigate dreams from a more scientific point of view. In primitive pre-scientific times, however, people considered dreams to be contacts from the spirit world. People interpreted them as warnings or omens. One biblical passage about the purpose of dreams which best describes the way most primitive peoples thought about dreams is found in Job 33;14-18. One of Job's comforters, Elihu, suggests that God warns men in dreams:

For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.

No distinction is made in this passage between Hebrew followers of Yahweh and others. God speaks to all men in dreams. Other passages in both Old Testament and New Testament confirm this view. In the Old Testament, he communicates in dreams to non-Jews; in the New Testament God communicates in dreams to non-Christians. Although not explicitly stated, perhaps a presupposition that the recipients of revelation through dreams at least believe in gods or a supreme deity.

A cursory look at specific examples suggests that the intent of revelation through dreams seems to be two general kinds: to provide specific direction to the individual recipient concerning a future course of action and to reveal general information about the future. Examples of the first type include God warning Abimelech that he had taken Abraham's wife (Gen. 20:3-7), directing Jacob to return to the promised land (Gen. 31: 11-3), and warning Laban not to inflict harm upon Jacob (Gen. 31:24). The well-known New Testament example is God encouraging Matthew not to fear taking Mary as his wife despite her mysterious pregnancy ( Matt. 1:20) and commanding him to return to Israel after
Herod's death ( Matt. 2.19-21).

Examples of the second type include God's revelations to Pharaoh (Gen. 40:1-41:57) and to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:1-49). Both stories feature righteous Hebrews who possessed the gift of dream interpretation. In both stories the superior abilities of Joseph and Daniel elevated them to influential positions in the kingdoms. The underlying theme is how they used their positions to secure better treatment for God's people or to demonstrate that God is sovereign over these pagan kingdoms.


One of the more interesting accounts is God's communication to Solomon (1Ki. 3:5-14). The account of the dream includes not only God speaking to Solomon, but also Solomon speaking back to God. Is Solomon's response part of God revelation about what he wills that Solomon should desire? Or is Solomon's response a subconscious expression of what he himself really does desire? Or is he just talking in his sleep?

The Bible does not provide much guidance in determining which dreams are divine communications. In Deut. 13:1-5, the passage warns that any prophet reporting a dream directing the people to worship another god is a liar. More important, the passage explains that God is actually testing them that they are too ignore that prophet and kill him.

Most evangelicals today reject revelation by dreams. They assert that such revelations only came in “Bible days.” Other charismatic and pentecostal denominations still believe that God communicates by means of dream. Later posts this week will look at their efforts to make revelations through dreams intelligible to a modern audience.

24 September 2016

Aristotle on Virtue

Last week's post explored Aristotle's view that happiness is the supreme goal in life.  Aristotle asserts that happiness is the goal or purpose of life. Aristotle defines happiness—or human thriving—as the rational activity of the soul in accordance with virtue (or excellence). In modern terms, Aristotle is concerned with "the good life" or how to excel at being human.

Virtue today is an uncommon word with a meaning that seems to be a relic from the past. It especially conjured up the image of a chaste woman from the Victorian Era. It actually derives from the Latin word vir, which mean man.

It is also just a bit vague. So what does it mean to be virtuous? Aristotle subsequently identifies several specific virtues or excellencies. He divides them into two kinds, intellectual and moralBecause of Aristotle's conversational even meandering writing style and the challenges of translation from Greek to English, lists of these virtues often differ in terminology in the various versions of Ethics. Without any elaboration on their specific meaning, here is one list:

First are the intellectual virtues. These are acquired through instruction. You can never have too much of them. The first three refer to theoretical or speculative matters; the last to with the practical matters of how-to-act and how-to-do.


In contrast, the moral virtue, are acquired through training or habituation. One can have too little of these virtues--and too much--so that they cease to be virtues at all.


Aristotle implies that the man who possesses all these virtues exhibits the highest of specific virtues: justice.

What does it mean to have too little or too much of a moral virtue?

In Ethics, Aristotle refines his definitions for each of these virtues and provides examples of deficiency and excess. For example, according to Aristotle, courage is the mean for any individual facing fear or hardship. A person with courage fears the right things in the right way. A person who lacks courage is recognized as a coward. That much is obvious to anyone. Less obvious is when a person acts in excess responding to danger and become foolhardy or rash. This, too, is a vice. Similarly, Aristotle sees wit as a social virtue. It ceases to be a virtue, however, when one lacking wit becomes a boor--a person with no sense of humor who frowns on those who do. Likewise, wit ceases to be virtue when one becomes a buffoon--a person who excessively laughs and makes light of everything.

