The Definition of Moral Virtue

By Yves R. Simon; Vukan Kuic | Go to book overview
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Virtue Is Not Science

WE MAY NEVER KNOW exactly what Socrates meant when he concluded that virtue is a form of scientific knowledge, but the quickest way out of the confusion generated by this suggestion is to reverse his query. Is science a virtue? I suspect that even Socrates would want to deny it, precisely because scientific knowledge as such clearly does not incorporate the kind of human reliability that is expected of virtue. With science, as with art, one can do as one pleases. One may use science for the welfare of mankind or against it, and, in fact, one may use any science, or art, against even its own particular or technical purpose. In the famous example of Aristotle, the grammarian may, if he wants to, use his knowledge of grammar to make grammatical mistakes. I was reminded of this recently when I submitted an article to a scholarly journal, and wherever I had written "should" the editor changed it to "would," and vice versa. This produced no noticeable improvement in my paper, but it made me realize what a dirty trick an editor could pull on a writer by such a switch--if he were a perfect grammarian. It is the same with any science. If you want to sabotage a chemical factory, who is better qualified to do it than a good chemical engineer? And who else but an artist of genius can get away with deliberately breaking the rules of his art? Indeed, the reputation of some contemporary painters, composers, and also writers rests, in my opinion, at least in part on such violations. Why do they do it? I suspect they enjoy pulling our leg, but they must also derive much joy from showing, by deliberately breaking the rules, that they are true masters of their crafts. I have a few names in mind, but they are not all that interesting or relevant to our discussion.

Much more important is to realize that while the awareness of this value-neutrality, so to speak, of both science and art is rather commonplace today, it definitely was not so at the beginning of the modern era. In the period we call the Enlightenment, and the Germans


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