Aristotle's Ethics: The Good

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Hillsdale College's free online course on Aristotle's Ethics, taught by Larry P. Arnn. Since our host seems to know a bit about Aristotle (ahem), I thought I would bring discussion questions here. The focus of the course is appropriately the Nicomachean Ethics, but there are readings in other works as well.

I don't plan to just rehash the lessons. Instead, I will take thoughts and questions the lesson sparked in me, develop them a bit, and bring them here for discussion. I am going through one lesson each week. If time allows, I will then post one discussion topic here each week. I will also include a link to the lesson at Hillsdale’s website.

There is a key point in the first lesson that I think will bear on all of the lessons. In the third chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle plainly states that we can't be equally precise in all things (e.g., physics vs. history vs. justice). He acknowledges that topics such as the beautiful, justice, and goodness involve great disagreement and depend on convention, and in fact can include inconsistencies, as some things considered good can result in harm. Therefore, "one ought to be content ... to point out the truth roughly and in outline," and in general when speaking and reasoning about things that are true for the most part, to reach conclusions that are also true for the most part. This seems quite reasonable to me.

One last point before we get started is that my goal in these 10 lessons is to understand Aristotle’s ideas. As such, I don’t plan to spend much time trying to pick them apart. I learn by trying to apply, so my discussion topics will focus more on trying to apply or extend Aristotle's ideas than on whether or not I agree with Aristotle. Once I feel like I have a reasonable understanding, I might then try to pick some of his ideas apart, but I want to understand first. You, on the other hand, should feel free to attack his ideas right away. That's your business.

I'll get to the first lesson, "The Good," under the fold.

Cruel luck, hard times

I always knew my maternal grandfather (born 1886) had a shockingly hard childhood after he and his elder sister were orphaned in Chicago in the early 1890s, both parents dying within a month of each other.  My sister, who has bitten by the genealogy bug, figured out a while back that they had a maternal grandfather in California, and she always wondered why the family didn't hear what had happened and somehow take them in.  Instead, my grandfather ended up being hired out to do farm labor for other families while he was still quite young.  His sister went to an orphanage.  I knew that my grandfather, whom I never met, was a singularly hardened man in adult life.  He died when I was still quite young, so estranged from my mother (who predeceased him by a few years) that he didn't attend her funeral.

My sister has dug up an 1891 article from an San Diego newspaper that explains a little:
Asa White [my maternal grandfather's maternal grandfather], a well-to-do rancher living near Otay [California], died suddenly about one o'clock yesterday morning at the residence of his friend, John B. Palmer, at 1157 State street.
Mr. White had written for his daughter [my grandfather's mother] and son-in-law in Chicago to come to California. They were preparing to do so, when his daughter was run over by an omnibus in that city, from the effects of which she died. The husband then intended to bring the two children and come on, but was taken ill and died within twenty days after his wife's death. There being no relatives in Chicago, friends put the two children, a girl of seven and a boy of five years [my grandfather], on the train, and they came through, safely arriving [in San Diego] at 8 o'clock Monday night. They were met at the train by their grandfather, Mr. White, and taken to the residence of Mr. Palmer, an old friend, where the three were to pass the night and get an early start in the morning for home, where the children would find a home in the loving arms of tender hearted grandma. During the night Mr. Palmer heard a strange sound emanating from the room occupied by Mr. White, and entering, found him speechless and gasping, and he breathed but twice after Mr. Palmer's entrance. Dr. Magee was summoned, but of course could do nothing. The body was removed to undertaking parlors, where the post mortem and inquest was held at 10 o'clock. The verdict was death from heart disease. Mrs. White was notified, and is grief stricken over the sudden death of her aged partner, Mr. White being almost 70 years of age. They have another daughter married to one of the cooks at the Commado hotel. The funeral will take place on Thursday.
Who knows what happened then? What became of "tender hearted grandma," widow of the aged well-to-do rancher?  She was a second wife, no blood relation to the orphaned children.  Somehow the children ended up back in Kansas without a dime, where distant relatives or friends made some effort to provide for them. I don't know whether that happened right away, but it can't have been much more than a few years later, because by the age of 12 or so my grandfather was already a hired farm hand in Kansas and my grandmother was in an orphanage. We've never found out what became of her.

