Good faith is the love of truth. It differs from sincerity in that it goes beyond being truthful with others. As a virtue, it demands that we clarify our relation to the truth: we must know when and how to be sincere with others, but also, and crucially, that we are never to lie to ourselves.
We must believe that what we say is true or fail to be sincere. But should we always, without exception, tell the truth? No, says Comte-Sponville, because turning it into an absolute is fanaticism (see tolerance). While sincerity is a virtue, without thought it is reckless. “Stupidity” (telling the Gestapo you are protecting a Jew) and “suicide” (putting your own life in danger because lying is bad) aren’t virtues, he adds, and this is why we must be prudent (smart) enough to know when to lie or omit the truth:
“What kind of virtue is so self-involved, so concerned with is own scrap of integrity and dignity, that to preserve itself it is prepared to hand over an innocent person to murderers? What is this duty that has no prudence, compassion, and charity in it? Lying is an offense? Of course it is, but so is hardness of heart, and a graver one at that!”
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.203.
Truth is good only to the extent that it is not placed above “justice, compassion, generosity” or “love” (p.204). No one should make it so. This, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be honest with a dying person about the gravity of their condition when they ask it of you. Lucidity is their right and you must not take it away from them, especially when it means giving them false hope.
We, however, don’t get a free pass. In the case of the self, good faith as a virtue should be treated as an absolute, because nothing will ever justify that we lie to ourselves. Failing to do so would be cowardly and/or narcissistic. Putting our own ego above truth is “bad faith,” which, according to Sartre, “is a ‘permanent threat’ to consciousness.” Striving towards our own truths is “an effort, a demand, a virtue.”
Lastly, good faith is an intellectual virtue, and the virtue of knowledge. It is the virtue of the philosopher in that he is “someone who, when it comes to himself at least, sets truth above all things, above honor or power, happiness or systems, and even virtue or love. He would rather know that he is evil than pretend that he is good” (p.209). For a person who seeks wisdom,
“love of truth is more important than religion, lucidity is more precious than hope and good faith is more valid and more valuable than faith. (…) Good faith is the spirit of the mind, which prefers sincerity to deception, knowledge to illusion, laugher to solemnity.”
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.209-210.
— From SF.
Rally participant Michelle Sabol (“41, a jewelry designer from Pittsburgh”), interviewed earlier today by a NYTimes reporter in Washington.
I may cry a little. How rampant must paranoia and fear be for someone to admit to needing “a safe place to be reasonable?”
— From SF.
Glenn Beck said his rally drew around 500,000 people on Aug. 28. When CBS examined the images, it estimated the crowd to be anything between 78,000 and 96,000 strong (with 87,000 being the most oft-quoted figure).
“Early reports” of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear say a crowd of 150,000 gathered to listen to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (News of Today). Musical host (and drummer of The Roots) Ahmir Thompson said he felt maybe 200,000 people were there (WSJ).
The idealist in me wants to jump up in joy, but my skeptical side feels those two numbers are likely to be an exaggeration. Anyone heard anything else so far?
— From SF.
Gentleness is peaceful strength: “it is the opposite of war, cruelty, brutality, aggressiveness, violence” (p.186). While often associated with femininity, it is by no means exclusive to women, and there exists a very masculine way of being gentle. It is the virtue of the one who does everything in his power to avoid doing harm, even as he’s doing good (because let’s face it, there are harsh and clumsy ways of doing good).
But as all virtues previously discussed, it must meet criteria and boundaries in order to remain so, and not become spinelessness, inaction or sloth. Gentleness, as mastery of the self, as “the virtue of flexibility, patience, devotion, adaptability” (p.188), depends on circumstances and, as such, cannot be an absolute:
“… Nonviolence, if taken to the extreme, would prohibit us from fighting effectively against criminal or barbarous violence, not just when it is aimed at us but also when it targets the defenseless and the innocent. (…) We must make a clear distinction, therefore, between the peaceable, who are prepared to defend peace even with the use of force, and the pacifists, who oppose war in whatever circumstances and against anyone.”
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.190-191.
There is such a thing as just anger and a justified use of violence. In consequence, gentleness must not become a “system,” but always be tempered by prudence (which, if you remember, helps us practice virtues with intelligence).
Gentleness isn’t just human, but only by cultivating it can we become more human. It helps us recognize the moments when violence isn’t justified.
— From SF.
“Purity is love without covetousness” (p.182). In other words, it is the virtue of those who love, free from self-interest. When it relates to sex, purity is not prudery or chastity, because when desire is “accepted and shared” (p. 177), we can forget ourselves, lose ourselves in a moment of profound pleasure, and give in to one another completely. Lovers who treat each other with respect are purer than those who judge them:
“Purity can never be absolute; purity is a certain way of not seeing evil where there is no evil to be seen. An impure person sees evil everywhere and takes pleasure in the fact. A pure person sees evil nowhere, or rather sees it only where it exists - in selfisness, cruelty, spitefulness - and it grieves him.”
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.177.
It has to do with what’s in our hearts. A violent, possessive love, a desire that only seeks to satisfy itself, that treats the other as its object, cannot be pure: “Love that takes is impure; love that gives or contemplates is pure” (p.177).
