The Value of Unchanging Goodness (Happy Birthday Brother Daniel)

The Value of Unchanging Goodness (Happy Birthday Brother Daniel) July 2, 2020

We could use some steadiness just now.

Good qualities often are found in balance: do not be stingy or a spendthrift, avoid cowardice or rashness. Aristotle and the book of Proverbs are right: moderation in all things. A colleague reminded me that Professor Al Geier (often!) said that this moderation applied to moderation: there is a time to party albeit prudently!

A generation, nation, or region may have particular virtues that are best loved and this creates a danger. The love of justice easily can become censorious and ugly, ruinous to noble ambitions, while a careful age, justly cautious of revolutions, can turn prudence into cowardice and allow vices to fester. A great academic virtue of this time is changing one’s mind. Whether folk really are as open-minded as we claim or not is debatable, but we celebrate, as we should, the ability.

Education could not exist without questioning, wondering. The hidebound, the reactionary, the person who never considers the problems of his team is deadly to wisdom. The willingness to outgrow old ideas, to be set free by the truth, was carved on the University of Rochester library. There is, however, a counterpoint virtue. Learning comes when one is steady, not buffeted by every educational fad or idea. The scientist who takes her theory very seriously, so seriously she works hard to falsify that theory, but when the idea gets in trouble, she also tries to find a means to save the theory, is capable of great progress. If she abandoned an idea too lightly, at the first sign of trouble, then progress would be impossible. Good ideas would be discarded too quickly and faddishness would replace learning.

The person who is too easily swayed does not present the opposition that even a good new idea needs to be sharpened. Imagine a hammer landing on metal without an anvil underneath. The sword would never be tempered. After all, for every reactionary, there is the intellectual dilettante whose mind is changed by a quick read of a middlebrow article combined with a sense of what the youth believe.

The balance between intellectual curiosity and intellectual conviction is very hard to find. The desire not to miss being on the cutting edge of change can mean that there is no firm, good, culture in which that change can take place. After all, if all is questioned simultaneously, then reason dies in babble. Why? We would have to question the questions, then question that question, and do all the questioning immediately with no time to catch our breath. We would end up like the Athenians of Acts 17, full of promise, but sterile because we are always seeking something new. We see the errors of the past: “That Socrates!” We lose the virtues that made our present progress possible.

I think of this, because we need some steadiness, some courage of conviction just now, and my brother has this quality. He is an excellent student and teacher and so will change his mind, but only if persuaded by Wisdom. This man is (generally) not for turning, so I can count on him.

Happy birthday best brother and lifelong pal.


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