Friday 2 January 2009

better stuff

The great American biologist E. O. Wilson has stated plainly that buying too much stuff (or 'rising per capita consumption') is driving climate change.

That's a near-impossible subject for others to talk about without sounding (a) puritanical and/or (b) hypocritical and/or (c) pollyannaish. But some philosophical guidance was offered on the relationship between consumerism and the good life on this week's In Our Time. The key words are Aristotle and appetite.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests were discussing Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy when the conversation turned to Spinoza's Ethics and the idea that a 'right view' of the world would liberate us from all the things that cause us pain.

Roger Scruton said, 'The free man, the one who has this adequate conception of the world is also one whose moral character is utterly trustworthy because he sees things as they are, and doesn't put the kind of false valuation on his own appetites that less educated people would do.'

Bragg said, 'It's always about appetites, isn't it, really?'

Scruton said, 'Well, appetities are our problem.'

Bragg said, 'But they're our pleasure as well.'

Scruton said, 'Of course. This is why the Platonic view is so different in the end from the Aristotelian. The Aristotelian view is that we shouldn't abolish our appetites, and achieve the viewpoint of pure reason, that we should on the contrary educate them through the practice of virtue so that then we want the right things on the right occasions to the right extent, and that is what human fulfilment requires.'

High-minded then, the Aristotelian view, but not puritanical.

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