Many commentators on Aristotle suggest that these virtues fit best in the context of the fourth-century Greek city-state. In some ways his account reads like a book on etiquette and an advice book on how to be a gentleman. Indeed, Aristotle himself observed that laborers and farmers, owing to the demands for work, do no possess the time to cultivate these virtues to the fullest. A man devoted to hours of manual labor cannot really become a gentleman.

Aristotle's reservations, however, primary concern the acquisition of virtue needed for serving in a prominent leadership role as a ruler in the city-state.

Any person can--and should--cultivate some of these virtues as least to some degree in order to contribute to their thriving as human beings and living the good life for themselves.

And, according to Aristotle, is this not the purpose, end, or goal of life?

23 September 2016

Hollywood's Love Lumps

The last post this week exploring the entrails of the world of entertainment . . .

Do you ever fantasize about intermingling your bodily secretions with those of attractive Hollywood stars? Think again . . .

Enjoy this click bait that appears in various versions around the internet.

22 September 2016

Entertainment Eats Its Own

If Jimmy Fallon gave Donald Trump the "kid glove" treatment on the Tonight Show, assorted thespians more than made up for it later at the Emmy Awards.

The Emmys recognize excellence in television entertainment. I did not watch the broadcast of the Emmy Awards and cannot in fact remember ever watching them. If the Emmy broadcast follows the pattern of most variety shows or award ceremonies, it would offer up gentle criticism of candidates from both sides of the political spectrum. And this year provides more material than most. From the reporters at Reuters, however, it appears that all of the political jests and snipes seemed to have been directed at television entertainment veteran Donald Trump. Whether this reflects what really happened or merely the interest of the reporters at Reuters--who knows.

Interestingly, it was a case of entertainers eating their own. Donald Trump's television show The Celebrity Apprentice actually received an Emmy nomination back in 2004 but lost to The Amazing Race.  (Trump's reaction . . . what else but "I got screwed out of an Emmy.")

Reuters reports here.

Below some highlights--or lowlights--depending on your political views.

21 September 2016

Of Follicles and Fallon

In other entertainment news, some observers have taken Jimmy Fallon to task for his easy familiarity with Donald Trump when the Republican presidential candidate appeared on the Tonight Show.

Frank Sheck at the Hollywood Reporter uploaded a piece entitled "Jimmy Fallon Helps Donald Trump Play Nice on The Tonight Show." The article includes several clips, including one of Fallon playing with Trumps famous comb-over.

Confusing Fallon's talk show host role with that of investigative reporter, Shreck summarized Fallon's approach as "cringe inducingly fawning." He later alluded to a specific exchange as another example of "his hard-hitting style."

It appears that in this current highly politicized season, entertainers must throw out all sense of propriety--and humor--in the name of forming a united front against fellow entertainer Donald Trump.

It's another case of the entertainment industry devouring its own.

Below, Fallon addresses a question on his approach:

20 September 2016

American Anthems

As a follow up to yesterday's post on Colin Kaepernick and his protests during the playing of the national anthem . . .

I confessed to being a fan of neither the NFL, the playing of the national anthem before its games, nor even of the choice of the Star Spangled Banner as our national anthem. The song is difficult to sing, the subject and circumstances are too narrow (War of 1812), and one verse that we never sing laments the fact that the British instigated slave revolts in enhance their war effort.

The best alternative probably is America the Beautiful. Yes, it mentions God's grace, but any conservative atheist or agnostic can live with that. It even ties God's grace to a traditional conservative idea: liberty under law:

America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!


Of course, progressives might object to things like God and liberty under law. They might say that while they, too, believe in God, liberty, and law, they would never "force" them on anyone. After all, they say,  pluralism and autonomy must be our nation's highest values. So in the name of pluralism and autonomy, perhaps every individual should be able to choose his/her/trans (etc. etc.) own national individual anthem.

Below, an anthem for American progressives:

We cannot leave out those "fellow travelers" of the conservative movement: neo-conservatives and libertarians.

