Pages

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

How to teach children what you don't know yourself

Now that Goomba is talking and even arguing with us ("There is no cat in that book." "Yes! Yes! Kitty innit!"), we are shifting our thoughts a little from how to keep her alive to how to educate her. Aside from questions about formal schooling, we wonder, would we want her to learn music of some kind? A set of fundamental life skills? Play a sport? Speak a foreign language? Observe a (our) religion? Yes, we think. And then we consider how we can teach her all this, and we conclude - as all bourgie American parents do - that we must give her lessons. Swimming lessons, violin lessons, tennis lessons, Hebrew school, drawing classes, Latin lessons (ok, admittedly, this has not yet been vetted by Mr. Self-Important but it will happen), and so on. Very quickly, it becomes evident that we will 1) need to be much richer to afford all this, and 2) inevitably produce an Organization Kid.

I used to assume that the obsession with classes and lessons and other forms of scheduled, formal instruction denounced by all the contemporary Ivy League Lamenters and Scolders of the Elite came from overambitious, hyper-competitive parents with totally unrealistic expectations for their children's personal achievement and their future professional and social status. Affluent parents forced their kids to study and practice and do all these crazy activities because they heard they were desperate to get them on the narrow road to Yale, Harvard Law, Goldman Sachs, a house in Palo Alto, and a comfortable retirement. But now I wonder if what's really behind these changes in the parenting practices of the college-educated is a deficiency more banal and innocent than overweening ambition or competitiveness: ignorance and inability to teach their own children what they believe they should know.

In my case, I've been disabused of most of the charms of the Ivy League, and the things that I want my daughter to learn are determined by what I think enriches life outside of the necessary rigors of school and work. The great problem is that I don't actually know them myself. I don't know music, or art, or any useful foreign language, or my own religion, or even how to swim (sad fact). So if I wanted my children to know them, I'd have to pay for professional instruction. Now, this is not totally true: I probably know tennis and Latin sufficiently to teach them to a child, and Mr. Self-Important can cover the swimming. But it's mostly true, especially for the things that require long-term instruction to really get anywhere, like music, sports, and foreign languages.

Perhaps other much-maligned bourgie parents are like me: they know enough to know what is good, but not enough to know how to do it. What they want their children to know, they can't themselves teach. They have spent their own lives focused on the technocratic pursuit of academic and professional advancement, and while this was not without any personal rewards (many of them can read literature and teach their children to do the same, for example, and there is consequently no shortage of cultural zeal for reading to one's own children), it was also largely at the expense of skills which they subsequently conclude would have improved their adult lives. For example, I now see how my life would be better if I could play music (specifically the banjo, but I will not burden you or my child with these aspirations), though I was completely uninterested in this as a child. So now they wish to correct these oversights for their children, not primarily out of competitiveness or a desire to signal social status, but because they believe it will make the children happier, but find that the only way to do it is through an insane regimen of formal instruction that would horrify all but the most Victorian onlookers. These at least might be able to appreciate the value of drafting a regiment of tutors and governesses for the education of a child, but only one who does not also go to school for 50 hours a week.

38 comments:

Lindsay Lennox said...

It occurs to me that while there's a dizzying array of skills that might enrich a child's life (either in childhood or, as you describe, in adulthood), they're all based on a foundation of knowing how to acquire and practice new skills. So, I wonder if maybe a solution is to focus on formal instruction in just one skill, not because it's the 'right' one but because having the experience (starting, scaling the learning curve, practicing, becoming skilled) is what creates a sense that any other skill is possible to acquire through a known, uncomplicated pathway.

Miss Self-Important said...

That's probably true in a way, but I don't think it's sufficient to teach a kid one skill (say, baseball) and hope that this experience will allow him to teach himself French and piano, or even motivate him to seek out instruction in these things. Most of the things I'd like my daughter to know are not at all pleasant to learn as a kid and also most fully acquired in childhood. Swimming and riding a bike are relatively easy and immediately gratifying, but things like French and piano are definitely not. So they require distinct commitments and some degree of parental coercion to get a kid started in them.

