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Virtues and Values

Bernard of Clairvaux on Hubris and Dominating Conversation

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The proud person “must either talk or burst …. He hungers and thirsts after hearers, to whom he may vaunt his vanities, to whom he may pour forth all his feelings, to whom his character and greatness may become known. … Opinions fly around, weighty words resound. He interrupts a questioner, he answers one who does not ask. He himself puts the questions, he himself solves them, he cuts short his fellow speaker’s unfinished words. … He does not care to teach you, or to learn from you what he does not know, but to know that you know that he knows.”

Arthur Martine on True Politeness

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Politeness has been defined as an “artificial good-nature;” but it would be better said that good-nature is natural politeness. It inspires us with an unremitting attention, both to please others and to avoid giving them offense. Its code is a ceremonial, agreed upon and established among mankind, to give each other external testimonies of friendship or respect. Politeness and etiquette form a sort of supplement to the law, which enables society to protect itself against offenses which the law cannot touch. For instance, the law cannot punish a man for habitually staring at people in an insolent and annoying manner, but etiquette can banish such an offender from the circles of good society, and fix upon him the brand of vulgarity. Etiquette consists in certain forms, ceremonies, and rules which the principle of politeness establishes and enforces for the regulation of the manners of men and women in their intercourse with each other.

Ryan Preston-Roedder on the Virtue of Faith in Humanity

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Many of the people we regard as moral exemplars have profound faith in people’s decency: When segregationists bombed a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four little girls, Martin Luther King, Jr. insisted that “somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and  worth of all human personality”. Returning to his work in psycho-therapy after spending two and a half years in Nazi concentration camps, Viktor Frankl adopted as a guiding principle the view that “if we treat people as if they were what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming”. During his campaign to secure civil rights for Indians living in South Africa, and later to secure independence for India, Gandhi urged his followers to treat as “an article of faith” the view that there is “no one so fallen” that he cannot be “converted by love”. That these and other moral exemplars have such faith is no accident. As I will argue, having a certain form of faith in people’s decency, which I call faith in humanity, is a centrally important moral virtue.

John Grimm on Defining Tolerance

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Toleration can best be understood … as not using force or advocating the use of force against those who hold ideas and beliefs or who engage in practices that one thinks are wrong but which do not violate the person, property, or liberty of others. This classical liberal type of toleration shows proper respect for people as reasoning beings able to reach their own conclusions about the nature of the world and the most appropriate way to live and organize their lives. Recognition of another person’s right to his own thoughts and beliefs is also an essential foundation of civil discourse. ¶ So that we do not unwittingly go down the path of soft relativism or the tyranny of political correctness, it is important to recognize that toleration does not mean that we must be indifferent to, respect in a deep way, or be compelled to accept any belief or practice. In a free society, the sphere of ethical and scientific debate should be quite broad as people wrestle with questions about the proper way to live and the nature of justice. This means that — like goods and services in the economic marketplace — ideas and practices have to compete and be subject to robust criticism. If we have the confidence of our convictions, we should be open to vigorous challenge about the best ways of living consistent with our individual and societal flourishing. And we should be able to challenge others as we grope together towards truth.

Ad Nausica Commenting on Women in STEM

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Multinational studies find “women have higher levels of well-being than men, with a few exceptions in low income countries” and “We conclude that differences in well-being across genders are affected by the same empirical and methodological factors that drive the paradoxes underlying income and well-being debates.” That is, women feel better about their different life choices than men do. The implication is that women’s innate desires to a job that satisfies them drive their choices moreso than men, who appear to make choices less for happiness in the job and more for the wages … Further, as to the attraction to STEM fields of men vs women, the evidence is strong that men prefer “things” and women prefer “people” and social value. Put more scientifically, “The tendency of men to predominate in fields imposing high quantitative demands, high physical risk, and low social demands, and the tendency of women to be drawn to less quantitatively demanding fields, safer jobs, and jobs with a higher social content are, at least in part, artifacts of an evolutionary history that has left the human species with a sexually dimorphic mind. These differences are proximately mediated by sex hormones.

