The Polynomic Theory of Value
ἡ τὴς Ἀξίας Πολυνομικὴ Θεωρία

after Immanuel Kant, Friedrich von Schiller,
& Leonard Nelson

οἱ κακοὶ δ᾽, ὥσπερ πεφύκασ᾽, οὔποτ᾽ εὖ πράξειαν ἄν.
But the wicked, just as they are by nature, will never do well.

Euripides, Ion, 1623, Loeb Classical Library, Euripides IV, Trojan Women, Iphigenia Among the Taurians, Ion, edited and translated by David Kovacs, Harvard University Press, 1999, translation modified.

Miranda  There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
      If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
      Good things will strive to dwell with't.

The Tempest, William Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 2:459-462

But welfare has no principle, neither for him who receives it, nor for him who distributes it (one places it here, another there); because it depends on the material of the will, which is empirical, and therefore is incapable of the generality of a rule.

Wohlfahrt aber hat kein Prinzip, weder für den, der sie empfängt, noch der sie austeilt (der eine setzt sie hierin, der andere darin); weil es dabei auf das Materiale des Willens ankommt, welches empirisch, und so der Allgemeinheit einer Regel unfähig ist.

Immanuel Kant, "Der Streit der Fakultäten," Zweiter Abschnitt, 6, note *(2nd), A146-147, Schcriften zur Anthropologie, Geschichtsphilosophie, Politik und Pädagogik 1, Werkausgabe XI, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Mein, 1964, 1977, p.360; translation after F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit, The Errors of Socialism, University of Chicago Press, 1988, 1991, p.73

Living a good life means realizing those excellences in our lives as best we can. Put another way, we are under a moral obligation [!] to do our best to realize the best that human beings can be. To neglect that obligation is to waste our lives.

Charles Murray, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead, Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life [Crown Business, 2014, p.105], noteworthy as Aristotelian moralism.

The only reality is Beauty and its only perfect expression is Poetry.
All the rest is a lie.

Stéphane Mallarmé, to Henri Cazalis, May 14, 1867

De gustibus non est disputandum.
Tastes are not to be disputed.

Chacun à son goût.
Each to his taste.

The diagram below displays the polynomic (πολυνομικός, "many laws") or polynomological (πολυνομολογικός, "reckoning many laws") theory of value -- ἡ τὴς ἀξίας πολυνομικὴ θεωρία. In each domain of value, positive and negative value (e.g. good and bad, right and wrong) can vary independently of other domains. Morally right action can lead to bad consequences; morally wrong action can lead to good consequences; the beautiful can be produced through morally wrong action or be itself bad in a non-moral sense;
Bust of Schiller, Central Park, New York City
and the ugly can be produced through morally right action or be itself good in a non-moral sense. This sort of theory, at first of "ideal" non-moral ethics, was originally suggested by the poet, playwright, and historian J.C. Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), as a correction to the
moralism of Kant's ethics, and was more recently advocated and developed by Leonard Nelson (1882-1927), in his System der Ethik, 1932 [System of Ethics, Yale, 1956]. It is thus part of the heritage and patrimony of the Friesian School.

Some commentators, especially conservative culture warriors, don't like the contemporary use of the term "value." They apparently think that it is introduced, especially in education, to replace stronger terminology like "right and wrong" and to promote Relativism. They may even be right about that, but this does not mean that the term "value" is actually without, well, value. Its Latinate derviation (valuta) does not give it the same punch as words from Old English; but its source, the verb valeô (valêre, valuî, valitus/valutus), has an impressive range of meanings, to be "strong, powerful, worth, healthy," etc. We also get valêtûdo and validus, which are familiar from other English derivatives, and the name of the Emperor Valens, "Strong," who, unfortunately, wasn't strong enough to win against the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople (378 AD) [note].

The Old English derived cognate of "value," which is "worth" (German Wert), is a perfectly useful alternative word in its own right. Things have worth; but it is the general meaning of "value" and "worth" that is appropriate for the Polynomic Theory. Shoes have value and worth; but, without tortured formulations, they do not have moral value or worth. If we are among the modern Nihilists who do not believe that morality exists, this is a useful circumstance. Nietzsche sought to replace moral value with aesthetic value -- the fallacy of moral aestheticism. But even if morality exists, not all value is moral value, and aesthetic value is not moral value -- and this is the issue to be addressed here.

In Greek, "value" or "worth" would be ἀξία, axía. As an adjective, "worthy," it would be ἄξιος, áxios (compare, "axiom," ἀξίωμα, plural ἀξιώματα, axiómata), which figures in the word ἀξιολογία, axiología, i.e. "axiology," the theory of value, which is generally understood to embrace ethics, aesthetics, meta-ethics, religion, jurisprudence, etc. -- although the term actually doesn't get used all that much.

When the citizens of Constantinople began to think that it was time to depose an Emperor of Romania, they would begin to shout ἀνάξιος, anáxios, "unworthy!" Unlike Western Europe, or Francia, where few Mediaeval rulers were overthrown by popular revolt, this was not unusual in the "Great City," the Norse Miklagard, on the Bosporus. Similarly, rebels or candidates for the Throne might be promoted as ἄξιος, "worthy."

At this website, I have begun using ἀνάξιος and, to a lesser extent, ἄξιος as icons to mark politicians, or those with some chance (or threat) of soon entering politics, for the value, negative or positive, respectively, of their contribution or ideology. In our day and age, there are few politicians who are not ἀνάξιος, just as Socrates discovered when he began to examine those of his day.

"Axiology" is a modern neologism. It does not occur in the unabridged Liddell and Scott Greek lexicon, or even in my Modern Greek dictionary. It does not even occur in the 1971 edition of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Indeed, Merriam-Webster asserts that the "first known use" of "axiology," axiologie in French, was in 1891. Axiologie is then attested in the French philosopher Paul Lapie (1869-1927) in 1902; and we then get the Grundriss der Axiologie (Outline of Axiology, 1909) by Eduard von Hartmann (1842-1906).

However, another word does occur in the Greek dictionaries, ἀξιόλογος, axiólogos, glossed by Liddell and Scott as "worthy of mention, remarkable." The noun, ἀξιολογία, derivative of the same meaning, could easily exist [note].

The Chinese character for "value" is . This means just "price" as well as value -- like the Egyptian word, -- and the Chinese uses tend to revolve around monetary value. However, in Japanese, where the character is read ka or atai, we get the broader semantics of "price, cost, value, worth" and even "merit," and the usage seems to match ἄξιος or "value" in English. On this page and elsewhere, the value terminology found in Chinese chararacters is cited extensively, with some discussion of ambiguities, as with the "good" of contrasted with that of , where the latter narrows to moral goodness.

ETHICSAesthetics, the beautiful and the ugly: theory of art & beauty, the worth of things independent of human purposes, "disinterested" value, the worth of nature, the relation of value and being, things good-in-themselves:  Optatives -- wishes
MORALITYIdeal or Euergetic Ethics, the good and the bad(/evil): non-moral worth in human life, the good of teleological ethics, the worth and meaning of life -- happiness, fulfillment, etc. -- things good-for-us: Hortatives -- exhortations
Morality, right and wrong: ethics of obligation and virtue; justice, the freedom and dignity of persons, the balance between self and others, moral goodness: Imperatives -- commands


, beauty;
, beautiful
Right Good Beauty
veracious, honest, upright righteous, good beauty, excellence;
good, beautiful, pretty
true, right, just good, beautiful, happy

Graphic Version of Table

The wrap-around feature of the diagram indicates the generality of the term "good." The morally right is an ethical good, and both moral and non-moral ethical goodness are good and beautiful -- an expression the Greeks combined into one word, kalokagathós, καλοκἀγαθός, "beautiful and good." Moral goodness concerns right and wrong actions; ethical goodness concerns what is good for human life, including right actions but also good shoes, good pizzas, etc.; and aesthetic goodness concerns what is simply good-in-itself, whether morally, in human life, or quite generally.

The distinction between morality and ideal, or euergetic, ethics is motivated by "The Generalized Structure of Ethical Dilemmas," which demonstrates that the different categories of value are free and independent variables. For teleological ethics and for moralistic (see below) deontological ethics, there would be no dilemmas -- the goodness of the ends or the rightness of the means would be all that counts. The existence of a sense of dilemma is therefore evidence for the distinction between the two domains of value and so for the basic thesis that value is polynomic.

Meanwhile, one might hope, as does Miranda in the passage from The Tempest quoted above, that the morally good and the beautiful would necessarily be found together, as Miranda thinks they are in the person of the young Ferdinand of Naples. But experience contradicts this hope with distressing regularity, even as Oscar Wilde meditated on their separation in The Picture of Dorian Gray [1890/1891], where the protagonist becomes more wicked precisely in proportion to the unnatural prolongation of his beauty. This presupposes that otherwise the moral cost of his actions would have been reflected in his features, and that he was tempted to greater evils precisely because his uncompromised beauty gave him the appearance of goodness. Miranda, unfortunately, would have fallen for it.

...aus so krummen Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist,
kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.

Out of timber so crooked, as from which man is made,
nothing entirely straight can be built.

Immanuel Kant, "Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht," "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent" [1784, Was ist Aufklärung, Felix Meiner Verlag, 1999, p.10; Perpetual Peace and other essays on Politics, History, and Morals, translated by Ted Humphrey, Hackett Publishing, 1983, p.34; translation based on Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Princeton, 1990, p.v].

In the entire history of philosophy, I cannot say that I have found a single philosopher who asserts that the right and the good are equally real but can vary independently to produce dilemmas. Dilemmas are still perplexing to all, right down to recent and trendy treatments. Given the separate existence of "deontological and utilitarian ethics," one must be right and the other wrong. We just haven't figured out how yet -- unless it just means that morality and value don't exist, except subjectively and individually (Hitler had his own "values" and his own "morality," you see).

What grounds, motivates, and dominates this failure is probably the idée fixe that truth must be one, and value must be one. There cannot be two, let alone a multiplicity of categories of value. The exception may prove the rule, when we consider Isaiah Berlin, who famously posited a plurality of "goods." However, Berlin did not separate the right from the good and did not restrict such a plurality only to goods. So his plurality of goods also generates a plurality of contrary and paradoxical "moralities," which still leaves him with awkward dilemmas and improbable claims, including a strained and artificial interpretation of Machiavelli. Berlin cannot simply say that a liberal political order is what is "right," since this would contradict his thesis; but he is then left with only morally weak and merely prudential or expedient reasons to recommend it, for which there is no moral obligation.

The unity of value, of course, burns right through the page with Kant, for whom the only ultimate form of value is moral value (das moralische Gesetz in mir, "the moral law within me"). Any possible plurality of "goods" is a function, as we see above, of "the material of the will, which is empirical, and therefore is incapable of the generality of a rule." The empirical "material of the will," at the same time, is a function of our Fallen nature, which plagues us with sensibility and sensuality and curses us with a life among the moral imperfections (and annoying music) of phenomenal reality. This tempts us away from pure morality. So a practical plurality of goods in Kant is basically Satanic in function. Without those temptations we would have "angelic wills" which, like Confucius at 70, cannot deviate from what is right.

This is almost the only remaining element that seems Christian in Kant's philosophy, as we can also gather from the "crooked timber" epigraph above, which makes it sound like our pure rational nature is only part of the corrupted and sensuous whole of our identity. Otherwise Christ has disappeared as the means of redeeming us from our Fallen nature [note].

"Faith" in Kant depends on reason and morality, not on what would have been called faith in almost any actual religious tradition. The Christian injunction to be perfect [τέλειος, Matthew 5:48] can only be satisfied by an eternity of striving -- Kant's argument for immortality. This construction is not essentially changed even in the Friesian tradition, until Rudolf Otto. Faith and redemption in the traditional sense does not exist in either Jakob Fries or Leonard Nelson.

Yet Kant's philosophy allows us to have our cake and eat it too. Value that appears divided and fractured among phenomena, in the world, may nevertheless exist as a unity, with truth, among things-in-themselves. The diagram at right illustrates this with the model of the magnetic substates of physics, as discussed under the system of metaphysics here.

Although the Friesians retain Kant's dualism, and the adoption of Schiller's distinction between morality and ideal ethics introduces the key element of the plurality of goods, they do not seem to have taken advantage of this either in ethics, to deal with the problem of dilemmas, or metaphysically, to allow a unity of value among things-in-themselves that we do not find in the world of experience.