Of course, children vary in their talents and the quickness with which they pick different things up, but I doubt that there is any discreet skill of acquiring skills that can be taught separately from all the different skills themselves. And if there was, I'd have to put her in lessons for that too!

Anonymous said...

First, you should wait to teach your kid something after they show an interest in it. Trying to teach someone how to play an instrument they aren't interested in is much less enjoybable than it sounds--even when it's your kid. Even though it's easier to learn something the younger you start, it's MUCH easier to learn something if you're intrinsically motivated.

Second, despite public school trying to convince us that we should be taking four or five classes in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, you can teach your kid one or two things at a time. They don't need to try to learn complex swimming, piano, and latin simultaneously. In fact they will probably enjoy them more if they feel like they actually have enough time to study and practice them--in addition to their "useless" hobbies like video games, reading Harry Potter, listening to Jordan Peterson, etc.

(And)Third, you only need to be one lesson ahead of your kid to be able to teach them something. If you study the next lesson while they're studying this lesson, you will always know this lesson before you need to teach it to them. Of course that requires you have enough time to also study and not just teach.

Lastly, you teach your kid morality and let them pick their own religion. You can teach them about many religions, but you don't force anything on them you wouldn't want forced upon you. And don't tell you don't know right from wrong well enough to teach it to others.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps what Lindsay is getting at, is what is most important to "teach" are the habits [virtues] of conscientiousness, persistence, etc. that enable a person to be able to study/practice enough to achieve at least novice skill in an area of expertise.

It's not that domain-specific skills of baseball generalize to French or charisma or engineering; it's that domain-general skills of learning anything including baseball (practicing on a regular basis, not giving up, challenging oneself to be better than one was yesterday) will provide the habits/character required to learn anything else--especially something one isn't intrinsically interested in.

But yes, most things you have to force people to learn because they will never be interested in them for their own sake, so the most important skill is simply accepting your fate--the skill they will need once they get that first job they hate that doesn't pay anything substantial except experience that you can write down on the resume for your next job.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes, intrinsic interest that conveniently aligns with parental desires is ideal, but what if a child shows no intrinsic interest in any of the activities that are constitutive of a flourishing adult life? Or what if their early expressed interests are entirely unsuited to their constitutions? I'm not saying I'm going to immediately start my two-year old on Latin. These are just idle thoughts for now. Even a purely functional skill like swimming will have to wait a few years. But I am also prepared to apply pressure where the interests of the child do not naturally converge with my aims.

Right, I could only teach Latin by being one lesson ahead. However, I don't have even the faintest grasp of music, so I could at best take the lessons with my children, but I could not teach them. (In fact, family music lessons is an idea my husband and I have entertained.)

As for teaching morality but letting your children choose a religion, that's how you get Jewish Buddhists and other foolish New Wave amalgamations. Better to teach morality as grounded in your actual religion (a trick that makes it easier to "know morality" well enough to teach it) and recognize that your efforts may eventually be rejected than to pre-empt that rejection by teaching skepticism.

And sure, all this stuff doesn't have to be taught all at once, but I use these examples of music, languages, and sports b/c they're skills that require years of structured effort to master, so that at some point in early adolescence, they're likely to overlap and turn the child's life into Organization Kid-dom. So I wonder if we're not misinterpreting the Organization Kid by conceiving of him as an orchestrated result of parental ambition rather than an accidental and regrettable outcome of parental incompetence. Yes, the fundamental thing parents should "teach" their kids is virtue, not baseball or piano, and this will best equip them to learn all kinds of things on their own later. I'm not disputing any of that. But virtue instruction is continuous in your interactions with your children. There is still a lot of time left over for discrete activities and studies. How we choose to fill that time for our kids beyond modeling and exhorting virtue is the object of this inquiry.

Andrew Stevens said...