It is an impossible virtue, because we’re so conflicted. Self-love isn’t a bad thing in itself (“love your neighbor as yourself”), but it must know limits:
“One does not commit evil for the sake of evil, only for the sake of pleasure, which is a good. What corrupts the ‘purity of motives,’ to use Kant’s terminology again, is not the body or some malignant will (that would desire evil for evil’s sake) but the cherished ‘self’ that we always come up against.”
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.178.
It’s a virtue about intentions. Purity in your heart means you know “nothing is impure in itself” and you are not afraid. Not if you adore your job and turn it into a mission, not if you and your beloved decide to indulge in raw passion. At midday. In a public space.
— From SF.
Well, I didn’t vote. I’m nowhere near citizenship (not sure I ever will want to be, but that’s a story for another time).
So. My husband Jason voted. Here’s how it went: I sat at his desk, which I took over weeks ago, and he stood at the counter, attempting to work. I went through every single page on every single proposition for both California and the city and county on San Francisco, and every single candidate statement for every possible post this state is electing next Tuesday. On each person and each point, I gave Jason a quick exposé on how I thought this should go. We had a discussion, we either agreed or not, then, with his blessing, I filled the five ballots in his stead. He checked, shoved them in an envelope that was signed and mailed. The whole thing took us about three hours.
And now, I feel sorry for US citizens. I do. It is positively nightmarish. Democracy overdoing it. No wonder participation is so low. How unbelievably (unnecessarily?) complicated. Look no further than mutually canceling propositions: it’s not enough to want prop 20 to pass, you must also want prop 27 not to pass? This isn’t a vote, it’s a test, and it’s full of trick questions.
A law should be passed forcing employers to grant all registered voters a half day before each election to figure it out. Workshops, perhaps, should be organized, for people to truly understand what is required of them. Better yet, consolidate, simplify. YES to 20 means NO to 27, now STOP ASKING. Because what’s a democracy if you don’t know who or what you’re voting for?
Still, people. No excuse. If one of your exiled countrywomen can do it from Wales and a grumpy French girl can do it by proxy, so can you.
— From SF.
Tolerance is a “minor” virtue, but it is necessary. It deals with opinion, not truth - which needs not convince anyone that it is, and is therefore free. It refers to our ability to deal with opinions that are opposed to ours. In an ideal world, it would be respect, or love, but of these we are often incapable. “Politeness,” “pity,” “indifference” (in the words of Louis Prat) or a feeling of superiority can and do play a part in the tolerant’s attitude.
For tolerance to remain a virtue, it must have clear limits, because the intolerable does exist. Where is the line?
“Morally intolerable is suffering of others, injustice, and oppression, when they could be prevented or fought against by means of a lesser evil. Politically intolerable is anything that actually threatens the freedom, peace, or survival of a society. (…) Any threat to tolerance is therefore also politically intolerable, provided the threat is not simply the expression of an ideological position - which can be tolerated - but genuine danger - which must be fought, if necessary through force.”
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.163.
In this respect, mention must be made of fanaticism and totalitarianism. As we said earlier, truth escapes tolerance: “Truth does not obey, as Alain reminds us, and that makes it free. Nor does it give orders, and that makes us free” (p.165). It is important to note that the true and the good are very different things. Truth should not rule, because it excludes all debate, and this is Stalinism or any religion that defines as a sinner or an infidel anyone who doesn’t bend to its rules as revealed by God:
“Every believer, however convinced that he is right, must acknowledge that he cannot prove that his position is no different from that of any of his adversaries, who are just as convinced as he is and just as incapable of convincing him.“
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.165.
This concerns Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and atheists alike: “what is secularism if not tolerance as an institution?” (p.167).
It is why a functional society, a democracy, must make space for a variety of opinions, no matter how ludicrous. And tolerate we must, because it’s the very least we can do.
— From SF.
“Intelligence is the art of making complex things look simpler, not the opposite” (p.152). Simplicity is an intellectual virtue. It is “good sense or sound judgement (…) reason undeceived by itself” (p.151). But it is also, and mainly, a spiritual one:
“Simplicity is spontaneity; it is joyous improvisation, unselfishness, detachment, a disdain for proving, winning, impressing. (…) To be simple, then, is to forget about oneself, and that’s what makes simplicity a virtue: not the opposite of egoism, which is generosity, but the opposite of narcissism, pretension, self-importance.”
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.153-154.
The simple is concerned not with himself, but with reality. Simplicity is not stupidity and its opposite is “not the complex, but the false” (p.150). Faking simplicity, for example, is failing to be simple. It is the virtue in which all others become true: faked mercy isn’t mercy. In this respect, it is better to be simply unmerciful than falsely merciful.
“Simplicity is the truth of the virtues and it excuses faults: it makes for the grace of saints and the charm of sinners.”
— Comte-Sponville, Great Virtues (Owl Book: 2002) p.154.
It isn’t the virtue of children, either. Simplicity is learned, over years of shedding constrictive narcissistic layers. It is “freedom, lightness, transparency” (p.151).
Simplicity allows us to be free from our egos, be spontaneous and light, not take ourselves too seriously.
— From SF.
Joan Didion on why she left Sacramento and got involved in Hollywood and politics, in a 2006 interview with the Paris Review. Thanks to Jim Ray, who posted a link to their free online collection of interviews, causing my Instapaper to burst.
— From SF.