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.”
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.
There is no maxim in my opinion which is more liable to be misapplied, and which therefore more needs elucidation, than the current one: that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong. Taking the word “interest” as synonomous with “Ultimate happiness,” in which sense it is qualified with every necessary moral ingredient, the proposition is no doubt true. But taking it in the popular sense, as referring to immediate augmentation of property and wealth, nothing can be more false. In the latter sense it would be the interest of the majority in every community to despoil & enslave the minority of individuals; and in a federal community to make a similar sacrifice of the minority of the component States. In fact it is only reestablishing under another name and a more specious form, force as the measure of right; and in this light the Western settlements will infallibly view it.
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.
The affirmation that Jesus is the Christ is an act of faith and consequently of daring courage. It is not an arbitrary leap into darkness but a decision in which elements of immediate participation and therefore certitude are mixed with elements of strangeness and therefore incertitude and doubt. But doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Therefore, there is no faith without risk . The risk of faith is that it could affirm a wrong symbol of ultimate concern, a symbol which does not really express ultimacy (as, e.g., Dionysus or one’s nation). But this risk lies in quite a different dimension from the risk of accepting uncertain historical facts. It is wrong, therefore, to consider the risk concerning uncertain historical facts as part of the risk of faith. The risk of faith is existential; it concerns the totaliy of our being, while the risk of historical judgments is theoretical and open to permanent scientific correction. Here are two different dimensions which should never be confused. A wrong faith can destroy the meaning of one’s life; a wrong historical judgment cannot. It is misleading, therefore, to use the word “risk” for both dimensions in the same sense.
People often wonder why there appears to be no progress in philosophy, unlike in natural science, and why it is that after some three millenniums of philosophical activity no dramatic changes seem to have been made to the questions philosophers ask. The reason is because people keep asking the same questions and perplexed by the same difficulties. Wittgenstein puts the point rather directly: “Philosophy hasn’t made any progress? If somebody scratches the spot where he has an itch, do we have to see some progress?” Philosophy scratches at the various itches we have, not in order that we might find some cure for what ails us, but in order to scratch in the right place and begin to understand why we engage in such apparently irritating activity. Philosophy is not Neosporin. It is not some healing balm. It is an irritant, which is why Socrates described himself as a gadfly.
Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be. We weep at what thwarts or exceeds our desires in serious matters; we laugh at what only disappoints our expectations in trifles. We shed tears from sympathy with that which is unreasonable and unnecessary, the absurdity of which provokes our spleen or mirth, rather than any serious reflections on it.
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.