Catholic Virtue & How Modernist "Virtues ceased to be ‘Virtues’ and became ‘Values’” vs. "Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit are fundamental to Salvation"
- This was something the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb analyzed with dispatch in her book The De-moralization of Society, which traces the path from “Victorian virtues to modern values.” Writing in the 1990s, Himmelfarb noted that “it was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized and subjectified that virtues ceased to be ‘virtues’ and became ‘values.’” That transformation is now so far advanced that can be difficult for us values-saturated moderns to distinguish the two ideas. But Himmelfarb is right. The evolution, or devolution, from virtues to values marked “the great philosophical revolution of modernity.” Among other things, it gave currency to the assumption that “all moral ideas are subjective and relative, that they are mere customs and conventions.” The idea of virtue, on the contrary, “had a firm, resolute character.” Virtues are objective in a way values are not. - Mark Wauck quoting Roger Kimball
What are Nietzschean values as applied Barack Obama?
Jonah Goldberg shows what Obama Nietzschean values mean:
“Asked to define sin, Barack Obama replied that sin is ‘being out of alignment with my values.’ Statements such as this have caused many people to wonder whether Obama has a God complex or is hopelessly arrogant. For the record, sin isn't being out of alignment with your own values (if it were, Hannibal Lecter wouldn't be a sinner because his values hold that it's OK to eat people) nor is it being out of alignment with Obama's — unless he really is our Savior.”
Next, here a exchange that I had on this subject of Nietzschean values with a Catholic Monitor reader:
Thanks again for the email. I don’t think there is a secret meaning to the word values.
Professor Allan Bloom, translator and editor of Plato’s Republic and author of Shakespeare’s Politics said, “ The term “value, “ meaning the radical subjectivity of all belief about good and evil...was announced by Nietzsche just over a century ago when he said, “God is dead.” Good and evil now for the first time appeared as values, of which there have been a thousand and one, none rationally or objectively preferable to any other.”
Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb said,” It was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized and subjectified that virtues ceased to be virtues and became “values”...Values as we understand that word, do not have to be virtues; they can be beliefs, opinions, attitudes, feelings, habits, conventions, preferences, prejudices, even idiosyncrasies.”
Professor Cameron Lee at Fuller Seminary said, “ ‘family value’ itself seems infinitely plastic...the language of family values frequently betrays the very extent to which we are inextricably immersed in the thought-forms of our culture.”
That some people use words with meanings they don’t intend is common place. The question we must ask ourselves is to what extent are “we are inextricably immersed in the thought-forms of our culture” so that we feel compelled to use its language and words without studying the history of those words?
Dan, I would be interested to see if you can find any scholars who define values as “enduring non-subjective moral truth.” Thank you for some interesting insights.
I don't think the problem admits of so easy a solution.
Words are conventional signs. What happens if most of the people speaking the language adopt a new convention? Do we begin a heroic but doomed battle to reclaim such words as gay and nice, or do we do what thinking people have always had to do: distinguish, make clear in what sense a word is used?
I believe in advocating without stridency what can be defended as better usage, but what is achieved by attributing to people's statements secret meanings that they don't actually intend?
In fact, in the very example you give, all the rhetorical force of Burkes' choice of title comes from the fact that most people who speak of family values mean fidelity, hard work, sacrifice, monogamy, heterosexuality, etc. Burkes uses the title precisely because for her readers and the reading public this is what the term means. She means to be provocative by stealing the title. By your argument, we would have to abandon "virtue" if she decides to name her next book that. We will be busy digging up traditional terms which haven't been at one time or another co-opted by evil rhetoricians.
I don't think you can find any word for good that hasn't had paltry and subjective usage. As Josef Pieper points out in his book on love, there is a good reason for this. It is with the same will that we choose our highest and ultimate end and all the little and insignificant means to the end. That's why we love God and baseball.
The terminology of will and goodness has never been easy. Aristotle and Aquinas define the good as "what all seek." It seems replete with subjectivity unless we recognize that with respect to our final good, we don't have a choice. What traditional wisdom means by good or valuable is what is conducive to our final absolute God-determined good. That's where I would prefer to make the distinction: By good or valuable or virtuous or whatever word you choose, you either mean conducive to achieving the end for which you were created, or you mean what you want without reference to any end outside of your act of will.