Indeed, the persistence of the idée fixe about value, to the point where contrary ideas seem mostly to have never even occurred to philosophers, let alone to religions where the unity of the holy ties together all value, is the best evidence of the intuitive naturalness of such a feature of transcendent reality. It has blinded philosophers who may otherwise have been looking right at the independent variation of value in moral dilemmas -- like Supreme Court Justices who look right at the Bill of Rights and ignore the assertion of the Ninth Amendment about rights "retained by the people." Sophistry in lawyers, however, is nothing new or surprising.

Of course, one may wonder how value can exist as a unity among things-in-themselves, while we see it in kaleidoscopic (καλειδοσκοπικός) variety (where kaleidoscopes, of course, rotate and change their pattern) among phenomena. How does that work? For this, we go back to Kant again, where there can be no consistent metaphysical theory of transcendent objects. Instead, we get Antinomies and what Kant called "dialectical illusion," der dialektische Schein.

Ordinarily, contradictions imply falsehood; but Kantian Antinomies occur even in cosmology, since the universe as a whole is not an object of a possible experience, i.e. a phenomenon. This also reveals a key principle, since the character of the universe as a whole, like other candidate entities in the transcendent, is an unconditioned reality, while phenomena, as in Buddhist metaphysics, are mutually and unqualifiedly conditioned. Kant's "Ideas" of unconditioned realities -- God, freedom, and immortality -- are poorly motivated by his attempt to use arguments from morality, and we know in particular from Indian philosophy that a personal God is not the only way to conceive ultimate reality as a Supreme Being -- a lesson lost when Western enthusiasts seem to think that (impersonal) Monistic Advaita Vedânta, , is the only doctrine that occurs.

Aesthetic valuation in general is pluralistic, latitudinarian (relatively relativistic -- see below), and not systematizable. The aesthetic valuation of individual objects cannot be completely reduced to rules or definitions, for the concrete individual contains more than any rule can encompass and cannot be defined qua individual by finite predication. This is the aesthetic uniqueness and dignity of individual objects, endowing them with a specific non-relativistic value as goods-in-themselves, regardless of whether they appear beautiful or ugly.

The concept of Ideal ethical evaluation was proposed by Schiller as a correction of Kant's moralism. This was still called "ideal" ethics by Nelson, but that implies too narrow a range for it. As everyone does good in their own estimation, and this is actually suitable in terms of what is (innocently) pleasing to themselves, so ideal (or hortative) valuation is relative to everyone's own purposes and desires. Kant expresses this circumstance by saying, as quoted above, "Welfare has no principle" (Wohlfahrt aber hat kein Prinzip), by which he means that the material good for individuals cannot be expressed as a general rule that would apply to all. This poses a difficulty for teleological systems of morality (such as Utilitarianism), which must prejudge and predetermine goods for others. Such goods cannot be prejudged.

Kant should have concluded from this that there are non-moral goods in ethics, but he didn't. And since these goods are not just "ideals," we should have a better name for this part of ethics. It can be called "euergetic ethics," from εὐεργετέω, euergeteô, "to do good" -- roughly the equivalent of "beneficient" from Latin. Euergetic ethics shares in aesthetic variety and pluralism, although in relation to the purposes of persons. Εὐεργέτης, Euergetês, "Benefactor," was used as an epithet or title by many Hellensitic monarchs. The simple term "well-doing" in Greek would be εὐεργεσία, euergesía, also "good service, a good deed, kindness, bounty, benefit." For "euergetic," we need to coin a term, εὐεργετικός, euergetikós, so that we can then speak of τὰ ἠθικὰ εὐεργετικὰ, "euergetic ethics." [note]

Although the principle of St. Thomas Aquinas is that the "The good is to be done" -- as we see in the statement by Charles Murray, for which he invokes Aristotle but not St. Thomas, in the epigraph -- this collapses morality with ideals, creating moralistic fallacies [note]. The principle is properly reduced from a moral imperative to an exhortation:  Hortatives represent a form of aesthetic valuation in the sense that persons and their purposes form independent aesthetic wholes which are goods-in-themselves. The attainment of the "good life" or "happiness" is a condition that is both pleasurable and aesthetically satisfying to persons. How we can benevolently provide for the happiness for others when we cannot predetermine what they will find good or pleasurable makes for a general problem for hortative value -- as it is often a (maddening) problem when trying to buy birthday or Christmas presents, but has much more serious consequences in paternalistic politics based on moralistic altruism. The moral framework of capitalism in the free market, as we will see, provides the answer to that problem.

It is awkward to call hortative or aesthetic value "relativistic," since this would seem to be saying that moral relativism is true, when actually moral relativism, just because of the existence of some moral absolutes, is false. It is therefore better to call hortative and aesthetic value "latitudinarian," since it allows a "latitude" of goods and denies that there is a best life or a supreme good across a range of goods for human life. That range is not unlimited as in strict relativism, and we might therefore say it is "relatively relativistic," which is a more honest relativism anyway. The term "latitudinarian" appropriately hearkens back to the progress of Toleration in the 17th century, when the legal enforcement of religious belief and public morality came to be restrained and moderated, especially in the Netherlands and England. The opposite of "latitudinarianism" is "rigorism," which is appropriate for morality as such, i.e. that there is no "latitude" or exceptions to the true moral rule. Although we may be restrained in practice because of our sense of ignorance in Socratic absolutism and Socratic situationism, morality as such admits of no exceptions.

Hortative and Optative

While hortative value, within ethics, exhibits features of aesthetic value, outside ethics, such as its pluralism, those features come into their own when free of the ethical context. Various paradoxes of beauty and art then emerge. Despite the truth of a epigraphs above -- De gustibus non est disputandum, "Tastes are not to be disputed," and Chacun à son goût, "Each to his taste" -- there is nevertheless no doubt and no mistaking it that taste is judged all the time, and things in bad taste, or persons possessing bad taste, are frequently identified in public and private discourse. Reasons can even be given for such judgments, although without logically exhaustive criteria. At the same time, taste obviously differs over time and different cultures; and so we see that aesthetic variety can challenge established forms of taste. This may leave philosophers and theorists perplexed.

Most perplexing are perhaps the metaphysical extremes by which the ground of beauty is described. For Plato, beautiful things "participated" in the Form of Beauty and thus led the mind to contact with and contemplation of the transcendent. With Kant, we find the opposite, that beauty is a subjective and "pleasant" state of mind, whose only connection to the transcendent is by way of the aesthetic subset of the sublime, which itself is only a reflex of the Moral Law. There is no independent aesthetic reality -- no Form of the Beautiful -- or, as Plato would say, "beauty itself," τὸ καλὸν αὐτόν -- in Kant. This is no more clearly evident than in Kant's trivialization of music.

At the same time, Kant launched a characterization of aesthetic value as properly "disinterested," i.e. to be contemplated dispassionately. Quite the opposite of Greek ideas about beauty, where the word "beauty" itself, κάλλος, is not without even erotic overtones. Plato himself, despite contributing "Platonic" as meaning a non-sexual love of another, nevertheless begins with physical and erotic attraction occasioned by beauty, which is then only transformed, following the path of higher contemplation, into something neither physical nor erotic -- we see this construction in both the Symposium and the Phraedrus. We get the impression that the physical love is left behind, but this is actually not logically necessary for the point.

Kant's idea of "disinterested" contemplation was an accurate reflex of the independence and objectivity of aesthetic value, where beautiful things are goods in themselves, with a dignity and autonomy that stands apart from human needs, desires, judgments, and purposes -- just as flowers, which evolved to attract bees (and other polinators) before humans even existed, nevertheless attract us also. Indeed, since Kant denies that aesthetic value possesses such status, its "disinterested" contemplation is all that remains of its true character. Improperly. For, despite the independence of aesthetic value, our response to it can be interested and passionate indeed. And beauty as a clue to the transcendent becomes more intimate than it ever was in Plato, since a reformist Kantian can actually replace the independent Platonic Forms with the Being of things in themselves, so that beauty as a connection to the transcendent is not just a clue to a separate world, but a window into a transcendent presence behind all appearances. This is a revolutionary transformation of both Platonic and Kantian perspectives, making the transcendent, after a fashion, itself immanent, and allowing perspectives of both interested and disinterested contemplation.

Erotic Beauty

The most striking and challenging feature of this may be the implied elevation in value of the erotic, even the erotic in pornography. Considering that few pornographers can be credited with good taste, and most pornography is obviously sordid, ugly, and disturbing, there is no intrinsic barrier to even naked sexual intercourse being portrayed, not just as erotic and beautiful, but even as sublime and numinous. In the 1980's, there were moments when real efforts were made to elevate erotic films to these levels; and where some mainstream Hollywood movies, like Altered States, achieved notable levels of erotic intensity. This all passed both because of the political power of anti-pornography forces, on both the Right and the Left, which drove the genre out of respectable venues, and because pornographers themselves realized that they might as well not try. Some of the more explicit nudity in Altered States was cut within days of its theatrical release, and has never been restored (as I know from living in Los Angeles and seeing the film shortly after its realease). The potential for the genre, however, or for more explicit Hollywood products,
Seward Johnson, "Redon's Fantasy of Venus," based on the "Birth of Venus" by Odilon Redon; unusually shows the rima pudendi
is starkly and undeniably revealed in an entirely independent source:  the erotic sculptures with which many temples in India are decorated.

The degree to which women's dress and erotic sculpture in Classical India transgress Western standards of propriety, even the nudes of Greek and Roman sculpture, is extraordinary. Even books on Indian art often shy away even from minimally explicit examples. This involves several lessons. First, the Indian aesthetic obviously goes way beyond what has been acceptable in both Modern and Classical Western civilization. If even female royalty, in the age of Ashoka, wore costume that bared both their breasts and their genitals, then clearly beauty itself has broken through barriers that now are erected (even in India) against "indecent exposure," and not just for lower classes or prostitutes.

Second, the erotic sculptures on Indian temples are obviously part of sacred art. The numinous character of sex, however, is not unheard of in Greek and Roman religion. Greek temples sometimes even featured representations of male genitals. Female genitals can be seen elsewhere, as in traditional Japan, although sometimes in symbolic or stylized forms that are not always recognizable.

On the other hand, Greek and Roman nude sculpture concedes nothing to the anatomy of female genitals, never showing the full mons veneris or a gap between the thighs, let alone the rima pudendi. In space and structure there is no more provision for female sexual intercourse than there is in the conventional representations of mermaids; and European nudes have faithfully followed these conventions -- including the image of the nude couple at left, from the plaque placed on the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft, launched in 1972 and 1973, respectively. The art for this was done by Linda Salzman Sagan, the wife of astronomer Carl Sagan. There is obviously no attempt to portray female genitals or allow room for them [note].

The third point, to recall the enumeration above, and most challenging, would be the idea that erotic beauty can be appreciated in even the Kantian "disinterested" sense, which reflects its aesthetic independence and autonomy. It is not beyond conception that even Plato could allow that sacred representations of sexual copulation could suggest τὸ καλὸν αὐτόν, the beautiful itself. Indeed, we see dramatic art from India of the divine couple Shiva and Pârvatî actually united in coitus, which can also be interpreted as representing the male and female sides of Shiva himself. With mere humans, it would simply be pornographic. Nothing of the sort in the West would be dignified as "art," let alone religious art.

Platonism would seem to involve a choice, whether the world is evil and fallen, condemning matter and carnal realities as repugnant, or whether the world reflects and instantiates, albeit transiently and imperfectly, the beauty and perfection of the Forms. Neoplatonism has more difficulty allowing the latter possibility.

Indeed, it is the very power of such reality and its representation that makes it disturbing, both individually and collectively, in many cultures. And the result can also be ambivalent, where erotic realities can be seen, not as good and beautiful, but as evil and ugly (as genitals can be called "uglies"). Where the erotic is ejected from the holy, it is not surpising that it gets picked up, because of its numinosity, by the unholy, as demonic rather than divine (with Satanists building their rites around sex, often with a naked woman in their altars).

I venture to suggest that this is not right, for which the argument will continue with the consideration of pleasure, below, and of anhedonia, elsewhere. The erotic explicitness of Indian art, like honest government, may be a rare achievement, but it nevertheless represents a pinnacle, a culmen, an ἀκμή, of human civilization. Where it is missing, we have something defective, ugly, and misused.

