Saturday, August 28, 2004

Boxing, Courage, and Aristotle 

Reading this piece about the contempt many academics display towards boxing, it hit me (I deserve to be hit because of that pun) that perhaps part of the problem with liberals is that they don't include courage in theirconception of moral virtue:
Still, I think the best defense of boxing is Aristotelian. In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle offers his famous catalog of the moral virtues. Whenever I teach this section of the Ethics I always begin by asking students what they think are the ingredients of moral virtue. Respect, compassion, honesty, justice, and tolerance always fly quickly up onto the board, often followed by creativity and a sense of humor. I usually need to prod to elicit 'courage.' And so I hector, 'How can you be consistently honest or just if you don't have the mettle to take a hit?'

Aristotle writes that developing a moral virtue requires practicing the choices and feelings appropriate to that virtue. Accordingly, colleges today often offer a smorgasbord of workshoplike events to help develop the virtue of tolerance, for example, by making students more comfortable with people from diverse backgrounds. But where are the workshops in courage, a virtue that Nelson Mandela, John McCain, and others have claimed to have found in boxing?

According to Aristotle, courage is a mean between fearlessness and excessive fearfulness. The capacity to tolerate fear is essential to leading a moral life, but it is hard to learn how to keep your moral compass under pressure when you are cosseted from every fear. Boxing gives people practice in being afraid. There are, of course, plenty of brave thugs. Physical courage by no means guarantees the imagination that standing up for a principle might entail. However, in a tight moral spot I would be more inclined to trust someone who has felt like he or she was going under than someone who has experienced danger only vicariously, on the couch watching videos.

It makes perfect sense that for one to honestly support a belief one has be to be willing to defend it, even if such a defense is scary or risky. The group that has this courage versus those that don't seems to me to indicate the separation between many liberals and conservatives today, at least on the issue of the war. After all, how can one claim to be a western liberal if they're unwilling to defend their existence in such a society and attempt to help others that wish to live in such a society as well?

I have an urge to break out my copy of Nic. Ethics now.

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