Corrupt by nature, but capable of virtue

Andreas Kinneging writes a primer on virtue:

Hardly anyone seriously talks about judiciousness, righteousness, courage, and temperance, let alone chastity, fidelity, and humility. Over the past five decades, these notions have become archaic, and we often no longer understand their meaning.

This disappearance is of some significance. It indicates that traditional morality, in which these virtues occupied center stage, has gradually faded and is about to disappear both from our culture and from our consciousnesses. The crucial question is, of course, how we should assess this development. Is it a curse, a blessing, or of no significance whatsoever? We cannot provide a meaningful response to that question unless we have some understanding of traditional morality. …

Although man is corrupt by nature, he is capable of acquiring virtues. He is born with a number of dangerous instincts, but he is capable of tempering and sometimes even stifling those instincts so that they do not flower into evil. He is susceptible to temptations, but he is not defenseless against them.

Perfection in this sublunary world can only be aspired to, never achieved. Even though moral perfection is beyond man’s reach he is not doomed to do all evil. He is merely inclined that way.

What counts is the battle against the evil within us. We can never win decisively, but this battle certainly need not be lost. To fight this good fight, the main requirements are a certain amount of mistrust toward oneself, a measure of willpower, and perseverance. One must beware of the enemy and show character in battle. Everything else is in the hands of God or—if you prefer—Providence or Fate. And he/that is something we cannot control; we can only hope and pray.

As we have by now surmised, there is such a strong emphasis on virtues in traditional morality because they can save man from the evil within himself. Virtues derive their meaning and significance from the presence of evil in man.

Those who do not believe in man’s inclination to evil will not assign any value to virtues, either. Those who see evil in only a few things peculiar to man will admit only a few virtues. Many of us acknowledge only one real virtue: tolerance. This mirrors the fact that in recent decades the meaning of evil, to the extent that it can be laid at man’s door, has dwindled to little more than intolerance.

The traditional understanding of evil is much broader. Evil is equivalent to the forces of chaos, dissonance, and corruption that spring from human nature. Good is equivalent to the opposite spiritual forces of order, harmony, and growth.

“Virtues derive their meaning and significance from the presence of evil in man.” Andreas Kinneging seems to preach from the same gospel that Jordan Peterson does. It’s evidence of how foreign traditional conceptions of virtue have become that Peterson is regarded by so many as a sort of radical, and that so many seem to treat his ideas as dangerous.

Tradition has become the counter-culture.

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