Below  an anthem for our neo-conservative and libertarian friends, paying homage to another set of values, or at least another way of thinking about them:

19 September 2016

Colin Kaepernick: Bench-Riding Boor

Not content with "riding the pine" as the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick last week began what he hints will be an regular display of moral preening during the NFL pre-game playing of the national anthem.  Instead of standing to honor the country, he will sit or kneel to protest its lack of cosmic justice.

 From San Francisco FOX affiliate KTVU:


I am not a fan of the NFL.

I am not a fan of playing the national anthem before athletic events.

I am not even a fan of the the selection of the "Star Spangled Banner" as our national anthem.

Kaepernick's protests, however passionately he may feel about them, are both misguided and, as a consequence, ineffectual. Some of the purposes of his protests, as stated above, include the following:

To "bring awareness."

To help "people realize what's really going on in this country."

Even though, "everyone knows what's going on."

And, of course,  to start "conversations."

Most of these phrases sound like talking points regurgitated from progressive pundits on MSNBC or lifted from the web pages of the Huffington Post.

Because his protests, and even this post-game interview about the protests, are largely content free, he is not bringing awareness of anything to anyone. People are are not going to realize what's really going on, even when everyone (as he says) knows what's going on. Consequently, the only conversations taking place are about, you know, Colin Kaepernick.

Meanwhile, over at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg calls for the For the Separation of Stadium and State. Sports, like all entertainment, serves as a refuge from the more serious business of life. Whether watched in a stadium, a bar, or at home, NFL football provides fans an escape from work, finances, and most of all during this time of the season--politics and political campaigns.

In fact, sports serves as one of many amusements that people choose in lieu of politics. A hundred and fifty years ago, 80-90% of eligible voters showed up on election days. They participated by the thousands in rallies, debates, and parades for their candidates or issues. One reason may be their sense of duty as republicans to exercise their civil virtue. But another reason, no doubt, was that there was nothing else to do for entertainment.

Today we have a nearly endless variety of amusements available to entertain us besides political involvement. The NFL is just one of them. This partly explains why less than half of eligible voters bother showing up at the polls.

Now this boorish bench-rider, from the safety of the sidelines, intends an indeterminately long campaign to violate the NFL's entertainment etiquette.

18 September 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: Christian Revelation and Knowledge:

Religion is a ubiquitous aspect of human experience. Every culture has acknowledged the existence of divinity in some form or another. Some cultures professed a belief in hundreds of deities arranged in an elaborate polytheistic hierarchy. They associated these deities with specific geographic locations or with forces of nature. Other cultures such as the ancient Hebrews, believed in one true God above an array of lesser spiritual entities, some benevolent others malevolent. Some of these cultures have asserted--or continue to assert today--that their deity has revealed his will to his followers. In Western culture, this claim is asserted by followers of a ancient Middle Eastern deity named Yahweh. They claim that he not only revealed his will through sacred writings collected in the Bible, but also that he revealed himself in human flesh in the Roman province of Judea over 2,000 years ago. Here at the Rational Right--necessarily brief introduction to the idea of divine revelation and asks if knowledge ever comes through divine revelation.

According to the Bible, God’s revelation came through several different means. God communicated through dreams, visions, personal visitations by himself or angels, audible voices out of heaven, and something called inspiration, in which he "breathed out" information that he wanted mankind to know.  The immediate question that comes to mind is how did the biblical characters (or people today in some religious traditions) become convinced that  God talked to them? The Bible reports these episodes of divine revelation in a very "matter of fact" way. God communicated; they responded. The scriptures do not often record anyone pondering about the voice, or dream, or vision.

Moreover, someone allegedly recorded these revelations that they or someone else claimed to have experienced. They took the form of chronologies, poetry, proverbs, and apocalyptic prophesy. The earliest of these writings established the religious traditions of the Jews.  After the arrival of an apocalyptic rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth additional sacred writings emerged. These  writings purported to be accounts of the life of Jesus, letters of didactic instruction by Paul and others to local Christian communities, and one last apocalyptic account of the imminent ushering in of the age of righteousness.

Whatever the literary form, believers today allege that the contents of the Bible is knowledge that God wants known about his dealings with mankind. And they claim everyone else should believe, too. What are we to make of such claims? Obviously, the alleged revelations took place in the minds or souls of the recipient. It consists of a private subject experience with a first-person ontology. Because we cannot gain access to the contents of  another's mind, we can only weigh their claims after the fact.