Carson Holloway On Balancing Liberties and Rights

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Generally, our civil liberties protect our freedom to make our own choices in life. But some civil rights claims—the ones that assert a right to be immune from discrimination practiced by our fellow citizens—require the government to constrain people’s free choices. ¶ This tension is unavoidable in a society that strives to be both decent and free. A decent society will admit that there must be some limits to individual freedom, that some uses of individual freedom are wrong enough or damaging enough that they should not be permitted. At the same time, a free society will admit that many uses of freedom will have to be tolerated, even if they seem unwise or even inappropriate to those who govern. After all, it makes little sense to speak of a free society in which people are free to do only what is officially approved. ¶ The tension between these two principles may be theoretically problematic—at least to those who demand that their society conform to a particular theory. That tension, however, is perfectly satisfactory from a practical point of view. The good society involves various different kinds of goods. These goods cannot all be maximized: maximization of one necessarily entails the minimization of others, and the absolutization of one necessarily means the annihilation of the others. A healthy society, then, tries to strike a prudent balance among these various goods, by keeping them all within reasonable bounds.

David Brooks on Eulogy Virtues

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It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love? … But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

To A Beautiful Child

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… thy book
Is cliff, and wood, and foaming waterfall;
Thy playmates — the wild sheep and birds that call
Hoarse to the storm; — thy sport is with the storm
to wrestle; — and thy piety to stand
Musing on things create, and their Creator’s hand!

Edward Feser on Egalitarianism and Tyranny

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It’s not just about sex. It’s about egalitarianism itself, which, as Plato argued in The Republic, is inherently destructive of moral, legal, and rational standards, and has tyranny as its natural sequel. The egalitarian regime insists, notionally, on tolerating every opinion and way of life, and refuses either to judge any one of them as morally or rationally superior to any other, or to favor any of them in its laws. Yet no regime can tolerate what would subvert it. And the very idea that some views and ways of life are simply objectively superior, rationally and morally, to others, is subversive of egalitarianism. Hence egalitarian societies tend in practice to be intolerant of views which maintain that there are objective standards by which some views and ways of life might be judged better or worse. That is to say, an egalitarian regime inevitably tolerates only those views which are egalitarian. Which means, of course, that it tolerates only itself. ¶ Thus, in Plato’s own day, do we have the spectacle of Athens, which was democratic, pluralist, and egalitarian — and killed Socrates, because it suspected that he was none of the above. Thus do we have the French Revolution, which murdered thousands in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Thus do we have Stalinist Russia and Maoist China, each of which slaughtered tens of millions in the name of equality. If egalitarians have, historically, been able to convince themselves of the justifiability of all that, then burning down a pizzeria is a cinch.

Several Religious Leaders on Religious Liberty

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In recent days we have heard claims that a belief central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — that we are created male and female, and that marriage unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant — amounts to a form of bigotry. Such arguments only increase public confusion on a vitally important issue. When basic moral convictions and historic religious wisdom rooted in experience are deemed “discrimination,” our ability to achieve civic harmony, or even to reason clearly, is impossible. ¶ America was founded on the idea that religious liberty matters because religious belief matters in a uniquely life-giving and powerful way. We need to take that birthright seriously, or we become a people alien to our own founding principles. Religious liberty is precisely what allows a pluralistic society to live together in peace.

Freedom of Conscience Is For Everyone

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There are virtually endless scenarios in which an employee, a small business owner, or a sole proprietor might decline to participate in a business activity or deny service as a matter of personal convictions or corporate values. In the absence of compelling reasons to punish such conscientious objection, they should be free to do so. The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion (i.e. freedom of conscience) is most necessary when it protects a minority with whom others strongly disagree. In the “land of the free”, the burden of proof should be on those who would use the power of government to coerce another to do their bidding. Here’s a couple dozen of the endless instances in which an individual or business should be able to make decisions in keeping with their ethical commitments. Such decisions inescapably discriminate (i.e. make a distinction or judgment) — not against vendors, customers or clients, but rather — against particular products or services that, for the provider, have an ethical dimension.

Jesus Outside the Lines

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Whether the issue of the day on Twitter, Facebook, or cable news is our sexuality, political divides, or the perceived conflict between faith and science, today’s media pushes each one of us into a frustrating clash between two opposing sides. Polarizing, us-against-them discussions divide us and distract us from thinking clearly and communicating lovingly with others. Scott Sauls, like many of us, is weary of the bickering and is seeking a way of truth and beauty through the conflicts. Jesus Outside the Lines presents Jesus as this way. Scott shows us how the words and actions of Jesus reveal a response that does not perpetuate the destructive fray. Jesus offers us a way forward – away from harshness, caricatures and stereotypes. In Jesus Outside the Lines, you will experience a fresh perspective of Jesus, who will not (and should not) fit into the sides. ~ Publisher’s Description

H. Richard Niebuhr on Being Part of Something Glorious

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Sometimes we feel in the midst of these many tasks in our vast world as though we were laborers in a giant factory where something is being made that we can never see. We are being required to stamp out this piece of sheet metal, to make this handle, to tighten this bolt — and to do all this over and over again without knowing what the whole process is all about. … But for the most part we fundamentally believe that something is going on, something is being accomplished. … We dimly see and hope that this is something glorious in which we are engaged. Something which, if we knew what it was, we could take pride in acknowledging as a work we had been allowed to serve.

