Is It Rational to Have Virtuous New Years' Resolutions?

Here's what we need to remember about the history and logic of "cardinal virtues."

Here’s a higher-resolution picture of the history, logic, and language of New Year’s resolutions of the “less vice, more virtue” variety.


1. Certain virtues and vices are neither religious relics, nor irrational; their logic is biologically warranted.

2. The “cardinal virtues” predate cardinals and Christianity. Cardinal means chief priest (cardo, Latin “hinge, chief”). “Cardinal virtues” are those life chiefly hinges on.

3. “Virtues” (virtus, Latin “manly strength”) are praiseworthy behaviors, or strengths or skills.

4. The four “cardinal virtues” — justice, temperance, prudence, and courage — were imported into Christianity from rational Greek philosophy.

5. Thomas Aquinas (13th C) contrasted the natural cardinal virtues with the supernatural “theological” virtues — faith, hope, charity. Even for Aquinas cardinal virtues weren't for the afterlife, but for a better after-in-life.

6. Cardinal virtues = rational life skills.

7. Take temperance = self-command of appetites = moderation (not abstinence). Intemperance (overindulgence or addiction) is punished not supernaturally, but scientifically — biochemical karma guarantees it.

8. Likewise, life without justice isn’t rationally desirable (as every un-short-lived culture’s mythology shows, e.g., Greek Oresteia, American Westerns). Meanwhile, courage prevents inertia in a risky world. And prudence is but reason enacted.

9. Whatever your supernatural inclinations, how on earth is that logic ignorable? Nature’s logic, i.e., evolution, built us with capacities for self-control, social rules (aka morals), and justice.

10. Certain vices are deemed “deadly” — sixth century on = lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Gluttony and sloth aren’t Ten Commandments inspired (originally “Ten Sayings,” christened commandments in 1590).

11. Aristotle believed every virtue had two related vices, contextual deficiency or excess.

12. Whatever else religions do, they transmit norms and promote life skills. What are our secular equivalents? Self-help? The norms of the arts? The norms of economics (promoting envy and greed, chasing the ethical alchemy of private vices becoming public virtues)?

The freer we are the more vital key virtues or logical life skills become. Only unskilled reasoning ignores those vices that enable common empirical imprudence,

Here’s hoping you and your logical life skills flourish in 2017.

 

See also:

Plato’s pastry fixes scientific happiness confusion.

Our evolved rational self-command scripts and habits.

Better Behaved Behavioral Models

-- 

Illustration by Julia SuitsThe New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

Videos
  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less