Imperatives, Horatives, & Virtues --

Moral evaluation is a case of a non-relative good-in-itself embedded in aesthetic and ideal value: it is absolute and systematizable, reducible to the system of respect for the autonomy of persons. Morality fundamentally concerns the acceptable means towards the ends of action. Ideal ethics is the evaluation of ends, purposes, and consequences of action. Morality itself is a subcase of such ends. The force of evaluation of means and ends may become roughly balanced in that the force of obligation of morality, which is the only true obligation, stands over and against the existence of the consequences of action. The existence of bad consequences may be regarded as of significance comparable to the force of moral obligation to do what is right, creating moral dilemmas.

Ideal ethics contains not just goods as ends but also goods as non-moral virtues of character. These "hortative virtues" are often traditionally called moral virtues, but they really are not because they are not duties -- they are not commanded by morality. Hortative virtues may be goods for the self or goods for others. As goods for the self they are virtues of prudence. As goods for others they are virtues of manners or virtues of humanity. Virtues of prudence include all qualities, over and above moral virtues, that contribute to one's success in life with respect to one's own self-interest: thriftiness, sobriety, frugality, providence, reliability, forethought, industriousness, punctuality, enterprise, etc. [note]. Virtues of manners generally involve some consideration for others, especially for the feelings of others, over and above what is morally required: politeness, courtesy, kindness, etiquette, propriety, i.e. good manners. Virtues of humanity involve more substantial consideration for others, bestowing supererogatory benefits through compassion, charity, liberality, etc. Virtues of humanity are often thought of, not as hortative virtues, but as proper moral or legal obligations. This issue will be considered elsewhere in relation to non-contractual obligations of commission and moralistic altruism [note].

Good manners were an enormously important part of Confucian ethics (the virtue of , "propriety, etiquette, the rites") and previously of all proper upbringing. Politeness, however, took a direct hit in the 60's, where authenticity became the ideal, no matter how rude or crude. All sympathies then were in effect with the claim of the Tao Te Ching, the fundamental text of Taoism, that those who act on the basis of Confucian "propriety" are ready to resort to force if they cannot get their way.

A man of highest benevolence [] acts, but from no ulterior motive. A man of the highest justice [] acts, but from ulterior motive. A man most conversant in etiquette [] acts, but when no one responds, rolls up his sleeves and resorts to persuasion by force. Hence when the way [, the Tao] was lost, there was virtue [Te , ]; when virtue was lost, there was benevolence []; when benevolence was lost, there was justice []; when justice was lost, there was etiquette []. Etiquette is the wearing thin of conscientiousness [] and sincerity [] and the beginning of disorder []. [Chapter 38:82-83, trans. after D.C. Lau]

Note well that this is a criticism, not a statement, of Confucianism. Now it turns out that rude and crude people cause a lot of unnecessary friction and conflict. One response has been attempts to make lack of consideration for the feelings of others where racial or sexual relationships are concerned a moral or even a legal wrong ("hate speech"). This actually confirms the fears that Confucians are ready to resort to force (the coercion of law). Nevertheless, hortative virtues of good manners are real and important enough: neither insignificant as many thought in the 60's nor the proper matter of moral or legal sanction. Striking the balance may seem too subtle, but there is a real difference between what is merely, but actually, offensive and what is a moral wrong. It helps to appreciate that they are in polynomically distinct domains of value. The great traditional remedy to the rude and the crude was that they do not belong in polite company: we do not associate with them. If they persist in associating with us, against our wishes (coercion through harassment, stalking, etc.), then that is a moral and properly a legal wrong [note].

The Independence of Manners

The independence of manners from moral goodness is revealed in life and in literature by people who have good manners but are morally evil, and by those with very bad manners who are morally good. An example of the former, now even the paradigmatic example, would be the cannibalistic murderer Hannibal Lecter of the 1988 novel, by Thomas Harris, and the 1991 movie, Silence of the Lambs. As played by Anthony Hopkins, Lecter is polite himself and expects it of others (or he kills and eats them). When he escapes from custody, the FBI agent who had been dealing with him, Clarice Starling, played by Jody Foster, is warned that he might come after her. She knows he won't, because "he would consider that rude." That line is actually not in the book, but it fits with what we might expect from Lecter [note].

A classic example of the opposite is Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's immortal Pride and Prejudice [1813]. First encountering him at a dance, Elizabeth Bennett overhears him talking to his friend, Mr. Bingley. Darcy refuses to dance because, "there is not another woman in the room [besides Bingley's sisters], whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with" --
Marie-Denise Villers, née Lemoine (1774-1821),
"Young Woman Drawing," 1801; portrait
of Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d'Ognes
(d.1868); characteristic Empire gown of
Jane Austen's era; Metropolitan
Museum of Art [note]
this within hearing of Elizabeth, who has sat out two dances for lack of a partner. When Bingley indicates Elizabeth herself, Darcy says:

'Which do you mean?' and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, 'She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men....'

Darcy thus brutally offends the very woman with whom he will later fall in love, and who rejects his own proposal for marriage, a proposal so undiplomatically offered that Elizabeth responds,

'I might as well enquire,' replied she, 'why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?'

Darcy is shaken by this sudden revelation of how others could see him. Elizabeth also had gotten the impression that Darcy behaved badly in more substantial ways. This turned out to be wrong, and when Elizabeth came to discover that Darcy was, despite his manners, actually a very good man, she came to regret the haste and decidedness with which she had judged and rejected him. Meanwhile, however, Darcy took Elizabeth's view of his manner seriously and wished to redeem himself. Darcy learns to be more of a gentleman, and Elizabeth learns to wish that his attentions might be renewed, which, happily, they are. It is then Elizabeth's father who is astonished at the revolution, and Elizabeth must inform him, "He is perfectly amiable. You do not know what he really is..."

It always makes for interesting characters in fiction, or sometimes even in life, when they are other than they seem, and manners are how people first appear to and affect others. What this reveals here is the independent variability of polynomically independent categories of evaluation.

To imagine that the gratifying of any sense, or the indulging of any delicacy in meat, drink, or apparel, is of itself a vice can never enter into a head that is not disordered by the frenzies of enthusiasm.... These indulgences are only vices when they are pursued at the expense of some virtue, as liberality or charity; in like manner as they are follies when for them a man ruins his fortune and reduces himself to want and beggary. Where they entrench upon no virtue but leave ample subject whence to provide for friends, family, and every proper object of generosity or compassion, they are entirely innocent.

David Hume, "Of Refinement in the Arts," Essays on Economics [University of Wisconsin Press, 1970, quoted by Virginia Postrel, The Substance of Style, How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, HarperCollins, 2003, p.171]

Ob Hedonismus, ob Pessimismus, ob Utilitarismus, ob Eudämonismus: alle diese Denkweisen, welche nach Lust und Leid, das heißt nach Begleitzuständen und Nebensachen den Werth der Dinge messen, sind Vordergunds-Denkweisen und Naivetäten, auf welche ein Jeder, der sich gestaltender Kräfte und eines Künstler-Gewissens bewußt ist, nicht ohne Spott, auch nicht ohne Mitleid herabblicken wird. Mitleiden mit euch! das ist freilich nicht das Mitleiden, wie ihr es meint: das ist nicht Mitleiden mit der socialen »Noth«, mit der »Gessellschaft« und ihren Kranken und Verunglückten, mit Lasterhaften und Zerbrochnen von Anbeginn, wie sie rings um uns zu Boden liegen; das ist noch weniger Mitleiden mit murrenden gedrückten aufrührerischen Sklaven-Schichten, welche nach Herrschaft -- sie nennen's »Freiheit« -- trachen.

Whether it is hedonism, pessimism, utilitarianism, or eudaemonism -- all these ways of thinking which measure the value of things according to pleasure and pain, i.e. according to subsidiary circumstances and secondary considerations, are superficial ways of thinking and naïvetés, upon which anyone who is conscious of formative powers and of an artist's conscience will look down, not without scorn, and also not without some sympathy. Sympathy for you! That is, to be sure, not the sympathy you have in mind: It is not sympathy with social "distress," with "society" and its sick and victimized, with those who are vice-laden and broken from their very beginnings, as they lie strewn on the ground around us; even less is it sympathy with grumbling, vexed, revolutionary slave classes who seek domination and call it "freedom."

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Marianne Cowan, Henry Regnery Company, 1955, p.150; Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1988, p.140 [heißt restored for heisst; bewußt for bewusst], color added.


An important feature of the Polynomic Theory, not covered above, concerns pleasure. An early suggestion in Greek philosophy was that pleasure is the good. As the Greek word for pleasure is ἡδονή, hêdoné, this theory has come to be called "Hedonism." While today "hedonism" generally means the often careless, callous, and self-destructive personal pursuit of pleasure, the philosophical doctrine is simply the axiological postulate that pleasure is the good, or the only intrinsic good. From the eponymous Greek Hedonists, the doctrine was continued by Epicurus
and survives in the significant modern school of Utilitarianism, with agreement that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.

However, before this history had barely gotten off the ground, Plato had already succinctly refuted the theory in The Republic. Having disposed of those who say that knowledge is the good, because, when pressed, they must admit that the knowledge that is good must be knowledge of the good, Plato has Socrates continue:

Well, are those who define the good as pleasure infected with any less confusion of thought than the others? Or are not they in like manner compelled to admit that there are bad pleasures [ἡδονὰς εἶναι κακάς, hêdonàs eînai kakás, i.e. admit "pleasures to be bad"]? (Plato VI, Republic II, Book VI, 505c, translated by Paul Shorey, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1935, 1970, pp.88-89)

If there are bad pleasures, κακαὶ ἡδοναί, this means that the categories of value, "good and bad" and "pleasure and pain," vary independently; and we should now be prepared to see this as evidence of the polynomic independence of pleasure. As such, pleasure is properly part of the system presented above. It does not occur there, however, because pleasure and pain are essentially subjective, where such cognitive or objective elements as they may have figure in the categories we have already seen -- right and wrong, good and evil, and the beautiful and the ugly. Pleasure is not an additional element within the system, but it corresponds to the whole system (as Schopenhauer says that music represents the whole will), just as every form of value may be generally characterized as a "good." This is one of the things that motivates a Hedonistic doctrine. Why this should be so, we will see in turn.

Pleasure as good may be a good, and an intrinsic good; but it will neither be the only good nor will it be free from varying independently and producing dilemmas with other goods, a characteristic of polynomic value. This becomes evident with examples. The pleasure of a heroin addiction has the consequences of the destruction of health, the disruption of personal and professional relationships, and the dangers of possible criminal activity. In the same way, the pain of visiting the dentist has the consequence that tooth decay and other evils can be avoided -- recently we have learned that the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut died of a dental abscess.

Now, Epicurus would argue that each of these examples still allows for a Hedonistic explanation, since the heroin addiction produces great pain in the future, in all the areas considered, while the visit to the dentist enables a great deal of potential pain to be avoided thanks to proper dental hygene. This is the Epicurean modification of Hedonism, that we may accept less pleasure or more pain in the present in order that pleasure can be maximized and pain minimized in the future. Drunkenness may be enjoyable for the time being, but tomorrow we will endure much suffering from our indulgence; and continuing this as a way of life will produce a great deal of pain and unhappiness in the destruction of our health and the disruption of every other part of our lives. The good Epicurean thus enjoys moderate pleasures and avoids anything more extreme that will produce pain in the future.

Similarly, the modern Hedonist, apart from the Utilitarian who simply continues the principles of Epicureanism, may argue that even the satisfaction of having done something morally good is itself a kind of pleasure, which means that moral goodness is itself a kind of Hedonism. Without the pleasure of moral satisfaction, all of ethics would simply be empty, and pleasure is consequently the only positive reason to ever do anything.

While the strength of the argument of Epicurus is that health is expected to be pleasurable, and disease or injury certainly to be painful, the introduction of moral considerations upsets rather than confirms the line of reasoning. For, just because someone takes moral satisfaction from some action, this does not mean that the action was in fact morally correct. People may be confused, make mistakes, or positively enjoy doing evil. We see a striking example of this in Nietzsche, which I will present with William Hogarth's print, the "First Stage of Cruelty" (1751), where we see children torturing animals for fun. Those who idealize the innocence of childhood may not be aware that this behavior is not unusual, even today:

The delicacy -- even more, the tartufferie -- of domestic animals like ourselves shrinks from imagining clearly to what extent cruelty [Gausamkeit] constituted the collective delight of older mankind, how much it was an ingredient of all their joys, or how naïvely they manifested their cruelty,
The First Stage of Cruelty
While various Scenes of sportive Woe,
The Infant Race employ,
And tortur'd Victims bleeding shew,
The Tyrant in the Boy.
Behold! a Youth of gentler Heart,
To spare the Creature's pain,
O take, he cries -- take all my Tart,
But Tears and Tart are vain.
Learn from this fair Example -- You
Whom savage Sports delight,
How Cruelty disgusts the view,
While Pity charms the sight.
William Hogarth (1697-1764), "The First Stage of Cruelty,"
The Four Stages of Cruelty, 1751
how they considered disinterested malevolence (Spinoza's sympathia malevolens) a normal trait, something to which one's conscience could assent heartily.... Leiden-sehn thut wohl, Leiden- machen noch wohler -- To behold suffering gives pleasure, but to cause another to suffer affords an even greater pleasure.

