Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Virtue of Kindness or Charity

Mary Warnock reviews Adam Phillips' and Barbara Taylor's On Kindness for the Guardian Review of Jan 11th 2009.

"Kindness" is a rough equivalent of the Christian non-erotic love, or charity, though it was embraced as a virtue and a source of pleasure by Cicero, for one, and by the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, before it was extolled famously by St Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians. Kindness to others arises out of sympathy.

BBC Radio 3's Night Waves opens with an interview with the authors in a podcast available for a few more days. They point out a recent consensus that humans are fundamentally selfish based on a social philosophy of capitalism and competition. There's been recent attacks on our pleasure of feeling for each other which kindness presupposed. Obstacles to kindness include a fear of sympathy for the other and involvements in the lives of others.


rick allen said...

Just a quibble, perhaps, but Marcus Aurelius reigned and wrote long after St. Paul, and Cicero, in de oficiis, writing about what, in the Loeb edition, was translated as "kindness," emphasized that it was a species of justice, and to be bestowed only on the deserving.

I don't deny that we can learn much from the "virtuous pagans," and I myself find much inspiration there. But I don't find there the Christian agape, the notion that we are to love the undeserving, as we were loved "while yet sinners."

rick allen said...

To use the old consul's words, acts of kindness ("benignitas") "shall be proportioned to the worthiness of the recipient; for this is the corner-stone of justice; and by the standard of justice all acts of kindness must be measured." de oficiis, Book I. XIV.

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