There is a certain tension that I feel when doing research for the book I’m working on. On the one hand, I want to take all of the books on my reading list (and any I might conceivably add to it along the way) and mine them as quickly as possible for materials that can serve me in my goal. On the other hand, I am reading some truly fantastic books, by brilliant minds who are deeply immersed in traditions of thought that I am only beginning to scratch the surface of. These are books demanding to be respected, to be read at a tempo that they can be properly appreciated. They are not mere tools for me to pick up and use to build my cathedral. If anything, they are master-craftsmen working on a project which I can only hope to one day be skilled enough to be a part of.
This tension seems to me to be the core of what virtue ethicists are getting at when they criticize utilitarian and similar conceptions of happiness, morality, and social organization. It is the tension in acknowledging that people both seek to be honored and want to be honorable, want to build up a network of trust and want to be trustworthy. “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely,” said the man with a far more sophisticated theory of human nature than the utilitarians who took up his project in political economy.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some reading to do.