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 Virtuous Humanists 
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Joined: February 19th, 2012, 4:35 pm
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I did not know Alan H about Nigel Planer's book so apologies , no theft was intended. Of course I shall get myself a copy. Being a 'good enough humanist' needs some elaboration though. Care to elaborate?

I appreciate your do it yourself approach Finca. This thing about what is the Good way to behave, about conscience and trying to be a good person can also be unsettling. I am the sort of worrier who needs to go to search out the RIGHT as if it was the good thing to do and to be. That for me is the problem. I need an authority like Christians need scripture, so being a non-believer I guess that my starting point for reassurance (within limits) is Aristotle, in particular the Nichomachean Ethics. That's me looking for standards. Is their another option? I'd like to hear and welcome all suggestions.


February 26th, 2012, 5:35 pm
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phalarope wrote:
I did not know Alan H about Nigel Planer's book so apologies , no theft was intended. Of course I shall get myself a copy. Being a 'good enough humanist' needs some elaboration though. Care to elaborate?
This relates to what we do if we are not perfect humanists or dads or christians. Some religions play on their adherents not being perfect and use that to further beat them up (usually metaphorically!). We can all do what we can, but I think we can go too far and end up worrying that we are not perfect. None of us will be perfect, so any time spent worrying about it and feeling as if we are failures is not productive and indeed, could be destructive. What we need to do is learn from previous successes and failures and try to do better next time and being as good as we are able, but realising that perfection is reserved for saints!

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February 26th, 2012, 5:48 pm
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Another option to Aristotle Phalarope? Or to seeking standards from any external reference?
The way I see it, the former sounds like a left-brain approach, the latter - more right brain.
If we were to favour the idea that there should be a spontaneous element to virtuous acts, then that sounds like right brain awareness to me.


In my working life, I learned not to approach my bench with a plan, for it never worked out. Instead, I would start tidying up, maybe oil the vise, or sharpen a drill that had gone dull, and somewhere along the way, I would realise that the thread had been picked up, and I was off once more, lost in the process.
I interpreted this as the necessary shift from left to right brain, involving the loss of awareness of time passing, the tiptoeing out of the language centre, and the creative experience of oneness with what I was doing, which was usually a simultaneous design/build process which we experts call "making it up as you go along."
That my work still reflected my left-brain Ruskin inspired ideas was always a given, not because he charts the course, but simply because I'd learned to think in his terms and respect his values.

This gives me the idea that I need a set of standards which are not just intellectually coherent, but reflected in my natural behaviour. Integrity is about being made of the same stuff all the way through -- nobody likes a cheap veneer.

I would like to think that we come ready-equipped with all that's necessary , and that the process of finding ourselves can be can be facilitated by cultivating sensitivity in the seat of the pants as we hurtle through the days.
Our conscience tells us if we are going to hate ourselves tomorrow.

I do wonder if the animal world has a common standard, a rule of the jungle, since it seems to me that very few animals take more than their immediate need from the common wealth. Don't kill more than you can eat, would appear to be a generally observed rule. One that humanity would perhaps do well to adopt -- indeed I would like to see the super-rich recognised as the super-needy, rather than venerated as successes.
So I recommend the Law of the Jungle - if you feel you need telling, (which I somehow think you don't).
And don't worry, it plays such havoc with the plumage.

Finca.


February 27th, 2012, 12:25 am
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:smile: Thank you both, Alan and Finca for your advice. Lots to think about...If I can take the discussion along a bit further without going off thread; were I to persist in pursuing the path of what makes a virtuous humanist, even with the caveats you both (and perhaps other readers) prescribe, amn't I making judgements about folk, about their behaviour and their beliefs, that have to have a strong element of moral guidance, back to the standards, to give some sound content and justification for my judgements? Imperfection is framed by the paradigm from which it is a declension. We measure even the subjective by objective rules and community governance.