Affluent parents forced their kids to study and practice and do all these crazy activities because they heard they were desperate to get them on the narrow road to Yale, Harvard Law, Goldman Sachs, a house in Palo Alto, and a comfortable retirement. But now I wonder if what's really behind these changes in the parenting practices of the college-educated is a deficiency more banal and innocent than overweening ambition or competitiveness: ignorance and inability to teach their own children what they believe they should know.

Both of these are right for different people. If I wanted my daughter to go to the Ivy League, I would not have chosen to homeschool, but I do have a large desire that she is taught things which are helpful for human flourishing (whether she shows an interest in them or not). By the way, I have become quite a convert to the martial arts. It was my wife's decision to enroll my daughter in tae kwon do and roller derby, but I now emphatically approve, particularly of tae kwon do. The five tenets of tae kwon do are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit and it seems to help teach all of those things. Which should fit in with virtually any traditional religion or morality you practice. (Are there any cultures where those five things are not considered virtues?)

Andrew Stevens said...

Just make sure you don't choose an evil dojo or dojang like the one in The Karate Kid.

Miss Self-Important said...

I don't know, what is "indomitable spirit"? That may not be part of the standard virtue package. In our syncretistic culture, we seem to accept everything that has ever held to be a virtue by anyone as a good thing, despite the obvious conflicts that arise if you think about them for a second longer. For example, the Christian virtue of humility is at least in principle at odds with the secular, commercial virtue of ambition. But I don't know what I think about this with respect to childhood. I live by bourgeois virtues while appreciating (mostly via fiction and philosophy) the heroic and Christian ones. We'll have to see how this works out for the kid.

Also, you're not helping me. You're just adding another class to my child's future schedule.

Andrew Stevens said...

To be honest, my one objection to the tenets is that, upon close inspection, "perseverance" and "indomitable spirit" appear to be the same thing, so they probably should have just cut it down to four tenets. Could be a translation issue though.

Humility and ambition are both virtues which have been questioned. Indeed, I outright deny that either of them are genuine virtues. To the extent that humility actually is a good thing, it is already covered by courtesy. To the extent that ambition actually is a good thing, it is covered by perseverance. So tae kwon do has you covered.

Sorry I'm not helping. In my defense, I'm caught in the same trap as you are.

Anonymous said...

Relax. Some of the things you would like your child to develop skills in, and appreciation for, will be introduced to her in school, and if she has any talent for them, the school will provide pretty good opportunities for learning and improvement. Maybe not to the level you could get with intense instruction from an expensive class or tutor, but enough for the well-rounded adult you hope she will become. I'm thinking instrumental and choral music, team sports, drama, debate, the visual arts, etc. (Latin, not in most school districts . . . , but you may be unrealistic on that score; none of my kids would have tolerated me trying to teach them a foreign language -- but one of them did become pretty good at French by the time she graduated from high school).

Religious instruction -- yes, along with participation in a faith community, which may include (synergy here) the opportunity to sing in a choir and learn a foreign language.

In the end, kids follow their own interests, with (you hope) you having provided a good intro into a few of them with minimal dependence on "expertise." A couple of years of piano lessons with a neighbor who gives them will teach a kid how to read music -- that's all they need to be set up for music for the rest of their lives. Park district soccer or tee-ball or tennis will get them started on sports (and for all of my kids that's as far as it went until much later one daughter decided to take up horseback riding (NOOOOOOOO, we are not paying for that, earn your own lessons!) and my son took up cross-country track unexpectedly in high school, then Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in a big way as an adult. None of them does my sports (cross-country skiing, hiking) and not because they werent' exposed to them as kids.

All by way of saying, it's great that you hope they'll enjoy the things you enjoy, or the things you admire in other people, and it's great that you'll make an effort to make sure they are exposed to those opportunities, but it all may come out differently. And I will end with this: my husband, raised in a tiny rural village, had no opportunity to learn any languages, music, sports, or anything else as a child. Now, he speaks three languages, enjoys choral singing, and (uncoordinated as he is) enjoys hiking, swimming,and canoeing. And is pretty handy around the house, too.

