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Saturday, December 14, 2002

Virtu in Rags

Is virtu in rags virtue ? I am inclined to regret the fact that I am not a pacifist and still remember the vivid horror I felt when I learned that the Greek word sometimes miss-translated as virtue and better translated into, at least, Latin as Virtu, was generally used to refer to a willingness to die attempting to kill men guilty of the terrible crime of being born in the wrong city. I never agree with Kant on ethics unless Hume and Bentham agree as well. In particular, while I agree with Kant that virtue in rags is still virtue, I agree much more strongly with Robert Marley that we are not here to judge who is good and bad but to do the things that are right -- that is that the virtuous should not concern themselves with deciding who or what is virtuous but with how they may help their fellow suffering creatures.

Oh no I let it slip that my pompous pontifications proprio presso palazzi papale is motivated by my stereo. In fact, not by the insights into moral philosophy of Mr Marley but the song “the night they drove old dixie down sung by The Band. I also remember my puzzlement when a long haired lefty teacher sang that song. I think now that the appeal to the left (including myself) is the fact that the Confederates lost. Sadly citizens of a country which believed it had never lost a war (this was well before 1975) they were willing to semi-adopt the nation dedicated to the principal that slaves are slaves in order to get on the side that lost. That is they could not resist the charm of Virtu in Rags.

A case of Virtu in Rags which is much more appealing to us would be, say, Geronimo who lead a band of 70 women men and children in war against the USA for years. Rorty considers Simon Bar Kochba in long list compiled to illustrate how various virtue can be and how hopeless any effort to find a simple rule which indicates the things that are right.

Sadly I believe that Virtu in Rags is vice. That war can only be justified if the cause is imperative and victory is possible. Otherwise fighting is merely pointless suffering. This leads me to fear that I might still be infected with utuilitarianism decades after I though I had been cured.