Mother, father, distant would-be rescuing grandfather, all dead within a month.  What those children must have thought!  These events cast long shadows in my family.

A Song of Faraway Wars

The wars were getting bigger, three hundred years ago.

War has great days, when a man can change his station in an hour. We think of the 'gentling' Shakespeare mentions, but it was well true through the Spanish wars of reconquest in the Middle Ages. If you wanted to be a knight, and weren't born to it, you could still yet become one on the frontier. If you wanted to be free, or to marry the beloved other your families refused, you could do it on the frontier. You just had to be ready to fight. So too at periods in England's history, and in our own. You could make your own way, on the frontier.

More famously, recently, this title "Over the Hills and Faraway" belongs to a Led Zeppelin song.

It's not quite the same idea at all. And yet...

Natural Law and the State Department

Natural law has a strange place in the American system. The Declaration of Independence is framed in terms of natural law, but the American Constitution really is not: it's formally capable of endorsing any sort of governance for any sort of reason, provided the Article V processes are followed. America has become less and less attached to traditional natural law conceptions over its long life, outright hostile to them in some cases, and in any case its constitutional vision of liberty very much does not entail pursuing the virtue of citizens. Our constitutional liberties are about being left alone, not encouraged in virtue by the state.

This appointment is surprising, then: the US Department of State has elected to appoint a trained philosopher to pursue natural law ends in our foreign policy. The New Republic is critical, seeing in it nothing more than an attempt to oppose gay rights; but really, they should be much more worried than they are. Natural law theory sets up a structure of the good in human life that is far more completely opposed to the progressive vision than they imagine.

But conservatives ought to be careful, too. Changing the mission of the state from 'leaving you alone to find your own good' to 'encouraging you in virtue' is the sort of sea change that could -- if the vision of the good is captured by progressives, and swayed away from the natural law roots -- empower the state in many ways we should oppose.

I'll leave it to you to work through the arguments. The discussion is open, as always.

Mark Knopfler in Italy

Statistical Lies

Drudge has two great stories today that turn on the same deceptive use of statistics.

Annual Global Index Rates U.S. 128th Most Peaceful Nation on Earth
Of nine global regions, Europe emerged as the most peaceful, followed by North America and the Asia-Pacific region. The Middle East and Africa rated as the two least peaceful regions.

And there is a growing trouble spot much closer to home for Americans.

“Central America and the Caribbean had the largest deterioration, especially in safety and security due to widespread crime and political instability,” the research said.
It's More Dangerous to Live in America than Travel Abroad
After traffic accidents, the second-most-common cause of death was homicides. But to put the 132 Americans who died this way in 2018 into perspective, Chicago alone had 561 homicides that year.
So the truth is that the United States has a near-zero homicide rate, if you except certain neighborhoods in certain cities. However, if you read the whole nation as a unit, it looks like the USA has homicide rates very similar to Central America -- which is exactly what you'd expect, since the instability in those countries is pouring over our border and into our cities.

Is it safer to travel abroad than to stay at home if you live in the 54% of American counties with zero murders a year? That changes the picture a bit, doesn't it?

Is the United States the 128th most dangerous country if you live in that majority of counties (which make up the VAST majority of land area)? No, it's one of the safest nations on earth, exactly in line with the nicest places you could find.

So how scared should you be about being murdered? Well, it depends; but if you're worried, you should really be worried chiefly about immigration. Otherwise, it's the easiest thing in the world to move out of the 2% of counties that cause 51% of the problem.