We might try putting ourselves in their places and ask ourselves if the claims make any sense. How would one of us today respond today if we heard a "still small voice" or a louder "voice out of heaven"? What if the normal content of our consciousness suddenly experienced an interruption in the form of a vision announcing, "We interrupt this cognitive apprehension of external reality with a brief visionary and largely symbolic message from Almighty God?" What is the socially and spiritually appropriate reply to someone claiming to be an angelic cosmic courier? Would we, too,  conclude that God is speaking to us? We would we dismiss it? Or would we immediately recall with alarm the conclusion of  the late Dr. Thomas Szasz-- "If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia” ?

And because at least 2,000 years has passed since even the most recent of these revelations, it becomes that much more difficult to believe such claims. Obviously, most religions which claim to possess written revelations from God emerged in a pre-scientific age. Dreams, visions, and angelic announcements constituted part of their traditions. Even processes of  nature lent themselves to supernatural explanation. Today we assume a more skeptical posture both to the idea of divine revelation itself and its alleged content. In our contemporary age we are more likely to hear more about encounters with aliens than with angels.

How to believers respond to such claims?

First, in order to believe that knowledge can come through divine revelation, they must assume that God exists. Second, they must also assume that he wants to communicate. Then they turn to reason, or rationalizations.

Most content in the Bible consists of pretty mundane stuff. In fact, some people argue against the divine origin of the bible for precisely this reason: it offers nothing than any human being could not produce. Because the texts take place in specific times and geographic locations that are well known, they appear more reasonable that some other ancient religions. A real historical, geographical, and cultural context imbues these religious writings with at least an appearance of  historicity and reasonableness and thus justifies Christians in their dismissal of other primitive religions with more exotic claims as mere superstitions.

But some claims asserted in the Bible appear beyond reason or down right unreasonable. Such teachings as the existence of  angels and spirits, other dimensions such as heaven and hell, miracles, and particular aspects of church dogma such as the trinity, the incarnation, and the vicarious atonement are not subject to analysis through senses or reason.

That's when believers justify belief in private and subjective alleged  revelations with even more
subjectivity. When the content of alleged revelation cannot be evaluated by reason, believers exercise what they claim is an alternative means to knowledge: faith.  Faith moves believers to assent to those propositions in the Bible that are not evident to reason. They claim that God’s Holy Spirit grants them the faith and convinces them that the Bible is the inspired word of God (1 Cor. 2.1-16). But this, too, is a private and  subjective experience that takes place in the mind or soul of the individual believer. 

In light of these observations, it is difficult to conclude that any knowledge comes through revelation. Or more exactly, it is difficult to conclude that we can know that any knowledge comes through revelation.

17 September 2016

Aristotle on the Meaning of Life

Last Saturday's brief introduction of the Aristotle's approach to political science noted Aristotle's insistence that politics is the "master art" or "master science."

He makes this conclusion for two reasons. First, politics in way subsumes all other arts or sciences. In modern terms, the arts and sciences of economics, education, war making, etc. all constitute parts of politics--the science of the state. Second, politics is the science needed to understand what is the supreme good for mankind. All other arts and sciences like economics, education, and war serve limited purposes, ends, or goods. Although to a limited extent they seek ends that seem good in themselves, these ends or goods are really the means or constituent parts of a greater or supreme good.

So if politics is the science for discovering the supreme good for mankind, what is that good? What could it be that is good in itself and not simply the means to something else?


As Aristotle puts it, “happiness more than anything else is thought to be just such an end because we always choose if for itself and never for any other reason.”

At this point, however, Aristotle throws us modern readers a twist. Usually we think of happiness as the psychological or emotional state that comes from acquiring whatever it is that we want. The Greek word for happiness is eudaimonia, which means flourishing or thriving. While happiness in the emotional sense might accompany human flourishing, it is secondary. Perhaps the best modern phrase that captures the meaning of  Aristotle's concept of happiness is "living good life." And as previously implied, that differs from "having a good time."

Aristotle develops further into this question of happiness. What does it mean for a human to flourish? To find this answer, one must understand the function of a human being. And according to Aristotle, what distinguishes the functioning of human beings from every other creature is reason. Flourishing is living rationally. Therefore, Aristotle sees happiness or "the good life" as the rational activity of the soul or life of a man.

