09 Jan Why does Segal introduce this quote by T.S. Eliot: Humankind cannot
. Why does Segal introduce this quote by T.S. Eliot: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”? Explain your answer. Use examples from the article “My Grandfather’s Walking Stick.”
Kant enumerates several natural and devilish vices. How do you think Kant would view lying as discussed by Segal and gossip as discussed by Bok? Would he put gossip and lying in the natural or the devilish category of vice? Explain your answer. (Make sure you answer all parts.)
Under what circumstances could some human activities that we normally conceive as vices be considered at other times virtuous?
Notes on “Gossip” by Sissela Bok
We are reluctant to praise gossip even though we are usually willing to participate in it. We might not mind being recognized as good parents, a good worker, and she says even a good lover, but probably nobody wants to be known as a good gossip. Bok begins her essay by discussing the questionable morality of all gossip. And she mentions several philosophers’ views on gossip, such as Aquinas who saw people who gossip as distinguished “talebearers” and “backbiters.” Kierkegaard hated all gossip and declared it superficial and creating a false fellow-felling. Heidegger said that it “perverts genuine efforts at understanding by making people think they already know everything.” Bok maintains that even though gossip has been defined as cheap, superficial, intrusive, unfounded, and even vicious, that this may cause us to overlook the whole network of human exchanges of information through gossip. She defines gossip as “informal personal communication about other people who are absent or treated as absent.” Gossip is informal in that it is not like court proceedings, hospital records, lectures or biographies. It is also informal because it happens almost spontaneously and relies on humor and guesswork. Five reasons why we may use gossip instead of more formal means of communication:
1. Secrecy—gossip increases whenever information is scarce. 2. Personal communication—it is conveyed to one or more persons usually in
personal encounters by telephone, letter or the mass media. 3. The information is about persons—and this makes gossip a vehicle for moral
evaluation. It lends itself to comparing ourselves with others. Bok says that the result then is hypocrisy—judging the lives of others when we know we wouldn’t want ours to be judged.
4. Rumor—this is a larger category and usually has to do with war, the stock market etc.
5. Gossip is about other people—absent, isolated or excluded. Gossip is generally not about the individuals partaking in the gossip.
According to Bok none of these is morally problematic in its own right. Because we can gossip about who’s moving, who might marry, who might be too ill to work, etc. But there are lots of instances when these five elements may present moral problems.
1. If it is personally invasive or degrading about someone who is absent, then in this situation, gossip can wreak havoc on those spoken of and the gossips themselves.
2. Gives example of the leak by the FBI Agent about Jean Seberg as a member of the Black Panthers. At that time, Newsweek published the unsupported
information all over the world. However, most gossip according to Bok lies somewhere between these two extremes. There are three (3) types of Reprehensible Gossip
1. Breach of confidence 2. Gossip that the speaker knows to be false 3. Unduly invasive gossip
1. This is what Kierkegaard and Heidegger were talking about. It creates a leveling effect and makes shallow and ordinary things that are unfathomable.
2. It levels because it talks of everyone in the same terms no matter how good or gifted, everyone is discussed is on the same level.
1. Many people are known as “gossips.” 2. At the extreme there is the pathological gossip whose whole life revolves
around delving into everyone’s private lives. In the last paragraph, Bok says that gossip doesn’t have to be worthless and debilitating. And here is where she takes a little zing at the other philosophers.
Bok’s arguments against the other philosophers:
1. One cannot read their strictures without sensing their need to stand aloof, to maintain distance, to hold common practices vulgar.
2. They deny the depth and diversity of social intercourse just as gossip can do. 3. When something such as gossip is stereotyped the speaker is making a moral
judgment and ends up moralizing. 4. And finally, this can be used to avoid a fuller understanding of human beings
and their efforts to make sense of their lives.
Mayfield Publishing Company, California 1999. Alexander E. Hooke (Virtous Persons, Vicious Deeds)
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1 34 CHAPTERTHREE What lc Virtue Ethics?
Yet who would you rather have as a friend, a neighhnr, a spause, or a colkague? The individual porrtayed in t h e first scenario or in the second?