Unreliable Professionals

I'm a regular user of VPN (Virtual Private Network) software, even on my home connection. One of the things I like about it is that occasionally I learn new things. For example, logging into the news tonight, I found out that I must be connected via Ireland because I saw a bunch of stories I'd never have otherwise seen.

Ireland just voted in abortion recently, as you may recall, scandalized by a case in which a mother died of sepsis. They didn't vote in unrestricted abortion, however: they were reacting to the particular case and were trying to prevent future similar cases. So abortion can occur for medical reasons, not for any reason.

Now they've got their first full-blown scandal, as a doctor signed off on an unjustified termination. The family is outraged, as autopsy tests on the aborted child show it did not have the alleged medical condition.
Tóbín also stated that the family were shocked “by allegations that the medical professionals signing off on the abortions have a commercial interest in the companies that produced the fatally insufficient test”.

“This week, the bereaved family were shocked to hear that the State Claims Agency will indemnify the private company that carried out the fatally insufficient tests,” he said.

“They are furious with the Taoiseach for stating in the Dáil that this is a confidential issue.

"They believe he is seeking to sweep this illegal abortion under the carpet. Will the Government change the law, institute guidelines and carry out a fully independent investigation?"
The unreliability of medical professionals is a real problem. Our own opiate scandal turns on government funding for expensive drugs that end up being sold on the black market, after they are prescribed to people who make their living collecting prescriptions. Doctors are trusted not to be part of this, but they are. And thus the government ends up paying for a massive public health crisis twice: once to cause it, and again to try and fix it.

Pro-Life Views Unconstitutional

Kirsten Gillibrand thinks it's OK for Americans to hold such views, so long as they are never allowed to serve as judges. (She also thinks that 'Separation of Church and State' is a Constitutional requirement, which is a widely held but inaccurate view.)

UPDATE: Or maybe it's porn. I can remember when liberals were pro-porn, but apparently that's changed.

"Fully Automated Luxury Communism"

I assumed this was a satire piece playing off AOC's call for a right to luxury apartments, until I saw it was published in the NYT. Of course then it is not; at least, not intentionally.
So we have to go beyond capitalism. Many will find this suggestion unwholesome. To them, the claim that capitalism will or should end is like saying a triangle doesn’t have three sides or that the law of gravity no longer applies while an apple falls from a tree. But for a better world, where everyone has the means to a good life on a habitable planet, it is an imperative.
So, for a better world, the law of gravity mustn't apply and triangles will have other than three sides? Was that what you meant to write down?


The in-group/out-group orientation varies strongly among American ethnicities and political groups.  Skim down this brief article to find interesting charts.  The wokeness of white liberals resembles that of strong conservatives only in an intense response to the sight of someone being taken advantage of because of his ethnicity.  "Very strong" white conservatives light up on this score, but are as indifferent as white moderates or mild conservatives to the routine conscious empathy exercises often characterized as woke privilege-checking.  They ignore that sort of thing unless they see active injustice, which registers weakly with moderates but stirs up strong conservatives and (even more) liberals.

White liberals are the only group who consciously identify more strongly with their out-groups than their in-groups.  Otherwise the differences in in-group preference among other races and non-liberal whites are minor.

There are no charts here attempting to distinguish among political groups within any ethnicities but white.

Rules Against the Spirit of the Age

Quillette has an article today about a quest begun in 1977 by an underground academic journal to fight against misuses of the language.
The Underground Grammarian is an unauthorised journal devoted to the protection of the Mother Tongue at Glassboro State College. Our language can be written and even spoken correctly, even beautifully. We do not demand beauty, but bad English cannot be excused or tolerated in a college. The Underground Grammarian will expose and even ridicule examples of jargon, faulty syntax, redundancy, needless neologism, and any other kind of outrage against English.