Anonymous said...

"the Christian virtue of humility is at least in principle at odds with the secular, commercial virtue of ambition"

Humility is not about (a) not gaining resources to provide your family or (b) not assuming leadership roles, and staying in whatever position you were first hired or elected into.
Humility is about not thinking you know what's best for people as expressed through forcing your morality on other people--war on drugs, gun-control, blasphemy/hate-speech laws, etc.

Humility is about acknowledging that different things have different value for different people, and (assuming it's a victimless crime) they know what's best for themselves and/or their family.

The opposite of humility is saying, I know what's best for you and you will live by my moral values by police force or you will be stoned (if it's Iran) or executed (if it's Bangladesh).

Anonymous said...

"To the extent that humility actually is a good thing, it is already covered by courtesy"

Courtesy is holding the door open for others so it doesn't hit them if they don't catch it themselves.

Humility is freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. It's allowing others to have different beliefs, rituals, and celebrations than you.

Andrew Stevens said...

What you are describing, Anonymous, is quite different from the Christian virtue of humility. Good thing too since not forcing "one's morality" on other people is a decided vice. (I assume that you also object to the state's enforcing its morality on people by prosecuting murderers and thieves?) I can't think of any moral philosopher who would have agreed with your description of humility as an actual virtue.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps at 6 its OK to tell your kids not to hurt others because God will punish you. But surely by 13 you should try not to harm others because those other people also have intrinsic value just like you and have a right to not to be harmed.

That is, eventually you should teach morality as valuable irrespective of religion, because it dovetails nicely into politics--you should allow people to be free for the same reason you shouldn't harm them, because they have intrinsic value regardless of the existence of supernatural or transcendental phenomena like God(s).

Anonymous said...

"I assume that you also object to the state's enforcing its morality on people by prosecuting murderers and thieves"

There is a difference between what is minimally required by law to have a functioning civilized/republican society and what is moral. They do overlap in that murder is both illegal and immoral, but there are many things that are either one or the other.

I imagine there are many things that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, Incas, and Mormons would consider immoral than you would not want enshrined into law. (Or are you going to try to create a theocracy like Germany tried to do that just led to Martin Luther's Reformation?)

Nor are you really voluntarily and intentionally being moral if you are doing it at the point of a gun by the state. God rewards virtue that is done by those who could choose otherwise but are virtuous anyway.

Anonymous said...

What you are describing, Anonymous, is quite different from the Christian virtue of humility"

The Christian virtue of humility is admitting that you do not know, that you're fallible. The ultimate expression of admitting you don't know is not punishing other people for what they claim they know. When you punish other people for what they claim they know ("I know Buddhism is true"), you are claiming that you know they are wrong and you're infallible--the opposite of humility.

The purpose of missionary is that Jesus wanted us to spread the good news, not to force others to convert by sword, like in Persia. A man who was killed for his beliefs, like the Nazarine, would not turn around and want others killed for their beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Philippians 2:3 King James Version (KJV)

3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

----------
How do you esteem others better than yourself? At the very least you would extend all the liberties you reserve to yourself to them as well. Presumably you value freedom of religion as the highest liberty, so you would extend that to Muslims and Wiccans in America the same way you would want to exercise freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia. That would begin with not you not wanting to obey their morality, so you have to allow them not to obey yours.

That doesn't mean you can't agree that murder must be punished to create a peaceful society. On the contrary, that's probably one of the only things you can agree on that's compatible with both Christianity and Islam. And that's the basis of the law, those things that garner near-universal agreement among all rational adults of different religions.

Miss Self-Important said...

Anonymous: I'm not personally fretting yet. I'm just remarking on possible alternative origins of the Organization Kid phenomenon based on what I've noticed about my own thinking about educating my child. Obviously, we will have to see how things go, what the schools she ends up attending offer, what she likes, and all that. But having gone through public schools, I can already see that their offerings will not cover all of what I think is important for a child to learn, so even if WE ultimately change our minds or our desires about these things, I can see how other parents might find themselves with a totally unintentional Organization Kid.