For many approaches to ethics, these questions arc of secondary importance. Approaches that focus on rights, gsearest happiness principles, duties, or self- interest (as discussed in Chapters f and 2) regard acrions, rules, or results as the center of moral thought, But the cornerstone of virtue-based ethics involves ques- tions about the kind of moral character we expect of others and of ourselves.
A virtue cthics approach to morality emphasizes the value of becoming a certain kind of person-onc who has both learned and wants to do the good deed. A virtuous person uses his or her strengths and posirive values to overcome the ten- dcncies or temptations apposed to virtues-namely, the vices. This tension pro- vides a dramatic element in virtue ethics. All our efforts ra became moral persons can be quickly crased hy the potential harm rendered in cornmining a vicious deed. For example, how often have you seen the trust sharcd by friends destroyed by a single acr of dishonesty? Virtue ethics emphasizes rhe kind of persons we should strive to become rather than focusing on the sorts of things we sllauld do.
For moral philosophers, if virtue cthics is to contend with or displace utilitari- anism or deontology (tbc study of moral obligation), it must address three points. First, does virtue ethics have a universal basis? Second, does it contain a personal as well as a social sense of well-being? And third, can virtue ethics help us resolve specific moral conflicts?
If the history OF moral rhoughr were the deciding criterion, this would be, in comnlon parlance, a "no-bsaincr." Moral thought has been dominated by discus- sion of virtues and vices. However, in the last two or three centuries rhis discussion has yielded to an increased focus en rights, social justice, duties, and persanal hap- piness. The recent revival of virtue ethics has been labeled a conservative backlash to more progressive moral attitudes. And indeed, some of thc more notahlc figures entering the public discussion of the virtues are officials in polirically conservative organizations. From a historical perspective this is somewhat ironic. The two most famous proponenrs of the virtues, Socrates and Jesus-both executed far their moral teachings-were challengers of the status quo.
History and polirics aside, there are p h i ~ ~ s ~ p h i c a l reasons for questioning the cenzrality of the virtues for a moral life. First, are the virtues universal? Some de- fenders of virrue ethics have trottble accounting for the fact that nnt everyone i s subject to the same vices. Neither does everyone enjoy rhe same virtues. Moreover, critics of virtue erhics point out that it is not clear how virruous persons contrib- ute to a unified sense of the common or sociai happiness. Second, does the emphasis on developing moral character undercut the importance of establishing policies or institutions that give a social basis for realizing rhe good life? Skeptics wander if a virtuous life can fully replace civil rights or principles of justice as the guide to moral culture. Third, are the key ideas of virtuc ethics too vague to help us resolve moral controversies? Many of us want help in understanding and an- swering current moral questions involving abortion, assisted suicide, sexual con- duct, family life, or lying and deception. Can the study of virtues and vices assist ~ t c in a n r ~ r r ~ r ; n . n rh~ecl n ~ l e n r i n n r l
LORE SSEGAI. Carc Sludy My Grandfather's Walkinp Stlck, or the Pink LIP 135
The selections in this chapter introduce some basic moral issues cenrcred around virtues and vices. The casc study by literature professor Lorc Segal highlights a touching and tragic episode involving two widely respected virtues, truthfulness and hope.
Indian philosopher M. Hiriyanna reviews four classes of values and distin- Fuishes two related rypes of virtues, self-regarding and other-regarding. Both are 2
essential to moral purification or moksha. Why arc the virtues so difficult to live by? Paul Jordan-Smith, a folklorist, con-
cisely describes the powcr of the vices, or sins. Though the popular tradition fea- tures seven deadly sins, there has been a lively debate abour both the variety of vices and the deadliest of vices.
Benjamin Franklin, an early American statcaman and inventor, prescribes a dili- gent pursuit of a virtuous life. Given the difficulv of the task, he outlines a day-to- day schedule for embracing one virtue at a rime. Some, he admits, are more difficult than others.
Aristode is widely considered Western phiosophy7s first systematic thinker about the virtues. A student of Plato, Aristotle refines his teacher's ideas on virtues, interweaving political, pedagogical, and intellectual factors into a coherent whole. He emphasizes development of moral character tlrrough a rational development of moral habits.
David Cari, a British philosopher, reviews current criticisms of virtue ethics. Cerr contends that the critics fail to see how virtue ethin is the basis for both a personal and a communitarian morality.