Finally, he adds that any activity worth doing is worth doing well. “The function of a good man is to perform well and rightly . . . and if all this is so, the conclusion is that the good for man is an activity of the soul in accordance with excellence.”

Excellence derives from the Greek word arete, which most translations render virtue.

Aristotle's complete definition of happiness [flourishing] then is rational activity of the soul in accordance with excellence or virtue.

Or said another way, happiness, or the supreme goal of life, simply means to excel at being human.  

12 September 2016

The Search for the "True Islam"

As we American remember those lost in the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001, one thing has not changed: spokespersons of the Western dhimmitude continue to  remind us that the terrorists do not represent the "true" Islamic faith. George Bush consoled Americans in 2001 with the assurance that Islam is a "religion of peace." And fifteen years later, after Bush destroyed Iraq and laid the groundwork for rise of the Islamic state, our new theologian-in-chief thinks it is important that we understand that ISIS odes not represent true Islam. The terrorists, so it goes, have hijacked Islam for their own insidious political or financial purposes. The majority of Muslims are peace-loving adherents to "the religion of peace."

True enough (Praise Allah for that!), but not especially informative.

So where do we find the "true" Islam?

Where exists the Islam that is a religion of peace and an attractive faith bringing hope and well-being to its adherents?

It is difficult to say. The Islamic world itself is divided between Sunnis and Shiites, each claiming to represent "true" Islam. The leading Sunni nation is the custodian of the Islamic holy sites, Saudi Arabia. Their main challenger for leadership in the Muslim world is the largest Shiite nation, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Do either of these nations exhibit the "true" Islam, one that Westerners might find attractive?

Freedom House rates Saudi Arabia among the worst nations regarding natural and civil rights.

The Koran and Sunna serve as the kingdom's fundamental law. A cabinet appointed by the king writes legislative proposals, which become law after ratification by royal decree. There is no independent judiciary. Political parties are illegal and no opposition to the monarchy is permitted. With no input into the either the constitution or laws, the people of Saudi Arabia are truly subjects rather than citizens.

The Saudi regime does not recognize basic rights such as freedom of speech, association, and religion. The law requires that all Saudis adhere to Islam. It forbids public worship by other religions. It restricts the religious rights of Shiite Muslims, including the construction of Shiite mosques.

Woman are not permitted to drive and acquired the right to voted in local municipal elections only in 2011. They do not even possess the right of freedom of movement without a male relative.

The criminal justice system uses torture as a mean of interrogation. While most people in the United States believe that some crimes deserve death for perpetrators, the Saudi regime regularly hands down death sentences for robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking, adultery, and sorcery.

Freedom House rates Iran not much better. This Shiite nation is ruled by a supreme leader chosen by a Council of Experts. Members of the Council of Experts are elected by popular vote after nomination by a Guardian Council consisting of six theologians. A president and legislative assembly, too, are popularly elected after candidates receiving approval by the Guardian Council.

The regime restricts fundamental freedoms. Speech, assembly, and religion are restricted. Only recognized minorities religious faith receive toleration.

Like in Saudi Arabia, women possess few rights compared to Western women.

Iran's criminal justice system, too, uses torture as a method of interrogation. Suspects are subject to indefinite detention.

Consensual sexual intercourse between two unmarried people, as well as homosexuality, can result in a hangman's noose.

A couple of young gays face Islamic justice in Iran

Maybe these regimes do represent "true Islam." Perhaps only the millions of average Muslims who quietly live their lives like the rest of us truly speak for Islam.

On that score, published results from Pew Polling are not very encouraging. Large majorities of average Muslims support those religious teachings about morality that one might expect: the condemnation of adultery, homosexuality, alcohol, and suicide. And like most other religions, they believe that their religion is the only path to heaven.

Most disturbing, however, it that Muslims from the Middle East and East Asia also express significant support for such things as Sharia law, polygamy, honor killings, and even suicide bombings.

While Western politicians routinely and rightfully condemn Islamic extremism, the difference between the extremists and every other Muslim appears to be one of degree and not of kind.

11 September 2016

Names and Remembrances . . .

The list of victims of  followers of Islam who committed acts of mass murder in the name of their deity.

More about those we honor this day over here.

10 September 2016

Aristotle and the Science of Politics

With preliminaries about material and social reality out of the way in the posts from the last two weekends, we turn to Aristotle, the first conservative.

This will be kept simple. To explore Aristotle in depth probably exceeds both my competence and the interest of my handful of readers.

