The Contemporary Conundrum

Interesting thoughts from Orthodox blogger Stephen Freeman:

Morality asks questions of right and wrong. What constitutes right action and why? Virtue asks an even deeper question. What kind of person is able to think and act in a right way? In terms of the gospel, we can see virtue as lying at the heart of Christ’s statement, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” For someone who lacks virtue (is not “pure in heart”) even their reason and perception will be distorted. They will not only fail at doing the good, they will not even be able to see what the good is.

To suggest that we live in a culture in which virtue is absent is thus a very serious charge. It means that we are unable to agree on even the most mundane matters about what is right and wrong. Worse still, we have become the kind of people who are unable to even know the answer to such questions.




  1. Really? Where? Respect for individual citizen’s rights has never been higher. The problem with a statement like this is it defines virtue in arbitrary terms according to mythology, when virtue should be defined in concrete terms.

    1. I don’t know if respect for individual rights has ever been higher. In the U.S. the government can search and seize your property for all kinds of reasons that would have been considered illegitimate a generation ago (thanks to the corrosive effects of the War on Drugs). What right to privacy do you have before the IRS?
      How do we possibly define virtue nowadays?
      Person A: Abortion should be legal because a woman must define for herself her own meaning and destiny.
      Person B: Abortion should be illegal because the fetus is substantially human, and as such possesses an inherent dignity and rights that must be protected by law.
      Person C: Is impossible to say if abortion is right or wrong, so the government should not have any laws regarding it (… therefore it should be legal.)
      The three people are not even speaking the same moral language. We can’t even define a human being let alone how to treat him.

      1. Your A, B and C examples are actually very interesting. I’d say a reasonable person with some medical knowledge would read all three and find them all problematic. Primordially because there’s no nuance in those positions.
        A very long time ago already, people from Aristotle to St. Augustine proposed that there was a (moral) difference in the matter of abortion based on the stage of development of the fetus. It’s preposterous to claim that late term abortion is humane. And equally preposterous to claim early abortion is murder.

      2. The problem is that all the arguments come from different starting points and there is no common ground among them, so moral discourse can’t exist.

      3. You speak as if civilization doesn’t exist. As if we have no history, no culture, no literature, no study of ethics, no law, no cures to diseases. All discourse can and does exist no matter how much end of times talk Trump and religious extremists depend on to sell their wares to the public.

      4. In a specific way, civilization does not exist. Our language and concepts for dealing with ethics are weak, fragmented and often self-contradictory.
        This fleshes out the discussion a little more.

      5. And yet we have illuminated roads, functioning universities and we can treat Ebola, Aids and a great number of cancers. Civilization does exist.
        What you’re doing is appealing to the absurd- and extraordinarily so.

      6. And we can’t make morally informed decisions as a community.

      7. We can’t, or religious extremists can’t? From where I sit the law has done and continues to do precisely that.

      8. See the three abortion arguments above. There is no common moral language that can be employed.
        Or consider for example different takes on the Arab-Israeli issue. You have activists operating in three radically different moral universes. A) The nation-state must protect its citizens B) The nation-state is inherently illegitimate C) Allah-Akbar.

      9. Disagreement doesn’t invalidate discussion. And ridiculous claims don’t invalidate reasonable ones. Because one or another religious group says lighting a candle and clicking your heels three times cures cancer- or killing a chicken at a crossroads cures cancer, that doesn’t invalidate the fact that there are some excellent treatments for cancer in the forms of chemo and radiotherapy.
        You’re trying to put all options on the same level; evidence or no evidence. And you do that because that’s the only way you can give some credence to these superstitious ideologies you embrace.
        At the end of the day you should ask yourself what the value of an ideology is if it can only be defended with deception and doublespeak?

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