Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where's the virtue in all this?

"Virtue, then, is a kind of moderation inasmuch as it aims at the mean or moderate amount." - Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics

Why am I writing this stuff down on a public blog? Nobody is following yet and I'm using that as a justification to call it posterity and use this like a philosophical diary for my future reflection. But I could do that by means other than a public web-log. People have done it privately with paper for thousands of years, after all.

I guess I'm still probing for the line between too little and too much. Mostly I am non-communicative with my structured thoughts; they remain internalized and I do not express them as they are formed. The thoughts I do communicate risk sounding vainglorious, as I have afforded these thoughts a higher status and have deemed them important enough to share with others. When I choose to write here on this page, I tacitly deem some of my conscious thought relevant and useful to others.

Is it vain to communicate your ideas? It seems a silly question, but it also seems humility is an essential element to convincing communication. I can't just yell my opinion at you and treat you like an idiot (even if you are super-wrong) because communication isn't particularly constructive that way. A convincing speaker needs to be empathetic, humble, and understanding of opposing viewpoints. More importantly, one must convey these traits when theorizing aloud to garner the best possible reception.

Given that humility is an element of utilitarian communication, how does one justify prioritizing their thought over that of another? When one expends effort to communicate to others, one is also not paying full attention to what others have expended effort to communicate. While I write about philosophy I am not reading about philosophy, even given the immense body of remaining knowledge I can peruse with incredible ease. If I devote my time to the passive acquisition of wisdom, it seems to stand to reason that any subsequent activity will be of greater quality and completeness. Yet, one clearly cannot remain voiceless and docile forever. Indolence is as much sin as conceit.

Is it because of an incapacity to internalize so much knowledge that one stops absorbing and starts expressing? Do we express ourselves when we become saturated and overconfident in the sufficiency of our understanding? What determines our saturation point? Questions that seem too multifarious to fully answer.

Regardless of the factors that create the mean, the mean defines the virtue. A wise person is thoughtful yet not silent, self-assured yet not boastful. Measure and balance characterize the virtuous individual. The virtuous mean is known to society collectively, but hard for any single actor to realize precisely.

And so I probe in the dark for the line between too much and too little. I naturally wish to be virtuous because it is, by definition, what society has deemed best for itself and therefore best for me as a member. I want to contribute my thoughts and grow in understanding with those around me, but when I speak I cannot help but fear that I overstep my bounds without recognizing as much.


  1. My personal opinion is that no matter what we do or say, we inevitably change people's thoughts and understanding of the world. Usually in very minor ways. Usually, neither we nor they will realize it's happened. Occasionally, if we're lucky, we'll have a profound effect. If we're REALLY lucky, we'll have the effect we actually intended.

    Even if a blog is only read by a few people, by putting such thought into your entries as you clearly do, you do your part in changing the world. (Insert cheesy metaphor about a pebble's ripples when tossed into a pond here)

    Sounds pretty virtuous to me. :P

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Sam! I think you're right that all of us affect the world in ways we can't fully realize.


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