Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a hell-fire preacher and philosopher. His book, The Nature of True Virtue (1765), is a hard book to read (without falling asleep), but what he said in his wordy way is that virtue, a.k.a. moral excellence, decency, and courage is a kind of sixth sense like Spider-Man’s spidey sense except instead of sensing imminent danger, one senses a beautiful feeling of virtue.
Virtue is “founded in sentiment and not in reason,” said Edwards meaning: virtue is a beautiful feeling. If you enjoy strolling a tree-lined path, you don’t need reason to explain beauty to you. You know its beautiful because you feel it! Virtue is like that. It’s something “immediately pleasant to the mind.”
Edwards may have been indecisive about what to wear, “Should I wear the black jacket or the black jacket?” but when it came to virtue, he was never conflicted because virtue is not relative to culture. Virtue is universal. It may not come to everyone (even though it could), but with genuine concern for what is good, virtue has already come.
Edwards (a.k.a Mr. Bluesky) called true virtue the “benevolence of being” or “beauty of the heart.” The heart being symbolic home to emotions of love, affection, and courage and where people say they feel a heartwarming sensation (as opposed indigestion).
If you are touched by an insurance commercial and “believe in good,” that is true virtue. It isn’t beautiful like a flower, house or body. It isn’t a thing. Virtue is feeling beauty in good doings.
Taking an opposite stance to “feelings, nothing more than feelings,” (not the Offspring version) is Ayn Rand (1905-1982). To her, reality is exclusively perceived by the physical senses and only REASON can take sensory data and arrive at objectively valid conclusions (source). Her philosophy, Objectivism, is based on reason, egoism, individualism and capitalism.
Rand argued that morality is a code of values that guide the choices we make which determine the course of our lives (source), but we’ve been offered two false alternatives: be moral – sacrifice yourself to others, or be selfish – sacrifice others to yourself (source). Which did she choose?
Edwards probably wouldn’t buy Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness.” He believed in feeling beyond reasoning, but he did say that some virtue comes from self-love (even if it isn’t true virtue).
The Golden Rule for example (treat others as you wish to be treated) treats virtue as an exchange for mutual benefit (reciprocity), but when treated poorly, do people say, “That’s OK,” (true virtue) or do they say, “How dare you treat me this way?” and demand retribution?
Cue music. Edwards said that “self-love” is to feel “one with one’s self” and true love (like parent for child), is to feel a “union of the heart with others: a kind of enlargement of the mind, whereby it so extends itself as to take others into a man’s self.”
In eastern traditions, feeling separated from the earth and each other is a trick. Our brains put things into intellectual boxes that we label, but we are all a self and an other to each other and everything goes together: back with front, sound with hearing, inside with outside.
Edwards probably believed in a higher self (good) and a lower self (bad), but in Zen there’s no such thing. There’s just you as far as the eye can see! Poetically speaking, “We’re rays of the same sun,” or as Oliver sang it in ’69, “Good Morning Starshine. The earth says hello. You twinkle above us. We twinkle below.“
And yet, feeling at one with everything sounds like a fantasy because it feels like there’s a self “in here” (with your name on it!) and a world “out there,” (that’s scary sometimes) but this is a trick we play on ourselves (source).
Reality is a feeling of colour, sound and sensation. We receive this as an entirety, but tell ourselves that some of it is “me” and some of it is “you.”
Pristine enjoyment is total acceptance: acceptance of yourself, of this universe as it is in this instant without any feeling of separation between self within (yes you!) and world without (look around!).
True virtue is to enjoy walking 500 miles in comfortable shoes like the Proclaimers claimed they’d do for no good reason but love.
Martial artist, Morihei (“abundant peace”) Ueshiba (1883-1969), said in The Art of Peace, “Foster peace in your own life then apply the Art to all that you encounter” (p. 13), but how do you do that?
Watching simulated horror in The Walking Dead show is popular, but in such places as ISIS territory, in flooding refugees, in crowded slums and extinction of species from inharmonious activity, a leaden-hearted brain-dead zombie apocalypse of a kind is happening now.
That a terrifying show about death feeding on life should provide advice about love and peace just goes to show, “You never know.”
In the non-horrible video below we meet Mr. Eastman who shows a man how to live a peaceful philosophy of nonresistance: redirect, evade, accept, care, protect, move forward and remember: All life is precious (and carry a big stick).
And remember: Living in peace is better than resting!