Feb 1, 2012

Change of Plans

I've let Virtue Ethics Digest sit fallow over more than one winter month, while I finished out my first semester teaching Ethics and Intro to Philosophy at a new (and better) institution, then journeyed out to the Midwest to vacation with my wife, my children, my family and hers -- all currently in the process of blending -- and afterwards threw myself into preparation for several sections of Ethics this semester, rethinking and reworking material, using the course management system to begin building an extensive online environment for our little community of moral enquiry.

The semester now in full swing, and my vacation from blogging stretched out about a few as is feasible, not to say reasonable or responsible, it's now time to simply carve out the time I've been meaning, planning, desiring -- but not actually choosing or following through on -- to start writing new entries for Virtue Ethics Digest and my other main blog Orexis Dianoētikē.

The weeks that I've allowed to elapse have not been entirely fruitless slumber or slothful inactivity.  In fact, I've been reflecting on the original idea, the execution, and the possible purposes of this blog, which I'd conceived originally as a means to cue my students in to how the moral tradition of Virtue Ethics, which they know mainly through ancient Greek thinkers, retains its relevance to matters of the moment, whether they be recent world and national events, recent scientific studies, experiences of everyday life, even contemporary culture in its manifold, ever-shifting dimensions.

True to form, I'd set an entirely unrealistic, unattainable goal for myself -- 5 entries per week -- counting on these being brief, allusive pieces in which I'd link to an off-site article, blog entry, or site and then gesture towards one or two points a Virtue Ethics perspective could provide.  I don't actually write that way, though I do admire that style, so I can't say I don't know what I was thinking.  In fact I do know precisely what I was thinking:  I'd write in a manner unsuited to, and unpracticed by me!
Having committed myself to 5 entries weekly in my description of the new blog, I had to swallow (undue) pride as I crept it down to 4, then 3, then repackaged it as an "occasional blog".  I'm rather ambitiously hoping to resuscitate my writing to triweekly appearances -- but (finally) prudently keeping the "occasional" descriptor.

After reflection, I've realized the reasons why my plans and resolutions finally couldn't be brought off -- and what remedies might forestall any future failures.  Two main problems arose and interacted, both stemming from, really flip-sides of, too exclusive a focus.

On the one hand, finding and commenting on a steady stream of current events, blog postings, study findings, and the like -- ferreting out those ready or at least amenable to having their hidden edges and sides unpacked and unfolded, cast under the sharper light a Virtue Ethics view yields -- that both takes more time than I can readily cull out from an always-packed schedule, and demands far too much fortunate coincidence on the part of events.

On the other hand, over the last semester, I found myself frustrated my my own self-imposed stricture to stick to the narrow range of blogging subjects that my daily but admittedly desultory web-research might stream my way.  The life of a scholar and teacher in Ethics involves (or should!) constant returns and recursions to classic texts and thinkers one has been reading -- and sometimes writing and teaching on -- for years -- Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, just to name a few who figure into Virtue Ethics, frequently coming away from each new session having glimpsed something new, or anew seeing better, from one's reading -- for classic texts do open up a space of communication -- they speak, interlocute, fix upon and transfix us, even make us squirm, blush, or regret.  In reading them, constellations of concepts, previously disparate, coalesce, harmonize systemically or discord and questioningly call out to each other.

A good part of what I do -- my calling, I've been lucky, fortunate, blessed, mercifully granted enough (a choice of denomination depending entirely on which metaphysical perspective one adopts) to come to realize in the last year or so -- is to delve into portions of this vast repository of classic texts great thinkers gifted us with, come to know ideas, distinctions, allegories, characters, even the thinkers through an affinity akin to friendship, them come away ready to teach -- not just to impart information, to plan out lessons, to systematize and summarize, to predigest via analysis,  but rather to communicate something off the goods I've glimpsed there, in the course of my studies, reflection, reading to my students, to my readers, and to anyone else I chance to come across in conversation.

 Two sidenotes to the latter: First, I've been often surprised by having had something ready at hand from my ongoing work and study, an appropriate passage to quote, a set of ideas to paraphrase and apply, a useful distinction to introduce and set in the hands of someone who, at that time is in deed of it, someone for whom it opens a passage out from a felt dilemma or aporia, untangles a bit (rather than the overkill of an Alexandriane cut) one of the Gordian knots that living for a while inevitably entangles us within.  Second, this really ought to be no surprise, since one of my favorite quips by an author who exercised with me something like the function I end up falling into with others, Antonin Sertillanges is precisely that the duty of the intellectual to love his neighbor means precisely to have ready for the neighbor this or that truth of which, out of the blue, no warning, the neighbor will find him or herself in need.

All this is a roundabout meander into indicating that the subject-matter for this blog will change -- not in the sense of anything being left behind. Some entries like those written earlier will still occasionally appear.  But, added to them will be other entries concerned with interesting matters from Virtue Ethics striking me as I pore again through my books, interesting issues, insights or occasions arising in my classes and other interactions, perhaps even other types of entries -- with only the common threads of Virtue Ethics binding them together.

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