David’s parable of the lonely nonagenarian is a sad reminder of the importance of the unity of the virtues, as well as the inextricable link between becoming virtuous and living well. Coming of age during the Great Depression, the elderly grandmother was inculcated with an extreme reverence for the virtue of frugality. Yet unbalanced by other virtues, frugality can become self-defeating and miserly. If one is going to have a house custom built—itself a remarkable departure from frugality—the place to cut corners is not in the quality of the craftsmanship, especially if one is living alone!
Moreover, having a home custom made, at the age of 79, in an area where one does not have any friends or family, does not seem to me to be wise.
My biggest takeaway from the story is that the clearest sign that she had deviated from the path of virtue and practical wisdom is that she had pursued frugality beyond the point where it hindered her ability to flourish.
The idea that ethics has anything to do with flourishing, or living well, remains puzzling to most people in modern societies with modern moral instincts. The fact that the ancients emphasized this connection has led many to conclude that theirs was an egoistic philosophy.
But this is plainly not true. Flourishing can involve living your life primarily for others—your children or grandchildren, your community, your country. As Nussbaum emphasizes, Aristotelian ethics has a view of living well which may include a great deal of unpleasantry and even giving your own life. But one thing is clear—flourishing does not involve being miserably isolated and alone in a run-down house that no one wants to buy from you.