Sunday, January 22, 2012

Choose Your Virtues

Virtue is contextual. It is easy to claim that honesty is the best policy.  That would contradict the fact that no dress ever made any woman look fat.  

Jane Jacobs compared and contrasted the Commercial and Guardian modes of survival.  The Guardian is the traditional one, common also to animal packs.  The Commercial was invented with cities.  Both, however, ignore the moral context.  Guardians may be good guys or bad.  Commerical enterprises can be benefactors or swindlers.  For Jacobs, the key consideration was that these arrays were syndromes. Literally, they run together to define a complex system. 

Deirdre McCloskey contrasted bourgeois virtues against those of the aristocrat and peasant.  But it can be a challenge to cull wit from jocularity from humor.  McCloskey's goal was not to elevate the middle class merchant above the aristocrat and peasant.  Rather, she sought only an open dialectic space in which trustworthiness, thrift, and integrity are recognized as being hallmarks of the entrepreneur and the sales clerk.  It is who we are today.

From Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival: Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics.

From "The Bourgeois Virtues" (1994) by Deirdre McCloskey.

"The point is not to elevate bourgeois virtue over the others in some universal sense. The point is to sidestep universal senses. In some personal and social circumstances, courage is a virtue. ... So is humility.....  But when the class left out by the virtue-talk is half the population, on its way to all the population, the vocabulary of the virtues is not doing its job." -- McCloskey

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