Sicut Philosophus docet in II Ethicorum

George Will, comedian:

>Explaining a simple proposal to help people squirrel away gold for their golden years, Hillary Clinton said that a person “should not require a PhD to save for retirement.” But can even PhDs understand liberalism’s arithmetic and logic?

This is funny. He says little about either arithmetic or logic, but a lot about the meanings of words:

>SCHIP is described as serving “poor children” or children of “the working poor.” Everyone agrees that it is for “low-income” people. Under the bill that Democrats hope to pass over the president’s veto tomorrow, states could extend eligibility to households earning $61,950. But America’s median household income is $48,201. How can people above the median income be eligible for a program serving lower-income people?

The Stagirite offers again some simple and obvious instruction:

>How this is to happen we have stated already, but it will be made plain also by the following consideration of the specific nature of virtue. In everything that is continuous and divisible it is possible to take more, less, or an equal amount, and that either in terms of the thing itself or relatively to us; and the equal is an intermediate between excess and defect. By the intermediate in the object I mean that which is equidistant from each of the extremes, which is one and the same for all men; by the intermediate relatively to us that which is neither too much nor too little- and this is not one, nor the same for all. For instance, if ten is many and two is few, six is the intermediate, taken in terms of the object; for it exceeds and is exceeded by an equal amount; this is intermediate according to arithmetical proportion. But the intermediate relatively to us is not to be taken so; if ten pounds are too much for a particular person to eat and two too little, it does not follow that the trainer will order six pounds; for this also is perhaps too much for the person who is to take it, or too little- too little for Milo, too much for the beginner in athletic exercises. The same is true of running and wrestling. Thus a master of any art avoids excess and defect, but seeks the intermediate and chooses this- the intermediate not in the object but relatively to us.

“Low income” is much like quantities of food for ancient Greek wrestlers: it’s relative to how big you are (your family that is) and where you live.

4 thoughts on “Sicut Philosophus docet in II Ethicorum”

  1. I loved seeing the archaic use of “defect”.

    I don’t want to change the subject, but would you mind directing your attention to some poor “conservative” punditry on this issue over at Andrew Sullivan’s. It involves a couple of small blocks of quotes from different people and is thus hard to encapsulate well…
    My uncharitable reading would be this though: Andrew believe that the unborn need special protection (“governmental activism” in Goldberg’s words), but as for the rest of the lot, “non-fetal humans can look after themselves”…Sullivan says this immediately after listing the example of the SCHIP program, so I don’t think my uncharitable reading is a straw man or simply taking a comment out of context. Am I wrong?
    Stricter gun control is another example given that fails to move Andrew–apparently the onus is on the non-fetal humans not to get themselves shot?
    Is there a more charitable reading?

  2. Sullivan I think is confusing the nature of the doubt in each of the cases. In the abortion case, there is doubt that the fetus is a morally significant human being (or as morally significant, etc.) because there is disagreement. So, he claims in essence that the government should side with the non-doubter on this topic. But that’s just an argument from ignorance, there is no conclusive argument either way (it’s a moral question, so there likely isn’t one anyway), so the government must side with one rather than another. But there doesn’t seem to be any more reason to go that way rather than the other, in this case. Besides, no amount of scientific research will probably resolve that question. So there is doubt about that because people doubt it. It’s not like we’ll one day discover that filling the atmosphere full of pollutants may harm our descendants. That kind of doubt would produce prudent caution, because the status of the basic moral agents and patients in each case is well known.

    With S-Chip, etc., there is doubt of another variety. The moral agents and patients in those cases are well known. And the effects of policies regarding them are well known. And no, for chrissake, many cannot fend for themselves.

    So your reading does seem correct. What Sullivan says is confused. It’s hard at times to be charitable to these kinds of arguments.

  3. This is my favorite part of the article:

    “Many politicians pander, as Edwards does with gusto, to Americans’ current penchant for self-pity. Hence the incessant talk about “the forgotten middle class.” Because such talk is incessant, it of course refutes itself.”


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