Tag Archives: Virtue

Self-Assertion as a Virtue

In working on my dissertation, I’ve come to the conclusion that self-assertion is a virtue. And this comes mainly from looking at theological anthropology. Reinhold Niebuhr presents an understanding of human nature that in my opinion, can be thought of in terms of virtue ethics. He divides human nature into two aspects, creatureliness of humanity and the spirit/freedom aspect. The perfection of the latter is the theological virtues (according to Niebuhr, I’m not even putting words in his mouth) and human perfection in general would consist of harmony between God and self, within the self (an ordered soul), and between self and the rest of creation. Sound familiar to people who read Aristotle and Aquinas?

Feminist critiques of Niebuhr, however, argue that his understanding of sin in flawed because he identifies pride as the primary form of sin, and the other form of sin, sensuality, is viewed as a derivative of pride. I agree with this assessment but contend that viewing Niebuhr in a virtue framework allows for sensuality to hold equal importance to pride.

A virtue is a mean between an excess and deficiency. In this case, self-assertion would be the mean between selfishness (pride) and self-abnegation (sensuality). Additionally, people are born with dispositions and tendencies toward the excess or deficiency, so some people struggle with pride, while others struggle with sensuality. This could fall along gender lines, but doesn’t have to (and I think it would be a mistake to do so). Though some feminist scholars such as Judith Plaskow identify sensuality as being more in line with women’s experience, she also admits that women can also have problems with pride. I would also say that men as susceptible to sensuality as well. In terms of my own studies, there have been times where I’ve bailed on my academic responsibilities and focused on what was for dinner that night or making plans to have a happy hour with friends.

The question is what kind of virtue is self-assertion. Since all of the moral virtues are collapsible to the cardinal virtues (temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence), self-assertion would be a subcategory of one of these virtues. I think the likeliest candidates are temperance and justice. Temperance is a good fit because it is the virtue of self-restraint. One would usually consider moderation of food, drink, sexual activity, etc. to this virtue. Self-assertion is related to self-restraint but it is not identical. Humility is also one of the aspects of temperance, but self-assertion in the context I am discussing is not humility either. It is acknowledging one’s self as a self that has claims and obligations. Justice is a distant second because justice deals with what people are due. Self-assertion in this context would be taking what is appropriate, not more or less. It is easy to see how self-assertion would fit into justice, but modern views on justice have focused on the more material aspects of the virtue (economics for instance) and self-assertion is less about that than it is about identity and responsibility.

So what do you think? I don’t believe that I’m over thinking this by being unsure where to place self-assertion. Of course, maybe I’m overlooking the obvious.


A Centrist’s Manifesto

Dear Republicans Candidates for President,

I’d like to introduce myself. I am your swing voter in 2012.  I voted for President Obama in 2008 because, in my opinion, he was the better candidate of the two we were left with in the end.  I held no delusions then, nor do I now, that he is the best person in our country for the job.  Of course, those that are the best candidates don’t actually want the job, but that is an aside.

The point is that your ticket to the white house goes through me and those like me.  I am the national center.  My issues spread both sides of the aisle and while I have a party affiliation, it is only so that I can participate in the primary system and I certainly do not support that party’s stand on every issue.   In fact, at different times in my life, I have been registered for each of the major parties and  I even dabbled for a time in some third parties in the delusional hope that we might be able to escape the dominant two-party system that neither represents me nor serves our country best.

My point is that not everyone fits the “you are either with us or against us” mantra that has so enveloped the right-wing view on both international affairs but also now domestic political divisions.  I am neither black nor white but grey and thus you have left no room for me in the black and white world you paint.I should note that you are not alone in painting this caricature of the American political landscape.  The left-wing has not been shy on partisan rhetoric, even if they appear to be the Oscar to your Felix when it comes to getting themselves organized in this political two-step.

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The Ethics of Punctuality

Travelling for the holidays has made me stop and think meaningfully about punctuality and virtue.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to be punctual.  From a virtue perspective, I would say I worked on finding the mean of punctuality but sometimes overshoot.  Flying to visit my parents for the holidays, however, put me in a position where I was late, and that was uncomfortable for me.  Suddenly, I placed the focus on myself more than I care to admit.  Stuck in the back of the plane, I secretly wanted people to stay in their seats to let people with tight connections to go through first.  Since I missed my connection, I had plenty of time to think and I’ve come to the conclusion that when I’m punctual, I don’t have to obsess over the time and am more aware of what is going on around me.  The virtues are not only goals in and of themselves, but they really can contribute to the good life overall.  I am curious where you think punctuality fits into the classical virtues.  I would argue it is rooted in prudence, but one could make a case for it to be a part of justice.  Regardless, I hope that airlines as institutions can work towards this virtue on an ongoing basis.