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The Fragility of Goodness, Plato and Aristotle, Origen and Calvin, me and God

Martha Nussbaum wrote a great book a while back on Plato, Aristotle and ethics by the title: The Fragility of Goodness. In it she pondered the question to what degree particulars belong to the good life. Plato is held to have said that the good life is available regardless of any incidental particular, while Aristotle said that being tortured impinges on the good life -- having this particular negatively impacts goodness. Thus, for Aristotle, goodness, the good life, is more fragile than for Plato, because he admits that things outside one's control do affect human flourishing. Nussbaum suggests, among other things, that Plato may have been closer to Aristotle than some think and studies the Symposium and the Phaedrus to demonstrate it.

Regardless of Nussbaum's point, the basic question is one of the most important in my book: How fragile is the good life? How much does it depend on particulars? How much fragility are you willing to bear? All of us try to deal with the juxtaposition of what we want over against what we get, and try to get what we want. Some find an answer in an afterlife in which the apparent pains of this world will be understood and integrated into a larger whole that makes the pains look good. Origen is an example from the history of Christianity who saw everything that happens to us as divine training for the betterment of our souls. He could indeed say 'it's all good' and there isn't much fragility about it.

Calvinism is another form of this kind of outlook wherein goodness is rock solid -- God determines everything and since God is good, the good is guaranteed, even if that means you may serve a purpose to which you object. Your happiness, the good life, for you is to find your place in this larger divine story, and your necessary contribution to it.

I like to think there is a divine life, a divine good, to which we can contribute, but I cannot see a way to a relatively non-fragile goodness like Calvin or Origen espoused. It seems to me that the good life is a risk, even to God, that the quality even of the divine life is to suffer the pain of the particular, the pain of loss and ugliness. So perhaps we have a God whose life is much more like ours than we often think, and perhaps there is some comfort in that.

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