Well, I hope you enjoy talking about such things as much as I do. Thanks for writing back.
Thanks for your interesting article. I agreed with just about everything except the major point of departure. Not to be patronizing, but I'm not even sure you mean exactly what you say in the article.
I agree that there is much confusion in language discussing moral questions, but I don't think it's true that everyone who uses these confused terms agrees with the Nietzsche, Adler, Jung, Maslow, Rogers, etc.Many people use "value" precisely to mean enduring non-subjective moral truth.
Part of what makes our task so daunting is the necessity of doing basic education, i.e. the right signification of words, the rules of logic, etc., before we can discuss more difficult topics like "what is good".
If this education had really been attended to in the past 100 years, rather than being thought babyish and uninteresting, I don't think charlatans like Maslow and Rogers would have gotten to square one.
I certainly agree that the scandals so much noted today were largely hatched in the free thinking era of the sixties when all this pseudo-psychology became so popular with the clergy and religious.
Thanks for the email. I agree with you that “many people use 'value' precisely to mean enduring non-subjective moral truth.”
The problem is words must have an objective meaning as CS Lewis said or they become meaningless. For example, the title of Phyllis Burkes’ lesbian book is “Family Values.” If the word doesn’t mean opinion then how can you and your friends use the same word as Burkes.
I suggest the word virtues be used instead of values.
If you want a little chronicle of the word read historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. She said,” It was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized and subjectified that virtues ceased to be virtues and became “values”...Values as we understand that word, do not have to be virtues; they can be beliefs, opinions, attitudes, feelings, habits, conventions, preferences, prejudices, even idiosyncrasies.”
Note:The article "Nietzschean Psychoanalysis and the Catholic Scandal" is the first draft of one of the chapters in my book Hidden Axis. If you want to read click the archives below.
Click here for Credit Card and Amazon Order of Fred Martinez's book "Hidden Axis":
Also this morning and also at American Greatness, Roger Kimball has a lengthy attack on philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:
In recoiling from the fragmentation of values that characterizes modernity, MacIntyre has presented less an alternative to the depredations of liberal individualism than an escape from its challenges.
Kimball starts out doing a bit of justice to MacIntyre, then goes on at length to determinedly refuse to understand what MacIntyre is saying. Kimball thinks liberalism has been a rip roaring success, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Admittedly, the business of coming up with working living arrangements for mass societies—a replacement for liberal democracy—is problematic at best. That doesn’t detract from what MacIntyre has to say, but since this is a holiday weekend I’ll simply excerpt the first part—those who wish can follow the link for the rest. I’ll simply add that I’m somewhat bemused to see so many commenters who are still on board with the concept of enforcing America’s “rules-based order” anywhere our ships and/or planes can penetrate. This attitude seems to me to ignore the momentousness of what’s happened to the American Republic—massively woke military, LE, courts, education, etc. My own view is we should be tending to business at home rather than pushing more and more money at our oppressors and potential oppressors.
Here’s Kimball doing justice:
A few weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the hive mentality that stands behind the administrative state. In the course of that column, I quoted Glenn Ellmers on the shaky foundations of public morality. “What is left of public morality,” he wrote, is now understood in terms of ‘values,’ or subjective preferences based only on individual will. Even in the small handful of healthy institutions in civil society, the political and civil rights of the ordinary citizen rest upon a precarious foundation, threatened and undermined by the powerful claims of social progress.” What chance do an individual’s “subjective preferences,” his “values,” have against the tide of “social progress”? Not much.
This was something the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb analyzed with dispatch in her book The De-moralization of Society, which traces the path from “Victorian virtues to modern values.” Writing in the 1990s, Himmelfarb noted that “it was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized and subjectified that virtues ceased to be ‘virtues’ and became ‘values.’” That transformation is now so far advanced that can be difficult for us values-saturated moderns to distinguish the two ideas. But Himmelfarb is right. The evolution, or devolution, from virtues to values marked “the great philosophical revolution of modernity.” Among other things, it gave currency to the assumption that “all moral ideas are subjective and relative, that they are mere customs and conventions.” The idea of virtue, on the contrary, “had a firm, resolute character.” Virtues are objective in a way values are not.
“Values, as we now understand that word, do not have to be virtues; they can be beliefs, opinions, attitudes, feelings, habits, conventions, preferences, prejudices, even idiosyncrasies —whatever any individual, group, or society happens to value, at any time, for any reason.”