Andrew Stevens and Anonymous: It seems that you have both found someone willing to engage you in interminable dispute over these things so that I don't have to. But the very slipperiness of the definitions of virtues illustrates what I'm saying about our syncretism (eg, does humility mean a policy of religious toleration? certainly very few Christians would have thought so prior to the late 17th century, although in the 21st, it's possible to claim that). The heroic virtues of the pagans were modified by the Christians (eg, courage as valor in war turns into courage as willingness to die for the faith, or the liberality of Aristotle re-formulated as the charity of Christianity). Then the Christian virtues were in turn cannibalized by the proponents of commercial society in the 17th-18th centuries. Think of B. Franklin's list of virtues, a wonderfully illustrative study in the conscious redefinition of classical/Christian virtues (justice, temperance, chastity) alongside the elevation of previous non-virtues to virtue-dom (frugality, industry, cleanliness(!)) undertaken by modern liberalism. (And BF also explicitly describes the challenge that Christian humility poses to commercial society.) Both of you seem to be arguing from some other angle, something like what you personally understand to be Fundamental and Universal Human Virtue. But I'm just referring to this historical process of reinterpretation, which has resulted for us in the US today in a crazy quilt of personal qualities that we praise as virtues but that would be irreconcilable with one another if we tried to adhere to the pre-modern ideas from which they originate.

Anonymous said...

People have been around for 5,000,000 years, religion has been around for 5,000 years (30,000 if you believe Joseph Campbell and Jordan Peterson). Either way, it's less than 1% of human history. It's all "New Age". Judaism is mostly based on Sumerian myths, so Christianity--which is mostly Judaism by % of the bible--is mostly Sumerian too. None of it is particularly original. So if your kid combines jewish and buddhist myths to form their religion, they'll be just as plagiarist as those who came before.

Miss Self-Important said...

I'm not sure my main aim in childrearing is to ensure the child's originality in all things. Wisdom is probably more valuable than originality, and self-created New Age religions do not appear to possess very much of it.

Anonymous said...

There are different virtues for different situations. Aristotle was concerned with the virtues of day-to-day/middle-class interaction. The pagans who fought inter-country battles were concerned with warrior virtues. Christians who were concerned with intra-country persecution were concerned with martyr virtues. Those born poor--like Franklin--were concerned with lower-class virtues. The existentialists were concerned with anti-collectivist/anti-nazi virtues (they assumed nazism was a result of herd mentality).

It's not that these aren't compatible, it's that they aren't all necessary to every thing we do each day and they have different amounts of importance depending on what we're doing. If people are starting to slavishly follow their leader, then existential authenticity is the virtue of the day. If your family falls on hard times, then Franklin frugality and industry are the virtue of the day. If you're trying to cure cancer, Humean skepticism and empiricism are the virtue of the day.

The ultimate/meta-virtue appears to be knowing which virtue your present situation calls for. The fact that Aristotle was lucky enough not to need the virtues necessary to counter rising nazism doesn't mean that we will also be so lucky.

Miss Self-Important said...

Aristotle's virtues are probably not for the middle class, if such a thing can be said to have existed in 4th century Greece. Since leisure and freedom of meeting one's own bodily necessities are a pre-requisite, they largely exclude those who work for a living. Neither are Christian virtues simply for martyrdom, since it retained them long after it conquered Europe. But in any case, no one understands their account of virtue in the contingent and situational way you describe; they argue that these are the virtues that are constitutive of human happiness, everywhere and for everyone.

What you describe as the "meta-virtue" is what the Greeks call prudence, the ability to apply general truths correctly to particular situations. But even prudence is only one of a set of virtues, since without courage or moderation, it is ineffectual. Without justice, it is just cunning. Etc. If you elevate prudence alone and eliminate its telos (eudaimonia, or salvation), you just have Machiavellianism - right is whatever works. Where in one context mercy will conduce to your ends, in another, it might be mass murder, and whichever meets the necessity successfully ("what the situation calls for") is justified.