["The Genealogy of Morals," in The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, translated by Francis Golffing, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956, pp.197-198, boldface added; German text, Zur Genealogie der Moral, Reclam, 1988, pp.55-56, boldface added]

Fast Alles, was wir »höhere Cultur« nennen, beruht auf der Vergeistigung und Vertiefung der Grausamkeit -- dies ist mein Satz; jenes »wilde Thier« ist gar nicht abgetödtet worden, es lebt, es blüht, es hat sich nur -- vergöttlicht.

Practically everything that we called "superior culture" rests on the intellectualization and deepening of cruelty: this is my proposition. This is the wild beast that was not slaughtered at all; it lives; it flourishes; it has only been -- deified.

[Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Marianne Cowan, Henry Regnery Company, 1955, p.156; Jenseits von Gut und Böse, Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1988, p.145; emphasis in German; Graus, "horror"; grausam, "cruel, inhuman, fierce, horrible, terrible, gruesome"; Grausamkeit, "cruelty, ferocity"].

The persons who discover that they enjoy watching cruelty or suffering, and not just in fiction, should very properly be alarmed, as those around them are likely to be. "To behold suffering gives pleasure, but to cause another to suffer affords an even greater pleasure" -- Leiden-sehn thut wohl, Leiden-machen noch wohler. Such a person has developed a perverse affect. If they then act on that enjoyment by causing suffering -- Leiden-machen -- they have become morally vicious -- the fear of which probably being the reason for the alarm of people around them -- and they have been improperly motivated by their feelings into wrongful action.

Of course, that was precisely Nietzsche's point, that "wrongful action" and "vice" are themselves meaningless characterizations, and not because Nietzsche was any kind of Hedonist:  "Man does not strive for pleasure, only the Englishman does." Not pleasure, or even happiness, but power, was the Nietzschean goal, unlimited by any moral inhibitions over the rights or feelings of others, especially the miserable and pathetic weak ones, whose condition cries out for selfish use and exploitation by the strong. Nietzsche is not credited with a doctrine that power is the only intrinsic good, but he could be, especially when modern Nihilists (deconstructionists, post-modernists, etc.) obviously embrace something of the sort.

We should also reflect that Nietzsche's moral aestheticism, in which aesthetic value is the only value, itself implies the cruelty that can attend aesthetic value. Thus, if you are ugly, you are bad, and worse -- you are probably descended from the lowly and ignorant peasants whose ugliness, darkness, and dwarfishness distinguishes them from Nietzsche's Eroberer- und Herren Rassee, die der Arier, "conquering race of masters, that of the Aryans." I kid you not. Camille Paglia doesn't trace the matter that far, but she identifies the aesthetes who believe that, "The old or ugly are valueless to the poet of the visible world."

Aesthetes, of course, actually are interested in a kind of pleasure, in beauty and art, and not raw Nietzschean power; but there is a kinship. They all detest the ugly, and view them -- as was not uncommon in Ancient times and the Middle Ages -- as reflecting divine disfavor by their appearance or infirmities. Disease and deformities are themselves divine punishment. Thus, when Jesus encounters a blind man, the apostles assume that the blindness had been punishment for the sin of the man or his parents [John 9:2]. Jesus denies that it is either and heals him -- to show the "works of God," opera Dei. Thus, the Nietzschean or the aesthete is cruel not merely from an absence of even Mediaeval moral judgment, but from an absence of sympathy and compassion. This is Nietzsche's "superior culture," »höhere Cultur«.

Pleasure or satisfaction in the wrong and the evil simply reveals the independence of the objective good from our experience of pleasure and pain. Since there are bad pleasures, κακαὶ ἡδοναί, right and wrong, good and bad, and the beautiful and the ugly must be judged on their own merits and in their own terms. Even the beautiful, much of whose value would appear to consist in the pleasure that it affords, nevertheless enjoys the characteristic that, the greater its value, the more that value is independent of the transient beings who may encounter it. Beauty is a supreme good-in-itself; and its intrinsic value increases as its appreciation becomes more refined. Thus, while the vandal derives enjoyment from the thrill of destruction, the severity of their actions as crime is different in kind when they move from damage to fungible chattels to objects that are irreplaceably valuable in their own right. The more perverse vandals, of course, derive particular pleasure from destroying the latter.

While the polynomic independence of pleasure can produce conflicts that look like dilemmas, they are rarely real moral dilemmas because personal pleasure rarely has anything like the moral force needed to outweigh moral duty. Thus, if I consider doing wrong for the sake of my own pleasure, this is not an objectively good end but precisely the kind of egoistic self-interest that generally motivates wrongful action in the first place. It is not like weighing the survival of all against some in a life-boat dilemma. A more innocent conflict may occur, not between pleasure and duty, but between pleasure and other kinds of hortative goods. Thus, I may decide to buy a more expensive car because it will give me greater pleasure than a cheaper economy car. This may involve a genuine moral conflict if, for instance, I have taken on the obligations of parenthood to spend the money on clothes or food for my children, or it may merely reflect my preference, that I prefer the pleasure of motoring over that of a more expensive house, a better sound system, high maintenance girl friends, or gambling in Las Vegas. Or I may contribute this disposable income to charity, which has a more laudable overtone, if I am assured that the charities I patronize are actually doing some good.

Two features, at least, distinguish pleasure and pain from all other forms of value:  (1) they are intuitive, and (2) they are caused. Thus, as pleasure or pain arise, they are identified and distinguished by careful attention to the sensation or the feeling -- the response in us -- which, of course, may be so forceful that the sensations intrude themselves on our attention, regardless of our intentions or predisposition. We do not experience pleasure or pain in external objects, detached from our own existence, whether corporeal or, as representations or abstract objects, mental. The character of the external objects, however, is responsible for the reaction that we experience. Of course, the kind of reaction we have, does not depend entirely on the object, but the mechanism of our response, physical or mental, contributes to the character of what we experience. So, people do not experience pleasure or pain in the same ways from the same objects. The music of Barbra Streisand that strikes many people as enjoyable may be insufferable, or positively painful, to others -- there has been an episode of South Park devoted to this. The Japanese enjoy squid on pizza, even though foreigners may find the consistency of the seafood no different from, and no tastier than, rubber.

Pleasure varies across a spectrum from the most concrete and physically localized to the most abstract and mental. At the one end are thus pleasures or pains with specific locations in the body, as we experience with food and sex, or with the pain of bodily injury or disease. These are so paradigmatic that we imagine the common practical hedonist as pursuing his values by eating and copulating, preferable in the midst of something like a Roman orgy, whose decadent attraction is precisely the combination of uninhibited eating, drinking, nudity, and sex. A wild party is one thing, but it isn't a proper orgy without promiscuous sex and nudity. The rigors and follies of such a life-style were explored by Hogarth (16971764) in his series on "A Rake's Progress" (1735).

With the physical localization of pain, a noteworthy feature is the often involuntary response of the body. If you are burned or cut, there is likely to be a "knee-jerk," instinctive recoil of the affected body part or limb away from the source of the injury. You don't need to think about it. This is comparable to instinctive reactions like the mouth watering or sexual arousal, although those responses require recognition of particular kinds of objects for the reaction to occur (unless the former results from the smell of food or its directly being introduced into the mouth, or the latter from direct stimulation of the genitals). Burning oneself on something that has not even been recognized as being hot, however, sets off an often dramatic recoil that doesn't need any conscious intention or understanding.

As pleasure may be derived from detached and even remote external objects, the cognitive element, as in the emotions, increases. The first stage with this concerns senses whose effect is more intimate and direct on the body. The pleasant scent, or the disgust of an unpleasant smell, act almost as immediately on the body as the sensations of taste or responses to actual touch. With sounds, we get into a larger domain. Loud noises, like bright lights, can themselves be painful as much as more corporeal assaults on the body. Pleasant sounds begin to sound musical, and then become music. This is one of the most mysterious phenomena of human experience. Music can produce pleasure or pain to the extent that it is able to evoke pleasant or painful emotions. Even relatively painful emotions may be enjoyed in the sense that they can be cathartic. Yet the sounds of music as such convey no cognitive content whatsoever, while the emotions are heavy with cognitive associations. Indeed, what particular music means to one will depend on one's prior emotional state and history, not an insignificant part of which will have been the experiential context of particular pieces of music. Yet an entirely new piece of music, just written, can set off intense reactions, evoking associations whose forms may lie deep in the unconscious [note].

Sight is the most detached and objective of the senses and involves the largest cognitive element in the recognition of its objects. The beautiful landscape, in person or in various representations, may evoke a very quiet kind of pleasure, but, of course, this would serve as a recommendation rather than a criticism to a Hedonist like Epicurus. As the beautiful shades over into the sublime, awe and wonder, if not a cathartic or numinous kind of fear, begin to infuse the pleasant experience. In performing arts, to the visual spectacle of the theater there is added the display of action, emotion, language, and story, perhaps with the addition of music. Modern movies are able to increase the vividness of all this, although perhaps with more emphasis on image and music than on language. On the other hand, pure literature takes the word alone and uses it to feed the imagination, from which comes a whole internal theater of images, sounds, and perhaps even music -- not to mention sensual reactions in taste, scent, and sexual arousal -- although all of these will depend idiosyncratically on the experience, memory, and imaginative capacity of the reader.

And what is the pleasure of seeing the "good guys" win or the lovers at long last united in any story? This involves an element of moral and euergetic satisfaction, which reaches a moral culmination in the satisfaction of seeing justice done, or the good accomplished, whether in fiction or in reality. The "moral" of a story, by which the whole purpose of a fictional work is manifest, is an aesthetic, moral, and cognitive unity. The enjoyment of the story hinges on how well that is done, both in the culmination in and in the manner the story builds towards it.

The pleasure, satisfaction, or enjoyment that we experience in life and in art provide a clue about the metaphysical status of pleasure. Pleasure is to subjective and internal existence as the good itself is to objective and external existence. Experiencing, observing, or contemplating the realization of the good properly corresponds to an internal state of pleasure. Polynomic independence, of course, means, as Plato said, that there are bad pleasures, κακαὶ ἡδοναί; but just as the good person who is forced, by evil circumstances, to do wrong in order to effect the good, the good person, discovering that he derives pleasure from evils, endeavors by reflection and discipline to correct his affections.

The theory of the "Lecture on the Good" is that the good is existence, from whose simple identity we have been alienated by the structure of consciousness. Pleasure in turn is thus our internal experience of the good, instantiated in our own existence, even as the cognitive and objective good is a quality that can subsist in objects detached, remote, and unrelated to us. As with all of the categories of value, we would like to see all goods line up and coincide, with the beautiful, the right, and pleasure all together without dilemma, conflict, or contradiction. Life, of course, is characteristically not that simple, and much of our activity consists in trying to keep the positive together without compromise by the negative.

A historic challenge to this endeavor comes from those whose sense is that pleasure itself is wrongful or vicious. This is the moral fallacy of anhedonia, which is examined in detail elsewhere. Anhedonia is often the motivation for anaesthesia, which denies independent value to beauty, along with condemning its enjoyment. As I understand the ontology of pleasure here, anhedonia functions essentially as the condemnation and denial of the value of our own existence. It is not surprising then to discover anhedonia in religions that deny the value of the world and look to a proper mode of human existence only in an afterlife. The variations in this are instructive. Thus, while anhedonic moral condemnations of pleasure may be found in both Christianity and Islam, this does not prevent Islamic representations of the afterlife from picturing it in sensuous and even carnal terms,
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680),
"L'Estasi di Santa Teresa," 1647-1652, Cornaro Chapel, Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 2019
where marriages will continue and there will even be the supernatural equivalent of concubines, the "houris," , ḥûrîyât (singular , ḥûrîyah). Christianity, on the other hand, has a Biblical denial that there will be marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30) and tends to interpret this to mean that carnal pleasures will not exist, replaced by a Beatific Vision more like the mystical transport of earthy Saints -- although Bernini's rendering of "The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa" (of Avila) makes this state look positively orgasmic -- something to keep in mind when encountering those who condemn the Islamic Paradise for its apparent sensuality (!). On the other hand, Buddhism, which in origin was no less denying of the value of earthly existence, rarely displays moral condemnation or hostility towards the pleasures of ordinary life. One might get the sense that Buddhism, which features belief in reincarnation, expects that people will simply tire of the endless repetitions of Samsara, where the pleasures of life, however attractive and even morally innocent, unavoidably are coupled with pain, evils, and suffering.