I am not being provocative by asking:What makes a good humanist? Aristotle I believe argued from the goal, the trajectory of any object or person, to its end, its direction of travel, as a measure of worth and meaning. Christians would argue the same or something like it, even if 'God-given'. Take as an example when we atheists discuss/debate with religion. Where is our starting point if not from a moral perspective we would judge to be superior? After all, in parts of the world such perspectives are a matter of life and death. So, what IS that morality that humanists argue for and live by and in? Is it a code? A gut instinct? What does humanist morality offer that others don't?

You have both offered me good advice concerning self-doubt and anxiety. Science also offers sound explanations in various ways. Can moral philosophy play its part too? Is a good humanists the same as a good person? If so then by what standard? And why? Forgive the Socratic pain in the a...stuff here. I hope it doesn't scunner. [Add to dictionary]!


February 27th, 2012, 8:56 am
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we seem to be going a long way in talking about virtue in the abstract without much specification of individual virtues. Here is the Wiki article on the topic:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue
If you glance at this you see that the traditional cardinal virtues were temperance, prudence, courage and justice, though of course there are many other sets like Xian trio of faith, hope and love. Sticking with the former quartet, justice seems to be an odd one out as the others pertain to individuals, but I suppose justness is what is meant. Anyway, this lot confirms my hunch that they are not especially close to what I think of as humanism - for one thing three of the four are essentially self-regarding. I see that the Golden Rule is discussed, though.

I think the notion of virtue is old-fashioned and vague (as you can see from the large numbers of different virtues listed in some or other system. the idea seems to cover everything that might be called good). The other thing, and something I meant to ask Phalarope, is that merely aspiring to virtue does not help much if you don't know the right thing to do in specific situations - what virtues do you prioritise over others? I think you, Phal, maybe overestimate the rationality of ethics, whether you call this virtue or not. I have not read the whole article so far, and no doubt it, and my remarks, will inspire some more reactions :wink:


February 27th, 2012, 12:25 pm
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I think justice has a personal dimension, we talk about the prejudice against colour, gender and so forth. We might say, "Do the man justice" when we mean, "At least read/listen and consider." Like many other words ("discipline" for example) it's commonest present use, as an function of the law in this case, tends to makes its meaning narrower.

Was it not "Faith, Hope & Charity" or is "Charity" no longer a virtue? And how does one use/define "Hope" as a virtue? Especially when placed against "Faith" :D

[Word use changes dictionary definitions: "sophisticated" is defined as:

(of a machine, system, or technique) Developed to a high degree of complexity.
(of a person or their thoughts, reactions, and understanding) Aware of and able to interpret complex issues; subtle.
Having acquired worldly knowledge or refinement; lacking natural simplicity or naiveté.

but once the defs included "unnatural, adulterated", which was correct at the time - until the meanings of those two words also took on a pejorative flavour only in common use!]

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February 27th, 2012, 2:25 pm
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I appreciate your reference to the Wikipedia article, Animist and pick up on your and Dave's inclusion of the 'justice' element linked to the individual. I agree that that particular virtue has a much larger reference than merely to any or all of the virtues that posses the focus on what the individual is and does. Without trying to ignore or downgrade the central virtues (or change the subject) it seems to me that justice is the crux, it is what locates applied ethics in more than the individual. What is virtuous and what is unvirtuous, starting with any nominal notion of a virtuous humanist and its possible negative, surely can be expressed within the wider context of justice.

Perhaps a better way to put this is when I try to find that which is virtuous in the behaviour of, for example, the radical anti-abortionist, or the homophobic, the racist. For me that is not a difficult task, but then, coming back to your question animist about not knowing the right thing to do in different circumstances, I could ask myself: Why is that? Why is it more apparent - to me - that the actions of those above are unvirtuous? Only because by the standards of moral behaviour and judgements only justice, as right behaviour, seems to be the best way to use the virtues.

We humanists if nothing else are concerned deeply with justice. We may well be consistently critical of religion because of its injustice in the world, the wrongs that churches and faiths frequently support and practice. I need only list the spheres of re-productive justice, of genetic justice, of medical and health injustice, to see how for much of the time religion is biased, dangerous, small-minded...and unjust. Ergo, not applicable to the virtues.

