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

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

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