Clear language engenders clear thought, and clear thought is the most important benefit of education. We are neither peddlers nor politicians that we should prosper by that use of language which carries the least meaning. We cannot honorably accept the wages, confidence, or licensure of the citizens who employ us as we darken counsel by words without understanding.
The effect of these corrections was, the article claims, to teach attentive readers to distinguish 'between reason and rubbish.'

It reminds me of the long-defunct Texas Mercury, from which I adopted Grim's Hall's house rules for debate.
As we see it, modern society has all the important ideas of life exactly backwards: we are completely against the belief in sensitivity and tolerance in politics and raffish disregard in private life. The Texas Mercury is founded on the opposite principles- our idea is of tolerance and polite sensitivity in private life and ruthless truth in politics. Be nice to your neighbor. Be hell to his ideas.
I later added a persistent identity requirement, i.e., not that you had to use your real name, but that you had to pick a name and stick to it. Arguments against anonymity are mostly addressed by persisting identities, which end up carrying honor and being subject to shame in a sufficient way to cut down on the bad behavior associated with true anonymity. In return, the ability to use a persisting pseudonym enables the freedom of debate that our "cancel culture" seems designed to destroy -- and that culture was already sufficiently in sight in 2003, when I started this blog, that I chose to do it pseudononymously.

These old ideas have been underground for a long time. Be clear in your thinking, precise in your language; be polite to people, but ruthless to ideas. It's no wonder such things are suppressed. All of those concepts are deadly dangerous to powers that be who oughtn't to be so powerful as they are.

Tennessee Ernie Ford Sings Civil War Songs

YouTube recommended one of these after "The Lincolnshire Poacher," and so I started listening to the two albums of Civil War songs, one North, one South, that Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded. Here's one from each.

King Donald I

According to the world's most reliable news source, the Babylon Bee, England has been forced to crown Donald Trump king after a strange woman lying in a pond lobbed a sword at him.

The pic is worth the click.

BB: YouTube Radicalizing People into Conversations

Rubin is just one example of the right-wing extremism that is sucking rabbits and children into the clandestine tornado vortex of YouTube mind control. While he claims to be politically liberal on many issues, he regularly has right-wing guests on his show and doesn't even murder them on the spot. "Rubin films his show in his garage," said Guy Ouifaund who used to work in the covert mind-wiping division at Google and YouTube. "There is no better place to do something sensible, like surprise attack a right-winger with a chainsaw and clean up all the evidence. Instead, he has civil conversations with these people, treating them like human beings."
Honestly, I don't know how people find the time to watch these things, but I can't imagine they're destroying the world.

American Legion, China Post 1

A new book, on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Post, tells especially the story of their World War II heroics.
During the early years and prior to the invasion and subsequent occupation by Japan in 1938, the Post conducted operation much like any other Post within the American Legion.

Following the Japanese occupation the membership shifted focus and much of their work consisted of clandestine operations, intelligence gathering and reporting through their established business connections. In effect operating a Shanghai underground.

On December 8, 1941 following Pearl Harbor, all U.S. expats were gathered up and incarcerated in "civilian detention facilities" like Pootung Prison. During that long incarceration, Post members continued their intel gathering and reporting through a vast network of established civilian contacts.
They went on to be the home Post for members of the Flying Tigers. It's an interesting story some of you might not know.

CONFIRMED: David Bellavia to Receive Congressional Medal of Honor

Here's an interview with our old friend, whom you may remember from the BLACKFIVE days. It's not been officially announced, but I know for a fact that it's been in the works for some time. Once the official announcement is made, I'll be eager to congratulate our friend.

UPDATE: The White House's official announcement came out this morning. Congratulations to David Bellavia, a man the old BLACKFIVE crew is proud to know.


Why Not? Two and a Half Hours of Rebel Songs

Johston's Motor Car

He didn't quite get it back per order, but the damn thing's been found. It'll go back now, I suppose, only a little bit late.

The Nightingale song, if you know the whole thing, is the same bit as the Gentleman Soldier song from last week. Folk songs and all that.