Case Study: My Grandfather's Walking Stick, or The Pink Lie
Many j ~ m b i e ~ i in etbics are intmduced as ~ o ~ f i ~ a ~ among duties. r igh~, or principles.
English projrriar Lon Srjal (b . c g2 n) rrcounti the livrl o j her g'mndparmtr, beginning w i ~ b ~ h c i i painful ixptrimrrr in World War II, highlighting a conjict between two penn-
nial vidues, hope and truthfutness. Segal presents avcral penuasive masons to su~lporf
sirtuc I n ~f~~~~~ ofonrfiomoi and ~noroi ofiis. rlorc5 mit13 hn r/anl an *ink or rose-colored lie and define it as an ~ n c o n s c i o u s ~ ~
conflnicf f l ~ d flk thr m d r r cvnbiute his or bcr oion rpjponw t o tbf r$rv onsidered blarneworrl1~ hcausc it i s not to be
ink lie in terms of the three aspects of the OED'sdefinitiorr c: function, intentionality, and moral reputation*
CRlTlCAL READING QULST~ONS I Hope has a universal!^ favorable Press. The 23rd '''Irn What are N o differences benvecn the dicrionary definition of a lie faith, ]lope, and charity, which is to say* wirh love, and %gal's notion of a pink lie 4nd is true hope gentle falachoods arc essential to our Progress. It is the
of an improbably prosperous outcome that initiates, and lets US Persevere 2- Does hol7e illvolve or rejecr falsehood? Why)
our bcrr and worst We need hope to power action not of the How doer walking stick reflect an appeal to hope or rruthfuJncss? rial, civic, or criminal act would we
, plan a heist or a n essay, start a polar expedition Or a of better success than we have reason and experience to
Hramnn Kind ope assists the process of healing. perhaps Our in-
cnl l~~ot bear very math reality. courage where we stop hoping: 1 ~ ~ ~ ~ b c r the evening, at
-T. S. Eliot ndmather stopped lifting her fork UP to her j y o p e y s falsehoods are the tools in our survival kit and blessedly pn-
When had 'pcnded her box of calamities over the ear&, there fell our, ve us from intellectual despair, the sin accounted as the seventh and dead'iest says the story, a last straggler: hope, cause it: demonstrates an absence of ,faith-
se-colored falsehoods function to deceive ourselves and to participate Hupe pities us and lies. It pitiff our terrors and invites to tell ourrclvcs that things we happen to other peoplc. We are a special case, when it ions practiced by our community. Hope ignores the evidence of his- says calamity will rurn aside, may yet rur- to our es in hce of its better knowledge in order to con Our of
Hope piries our dowdiness. IT promises tllat we will find rrcnr ure, marFi we know and into thinking what we wish-
prince, and inherit the kingdom. Hope rays that i t is our birthright to win ,> Ill the Sixties held hands and sang "We shall overcome," adding
lomryl and writeaclassic. i fwe are American it be best seller. w will makc : day," which used to make my eyes ikh. "Some day'' means ''obviousl~ not today
NBAl be the next Michael Jackson, bwomp president, probably t o m r o w either, but surely on some future day:' where the word
And hope piries our disappointment with the world. [t tells look fomad "surey" gives the lie to its definition. "Surely" means to mean "1 am certain this is
certainty in question. Tf I say, "1 will surely finish writing to rime the messiah to come, or backward to the paradise that must sureh you understand me to mean that I wish that1 would finish it, as 'lave been. The reheis at the truth that wha t is is it, Somewhere, says hope, in
Our past Or in ollr future there has just p a m bc 8 golden *tainty as to my ability to do SO. I do not 3aY3 "I will surely die," Friends I argue my conrention that haping contains an inherent lie
I think my death admits of a question requiring denial. disagree violentl~- The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) 'heir reacrian:
When we sang of "some day" on wl~ich the world would have overco*' Our
the lie "a false starement made with intent to deceive; a criminal false reds, we were singing of the day the messiah is going
hood'" and gws On to ''In mod. use, the word is nomally a violenr uprerrjon oing to came if you are a Jew, or f o r t h second rime
of which in polire fonversation tends to be avoided, [he
'some day'' for which we want to weep with desire- 'ponym l r?r – t rd~ beiiig often subrtiturcd as relative[y cuplamistic."