In all this pleasure is owed a certain pride of place in any theory of value. The judgment of Epicurus in one sense may be well taken. However, there is considerably more to it than the simple principles of the Hedonists, Epicureans, or Utilitarians. Pleasure is indeed the Good in a certain metaphysical sense, but it is not the Good with a cognitive identity that is a reliable guide in moral or even aesthetic judgment. The Polynomic Theory of Value allows us to make sense of this, as all forms of value, including pleasure, can vary independently of each other. If we remember that there are bad pleasures, κακαὶ ἡδοναί, we will have a care that we exercise our moral, euergetive, and prudential judgment about our pleasures. We don't want our "guilty" pleasures to constitute genuine moral or legal guilt, or to degrade our health. Otherwise, we should remember Aristotle:

Men erring on the side of deficiency as regards pleasures [ἡδονάς, hêdonás], and taking less than a proper amount of enjoyment [χαίροντες, khaírontes, "enjoying"] in them, scarcely occur; for such insensibility [ἀναισθησία, anaisthêsía] is not human [οὐκ ἀνθρωπική, ouk anthrôpiké]. (Nicomachean Ethics, Book III, xi, 7, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1926-1982, pp.180-183)

Since we know from much of subsequent history, not only that such men do exist, but that their inhumane "insensibility" (anaesthesia) has been built into various religions and political ideologies, we must also be conscious that pleasures are goods and that it is natural, indeed salutary, to enjoy them. We should want our company to be agreeable if we join Epicurus, or Voltaire, in his Garden.

Charles Maurice de
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
by Baron François Gérard
(1770-1837), 1808

La Belle Époque

Talleyrand famously said, "Those who did not live in the eighteenth century before the [French] Revolution do not know the sweetness of living," Celui qui n'a pas vécu au dix-huitième siècle avant la Révolution ne connaît pas la douceur de vivre. Talleyrand's experience, of course, was of the life in the Salons of the most privileged of Frenchmen under the Ancien Régime, of which Thomas Jefferson said everyone was either the hammer or the anvil.

However, about a century later, we get something else. What comes to be called La Belle Époque in France, from the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871) to the beginning of World War I (1914), was something both very much like and very much different from the life Talleyrand had known. It was thus also an era in which people seemed to experience la douceur de vivre, but now this was a broad based, bourgeois phenomenon. It literally spilled out into the streets, as the French enjoyed their sidewalk cafés, which were to be found everywhere. Napoleon III had rebuilt Paris and, once the Germans were gone, and the damage had been repaired, everyone could enjoy it.

The interest on this page, with issues relevant to the Polynomic Theory of Value and to pleasure, is the degree to which La Belle Époque embodied and symbolized the prosperity and the innocent pleasures of the "good life" and of the goods of horative value.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "The Two Sisters,"
Les Deux Surs, or "On the Terrace,"
Sur la terrasse, 1881
This was characteristic of the times at the end of the 19th Century and in the decade before World War I. The nature of the era, however, is also a matter of dispute.

In the United States, although the economy grew into the largest in the world and desperate people poured off the boats from Europe, especially from Russia and Italy at the time, there were nevertheless difficulties, with deflation from the Civil War until 1897, serious labor trouble, and depressions in the 1870's (1873-79), 1880's (1882-85), and 1890's (1893-94, 1895-97).

Because of deflation, it looked like people's pay was shrinking, even when real wages were rising, a difference not likely to be evident to most observers at the time -- or for many years afterwards, if not until today. The free minting of silver, although contrary to the spirit of the Gold Standard that had been adopted in 1873, mitigated deflation for a while; but then the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893 and the end of Free Silver minting set off the worst economic panic and contraction of the times, with features like every railroad in the country, except one (the Great Northern) going bankrupt.

Consequently, although there is a memory of the "Gay Nineties," more characteristic was the epithet of the "Gilded Age," applied by Mark Twain, when the very rich fourished at the expense of the workers. The reality was different, but confused economics and genuine troubles left a bad impression. Meanwhile, the situation in Britain tends to be filtered through a Dickensian lens, even though Dickens was writing about earlier times and Britain actually had fewer of the travails of the United States. But British growth was actually less than that of the Americans, and Henry Ford had better ideas how to "spread the wealth" than did Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce. Nevertheless, the Britain of the Sherlock Holmes stories is that of a comfortable, successful, and prosperous society. While the stories contain significant moral reflection, there is little politics apart from the occasional patriotic sentiment.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
"Dance at Bougival,"
Bal à Bougival, 1883
In France, despite anarchists and other troubles, the times are filtered through a different kind of lens. French society of La Belle Époque is something now visible in the artwork of the Impressionist painters, whose images remain one of the most popular forms of modern art. Like the Neo-Rafaelites in Britain, the Impressionists shift to bright, vivid, luminous color. But while the Neo-Rafaelites liked mythological or moralizing Victorian didactic paintings, the Impressionists went for the enjoyments of contemporary daily life.

An excellent example is Renoir's "Dance at Bougival," Bal à Bougival (1883), at right. This was painted with two other dance pictures, "Dance in the City" and "Dance in the Country." It took Renoir a bit longer to complete "Bougival," and it has a slightly different character, and is larger, than the others.

"Bougival" shows two of Renoir's own friends, Suzanne Valadon and Paul Auguste Llhote; it is named after a specific location; and it is superior in execution. It gives the best sense of motion of the three paintings, where in "Dance in the City," with the couple very formally dressed, it is not clear that they are moving at all, while in "Dance in the Country," it looks more like the girl has stumbled into her partner, perhaps the worse for drink. In "Bougival," however, there is a sweep, confidence, and elegance to the motion. The expression of Suzanne Valadon is also different. Like St. Teresa above, her eyes are slightly closed and she is not obviously looking at anything. But with her slight smile, her expression is not of mystic ecstasy but of quiet enjoyment. She feels the pleasure of the dance and the attention of her partner. There is nothing orgasmic about this, just the beauty and sensation of the moment. We get a better look at the women than at the men in all the dance paintings, but Suzanne Valadon has most the intriguing, relaxed, and even dreamlike expression.

Another difference between "Bougival" and the other dance paintings is the background. Right behind Suzanne Valadon is a table with another couple, and other people visible beyond them. On the table are what seem to be glasses of beer. This may seem more German than French. We likely would imagine German pastimes of the era as involving beer gardens, an institution imported to the United States by German immigrants, including beer makers.
J. Seward Johnson,
"Turn of the Century,"
installation on Broadway,
New York City, July 2015
This reaches into my own life, since I much enjoyed Scholz's Beer Garden (i.e. the Scholz Garten) in Austin, Texas, including the night of my graduation in 1985. If the Germans had just stayed in their beer gardens in 1914, subsequent history would have been a lot happier.

Viewing the "Dance at Bougival" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it was on loan for an exhibition (its permanent home is in Boston), a woman pointed out to me that the leaves in the background of the painting are not drawn sharply. They look as they might if we were twirling around ourselves and saw them quickly pass by. While the other background figures do not share in that effect, this adds to the sense of motion we might get from the dancers, especially as Suzanne Valadon's dress flares out. The dancers have been twirling themselves.

The "Dance at Bougival" and the whole La Belle Époque are a poke in the eye to all anaesthesia and anhedonia, especially the political versions that may accompany moral indignation about the era, and thus might equally well have been treated under those topics. For their positive meaning, however, they belong here with the hortative goodness of polynomic value and pleasure. And, unlike the cases of pleasure considered above, these exemplify very ordinary occasions of what we might think of as the "good life." A leisurely Sunday, or a night out, with our friends and lovers, drinking, dancing, and talking, or listening to music, add up to a lot of the pleasure and enjoyment that we can imagine in daily life. This is all what moral principles make possible as the sine qua non of the positive content of life. Once we are safe in our persons and property, and prosperous in our vocation, then we can have some fun. We must reflect, in turn, how little fun there is in war or in the grim anhedonia of religion and political activitism at their extremities.

Click on the image of Johann Strauss II to go to the treatment of Belle Époche Vienna.

What we see in the background in "Dance at Bougival" becomes the whole treatment in Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party," Le déjeuner des canotiers [1881]. A canotier is someone "who goes for a boating party" (a canot is a "small open boat"; canoter is "to go boating"; and canoteur is a "paddler"). Everyone in the painting is a real person, and the woman a bottom left, Aline Charigot, playing with the little dog, later married Renoir. Although this was not, at the time, a real boating party, and it is all staged, the venue is the balcony of a real restaurant, the Maison Fournaise in Chatou, which still exists today, balcony and all. The daughter and son of the proprietor, Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise and Alphonse Fournaise, are in the painting.

Seward Johnson has recreated the entire "Boating Party" painting at the Grounds for Sculpture -- as "Were You Invited?" [2001], seen at left -- overlooking the lake at the site just as the Maison Fournaise overlooks the Seine. Also, Johnson extended the installation out of the frame to the right (seen at right here), with another table whose diners are Johnson himself and a group of his artist friends. The installation includes the names of everyone in both parts of the scene. Like many of these larger, permanent works at the Grounds, this is all tucked away behind bushes and fences, although signs do point the way to it. This work and others seem to testify to Johnson's own considerable sense of la douceur de vivre.

The Dreyfus Affair

However, the pleasures of La Belle Époque were seriously compromised by one particular controversy. This was the Dreyfus affair (l'affaire Dreyfus) from 1894 to 1906. A Jewish French Army officier, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, of Alsatian origin ("Dreyfus" was an inhabitant of the city of Trier), was convicted of spying for Germany. He was sent to the infamous Devil's Island in French Guiana, whose charms are displayed in the Steve McQueen movie Papillon [1973].

The whole prosecution seems to have been motivated by anti-Semitism. And although the actual spy was soon identified, the Army swifted acquitted him and added extra charges against Dreyfus, based on forged documents. This was all exposed in the epic J'accuse of Émile Zola, published in January 1898. Zola has added an expression even to modern English, used by Rumpole of the Bailey.

Dreyfus was retried in 1899 but convicted again. He was then pardoned by the new President of France, Émile Loubet. By 1906 Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated in the Army, serving during World War I.

The fury of the conflict, however, is now hard to comprehend. Old friends stopped speaking to each other. Edgar Degas ceased speaking to a life-long friend and collaborator, Ludovic Halévy, just because one of Halévy's guests at a party said something favorable about Dreyfus. Favorable support also came from Monet and Pissarro. But anti-Semites like Degas, joined by Renoir and Cézanne, acted like Dreyfus had to be guilty. The Army was willing to use any dishonest means to convict him and keep him convicted. When some of them later became Nazi collaborators in World War II, it became more obvious that they had hated Jews more than they had ever hated Germany, or really cared about German spying.

Thus, the experience of Alfred Dreyfus was all a grim portent for the appalling and ignominious end that would come to the Third Republic in 1940. Mercifully, Dreyfus himself had died in 1935, apparently still somewhat puzzled by the whole business.

This was a grim portent of the course of anti-Semitism in the 20th century. The Dreyfus Affair and the Pogroms (Погром, "devastation," "massacre" -- unrelated to "program") in Russia seem to have led, with a sort of insane inevitability, to the Nazi Holocaust, like the ambition now openly voiced by the government of "Islamic" Iran, as part of Islamic Fascism, to exterminate Israel and the Jews. The "Progressive" Left in the West, exposing its totalitarian roots, is all on board.