Iñaki Ábalos and Renata Sentkiewicz on Dualism in Architecture

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Much historic architecture takes its compositive tension from two theoretically incompatible morphological organizations that correspond to different universes or languages. This technique leads to a certain kind of monster or hybrid characterized by dualism. One of the basic monster assembly techniques involves the union of two organizations with one degree of compatibility and another obvious degree of incompatibility. Unions between different forms and materials can be carried out physically or by processes of chemical fusion. “Dualisms” may refer to limited scopes or can expand and infect all the scenarios affected by architecture, starting with its disciplinary definition, which is challenged by the view that the struggle between two disciplines is intrinsic to the project, or by incorporating a material, formal and geometric contradiction. Likewise, space can be conceived by introducing tension between the lower and the upper parts, or between interior and exterior, or by means of intrusions of varying depths and differing configurations.

Pope Benedict XVI on Leaving a Clear Path for Evil

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Wolfgang Pauli took up the thread of the discussion and agreed… “The complete division between knowledge and faith is surely just a temporary stopgap measure. In Western society and culture we could for instance, in the not-too-distant future, come to the point at which the parables and images that religion has used up to now are no longer convincing, even for simple folk; and then, I fear, traditional morality will also very rapidly break down, and things will happen that are more frightful than anything we can imagine.” At that time in 1927, those taking part in the conversation could have at most a vague suspicion that soon afterward the unholy twelve years would begin, in the course of which things did indeed happen that were “more frightful” than could previously have been thought possible. There were of course a good number of Christians, some of whose names we know and some who have remained nameless, who opposed the demonic forces with the power of their Christian conscience. But on the whole the power of temptation was stronger; those who just went along with things left a clear path for evil.

The Two Sides of Truth

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Christian Larson argues that the defect in many systems of belief is that what are partial truths are taken to be the whole truth. It is in virtue of that portion of truth that the whole “system” or world view is even plausible. As an example of such a half-truth rounded up to a whole falsehood, Larson critiques what sounds like either idealism or the superstitious belief in the Law of Attraction and the power of positive thinking (a la Rhonda Byme’s The Secret). Larson’s critique in this excerpt of that idea — that “thinking makes it so”, that our mental powers in themselves are so potent that they can determine reality — begs questions, since he was, after all, a major proponent of New Thought. What interests me is his more general observation that the shortcoming in many systems of thought is that they are overblown half-truths. Truths are taken for the truth. His words are one entry into an ongoing project along these lines, collected in “Half-Truths“. ~ Nate

Irreverence

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One of the most trying defects which I find in these — these — what shall I call them? for I will not apply injurious epithets to them, the way they do to us, such violations of courtesy being repugnant to my nature and my dignity. The farthest I can go in that direction is to call them by names of limited reverence — names merely descriptive, never unkind, never offensive, never tainted by harsh feeling. If they would do like this, they would feel better in their hearts. Very well, then — to proceed. One of the most trying defects which I find in these Stratfordolaters, these Shakesperiods, these thugs, these bangalores, these troglodytes, these herumfrodites, these blatherskites, these buccaneers, these bandoleers, is their spirit of irreverence. It is detectable in every utterance of theirs when they are talking about us. I am thankful that in me there is nothing of that spirit. When a thing is sacred to me it is impossible for me to be irreverent toward it. I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except toward the things which were sacred to other people. Am I in the right? I think so. But I ask no one to take my unsupported word; no, look at the dictionary; let the dictionary decide. Here is the definition:

Lactantius on Knowing a Little

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Among philosophers some have pretended that man might know every thing, — these are madmen; others that he could know nothing, — these men were not more wise: the former have given too much to man, the latter too little; both the one and the other have rushed into excess. Where then is wisdom? She consists in not believing that you know every thing — that is the attribute of God alone; in not pretending that you know nothing — that is the property of brutes: between these two extremes there is a medium which is appropriated for man — it is knowledge mixed up with darkness and tempered with ignorance.