But day, before he comes, alternately returns, we are going ltol die, and The OED lists
One other category, our old friend the &ire lie, and defines ' to oursel~es, and holding hands, 'Om-
it "a u n h u e ~tmTnent which is not considered criminal; a falsehood *
rendered venial or praisewort11 by its motive," My late husband used to tell the story of a Martian chief who summons his nd orders an expedition to the earth. The chief is puzzled by an ecn observing over the eons: Earthling appear to be born live
wlliCll they die, Now a race, he argues, that knows it I In a rr'cuision in~erview. a ~roferrionai ~ w c c p r r k ~ orgrnkr nplninpd fie rnliniml mplob
be incapable of doing what Earthlings can be obgrved to do of winning Asked he r h o l l ~ h t the public contln,l.d mr,y swccpru~u 1,. nrplird d,ar all
: get out of bed, dress, go to their jobs, come home, cat rhrmselver "sl*cial cases.'' The otl~y miism, he =id, (cprscsed people. ; on occasion they clap their hands.
Had the expedition in David's story taken place, the head astronaut would have brought the explanation home: the human race knows it is mortal but does not bclieve it. It believcs what thc serpent spoke to our mother Eve: "You arc not going to die," he told her, whiclr she understood to mean rhat Adam and the chiIdsen would surely die but not she, Eve; she was a special case, and so she took the apple and bit it.
Curious, the difference to our feelings when the doctor has numbered the years we will live: the difference i s not the limited number; the number was always lim- ited. It is the number made actual rhat disables the lie of the "special case" and forces us to belicve what we know: we wilI die. Community systematizes the private lie, and the language backs it. We say "a
life has been savedJ' when we mean a death has been postponed. Usage promises that we merely pass away or, more hopefuily, on.
There is a wonderful variety of beliefs by means of which we Earthlings disbe- lieve our c e a ~ i n g : ~ Christianity says our behavior determines whether we live our deaths in hIiss ox punishment, or circling in limbo while the question continues in abeyance.
Gehenna, the place of Jewish afterlife, does not abandon us: we may ger to come back out. It does not say to where. The Jewish mind, though unwilling ro imagine its own annihilarion, refuses to settle the question o r ro obsess about it.
The Greek hero could, with special dispensation, cross Acheron and visit his dead fathers in Hades where he wau1d live out his own death.
The Pharaohs spent the national trcasury on furnishing themselves a location and supplying it with their worldly toys-pets, dishes, ornaments-so rhat their preserved selves would continue in luxury.
1 have a friend who believes in the transmigrarion of his soul for another round of life which must, surely, make up to him for the unfairness meted out to his industry and talent in this one. And, he argues, that life wauld not punish babies with illness, abuse, or the sufferings of the Holocaust unless they deserved it for what they must have perpetrated in some previous existence. His proof is his heart's certainty that life could Iznt, in both these instances, be as unfair as he knows, from his own observation, that it is. The trick is to locate hope's proof in that bourn from which no travcler returns to explode the story.
Give me an o ~ j i c e of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my itnagitidtion.
We must, finally, settle rhe question of intentionality: how, if we believe our lie, can we be said to intend to deceive? Is a statement fahe when the liar is of its trufh as a matter of faith, for instance, or the result of a successful act of self deception? Or can we ask ourselves the cxsent to which we d~aose-to which we give oursefves permission-to nor know what we know?
I have a friend who advocates denial as a serviccabk method for dealing with truths she wauld not know how to handle or how to bear. When I offered to join
21gnore, render, the belief to which you subscribe yoiirsclf and join me in wondering a t the other ofles.