The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function, "Caused Value"

Continued in: The Fallacies of Moralism and Moral Aestheticism

The Six Modes of Value:

Chinese Virtues

Typology of Chinese Virtues


Value Theory

A New Kant-Friesian System of Metaphysics

A Deuteronomy of Kant-Friesian Metaphysics

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Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 2001, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 1

It also seems like a name of ill omen for Ritchie Valens (Richard Steven Valenzuela, 1941-1959), who died in a plane crash with Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holley, 1936-1959) on the fateful "day the music died." The birth name of Valens, Valenzuela, is itself a diminutive of "Valencia," a surname based on the name of the city of Valencia, whose Latin name was itself Valentia, i.e. a noun from valens, valentis. "Valenzuela" in turn was also a place name, i.e. "places in the provinces of Ciudad Real and Córboda" [The Oxford Dictionary of Surnames, 1988, pp.550-551]. We may not know whether Richie Valens was simply abbreviating his given name or realized he was going back to its Latin root. Presumably he did not know of the ill omened association with the Roman Emperor. But a nice trivia question now would be the connection between the death of Buddy Holly and the Battle of Adrianople.

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 2

Briefly, by mistake, I thought it was used in the De Ceremoniis of the Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959), in a section "Acclamation of the demes at a coronation of an emperor," and others [Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, Book I, Chapter 38, translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall, with the Greek edition of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (Bonn, 1829), Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012, Volume I, p.194].

But the actual word there for "acclamation" is ἀκτολογία, also unattested in the lexicons, but perhaps derived from the same root, ἄγω (ágô, "lead"), as ἄκτωρ, áktôr, "leader." I think ἀξιολογία would have been more suitable. The sense of ἀκτολογία as to "speak of a leader," is parallel to εὐλογία, "eulogy," to "speak well" of someone, at their funeral. But for an acclamation, they should be very much alive.

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 3

In his Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone [Part Two, Section 1, A], Kant imagines a perfectly good being, a "Son of God." This is not called "Jesus" or "Christ," and he does not appear to be conceived as a Incarnation of God, or a Savior, or an object of Faith. In other words, it is all sophistry, and without sincere Christian belief, a stretch far beyond the weakness of Kant's argument for God as a "postulate of practical reason."

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 4

The Friesian theory of "ideal ethics" is not to be confused with "ideal theory" as it may now be found in academic philosophy. Among some other things, "ideal theory" is an artifact of A Theory of Justice by John Rawls, where Rawls chose to consider an "ideal" case where everyone in society would obey the rules of justice that he was formulating. Since it is obvious that not everyone would obey, and do not obey, the rules of justice, whether formulated by John Rawls or not, he realized that a "nonideal" theory would need to adjust things to reality.

Thus, in the first place, such "ideal theory" has nothing to do with ideal ethics in the Friesian sense. Ethical ideals, like all of hortative value, are not moral commands (i.e. imperatives) and so actually do not need to be obeyed by moral agents. Indeed, ideal ethics, because of its aesthetic variety and plurality, contains a range of possible acitivities that cannot be simultaneously obeyed, as a practical matter, by any agent. It encompasses all possible worthy ends of human acitivity and so is more than any individual can do. The "ideal" is therefore not a case of everyone obeying justice, but of the possible goals and ideals of human action.

In the second place, "ideal" is not even the best term for the Friesian conception. Schiller's response to Kant was to posit ideal goals other that the moral "kingdom of ends" that was envisioned by Kant. After all, Kant's ideal was simply moral perfection, which he did not think we could achieve in this lifetime (and so required immortality as a "Postulate of Practical Reason"). Schiller rightly objected that there were other ideals, as of art, that were not commanded by morality.

But Schiller overlooked the more humble forms of non-moral value in ethics. Good shoes or a good dinner, which in their own ways may be forms of art, nevertheless may not seem to rise quite to the level of "ideals," although anyone is free to imagine their ideal restaurant serving their ideal meal. But this is beyond the stuff of daily life; and the merely good, but not "ideal," shoes or dinners already falsify the exclusiveness of moral value in Kantian ethics. The narrowness, in its own way, of Schiller's theory is reflected, I think, in the term optative used for the ideals. An "optative" is a wish. But a "wish" implies that, in a sense, we are spectators to things beyond our control, just hoping for a positive outcome, while in ethics we are agents who can actually effect the outcome by our actions. I have thus thought that "hortative" was the more appropriate term, as expressing an exhortation to action. This is neither a command nor merely a wish.

With Rawls, I would wonder at the point of his "ideal" conception. The characteristic of value in general is that it need not obtain in reality. And the corresponding characteristic of moral and ethical value is that free agents will chose whether to observe it or not. It is therefore not just counterfactual and unrealistic to imagine a society where everyone obeys justice, but it is absurd. There is no point in an "ideal theory" which contradicts the realities of freedom and of human nature. And this is especially egregious with a "social contract" theory like that of Rawls, which, from the day of the publication of his book, was criticized as providing no explanation of why anyone would be obliged to obey the rules of justice formulated by him in the first place. I do not think it is a good sign that academic philosophers should still be preoccupied with Rawls, but it must mean that there is a lack of more sensible theories for everyone to talk about.

This touches a sore point in contemporary politics and law. The politicians and judges who take oaths to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution of the United States, nevertheless expect citizens to obey their tendentious and sophistical intepretations of the Constitution, which coincidentally give them far more power than the mere citizens might think from reading the document. And if the citizen refuses to obey, or objects to the interpretations, he might be asked, as I was once asked by a judge, "Have you been to law school?" In other words, shut up and obey your betters. They know more than you; and your freedom and your fortune, such as is left of them, are properly disposed of by their hands. The paradox of "social contract" theories is that they do not consider the rent-seeking and despotic proclivities of those ostenstively charged with enforcing them.

At the same time, here may be a use for Rawls' "ideal theory" as a reductio ad absurdum thought experiment. If the hypothesis is that everyone obeys Rawls' rules of justice, or those of any other theory, what is this going to look like and what is it going to mean? If it obviously generates absurdities, then it is a kind of Kantian universalization test that falsifies the theory. But the absurdities may be less obvious. After all, the idea of a communist "new man" was popular in the 20th century, and some reporters visiting China with President Nixon thought that maybe it had actually happened there -- the development of people whose every action was disinterested and who only worked for the good of others and of all. Indeed, the ambition of totalitarian projects is always to change human nature, not believing that such a thing even exists in a fixed form.

Rawls had no such ambition, and so perhaps he has less excuse for a theory detached from the realities of moral and economic motivation. For, as it happens, both communism and Rawls' "original position" suffer from one of the same drawbacks, that goods are detached from those who produce them. Under both communism and Rawlsian "justice," the fruit of one's own labor can be snatched away by the state, simply on the principle that someone else needs it more. While there may be many willing, out of the goodness of their hearts, to help the needy, it also starts becoming obvious that the minions of the state, who are neither productive nor indigent, always do very well off the transaction also, much more so than the needy ever do. Then they start lecturing the productive about their selfishness. It is soon obvious that their actions are more self-serving that those of almost anyone in productive business.

The "ideal" of either the workers' paradise or the welfare state thus crumbles into a sordid racket of looting the public in order the enrich the well connected -- people who also have the arrogance to exhibit considerable self-righteousness about their status and motives. They can't just rob us and leave us alone. They have to tell us how much good they are doing. And some people, hat in hand, tugging their forelock, believe them and vote for them.

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 5

Living a good life means realizing those excellences in our lives as best we can. Put another way, we are under a moral obligation to do our best to realize the best that human beings can be. To neglect that obligation is to waste our lives.

Charles Murray, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead, Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life [Crown Business, 2014, p.105; color added]

Noteworthy in Murray's treatment of these matters is a bit of misinformation. Thus, Murray says:

The development of a certain kind of mature judgment is hard to rush. The Greeks called it phronesis, usually translated as practical wisdom (the concept will reappear in tip #27). An essential part of phronesis is not just the acquisition of chunks of knowledge, but life experience. [The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead, Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, Crown Business, 2014, pp.89-90, "tip" #21]

Actually, by the "Greeks" Murray means Aristotle, as he otherwise acknowledges. And while φρόνησις, phronesis, can be and is often translated "practical wisdom," the more natural translation is from the Latinate equivalent, "prudence" (prudentia), which we will see shortly.

In tip #27 we get some of the misinformation. First is this:

The four cardinal virtues were originated by the Greeks. They subsequently got their label from the Latin cardo, meaning "hinge," beause they are pivotal: All the other virtues, and the living of a virtuous life, depend on them. If you took an introductory philosophy course in college, they were probably translated from the Greek as courage, justice, temperance, and prudence. [p.115]

First of all, the cardinal virtues were not originated by "the Greeks," but by Plato, in the Republic. Murray evades this perhaps because of his Aristotelian bias. But it is a small thing in comparison to what comes next, for the virtues were not "probably" translated "courage, justice, temperance, and prudence," but "courage, justice, temperance, and wisdom." The Greek word in the end there is σοφία (sophía), not, as we might expect from Murray's earlier account, φρόνησις (phrónêsis), "practical wisdom." This misrepresenation here is due to the Aristotelian basis of Murray's account, which is unpacked as he explains "prudence":

That leaves prudence, the cardinal virtue that requires the most work and time for you to acquire. it is also the virtue with the most unappealing label of all, with its connotation of timidity. The idea of other people saying of me, "Charles is very prudent," is mortifying. But this is a function of evolving langauge. Prudence has acquired negative connotations that it did not formerly possess. Let's go back to the original Greek word for this cardinal virtue, phronesis, which I introduced in tip #21. [p.116]

This now makes explicit the error implicit in the earlier quote. Phrónêsis is not the cardinal virtue, sophía is. And we see why Murray perpetrates this confusion in the following paragraph:

Aristotle talks about two kinds of wisdom. One is the ability to apprehend reality and make the pieces fit together -- roughly, the kind of wisdom that underlies science. Phronesis is the word Aristotle used for the other kind of wisdom, better translated in the twenty-first century as practical wisdom. Phronesis is harder to come by than scientific knowledge. Studying reality is not enough. [ibid.]

Murray evades the fact that the first "kind of wisdom" is what Aristotle actually calls sophía, whose most natural and traditional translations are sapientia in Latin and "wisdom" in English. Since Murray himself then calls phrónêsis "practical wisdom," we might ask him what "wisdom" would mean without the "practical" part. We don't get an answer to that in his book. The reason for that is the reason that Murray avoids mentioning Plato. For Socrates and Plato sophía itself is practical, but in a way explicitly rejected by Aristotle -- who thinks that phrónêsis comes from custom, habit, and experience, not from answering the kinds of questions about the right and the good that were asked by Socrates. Aristotle did not think that the answers Socrates was looking for even existed.

As it happens, we can find in Plato a sort of pre-critique of Aristotle's view that ethics is a matter of, ἔθη, "habits" (etc.). I have considered this elsewhere, but the matter merits revisiting. This is in the "Myth of Er" in the Republic, where we find one of the dead, emerging from his reward in heaven for a good life, is required to choose the nature of the next life he will live. He choses badly (like the villain in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, q.v.), foolishly attracted to the life of a tyrant, who unfortunately is fated "to eat his children and suffer other horrors" [Republic, 619b-c]. The judgment of this person fails because, Plato says, he had "some share of virtue which came by habit without philosophy." Plato had elsewhere, in the Meno, considered the case of persons who were good out of habit, i.e. opinion [δόξα, dóxa], and not out of knowledge or wisdom. Without knowledge, they will be unable to judge the right and the good in circumstances incommensurate with their previous experience and habits. Thus, Socrates explains to Euthyphro that he wants a definition of piety so that "using it as a model [παράδειγμα, parádeigma]..." he can correctly judge "any actions of yours or another's that is of that kind..." [Euthyphro, 6e]. Without the "model," we may not know what we are looking at, regardless of our previous experience.

Aristotle and Charles Murray are blind to these considerations. The reason for such bias in Murray may come from a branch of libertarian thinking, inspired at least partially by Ayn Rand, that Aristotle is the appropriate philosopher upon whom to found libertarian ideology -- although there is actually precious little of Aristotle that Rand actually uses. This was always a bad idea, but it is also understandable given the association of Classical Liberal philosophy with British Empiricism (which can be favorably compared to Aristotle's epistemology), beginning with Locke, the preference of Plato for a dictatorial government by an elite of self-perpetuating expert "philosophers," which will offend and alarm libertarians, and then by a relative neglect, or distaste (because of Rand again), for a more correct treatment of the epistemology and metaphysics of ethics (i.e. meta-ethics) in Kant. There is a lot of work to be done there, and so it is not that surprising that Murray looks a bit lazy in his customary invocation of Aristotle. Less forgivable is the misinformation.