So, justice is arguably THE moral virtue.


February 28th, 2012, 9:23 am
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Dave B wrote:
I think justice has a personal dimension, we talk about the prejudice against colour, gender and so forth. We might say, "Do the man justice" when we mean, "At least read/listen and consider." Like many other words ("discipline" for example) it's commonest present use, as an function of the law in this case, tends to makes its meaning narrower.

Was it not "Faith, Hope & Charity" or is "Charity" no longer a virtue? And how does one use/define "Hope" as a virtue? Especially when placed against "Faith" :D

[Word use changes dictionary definitions: "sophisticated" is defined as:

(of a machine, system, or technique) Developed to a high degree of complexity.
(of a person or their thoughts, reactions, and understanding) Aware of and able to interpret complex issues; subtle.
Having acquired worldly knowledge or refinement; lacking natural simplicity or naiveté.

but once the defs included "unnatural, adulterated", which was correct at the time - until the meanings of those two words also took on a pejorative flavour only in common use!]

you cover a lot of points there, Dave. I think the most profound is what seems the most trivial, and thus the least acknowledged, viz that words change their emotive force over time. Re the Xian three, charity is a humanistic virtue, but I don't think that faith, hope or love are virtues at all!


February 28th, 2012, 10:57 am
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phalarope wrote:
I did not know Alan H about Nigel Planer's book so apologies , no theft was intended. Of course I shall get myself a copy. Being a 'good enough humanist' needs some elaboration though. Care to elaborate?

I appreciate your do it yourself approach Finca. This thing about what is the Good way to behave, about conscience and trying to be a good person can also be unsettling. I am the sort of worrier who needs to go to search out the RIGHT as if it was the good thing to do and to be. That for me is the problem. I need an authority like Christians need scripture, so being a non-believer I guess that my starting point for reassurance (within limits) is Aristotle, in particular the Nichomachean Ethics. That's me looking for standards. Is their another option? I'd like to hear and welcome all suggestions.

Hi Phalarope :)

For me, to be humanist is a much looser concept that trying to establish what is good, or right. My starting position is the non-existence of the super-natural, and with it any concept of goodness, sin, purpose etc., laid down by that
authority. Secondly, ISTM, we have 2 choices: either to say that nothing matters (because there is no concept of right or wrong, we are all dead in the long run, etc.,) or we can say that, while we are here on this earth, some things are better than others. So life is a series of choices between different actions and consequences. Though I think it is a good thing to discuss and test one's views, I do not think it is realistic to think that we can lay down a set of correct answers. This has something to do with certain human freedoms which I would support, eg a general right to hold whatever opinion you want (though not necessarily to act it out), but also some sort of trust in the wisdom of crowds. That we are, in our own messy way, progressing. Thirdly, I hold the view that, just because something is transitory, it does not make it valueless.


February 28th, 2012, 11:43 am
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Quote:
Does any of this relate to humanism?
Got any easy questions, Finca? :D

First, in my personal book there is "humanism" and "Humanism". The first is my personal formula, or anyone else's personal slant on it. The second is a bit like the Christian Credo - those rules than can be written down and that all humanists might agree with.

Perhaps your question needs the Big H. If it does then compare every version of the Humanist Credo you can find and work out which ones you can subscribe to. Then work out what parts of your life and behaviour you are able/willing to change (if necessary) to get a fair match.

Bugger, not a lot different from subscribing to a religion when you come to think of it - find the one that fits the best then cherry pick the bits you can achieve.

There is some analogy with being charitable as well, decide which ones have the most emotional value for you and then work out what you can contribute; time, money, space, equipment, skills or whatever.

But always make sure that there is enough left over to maintain yourself. If you don't then you will run out of cash, time, health or patience and be of little use to anyone - including yourself.

Or is that a load of old horse apples?

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February 28th, 2012, 5:28 pm
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