Robert P. George on Friendly Disagreements

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Like my Swarthmore peers, I wanted to be sophisticated and enlightened — and to be regarded by others as sophisticated and enlightened. So a lot of what I believed simply as a matter of tribal loyalty was reinforced by a tendency to adopt views that conformed to the beliefs of what the late Irving Kristol dubbed “the knowledge class” — professors, elite journalists, and the like. With the exception of abortion, which I had thought about a lot, I hadn’t really thought myself into the positions I held. Rather, I had taken the short cut: I was content to believe what I thought sophisticated and enlightened people believed, or at least were supposed to believe. I simply, and rather unselfconsciously, assumed that an approach of that sort would reliably place me on the correct side of the issues. And, of course, it would give me access to a world I wanted to enter more fully — the elite world of important people who really counted and made a difference. If I got the right credentials, beginning with a Swarthmore degree, and held the right views, I could be someone who mattered. It was then, as it is now, a common motivation for students at elite colleges and universities.

James K. A. Smith on Good Regulation

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This is why we should care about regulation: because it is the banal way that the modern, liberal, democratic state tries to secure some baseline of justice and flourishing. Government regulations are one of the sorts of “nuts and bolts” that hold together the girders of our social architecture—and are best complemented by other sorts of “regulations,” such as social mores and cultivated virtues. But when we think “regulation,” we generally picture government oversight. ¶ Even if we grant that licensing and state management of commerce have in some ways run amok, we can still witness tragedies and injustices that result from a lack of regulatory protections. As my colleague, Brian Dijkema, noted in the wake of a 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh, the tragedy was in no small part the result of weak social infrastructure. The challenge is to be able to both critique a choking regulatory Leviathan and still affirm the good of regulation as an institutional expression of care for our neighbor. For every overreaching, micromanaging tentacle of the state that wants to mediate every form of social transaction there is the unnoticed, taken-for-granted inspector or regulation that is preserving health, safeguarding fairness, or even saving lives.

Christianity and Culture

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One of the greatest of the problems that have agitated the Church is the problem of the relation between knowledge and piety, between culture and Christianity. This problem has appeared first of all in the presence of two tendencies in the Church — the scientific or academic tendency, and what may be called the practical tendency. Some men have devoted themselves chiefly to the task of forming right conceptions as to Christianity and its foundations. To them no fact, however trivial, has appeared worthy of neglect; by them truth has been cherished for its own sake, without immediate reference to practical consequences. Some, on the other hand, have emphasized the essential simplicity of the gospel. The world is lying in misery, we ourselves are sinners, men are perishing in sin every day. The gospel is the sole means of escape; let us preach it to the world while yet we may. So desperate is the need that we have no time to engage in vain babblings or old wives’ fables. While we are discussing the exact location of the churches of Galatia, men are perishing under the curse of the law; while we are settling the date of Jesus’ birth, the world is doing without its Christmas message.

George MacDonald on the God of Little Children

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How terribly, then, have the theologians misrepresented God in the measures of the low and showy, not the lofty and simple humanities! Nearly all of them represent him as a great King on a grand throne, thinking how grand he is, and making it the business of his being and the end of his universe to keep up his glory, wielding the bolts of a Jupiter against them that take his name in vain. They would not allow this, but follow out what they say, and it comes much to this. Brothers, have you found our king ? There he is, kissing little children and saying they are like God. There he is at table with the head of a fisherman lying on his bosom, and somewhat heavy at heart that even he, the beloved disciple, cannot yet understand him well. The simplest peasant who loves his children and his sheep were—no, not a truer, for the other is false, but—a true type of our God beside that monstrosity of a monarch.

Booker T. Washington on Good from Evil

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I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery. I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. … This I say, not to justify slavery — on the other hand, I condemn it as an institution, as we all know that in America it was established for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary motive — but to call attention to a fact, and to show how Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose.

Samuel Wilberforce on Reconciling Nature and Revelation

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He who is as sure as he is of his own existence that the God of Truth is at once the God of Nature and the God of Revelation, cannot believe it to be possible that His voice in either, rightly understood, can differ, or deceive His creatures. To oppose facts in the natural world because they seem to oppose Revelation, or to humour them so as to compel them to speak its voice, is, he knows, but another form of the ever-ready feebleminded dishonesty of lying for God, and trying by fraud or falsehood to do the work of the God of truth. It is with another and a nobler spirit that the true believer walks amongst the works of nature. The words graven on the everlasting rocks are the words of God, and they are graven by His hand. No more can they contradict His Word written in His book, than could the words of the old covenant graven by His hand on the stony tables contradict the writings of His hand in the volume of the new dispensation. There may be to man difficulty in reconciling all the utterances of the two voices. But what of that? He has learned already that here he knows only in part, and that the day of reconciling all apparent contradictions between what must agree is nigh at hand. He rests his mind in perfect quietness on this assurance, and rejoices in the gift of light without a misgiving as to what it may discover…