Prudence, Goodness, and Wisdom

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 6;
The Gap

The gap between women's thighs oddly has become a matter of some controversy. This did not seem to be an issue during the initial vogue of tight bluejeans in the late 1970's. These were so tight that women and girls often had some trouble pulling them on and then sitting down, and they seem to have experienced increases in vaginal infections from the lack of circulation of air (also a problem with the recently introduced pantyhose, which at first allowed no ventilation).

I don't remember, however, the explicitness of the genital gap drawing much comment, unless the jeans were so tight that the form of the labia was evident. This was regarded as too much (something about camels). Now, however, when jeans and other tight clothes are still around, the argument seems to be that the gap only really exists if women are painfully thin or actually anorexic. Fashion models with an obvious gap are bad examples, promoting "fat shaming" or eating disorders.

Well, it may be that the thighs of healthy women are plump enough to close the gap, and fashion models do bear some resemblance to their functional equivalent -- clothes hangers -- but the gap itself reflects the structural space between where the thigh bones attach to the pelvis, which itself is wider than in men and allows space between the legs for the birth canal and the genitals, whose opening needs to be accessible. I cannot say whether healthy thighs always close the gap or not, but in the video capture at left, from a Nivea lotion television ad, the model's skirt flares out -- as she twirls in joy at the experience of the product -- and we briefly see her thighs, which do not seem unusually spread. There is a gap. And the model, although certainly thin, does not seem anorexic.

Much the same could be said about Amal Clooney, the impressive wife of actor George Clooney, right, at the Cannes Film Festival. I am not sure what she is doing here, although it may be that she is untangling the dress that has become wrapped around her left leg, but this may show more than she intended. It certainly shows a gap of pretty constant width from her knees up, up, up -- with very little "up" left to go.

We also, curiously, see a gap through a dress worn by Beyoncé, at the Grammy Awards, at left. The opaque flower design is conspicuously missing right at the top of her thighs, in otherwise all but transparent material.

Although we might wonder if the model in the television ad above has her knees spread, both Amal Clooney and Beyoncé apparently have their knees slightly together, and the gap is nevertheless there. This does seem more anatomy than anorexia The whole business, really, seems to reflect some discomfort, on the part of both conservatives and feminists, for female anatomy and female sexuality. Classical India seems all but unique in letting it all hang out..

These difficulties may now be solved. In 2015 Mt. Holyoke College cancelled performances of the "Vagina Monologues" because not all "women" have vaginas -- i.e. boys who say they are girls don't -- and in modern political correctness, these "trans-women" are just as much women as anatomical females. Such "women" don't have the genital gap that goes with having a vagina, so, case closed. And the "Vagina Monologues," which might have been criticized on various grounds, and gloried in its role to épater la bourgeoisie, now is ironically beyond the pale of progressive politics.

Meanwhile, anatomical males who are "self-identified" females have entered women's sports and defeated anatomical females, which seems to draw little protest from feminists -- who once had a negative opinion about this sort of thing -- and rarely even from (anatomical) women athletes. The ones who do complain, even tennis great (and Lesbian) Martina Navratilova, are heatedly condemned. They are supposed to shut up and let "women" with male genitals take over women's sports.

Such are the curious, or insane, political convolutions of our times. It also adds to the impression that political feminism will not gore any progressive oxen, regardless the effect on the status or fortunes of actual women.

Another insane twist on this turned up in Baltimore, where Julia Beck, the only Lesbian on the Mayor's "LGBTQ Commission," was booted off, for "violence," because she had referred to a British "trans-gender" convicted rapist "woman" as a "he." This is now the serious political crime of "misgendering." The convicted rapist had been sent to a women's prison, where "she" then committed other rapes. Beck's point was that allowing anatomical males to be treated like women endangers anatomical females, whose safe and private spaces are invaded by those who can harm them. The evident and obvious common sense of this now escapes the good and the wise of political activism. What they dare not do is ask Muslims whether they want anatomical males in women's bathrooms or locker rooms. Since we know what the answer is going to be, the question doesn't get asked -- just as Muslim bakers are not asked to bake cakes for gay weddings. The question, whether Muslim bakers would be willing, actually has gotten asked by pollsters, to obvious results.

Feminists might have seen this kind of thing coming. The celebrated movie The Crying Game [1992] was deeply misogynistic. Every female character was a treacherous villain, while the male character passing as a woman made a better woman, morally, than any of the real women. From this we might gather that anatomical men should replace women as "women." No one noticed this about the movie back in 1992. But now, since this is actually happening in women's sports, and at least once even in a beauty contest, feminists, ever alert to patriarchal conspiracies, are suddenly blind and complacent.

Talk Dirty to Me

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 7;
The Virtues of Franklin and Wooden

1TemperanceEat not to Dullness; Drink not to Elevation
2SilenceSpeak not but what may benefit others or yourself;
Avoid trifling Conversation
3OrderLet all your Things have their Places;
Let each Part of your Business have its Time.
4ResolutionResolve to perform what you ought;
Perform without fail what you resolve.
5FrugalityMake no Expense but to do good
to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.
6IndustryLose no Time. Be always employ'd in something useful.
Cut off all unncessary Actions.
7SincerityUse no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly;
and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8JusticeWrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting
the Benefits that are your Duty.
9ModerationAvoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries
so much as you think they deserve.
10CleanlinessTolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation
11TranquilityBe not disturbed by Trifles,
or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
12ChastityRarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring;
Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your
own or another's Peace or Reputation.
13HumilityImitate Jesus and Socrates.
Boy Scout Law and the Seven Cardinal Virtues, given elsewhere, are examples of virtues that are both moral virtues and virtues of prudence. A list that is largely virtues of prudence is one made up by Benjamin Franklin, given at left, with Franklin's descriptions of what the virtues are about. The two Cardinal virtues that figure here are given in color. "Temperance" already has much of its purely modern meaning, about drinking, and so "Moderation" is highlighted as more like the traditional meaning.

Franklin's intention was to concentrate on each virtue a week at a time to try and perfect himself. Originally there were twelve in the table, but Franklin added "humility" when friends pointed out that it had been omitted, and that there was nothing specifically Christian about his list. The virtue with the longest description, Chastity, may be the one with which Franklin had the most trouble -- he had an illegitimate child just before his marriage. Later, Franklin lived many years in England without his wife but not without, it seems, female companionship (the Benjamin Franklin House in London has been restored, at 36 Craven Street, quite close to Charing Cross Station). Franklin later became famous (or infamous) for his flirtations while he was the American representative in France during the Revolutionary War (which scandalized John Adams, to a degree that Franklin found bizarre). But Franklin's later interest in women now mostly seems harmless, merely gallant, and teasing, since he was too old and ill, and his lovers too diffident, for matters to go very far. Although there is sometimes talk along such lines, there is no credible evidence, or even serious claims, that Franklin ever had any other illegitimate children.

John Wooden's Pyramid of Success

John Wooden (1910-2010) was the basketball coach at UCLA from 1948 to 1975. While Wooden quickly made UCLA basketball a successful program, beginning in 1964 the teams began to enjoy stratospheric success, winning 10 NCAA national championships until Wooden's retirement in 1975, including four seasons without a loss and a winning streak of 88 straight games. He never asked for a raise and so never made more than $35,000 a year for his actual coaching job -- when in short order the coach of UCLA football would be the highest paid employee of the State of California, beating out the President of the University of California and the Governor of the State. Although Wooden's teams were distinguished by extraordinary players, like Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- although Wooden continued to call him "Lewis"), 1966-1969, and Bill Walton, 1971-1974, Wooden won championships with teams that did not have either star on them -- and failed to win one in Walton's last season.

Like Benjamin Franklin, Wooden compiled a list of virtues and moral precepts. Unlike Franklin, he did this as a teacher for use in a pedagogic context. Also, instead of just a list, Wooden organized his ideas systematically in a visual format. This was Wooden's "Pyramid of Success," which was often mentioned in the course of his coaching career, but I never saw any formal presentation of it. The testimony of his former players is that they often didn't appreciate it until later in life. I have not heard how Wooden introduced it in the course of his coaching activities. The "success" of this system, however, rested on an idiosyncratic definition:  "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming." This is not what most athletic coaches, or sports fans, would think of as "success" in sports; and, indeed, Wooden rarely or never talked to his teams about actually winning their games. This is "success" almost precisely as the form of karmayoga described by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gîta, . Wooden may as well have told his players, as Krishna tells Arjuna, "In death thy glory in heaven, in victory thy glory on earth" [2:37, Juan Mascaró translation, Penguin Books, 1962]. Indeed, this appears to reflect Wooden's own Christian piety, certainly much more serious than Franklin's, although there was just never any public expression of it in his coaching career (no "Tebowing"), and there is only one small reference to "faith" in the Pyramid. We find a mix here of a few moral virtues (e.g. honesty), many prudential ones (e.g. industriousness), and the sort of athletic attributes (e.g. condition, skill, team spirit) that we would expect.

(through prayer)
(good things take time)
(determined effort)
Competitive Greatness
Be at your best when your best is needed. Enjoyment of a difficult challenge.
(purity of intention)
Resourceful- ness
(proper judgment)
Just being yourself. Being at ease in any situation. Never fighting yourself.
Respect without fear. May come from being prepared and keeping all things in proper perspective.
(creates respect)
(to any situation)
Mental-Moral- Physical. Rest, exercise and diet must be considered. Moderation must be practiced. Dissipation must be eliminated.
A knowledge of and the ability to properly and quickly execute the fundamentals. Be prepared and cover every little detail.
Team Spirit
A genuine consideration for others. An eagerness to sacrifice personal interests of glory for the welfare of all.
(in thought and action)
(for noble goals)
Practice self-discipline and keep emotions under control. Good judgment and common sense are essential.
Be observing constantly. Stay open-minded. Be eager to learn and improve.
Cultivate the ability to make decisions an think alone. Do not be afraid of failure, but learn from it.
Set a realistic goal. Concentrate on its achievement by resisting all temptations and being determined and persistent.
(keeps friends)
Industrious- ness
There is no substitution for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning
Comes from mutual esteem, respect and devotion. Like marriage it must not be taken for granted but requires a join effort.
To yourself and to all those depending upon you. Keep your self-respect.
With all levels of your co-workers. Listen if you want to be heard. Be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way
Brushes off upon those with whom you come in contact. You must truly enjoy what you are doing

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 8;
The Motive for the Right and the Good

Many people still believe that they ought to do something simply because it is right, or refrain from doing it simply because it is wrong, not because they are terrified by the spectre of the police, judges, prison or execution. My naive question is:  could mankind survive without such people? And my answer is no.

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), "Crime and Punishment," Is God Happy? Selected Essays [Basic Books, 2013, p.239]

The Chinese virtues shown in this diagram match up nicely not only with the categories of virtues shown (including virtues of moral intention) but with a typology that can be constructed around Chinese and Kantian ethics.

Here I might address the issue treated by Plato in the Republic:  Why be just, δίκαιος? In other words, what reason have we got to be good and do the right? Or, in the morality of intentions, why should we mean well, be of good faith and good will, and try to do the right thing? What purpose does it serve, or how would it otherwise be justified?

Plato's own answer is actually one of Prudence:  To be happy. The just man is the happy man, or "virtue is its own reward," as the Stoics would subsequently assert. Perhaps feeling that not everyone would believe this, Plato added, to gain reward and avoid punishment in the afterlife. This becomes a popular reason to motivate morality, as we find Jesus saying, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" [Matthew 6:6]. A reward in life or in Heaven is the promise of Christianity and other religions, as we also see through the doctrine of karma.

The answer we find in Kant and in Confucius is rather different, that We do what is right for its own sake, just because it is right. Kant's calls this the "categorical imperative," a command without ulterior motive or self-interested purpose. Confucius expressed it nicely as, , "The superior man thinks of what is right;" "The mean man thinks of profit" [Analects IV:16]. We also see something similar expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna says, , "Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward," , "Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work" [2:47]. The idea that goodness earns a Reward in Heaven Krishna dismisses with, "...their heaven is a selfish desire...the reward of which is earthly rebirth" [2:43].

A third motive for right action might be Embarrassment. Propriety is about appearances. You avoid wrongful action because you might not want people to think ill of your family, your parents, or perhaps your origins. There is a saying in Japanese, that when you are away from home, the neighbors do not know what you are doing. This is often said to express the standards of a culture of shame rather than of guilt. What you may have done is of no concern, as long as people think well of you. You have your honor to uphold, which means that an insult may be more objectionable than substantive harm to person or property. Insult, by you or to you, is avoided through good manners. It is noteworthy that in American gang culture, which has seeped into general popular culture, being "dissed," or disrespected, is an offense to one's honor that is liable to lead to violence, as much as for any Spanish Hidalgo or other European aristocrat.