over a piece of mortal news affecting a mutual friend she proposed that we disbelieve it together. is the honest lie. It is more common not to acknowledge up front what it is
, , that we are up to. ,< In late essay entitled "The Memory of the Offense" (1989), Primo Levi dis- 8 ' cusses the of a too painful past by both victim and perpetrator of rhat
, monumental we call Holocaucr. "A person who 11as been wounded tends
k our the memory Je as not to renew the pain; the person who has inflicted the wound pusher the memory deep down m be rid of it, to alleviate the feeling of
sketches the incremental stages by which the perpetrator provides
sc who lie consciously, coldly falsifying reality itself, but more ! numerous are those who weigh anchor, move 06, momentarily or forcver, from genuine
far themselves a convenient reality. . . they feel repugnance for tend to replace them with others. The substitution may be
n invented scenario, mendacious, restored, but less painful , , than the real one; they repeat the description to athers, but also ro themselves, and the
distinction between true and false progressively lases its contours, and man ends up fully believing the story he has told so many times and continues to telE, polishing and
' retouching here and there the details which are least: cred~blc or incongruous or incam- pat~ble with the acquired picture of historically accepted events (p. 27).
d and stated in "initial bad faith has become good faith." The liar no longer knows what he knows. He believes thar his lie is the truth.
To illustrate the sufferer's use of false hope t o help him bear an extreme situ- atinn, Primo Levi recalls Albert0 D., "fraternal friehd"' Gf his time in Auschwitz,
! robust, courageous young man, more clearsighted than the average and therefore vw ' ' critical of the many who fabricated for themselves, and reciprocally administered to
sions ("The war wlll be ever in two weeks," "There will he English have landed in Greece.". . . rumors heard nearly iven thc lic by reality) (p. 33).
the selection thar chose Alberto's father for the gas
urs Rlberro changed. He had heard rumors that seemed to him ssians are close by, the selection [that had taken his lather] was
"Ot a sektion like the others, it was not for rhe gas chamher. It had chosen prisoners Alberto even knew where they would be sent, to Jaworzno,
camp for convalescents, only for light labor. as never seen again and Alberto himself vanished during the e camp, in January 1945 (pp. 33-34).
After the war, Primo Levi to visit Alberm3s village, and Alberto's family was doing what ~ l b e r t o had done, rejecting the unendurable truth and constructing an
alternative that continued hopeful: Alberto "had hidden in the fnrrst and was safe in Russian hands; he had not yet been able to send word, but wuuld do so soon." A year later "the truth was slightly changed: Alberto was in a Sovict clinic, t ~ e was fine; but he had lost his memory, he nn longer remembered his namc; he was im- proving though. [His mothcr] bad this from a reliable source" (p. 34).
It troubles us, as it iroubled Prirno Levi, that the perpetrator and his victim belong to the same species and operate according to instincts common to bath: "Hcrc, as with other phenomena, we are dealing with a paradoxical analogy bc- tween victim and oppressor, and we are anxious to be clear: both are in thc same trap, hut it is the oppressor, and he alone, who has prepared it and activated it, and if 11e suffers from this, it is right that he should suHer" (p. 25).
And our justice judges the identical psychological operations differently: the criminal, wanting to lessen the pain of guilr, revises-re-sees-the past and rc- stores himself in his own eyes to the condition of innocence-of not knowing hc has cammitted a crime. His incention, acknowledged or nor, is t o exonerate him- sell from the need for contrition or amendment in ordcr to avoid deserved punish- ment. It is not the lie told ro others-ir is the lie he hasgiven himself pcmission to tell himself that is his second crime,
When the suEerers revise their past or present of undeserved pain, they grab on to falsehoods that are venial, that is to say "easily excused or forgiven; pardon- able.'" We wish them gadspeed.
Here, finally, are two rose-colored memories in which the liar is my morher; it is she who caught herself at it, she who rells that story on hersclf.
The story requires reiteration of the history I keep hoping to have finished tell- ing: Hitler annexed Austria i t ? March 1938. Tn December my farhcs got me in- cluded in a transport of 500 Jewish childrcn leaving for safety En Engiand. MY mother and farhes were lucky to obtain the visas to follow in March 1339.
My mother used to embarrass me. Shc never met an English person without asking for the visa ro get her parents out of Hiller's Vienna. 1 have come across a 25 ward Red Cross lerter dated "I 8.1 1.413." On one side my rnorher has printed ( I translate) "WE ARE ALL THREE TOGETHER AND VERY I-IAPPY. PAUL AND EDITH LIVE VEKY NEAR AND WE SEE THEM OFTEN, FRANZI." On thc verso my grandmatl~er's handwriting replies, "We are glad that you are well. We are well roo. Why do Paul and Edit11 nor write. We worry. Father, other."