Andrew Stevens said...

But in any case, no one understands their account of virtue in the contingent and situational way you describe; they argue that these are the virtues that are constitutive of human happiness, everywhere and for everyone.

Absolutely correct. While it is certainly important to acknowledge the differences in all these lists of virtues, it is even more important to recognize and acknowledge all the similarities. Did Confucius make some mistakes? Did Aristotle? Did Ben Franklin? Is Anonymous? Am I? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. But, in my opinion, you would be more mistaken than all of us if you just threw virtue away as a complete lost cause, simply on the basis that nobody is perfect and we all make errors in our attempts to hone in on the Fundamental and Universal Human Virtues.

Anonymous said...

"The heroic virtues of the pagans were modified by the Christians (eg, courage as valor in war turns into courage as willingness to die for the faith, or the liberality of Aristotle re-formulated as the charity of Christianity)."

It sounds like you're the one defining Christian virtues as martyrdom virtues--"courage as valor in war turns into courage as willingness to die for the faith". Obviously you weren't talking about all the Christian virtues, but it sounds like you were suggesting this was one of their defining virtues.

This "courage as willingness to die for the faith" sounds very situational in that you only need it when living in countries that prosecute you for your beliefs. Since there have been majority-Christian countries, far fewer Christians have died like Jesus or Justin Martyr.

Of course you could say that it can lie dormant your whole life but should be there in case you need it, but the same could be said about most virtues which aren't necessary day in and day out whether you're working or resting, or along or with others.

Alex said...

" Even a purely functional skill like swimming will have to wait a few years." Several long discussions in my moms' group are dedicated to the best swim lessons for 4 month olds.

Miss Self-Important said...

AS: I think Aristotle came closest though.

Anonymous: Dying at the hands of persecutors is one way to die for the faith, but you can also die as the persecutor... Courage isn't a cardinal Christian virtue but a reformulation of a pagan one, and I don't know very much about its history, but my sense is that it's embodied in the idea of the Christian soldier as much as that of the Christian martyr. So encompasses the Crusades and the European wars of religion as well as the early period of Roman persecution.

I'm not sure what you mean by situational now. In the previous post, it sounded like something epochal - Aristotle didn't live through Nazism so his virtues were different than those of the existentialists. But now it seems like we have to appeal to whole new sets of virtues every month or so, depending on our present circumstances. That's even less plausible.

Alex: There is some kind of "survival swimming" that is taught to infants, but I've seen videos of it and it doesn't look very reassuring, or useful for later life. I want Goomba to learn how to actually swim, not just flail around in the water until someone rescues her. And, you will not be surprised to learn, she is presently very afraid of the water anyway.

Andrew Stevens said...

I think Aristotle came closest though.

I question him on a couple of points. He included some virtues which I would say are really a matter of aesthetics, good aesthetics perhaps but merely aesthetics, rather than morals. Wittiness and Magnificence, for example. These things may be very fine qualities, but they don't seem to me to be moral qualities.

Miss Self-Important said...

Morals are Roman though, right? The Greek word for virtue means excellence. So there is no reason that virtues must be moral qualities; they're the activities that constitute human happiness. Friendship is another Aristotelian virtue that is not a moral quality, and what about the contemplation of Bk X? Wittiness makes perfect sense to me since it facilitates friendship, which is the context for eudaimonia. Magnificence is a bizarre one, I agree. It only applies to the extremely rich, for one thing, yet extreme wealth is not a pre-requisite for happiness. Other problems include the absence of marital and familial relations from the purview of virtue, although Aristotle mentions having good children as a pre-requisite in Bk I. Nonetheless, conceiving of virtue as something broader than morality doesn't seem clearly problematic to me.

Andrew Stevens said...