The difference between virtues and values is adumbrated by everyday language. “One cannot.” Himmelfarb points out, “say of virtues, as one can of values, that anyone’s virtues are as good as anyone else’s, or that everyone has a right to his own virtues.”
I was reminded of Himmelfarb’s important distinction when reading Stephen Soukup’s reflections on the Uvalde shootings in which he cites the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s discussion, in his book After Virtue, of the replacement of virtue by what Soukup calls “a state of emotive expression, a condition in which feelings and sensations are elevated above objective reality and traditional conceptions of right and wrong, good and evil, etc.” Soukup broadens MacIntyre’s analysis, showing how it helps explain the structure and impetus of the administrative state. “Broadly,” he writes,
“MacIntyre’s critique is that bureaucracy/management is emotive in practice. Because management is concerned EXCLUSIVELY with process, with means and NOT with ends, it is, almost by definition, an amoral scheme. Management is purportedly rational, but rationality can only apply to means, and therefore the ends become the purview of the manager/administrator who substitutes his own personal preferences for genuine moral positions.”
In another column, Soukup glosses MacIntyre’s argument, arguing that “One of the greatest tragedies of the Enlightenment was the abandonment of virtue ethics.”
“Prior to the Enlightenment, the entire history of Western Civilization—from (at least) the ancient Greeks right up to the American Founding Fathers—virtue ethics dominated moral philosophy and the expectations of moral people.
“In brief, virtue ethics posits that the most effective and functional means by which to create a civil society, foster good citizenship, and encourage the pursuit of a ‘good life,’ is the identification, propagation, and encouraged PRACTICE of virtues deemed universally important and universally affirmative.”
That “short excerpt” should also give you an idea of how long the article is! I’ll add this: The Founding Fathers didn’t talk about a constitution for a “values oriented” people. They spoke of virtue, because that’s the world they still lived in. Does this suggest why our constitutional order seems to have irretrievably broken down? Regaining an understanding of reality based on intelligent insight rather than emotion, preference, WILL, is not the work of a single generation, just as its devolution has not been the work of a single generation.
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- Doctor of the Church St. Francis de Sales totally confirmed beyond any doubt the possibility of a heretical pope and what must be done by the Church in such a situation:
"[T]he Pope... WHEN he is EXPLICITLY a heretic, he falls ipso facto from his dignity and out of the Church, and the Church MUST either deprive him, or, as some say, declare him deprived, of his Apostolic See."
(The Catholic Controversy, by St. Francis de Sales, Pages 305-306)
Saint Robert Bellarmine, also, said "the Pope heretic is not deposed ipso facto, but must be declared deposed by the Church."
- "If Francis is a Heretic, What should Canonically happen to him?": http://www.thecatholicmonitor.com/2020/12/if-francis-is-heretic-what-should.html
- "Could Francis be a Antipope even though the Majority of Cardinals claim he is Pope?": http://www.thecatholicmonitor.com/2019/03/could-francis-be-antipope-even-though.html
- LifeSiteNews, "Confusion explodes as Pope Francis throws magisterial weight behind communion for adulterers," December 4, 2017:
The AAS guidelines explicitly allows "sexually active adulterous couples facing 'complex circumstances' to 'access the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.'"
- On February 2018, in Rorate Caeli, Catholic theologian Dr. John Lamont:
"The AAS statement... establishes that Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia has affirmed propositions that are heretical in the strict sense."
- On December 2, 2017, Bishop Rene Gracida:
"Francis' heterodoxy is now official. He has published his letter to the Argentina bishops in Acta Apostlica Series making those letters magisterial documents."
Pray an Our Father now for the restoration of the Church by the bishops by the grace of God.
- Intel Cryptanalyst-Mathematician on Biden Steal: "212Million Registered Voters & 66.2% Voting,140.344 M Voted...Trump got 74 M, that leaves only 66.344 M for Biden" [http://catholicmonitor.blogspot.com/2020/12/intel-cryptanalyst-mathematician-on.html?m=1]
- Will US be Venezuela?: Ex-CIA Official told Epoch Times "Chávez started to Focus on [Smartmatic] Voting Machines to Ensure Victory as early as 2003": http://catholicmonitor.blogspot.com/2020/12/will-us-be-venezuela-ex-cia-official.html