This I Believe

Nick - Moscow, Idaho
Entered on September 25, 2006

TRUTH, GOODNESS, AND BEAUTY

I believe in truth, goodness, and beauty.

The ancient Chinese believed that moral development is like the cutting and polishing of a precious stone, and even today we say that the people we admire are real “gems.”

Children should choose such people as models for their lives, as they craft their growing moral selves from the raw materials of their being.

The Chinese philosopher Mencius switches from stones to plants, just as I did, when he suggests that we all have virtue sprouts that must be carefully nourished and tended. If they are not, then the virtues shrivel up and die, as they have done in our contemporary culture.

Truly good people are wise, courageous, compassionate, loyal, just, patient, and tolerant. Most virtues are means between extremes that are actually creative choices.

Courage, for example, is the middle way between foolhardiness and cowardice, but this will be a unique and distinctive path for each person. Gandhi’s courage in confronting the British had a quality and personal style different any soldier in battle, or any other person who stands firm in the face of danger.

A simple example will demonstrate the truth of this idea. People have learned that eating too little is just as bad as eating too much. But a guy such as Arnold Schwarznegger can eat a lot more than I can without becoming a glutton. Each of us will find our own right amount to eat.

Our personal means between gluttony and anorexia are not just subjective whims. If we are mindful, objective factors such as temperament, body size, and metabolism will guide us to our own Golden Mean. If we are not carerful our bodies will tell us, sooner or later, that something is wrong.

Moral beauty comes from the courage of being true to oneself and being true to others. Moral beauty shines in lives that unite goodness and truth.

The external beauty of many celebrities may blind us to the fact that they may be too proud and self-conscious about the attractive facades they have created. True moral beauty is never showy and ostentatious; if it is, it is false and only a semblance of virtue.

One can imagine even the most crippled and deformed presenting themselves with elegance and dignity. The literary examples of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Elephant Man” make this point dramatically. The final line of the former is “To judge by appearance is to miss the beauty of our inner souls.” In the ballet version the Beast’s movements become increasingly elegant as he is accepted by Beauty.

Virtue ethics is emulative–using the sage or saint as a model for virtue. The emulative approach engages the imagination, personalizes, and thoroughly grounds individual moral action and responsibility. Such an ethics naturally lends itself to an aesthetics of virtue: the crafting of a good and beautiful soul, a unique individual gem among other gems.