The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.
Thanks to Henry Iles for sharing this lovely quote with me. Jane Addams founded Chicago’s Hull House, a place for low-income women to find social and educational opportunities. Addams also researched poverty and worked to win the vote for women. She was born in Illinois, 153 years ago.
What I like about this quote is its good common sense. We each are tempted to grasp what we can – to behave as if there is only so much good to go around – dive in and get our hands on a piece of the action. But much of what is valuable in life can only be achieved by a collective willingness to ensure that everyone gets what they need. In this way we can properly secure our needs – not because we’ve grabbed our little piece – but because we can all look out for each other and ensure that each has what they need, without fuss or nonsense “incorporated into our common life.”
The power of choosing between good and evil is within the reach of all
The price of this choice can be terrible. In the totalitarian state choosing good may bring death; but the choice remains. The possibility of this choice is the foundation of human dignity; but the decent society is one where the temptation to choose evil is minimised.
Happiness and virtue are brokered by love.
In moral philosophy there is a significant divide between:
- Those who think morality has a purpose – telos – or
- Those who believe moral action is just about doing the right thing – with no reference to a goal.
In my Phd thesis I have argued at length that the moral understanding cannot be reduced to either perspective, that it is ultimately founded in our experience of duty, but that duties reaches out to virtue both in its respect for rights, but also in its desire for the good.
However another way of looking at this dilemma is much easier.
Think about bringing up your child. You want your child to be happy (and this can have many meanings) and you want your child to be good (and this can have many meanings). But what is the exercise of loving your child if it is not the effort of reconciling these two objectives. The paradoxical hope of true love is that our children will live long and contented lives but that they become the kind of people who know when they must sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.
Only love, not empty rationality, can reconcile this paradox.