Monday, July 6, 2009

My usual ethical turf is virtue ethics, a mode of ethical reasoning that pursues questions of character and character formation. Virtues are built in small actions, and inhere in the accumulated perfection (or imperfection) wrought by our daily actions as they become habits. We don't acquire virtues (or vices) overnight--we build the content of our characters step by step. The Shaker hymn says it right: "To turn, turn, will be our delight, 'til by turning, turning we come 'round right." Think about it: acts that look superheroic tend, on closer inspection, to be the product of habits of daily life. The mother who "miraculously" lifts a car off her trapped toddler is not suddenly strong--the love for her child that led her to lift the child into her arms, what, 40 or 50 times daily had made her strong, and the adrenaline of the moment completes the "miracle." Conversion likewise, is rarely sudden--Paul, e.g., was likely haunted by the witness of Stephen before he met Christ on the road. Pilgrims are also made in steps. Step by step the road unfolds. Step by step the journey deepens. Step by step we become what we do, moving from who we were to whoever the road will help us to become.

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