Comments on La Rochefoucauld

I will be posting short essays on each of La Rouchefoucauld's Maxims

Friday, August 19, 2005

Maxim 631

"Men make virtues out of various acts thrown together by mere chance."

Let us consider some of the words La Rouchefoucauld uses here. The word "virtue" comes from the Latin for "manliness." So, to be virtuous is to be manly. And what does it mean to be "manly"? The various answers to that give us our various virtues. Next, to act means both to do something, and to pretend to do something. If one acts "in life," one is doing something, while if one acts "on the stage," one pretends that one is doing something. Further, plays are divided up into "acts," or parts that are small wholes that together make up a larger whole. The actions in the acts make up the action of the play, and the meaning of the play. But the playwright goes not throw his acts together by mere chance, but by plan. Do men live according to their plans? How many people have actually lived their lives fully according to a preformualted plan? You cannot plan for all the things that will happen to you – from your perspective, there is too much that will happen randomly, by mere chance. And how do we react to what happens to us by mere chance? It is easy to act virtuously in a world where each action is planned, where chance is removed. But the world is not one where chance is removed. And what do we do under those circumstances? Do we act virtuously, or do we look back on our actions, read them into a consistent narrative, see the acts placed together in their proper order, and read our actions as having been virtuous? When we are consistent with our interpretation of what it means to be manly, we make these out to be virtues, and ourselves to have been virtuous.

Incidentally, since virtue is manliness, is it any wonder that American feminists have associated acting like men with good action? Goethe associates virtue with manliness (consistent with the etymology), and aesthetics with womanliness, or the feminine. Thus, we can understand what Goethe means at the end of Faust when he writes "The eternal feminine draws us on high," in combination with issues of virtue in the poem. Ethics and aesthetics need to be brought together – the masculine and the feminine unified as yin and yang – bound together as they should be, in an attractive-repulsive bond.


Anonymous mortgage lead said...

like tumbler and tipsy days hopefully we will remain in high spirits. well, good day

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This definition of "virtue" is disgusting. Why would one associate "virtue" only with "manliness" and not with "humanity"? With all this talk of "yin and yang" there is no place for a man or a woman who falls in between. By setting up a binary of "attractive and repulsive" you are suppressing anyone who does not fit into either category.

The quote "Eternal feminine draws us on high" is an awful example of male/female relationships because in Goethe's "Faust" the female is basically destroyed in service of the male. Is this really a "balanced" relationship? Is this really "ying and yang"? What if we have a "male/male" relationship? Or a "female/female" relationship? Who gets to be the attractive one and who gets to be the virtuous one?

10:16 AM  
Blogger Troy Camplin said...

This definition is one consistent with its etymology. Aesthetics is not necessarily "attractiveness" in the entirely superficial way you are defining it. Aesthetics enriches life. Nietzsche, for example, called for us to live an aesthetic life, one beyond mere virtue, or "good and evil." The point is that virtue alone falls short of goodness, being but one half of the equation. To be a truly good, full human being, one should live a virtuous and beautiful life -- have manliness and womanliness in balance. In my own relationship, I have more of a tendency toward aestheticism, while my wife has more of a tendency toward virtue, so things are not so black-and-white as you are trying to make them. There are far more subtilties to my argument than you are willing to consider -- precisely because you apparently don't understand aesthetics. The aesthetic is not the merely pretty, but the deeply beautiful.

10:25 AM  
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1:26 PM  

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