A fair point as to why Aristotle wouldn't have seen a problem with it. My objection is purely because I actually think one can arrive at a Grand Unification Theory of consequentialist, deontological, and virtue ethics - thereby showing that they are three different ways of thinking about the exact same thing. But for it to work, it does require winnowing virtue ethics down to the purely moral ones.

However, I have no objections to adding additional non-moral virtues to one's virtue ethics and simply acknowledging that it falls on the other side of the moral/conventional or ethical/aesthetic distinction. In that case, I don't know why one couldn't also add qualities which are more beyond an individual's control - beauty, athleticism, etc. In any event though once we reach the merely aesthetic or virtues by convention, then we are going to have serious problems claiming that they are Fundamental and Universal Human Virtues. How could they be?

Andrew Stevens said...

I should have added that my Grand Unification Theory includes that all three methods are in principle actually capable of arriving at the same thing as well, if they were all properly formulated.

Anonymous said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Parfit

Further, he suggests that the three most prominent categories of views in moral philosophy—Kantian deontology, consequentalism, and contractarianism—ultimately converge on the same answers to moral questions.

Andrew Stevens said...

Huh, I'm not familiar with his work, but I should probably read it. I argue that G.E. Moore's ideal utilitarianism (with a proper understanding of the good that it seeks to maximize), W.D. Ross's prima facie duty ethics, and some form of Aristotle's (or the Stoics' or Confucius's or others') virtue ethics with a proper understanding of what constitutes the good life or eudaimonia converge to the same theory. I cannot rescue hedonistic utilitarianism, of course, but that's always been obviously false.

Other problems include the absence of marital and familial relations from the purview of virtue

I do so agree with you. One of the things which appealed to me about W.D. Ross's deontological ethics was that he did not neglect the special duties spouses owe spouses, parents owe children, and children owe parents. I don't know why this is so often neglected in the West (it's not remotely neglected by Confucius).

Andrew Stevens said...

No need for anyone to respond to this, I'm just thinking "out loud," as it were and I know I can go on about this interminably. But take wittiness. If one is a monk in the abbey from The Name of the Rose, it seems like wittiness might no longer be a virtue and humorlessness might not be a vice (let's assume the abbot is not actually a murderer for this thought experiment). It is possible to imagine an entire society which is fairly humorless. Or take magnificence. In Aristotle's day, it might have been necessary to be rich to live the good life. But a 21st century American would find even Aristotle's magnificence extremely uncomfortable - no climate control and still far more disease than he finds congenial. So again it seems situationally relative.

But then take justice. Justice is always a virtue. Even if one lives in an unjust regime where it is uncomfortable to be just, the good life would still consist in opposing it. Thus we see the virtue of Solzhenitsyn.

Anonymous said...

"It is possible to imagine an entire society which is fairly humorless."

Only polygamous societies. Where nearly all men are able to attain wives, but have nothing to offer but their sense-of-humor, it is inevitable that many (let's call them 'ugly') men will develop at least a modicum of humor to make women like them.

But also, a sense of humor allows one to laugh off things that would otherwise make them angry or depressed.

I think it's actually more likely that you can imagine a society without capitalism where people make fun of the communist leadership, then a capitalist society where people remain calm and detached from the absurdities of commercialism, like the Christmas shopping season.

Andrew Stevens said...

I actually had in mind the abbey from Name of the Rose or perhaps a hunter-gatherer tribe, rather than a modern fully organized society.

Ben A said...

The general incapability of educated class (me included!) no doubt leads to many lessons. But lessons make sense even in areas a parent can plausibly teach. E.g., my wife is a gifted pianist, but even so we send our boys to lessons because a) professional instruction brings a complementary value, b) some children (ahem) may listen to other people more than to their parents.

And I strongly second martial arts. Taekwondo is great!

Miss Self-Important said...

Andrew Stevens: "A Grand Unification Theory of consequentialist, deontological, and virtue ethics" - uh oh, normative philosophy, . I just do history of philosophy, man.

Ben A: True enough about resenting instruction by one's parents.

Andrew Stevens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.