Hinges: Wisdom and Discretion

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Yesterday’s “Why do we feel so unhinged?” – an attempt at a philosophical post outside the partisan political fray – cries out this morning for a less dispassionate follow-up.

Much of the reason for feeling unhinged is unhinged behavior in the White House that violates prudence (wisdom) and temperance (restraint, self-control), two of the Four Cardinal Virtues featured in “Why do we feel so unhinged?”

trump-lavrov2.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724The latest Washington Post news concerning the POTUS’s off-script conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador about a highly sensitive foreign intelligence and national security matter offers the latest evidence of Mr. Trump’s imprudence and lack of restraint.

The American people and the people of the world should expect wisdom and self-control (restraint) from the most powerful man in the world. But when a society’s traditional values get obliterated by an entertainment culture whose entertainment President gets his news from watching “Good Morning, Joe” and Fox News and tweets warning shots at the FBI Director he’s just fired, the greater tragedy may be that America got a mirror image of ourselves. Until finally the question former First Lady Michelle Obama asked after the new president signed an executive order undoing the Obama Administration’s healthy school lunch program: “What is wrong with you?”

The question goes all the way back to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero in ancient Greece and Roma, and to Thomas Aquinas, who was schooled in the Four Cardinal Virtues at the University of Paris in the 12th Century.

As previously noted (see “Two Universities: Paris and Liberty” in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 101-102), it’s a long way from the University of Paris to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia where the the new president delivered his first commencement address last Saturday.

Trump and FalwellLiberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr. urging Liberty students and faculty to buy guns to teach the Muslims a lesson when they show up at Liberty is a far cry from Jesus’s teaching that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. While Liberty’s President, like the Liberty’s commencement speaker, measures life by what is the greatest and the biggest – Liberty boasts of being the biggest university in the world – Jesus spoke about “the least of these,” by which he did not mean the least qualified, the least accredited and least academically respected educational institution. No, he was talking about the down-trodden, the poor, the meek of the earth, the sick, the dying, the friendless, not the successful elect, the saved, the righteous, the true believers, or the well-off. This is the school President Trump chose to address last week.

Here again are the Four Cardinal Virtues on which the western moral tradition claims the good life and the good society hing. They are called ‘cardinal’ from the Latin word cardo (‘hing’) because the door to the good life and the healthy society hinges on them.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Today is another day in America. Another day in whatever as yet un-masked country provided the highly classified intelligence report to which the President off-handedly referred in the Oval Office while bragging about his “great intel” to the dismay of an onsite witness wise enough to blow the whistle on the latest example of imprudence and intemperance that put the world at risk.

O God, who would fold both heaven and earth in a single peace:
let the design of your great love
lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows:
and give peace to thy Church,
peace among nations,
peace in our dwellings,
and peace in our hearts…. Amen
[Book of Common Prayer]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 16, 2017.

 

Why do we feel so unhinged?

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Vertus_cardinales_par_Germain_Pilon_(Louvre)

Vertus cardinales par Germain Pilon (Louvre)

Yesterday a friend reminded me of the Four Cardinal Virtues:

  1. prudence (wisdom),
  2. justice,
  3. temperance, and
  4. courage.

They are called ‘cardinal’ (Latin cardo; English: ‘hinge’) because they are the ‘hinges’ of the good life and the good society. These are the hinges on which the door to the good life opens.

We don’t think much about ‘virtue’ in the Ayn Rand society. We have learned to recoil at the smugness of those who claim to be virtuous. Even so, one is led to wonder whether we recoil at the imprudent, ill-tempered tweetings and firings in the news because of lingering respect and yearning for the Four Cardinal Virtues, the traditional moral hinges of our cultural heritage.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Justice (Greek: δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē; Latin: iustitia) is the moral and economic balance between selfishness and selflessness, between having more and having less than one’s fair share.

Courage (Greek: ἀνδρεία, andreia; Latin: fortitude) means not only fortitude/strength, but forbearance, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

Could it be that the daily unhinged violation of the Four Cardinal (hinge) Virtues is why we feel so unhinged?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, the Ides of March, 2017