A straight line on a chalkboard. On one end, a word for some destructive habit like recklessness. On the other end, the prof would write its opposite, but equally destructive habit, like cowardice. Then he wrote ‘bravery’ in the middle of the line and thought he explained it perfectly well.
None of those actually illuminating questions. The line is the easiest thing to draw on the exam.
I thought of this while reading Rousseau, because he seems to think about virtue in a similar way. He discusses this in a totally different context than Aristotle did. And please don’t think I’m trying to make some actual interpretive point about whether and how Aristotle’s idea really did influence Rousseau in this regard.
That’d be a totally unproductive time – a philology important only to a very well-paid scholar. And I don’t want to be a humble scholar anymore. I don’t even think I ever did want to be only a scholar.
I want to put these ideas next to each other so that someone who reads this can understand them both a little better. Understanding a concept better can let a person use an improved tool to understand the world and their life experience.
That’s basically what I think the public purpose of philosophy is. But let’s leave the really hippy-dippy stuff for another time.
So Rousseau is describing the roots of society’s decadence. In simple terms, that’s inequality. But how does this general idea of inequality spell out in everyday life? Inequality is a social corruption that’s expressed as public health problems.
Among the rich, you find diseases of gluttony and overeating – like adult-onset diabetes. Among the poor, you find diseases of poverty and hunger – like malnutrition.* The proper lifestyle is that of free people – you drink when you’re thirsty and eat when you’re hungry. You walk everywhere and exercise constantly.
|A clear sign that your society is riven with destructive inequality and|
profound corruption: A lot of wealthy people who let themselves
become obese out of laziness and the refusal to take any but the
physically easiest route anywhere at all.
Quite literally, an equal society is a healthy society because its people are – on the whole – healthier as individuals. Not the only kind of social and personal health Rousseau is interested in when he thinks about fundamental human equality, but it’s one very important vector.
It’s a very materialist perspective. It reminded me of what Nietzsche wrote about the importance of good health to the virtue of a society. But what matters for a thorough materialism is that social progress and virtue has this expression in the visceral matter of everyday life.
It illustrates the old Golden Mean concept better than that stupid line as well. The image of personal health helps you understand virtue as a perfectly balanced intensity. Feed yourself too much energy and you’re a slob or a decadent fatty. Maybe you undercut yourself and you’re nothing but a skeleton. Either way, you’re barely able to move. . . . To be continued