According to Aristotle, before one examines the purpose of a political community,  one must understand the purposes of life for individual members of that community. In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle attempts to answer that question—what are the purposes, ends, or goals of human life. In a follow up work called Politics, he explores the question of the best political arrangements for community life.

It is in the first book, however, that he introduces political science and the object of its inquiry.

In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle asserts the supremacy of politics to other sciences. He opens the book by noting that every kind of skill or science seems to aim at some end, goal or purpose.

"Every art and every kind of inquiry, and likewise every act and purpose, seem to aim at some good: and so it has been well said that the good is that at which everything aims."

Because there are many kinds of arts (skills) and inquiries (sciences), there are many ends or purposes. Two examples Aristotle puts forth are managing economic matters and waging war. To Aristotle however, these various pursuits are limited activities with limited ends. They exist as means to or constituent parts of a larger, supreme, or highest end or purpose. Aristotle wants to know what is this supreme end or highest purpose.  To discover this, Aristotle says we must know what, in his words, is the "master-art" or "master-science" to discover that supreme end or highest good.

Aristotle asserts that this master science is political science--the science of the state.

"Since then it [politics]  makes use of the other practical sciences, and since it further ordains what men are to do and from what to refrain, its end must include the ends of the other sciences, and must be the proper good of man."

The object of politics, then, is to discover and bring about the proper end, purpose, or good for mankind. Aristotle is less concerned with mankind as individuals than as member of a community.

"For though this good is the same for the individual and the state, yet the good of the state seems a grander and more perfect thing both to attain and to secure; and glad as one would be to do this service a a single individual , to do it for a people and for a number of states is nobler and more divine."

Before one can understand the what is good for a community, one must apprehend what is good for its individual members.

And thus Aristotle begins his exploration of ethics and politics

07 September 2016

News That's Not New

Yesterday The Dallas Morning News endorsed  Hillary Clinton for President.

The editorial notes that the paper has not endorsed a Democrat for President since the 1930s.

And it concludes that Donald Trump is not a Republican. (That is not exactly news.) His views depart from the Republican tradition on three core issues: individual liberty, free markets, and strong defense.

And that, according to the editors, leaves them no choice but to recommend Hillary Clinton.

In the eyes of the editors, What does Clinton have going for her?

She is a known quantity.

That is about the lowest standard for an endorsement imaginable.Considering what we all know about her, that should be reason enough NOT to endorse her.

05 September 2016

Saint and Sinner

This weekend Pope Francis canonized the late Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charities sisterhood. She became well-known for her work with the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India. So well-known, in fact, that the rich and powerful hoped to be infused with virtue through touching the hem of her garments.

As everyone knows, however, slumming with the rich and powerful has its costs.

A clip below from a 1994 documentary by Christopher Hitchens. He, too, acquired celebrity by means of Mother Teresa, though in a very different way.

03 September 2016

Man and Social Reality

In addition to living in the material reality of nature, man also moves within a social reality of his own creation.

Social reality consists of those institutions (in a broad sense) created by human beings as a result of cooperative actions in order to facilitate those cooperative actions. These institutions may be informal cultural practices or formal organizations. Examples include such things as language, property, money, marriage, schools, corporations, law, and governments.

Last week's post observed that most secularists, whether conservative or liberal, differ from traditional Christians about the origins and attributes of material reality. Similarly, secularists differ as well about the origins of the institutions that constitute our social reality. For secularists, these institutions are human conventions to meet human needs. These institutions emerge in particular historical circumstances and differ from place to place. They also evolve over time to adjust to changing historical circumstances.

For traditional Christians, however, many of these institutions came from God. As "revealed" in the Bible, God created marriage, property, language, government and a host of other practices and institutions.

Because social reality is man-made, however, the attributes of particular institutions are contestable. Conflicts occur in every society over whether existing cultural practices or institutional organizations need to adjust or, if so, what kind of modifications are needed. Much of political debate both in the past and the present centers on just this question how a societies and their institutions adapt to change.

This contestability of social reality to some extent alters the ideological landscape. On the question of the origins of social reality secular conservatives side with "the secular left" against religious conservatives. On the question of the attributes and ends of our social institutions, however, most secular conservatives will find themselves on the same side as most religious conservatives.

The "Rational Right" and the "Religious Right" are both on the right--in the right.