In her refugee English my mother explained to every EngIish person how Vienna's Aryanized shops were off limits to Jews. Since her brotl~er Paul and his bride, Edith, had also emigrated to England, my mother's parents would starve wcre it not for Frau Resi. Frau Resi was my mother's cleaning woman. She had taken my grandmother's gold jewelry, broken it up, and war selling it piecemen I and, a t great risk to herself, brought my grandparcnts food to eat.
I rcme~nlses Frau Rcsik raisin eyes. She was a tiny woman, Frau Resib husband3 a cobbler, was a cotnmunisr and dangerously outspoken anti-Nazi. She used to bring her little boy, Erich, to play with me, sitting underneath my mother's haby
piano. I liked Erich, who let rnc boss him. I have what most be a false ry of an event 1 can know only from my mother's telling fur it goes back me when was a n inexperienced young housewife. My mother had de- d some chore that Frau Resi considered sillr for she had responded memo-
etan." The sadly illsufficient as put her foot in a fart." MY
auth to voice a n offended reprimand, she Frau Resi joined her. It was the beginning of a
en and lasted until the Nazi
the bank, and our apartment, including the . piano under which Erich and I had sat, was also Aryanized. We moved into the
living cluarters over my dry goods store on the main square of
~ischarnend, a village close to the Czechoslovak border. Today, ~iscllamend is ten by cnr from the Vienna airport.
B Tlle local Nazis were the boys and girls with whom my mothcr and my uncle Paul had gone to school. They wrote "Kaufi nicht beiwa Juden" (Do not buy from the Jew) in blood-colored paint on the walls and lobbed stones into my bedroom. They leaned ladders against the upstairs windows, climbed in and out, and took
way with them, including tl-le radio on which we bad been surreptitiously to Radio Frcc Europe. They back~d a truck to the door and emptied out
: the store. Thcy returned at night, knocked about the three men-my grandfather, I out of the vilIage. My grand-
d close up house and store. d Edith emigrated to the Do-
Republic, where the pregnant t ~ e n t ~ – o n e – ~ e a r – o l d died. My Uncle Paul the visa that got my g-randparents out of Europe.
MY grandfarher died in the nominican Republic. My father had died in England , a week before the end of the European war. Tn the early Fiftics, our family's rem-
"""t-my grandmother, Paul, my mother, and I-arrived in America, one by one, n quotas came due, My grandmother died in
s, My uncle Paul has a had back and asks my mother for I Iny grandfather's walking stick. My motl~er says the Nazis lzad not perrni~ed my
grandfather to take his stick out of the Fischamend house. She remembers ask- '"g the fellow, Herrrnann, and remembers Herrrnann not answering her. He had
ow she and my grandfather crossrd rhe village square f Fischamend's medieval clock tower, which
ape of a fish on its end. As they approached the iron ischer, a bus coming from the direction of the Czech rought my mother and my grandfather to Vienna. loser of her Manhattan apartment, and here is my
y grandfather's stick has a very small holc in the le is too small-the way the neck of the bottle is
too small to have admitted the fully rigged sailing ship that can be clearly seen 0,) the inside-to have admitted the pebble or marble that can be clearly heard rat- tling inside the hollow handle,
Now i f my grandfather's walking sticlc had had t o be left in tlre Fischamend house, it stands to rcasgn thar it could never have got to my grandmother's sister Frieda's Vienna apartment in which my grandparents Iived unxil 'Tante Frieda and her husband w r e taken away to Buchenwald, where they were killed. The stick could not, consequently, have moved with my grandparents into the apartment in the Rotentusmstrasse where they Iived until Paul sent thevisa, could not have come on the boat with them to the Dominican Republic, nor have been flown with my grandmother f rom the Dominican Republic ro New York City. And yet here, lean- ing in the corner of my mother's Riverside Drive closet, i s grandfather's walking stick,
My mother watches her memory unravel: if the walking stick had not been !eft behind in Fischamend on that morning in August 1938, had my mother and my grandfather walked across the square, passed under the arch and been picked up by the bus which brought them t o Vienna? "Thcre never was a bus route between the Czech border and Vienna," says my mother. How did my mother and my grandfather get t o Vicnna? My mother canner rem
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