A fourth motive for right action is Sympathy. This is eloquently stated by Schopenhauer, who says, "All love (ἀγάπη, caritas) is compassion or sympathy" [The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, §66, Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.374]:

...such a man, recognizing in all beings his own true and innermost self, must also regard the endless sufferings of all that lives as his own, and thus take upon himself the pain of the whole world. No suffering is any longer strange or foreign to him. [ibid., §68, p.379]

This is not unfamiliar from Confucius, who says that is to "Love others," [Analects XII:22], or Jesus, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" [Matthew 19:19]. Now, one cannot choose how to feel, so love as a feeling cannot be morally commanded. While love may motivate moral action, it is not a duty and is not choice, so, as Kant says, "this by itself cannot be reckoned as a particular merit of the person." It is just the way they are. If, however, one does feel sympathy for others, then the motive for moral action is obvious:  to avoid inflicting pain.

The basic answer to Plato's question is that one does what is right just because it is right. The other motives, prudence, propriety, and sympathy, are indeed goods, but they are not duties and are not morally laudable. Since they are not duties, someone may not think that there are good reasons why they should even care about them. Prudence is an appeal to self-interest, and that may actually strike many as a motivation contrary to morality, which limits self-interest. Propriety means worrying about what other people think, but the judgments and perhaps the bigotries of others are no sure guide to value. As Richard Feynman's wife told him, "What do you care what other people think?" Finally, sympathy, while it seems the humane accompaniment to moral action, which might seem rather cold otherwise, is not necessary to it and may actually lead one astray with an indulgent attitude towards the moral weaknesses of others. The naively sympathetic person can be manipulated by others who have learned to avoid responsibility by appearing helpless. The proper response to that may appear distinctly unsympathetic, i.e. "tough love." One would certainly be accused of being uncaring.

However, all of these motivations are valuable to an extent and in their own right. They can all function as a system of checks and balances when, as Kant himself at one point admitted, someone acting on principle has chosen the wrong principle and only causes harm (damnum). Thus, the Communist Party agent who sets out to seize food from Ukrainians, on the principle that they are "Kulaks" and are hoarding food, may realize that they are thereby leaving them to starve to death. Properly governed by the Party Line, the agent may not care, or may think that they deserve it; but the humanity () of the agent, with some feeling for the victims, may nevertheless be given pause. That so few of them questioned their actions was no tribute to Marxist and Soviet ideology, or to human nature in general.

Crime and Punishment, Repentance, Restitution, and Atonement

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 9

In my classes, what I wanted was that anyone should feel that a relevant, sincere belief could be expressed about any matter, however offensive it might seem to some. But for there to be orderly discussion a certain level of civility must be maintained. That requires a certain exercise of good manners, without insults, personal hostility, etc. Otherwise, there may not be a moral or political crime, but there is a failure to have a viable forum for discussion or disputation; and I would ask anyone to leave who is not able to maintain decorum.

As it happened, in twenty-two years of full-time teaching, following eleven years, off-and-on, of part-time teaching as a graduate student, nothing like personal insults or hostility had ever really been an issue. I did ask one student to leave the class after he said I was lying that I had only smoked marijuana once back in the 60's. That didn't come up again.

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 10

Something that is noteworthy about the series of books of which Silence of the Lambs was a part, which began with Red Dragon (1981), is the triumph of a moral aestheticism in the third book, Hannibal (1999). Hannibal goes from being the anti-hero of the first two books, contrasted with the goodness of the agents who had to deal with him, to being the out and out hero of the third, to the extent of converting agent Clarice Starling to his way of life. Because of this development, Foster and the director of Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme, passed on participation in the production of the movie Hannibal (2001), which was then directed by Ridley Scott.

They need not have worried. The makers of Hannibal themselves recoiled from the direction of the story and released an ending in which Hannibal simply gets away again -- selflessly sacrificing his hand for Clarice! This was absurd. Harris had obviously lost it and been won over by the daemonic attraction of his fictional villain; but if this is what has happened, it is ridiculous to try and patch it up in Hollywood -- though such cosmetics are not without precedent. More interesting is the commitment here to righteouness rather than aestheticism, something more difficult to believe from many other Hollywood movies.

Will Tommy Lee Jones, the U.S. Marshall from The Fugitive (1993), now pursue the "one-handed" rather than the "one-armed" man? As a practical matter, this would make it much, much more difficult to Lecter to travel or live in disguise.

The Italian episode within the movie Hannibal is nicely done and contains interesting references to the Pazzi family in the history of Florence.

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 11

I cannot resist noting the striking contrast between the portrait from 1801 by Marie-Denise Villers and the one below left, from 1837 by Samuel F.B. Morse. This is of Morse's own daughter Susan Walker Morse (1819-1885). Both paintings are in the collection of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Empire clothing of 1801 is light and flowing and drapes naturally over the body. The setting is naturalistic, with the figure looking easily at the artist, as though she is sketching the artist in turn, and may very well be in the act of doing so. We might wonder if Villers and du Val d'Ognes were actually friendly with each other -- both were young -- and the inspiration of the painting may have been an occasion when they were engaged in mutual sketching. The back-lit figure, sitting in natural sunlight, seems to me unusual to unique in art I have seen of the era, or any era. There is a French word for this, however, contre-jour, for a figure backlit in particular by daylight, perhaps more often used in photography than for painting. But that is what we see here. The background, also, contains two small figures and a building that almost seem lifted from some later Surrealistic art. In short, this is an extraordinary painting in both syle and conception. And she is a lovely girl.

The Morse portrait, however, has a very different character. The setting seems allegorical, with the silhoutte of a neo-classical vase, against a distant sunset -- a background I have reduced, so what I show here is only a detail of the larger painting -- a sunset that, of course, can contribute nothing to the way the foreground scene is lit, which in turn looks like a theatrical spotlight is being used. The figure of Miss Morse looks away, as though thinking about what to draw, although we can see that she has not yet drawn anything. Most striking, however, is her clothing, which, a long way from 1801, has become heavy, voluminous, and stiff. This does not look comfortable, or suitable for an art studio, although its features would not be unusual in the 17th or 18th centuries. This clothing reminds me of an awful early movie of Pride and Prejudice [1940], with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, which used this kind of clothing instead of the contemporary style of Jane Austen.

This seems to have been one of Morse's last paintings, since he moved from art to inventing, and was already at this time inventing the telegraph. The modernity of electronic communication resonates more with the modernity of the style of 1801 than with that of 1837. The clothing of 1801 bespeaks a social loosening, which is characteristic of the Revolutionary Era, and of the 20th century, more than the stiffening of Victorian society and styles evident in 1837, the actual year of Queen Victoria's accession. The figure of the 1801 painting also seems assertive in a modern way, as we see her in the act of drawing and looking directly at the artist and viewer. Even her posture is more active, leaning up into the act of drawing, while Miss Morse is sitting back. The feminist might think that the woman artist is showing an active woman, while father Morse sees a more passive, introverted, abstracted daughter -- not in the least challenging to anything.

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The Polynomic Theory of Value, Note 12

I cannot account for the phenomenon of being all but transfixed by a newly encountered piece of music. In 2012 this happened to me twice. The first example came from listening to different excerpts of the Terpsichore collection by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621). There are 300 some dances in Terpsichore, named after the Muse of Dance. Performances and CD's thus rely on a few favorites and other random selections. Owning a number of Terpsichore CD's, I had never gotten around to listening to all of them even after many years. One disk I had neglected was the Arabesque Recordings collection conducted by Sally Logemann [Z6531, 1985]. Finally playing the whole thing through, and liking all the music just fine, there was one in particular that absolutely gripped me and stood out, as Schopenhauer says, "preserved like a meteorite, sprung from an order of things different from that which prevails here" [The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, 59, Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.324]. This was the 10th cut on the CD, listed by Logemann in the "Suite No.2 in G Major," and called the Bransle de montirande [the modern spelling of bransle, "shaking, dance, brawl," is branle, which is actually pronounced /brãl/]. I don't know what it is about this piece. In dignity, majesty, and seriousness it seems altogether different from any other selections I have heard from Terpsichore. It is truly sublime, limited only by its brevity and its restricted range of variation, which perhaps are characteristic of the era and style. But it is the sort of thing that I am almost compelled to play over and over again, until I am exhausted with it, like the first weeks with a new lover.

A similar experience occurred in a recent movie, the quite unnecessary remake of Total Recall [2012]. Unlike the original movie [1990], a piece of piano music is the key to our hero (Colin Farrell) discovering his original identity. Very little of the piece is heard in the movie. I did not recognize it, but it was sufficiently attractive that I watched the credits carefully to learn its identity. It was the third movement, Allegretto, from Beethoven's Sonata No. 17 in F Minor (Op.31 No.2), "La Tempesta," named after the fact for Shakespeare's The Tempest. This music alone was worth the price of admission to the movie. Now, I am familiar enough with Beethoven's symphonies, which I have actually played in their entirety while driving across the country, but I have never made a systematic study of the rest of his music. I was not familiar at all with Sonata No. 17. In fact, I still have not listened carefully to the first two movements. It is the third that I found gripping and sublime and that had this transfixing effect. It is still hard to say what it is about it; but it is truly extraordinary, which makes me wonder why for decades I had not heard it someplace already. I think it is one of the truly great moments in the Beethoven opera. If it then pops up in a movie that is largely a mediocre remake, perhaps the world is not too decadent after all.

In 2011 there was also a movie, The Tree of Life, that featured a particularly striking piece of music. The movie was director Terrence Malick's (b.1943) meditation on the death of his brother and their childhood together in Texas, although it is a little difficult to tell what the background was from the internal evidence of the movie alone. There was a great deal of classical music in the movie, which apparently was substituted for most of the score that was actually written for the film. One of the most conspicuous items was of classical form but of recent provenance. This was used early in the movie for a section of striking images, called "Creation" on the DVD, which featured photos of galaxies, nebulae, and other forms suggestive of the universe, or of the early universe. The music for this was from Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner's (b.1955) Requiem for My Friend (1998), Requiem Dla Mojego Przyjaciela.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.

Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem.

Tearful that day,
As from the ashes returns
Accused man to be judged.

Therefore God spare him:
Merciful Jesus Lord,
Give them rest.

Since this is a Catholic requiem mass, the words are familiar from that ritual. "Creation" uses the Lacrimosa, "Most Tearful," part of the mass.

Apart from the considerable beauty of the music, which had an effect on me such as I have been describing, there is the considerable irony of its use in this context. As we see the images of the beauty of the universe, with the suggestion of the beauty of God's Creation, we are nevertheless hearing words that describe the trauma, grief, and danger of the Judgment Day, when there will be a reckoning for our sins, which of course occurs, not at the time of Creation, but at the end of the universe. This contrast will likely be lost on the casual moviegoer, who probably will not recognize the meaning of the words in Latin. Indeed, at first viewing, I don't think I even realized that the often repeated refrain was lacrimosa, familiar as the word "lacrimose" in English. Once we do realize that the words form a counterpoint to the images, it is hard not to understand that Malick's assertion is that suffering is inherent in the world right from the beginning. This is not quite orthodox Catholic doctrine, which would only be that this is the case after the Fall, but it is close. As such it puts the whole movie in perspective. Why is there death and loss, as of Malick's brother? It is unavoidable. While this creates a theological problem for Christianity, whose God is responsible for this circumstance, especially if we back-date it to the Creation, the sentiment will be no different from that of Buddhism, where the proximate blame is on us, for our own ignorance and desire, but where the ultimate responsibility for the natue of things is unknown. The suffering of the world is simply a given.

Thus, experiencing great beauty by sight and music, we are driven to reflect on the imperfection and impermanence of life. This is a rare thing for Hollywood, and ideologically opposed to most of the moral and political messages that are to be found, often in the crudest forms, in its work -- although not too suprising in an idiosyncratic director like Terrence Malick, who has always been an outsider to the Hollywood system and its culture (although one of the actors in The Tree of Life, Sean Penn, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to grotesque political commitments). The seriousness of the Lacrimosa and its use thus contrasts with the incidental use of Beethoven in Total Recall, or of the secular and courtly provenance of Praetorius's Bransle de montirande.

Note on Tears

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