Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Ideal of the Gentleman

The notion of gentlemanly conduct has taken quite a beating in the past few decades, not least from men themselves. The idea is very simple, really. It involves men taking a slightly extra strong turn at treating others the way we'd like to be treated ourselves. Carrie Lukas has a nice article on the subject on National Review Online today.

Pointing out that men today are less likely than in the past to give up a seat on the bus for a woman, much less a spot in a lifeboat as the men on the sinking Titanic did, Lukas notes that the ideal of the gentleman is not about how they treat women but how they treat people (and animals, and inanimate objects, and indeed everything) in general. A true gentleman respects other people and the creation that surrounds him, and he does so because he recognizes and accepts his place in the world:

Gentlemanly conduct isn't about women at all. It's about men and their sense of themselves.

Conclusion: Western men don't expect as much of themselves as they used to, and that's exactly what we get.

13 comments:

James Elliott said...

"The idea is very simple, really. It involves men taking a slightly extra strong turn at treating others the way we'd like to be treated ourselves."

Not that I disagree with the larger point, because I don't and it's a very good one, but this contains a basic logical fallacy. Not everyone likes to be spanked on the rear with a horsewhip and called Nancy Mae Tinklepants; but, there are some who do. So, it's not really that we should want to treat everyone as we want to be treated.

S. T. Karnick said...

On the contrary, the principle stands and is entirely logical. The unstated assumption behind the maxim is that we should want to be treated respectfully and decently ourselves, which eliminates the spanking option and other masochistic or sadistic desires.

James Elliott said...

"The unstated assumption behind the maxim is that we should want to be treated respectfully and decently ourselves,"

But it is, in itself, an assumption. Assumption makes for logical fallacy. I believe Jack McCoy calls that "assuming facts not in evidence." Now, I happen to agree with you on the whole subject matter. We should expect more from ourselves, and from others. We should model that behavior, and call others on ill-behavior. I'm just saying that the golden rule is flawed as a logical concept, not as an idea.

mjwatson said...

"Flawed" is a little strong, isn't it?

Would "incomplete" or "insufficient" be better?

Michael Simpson said...

mjwatson's right - the Golden Rule is incomplete, not flawed. There's no logical inconsistency, it just assumes - as all statements do - some more basic claims (i.e. that there's a model of human flourishing that we would should all find appealing). The fact that some don't isn't a reflection on the Rule; it's a reflection on them.

James Elliott said...

"The fact that some don't isn't a reflection on the Rule; it's a reflection on them."

But, for example some people find certain things - like a hearty spanking while dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl - to be the height of pleasure, the very essence of what is good in their life. As to why, well, I'm not so sure, and I rather hope they keep it to themselves, but they do, and more power to them. You're again assuming what's good for another is bad for someone else. I'm just pointing out that it's a fine rule, but one that taken to its logical conclusion falls apart.

Again, it's a fine principal to live by, so long as you're not the person who likes the spanking. Then all sorts of well-intentioned but ill-received moments can arise.

I'm sorry, isn't this the kind of annoying nonsense philosophers do all the time? There's something to be said about taking stuff too seriously, as I'm trying to point out.

Hunter Baker said...

My southern heritage is showing, but I'm a little sorry we don't have a duel every once in a while, or at least a fistfight without real fear of legal sanction. I have a few candidates in mind . . .

Of course, it's my own beloved Christian faith that killed the southern culture of the duel (based on more of a southern stoicism), so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But, for example some people find certain things - like a hearty spanking while dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl - to be the height of pleasure, the very essence of what is good in their life.

I don't think that's true. I don't think such things lead to happiness, nor do I think those who get off on such things consider them "good."

On the contrary, their allure is in being bad. Very bad. Bad enough to deserve a spanking. It's a circular thing...

mjwatson said...

I wonder if there's another way to get at this question is to ask for an example of any moral principle that by itself is completely logically self-sufficient.

Two moral principles come to mind, neither of which work by themselves:

1. Do good and avoid evil (first principle of practical reason, but depends like the Golden Rule on prior judgments of good and evil, unless you're a New Natural Law person, but I'm not going there).

2. Do not do evil in the pursuit of good (Pauline principle but has same problem as #1).

Any takers?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, first, there's the problem of evil. Many don't recognize its existence, not in the least Buddhists, who are non-Abrahamic allies in natural law theory. (Oooops, did I just break the rules? Are Buddhists neos or retros?)

Let's just focus on good, since there's more unanimity on its existence. We could pick up the ancient Greeks on our side too: good exists.

The problem with codes is that they don't allow for wisdom. Even Aquinas allows that some acts may be good in some circumstances and not others. This is not the sterility of relativism---wisdom takes all factors into account. Since man is imperfect any "good" that he does or attempts to do will no doubt carry negative consequences as well. Wisdom allows for that, and pursues the greatest good possible.

Wisdom allows (demands) an appreciation of the Other person involved as well: giving alms might feed a man, or supply him the dough to OD. And that's where the Golden Rule is insufficient; I am not you and you are not me.

So too, if we follow the Greek notion of virtue, not as a sterile moral purity, but as positive action, then anything that's not in the pursuit of good is not good, if you follow me. That which does not nourish virtue, make us better people, thwarts our pursuit of excellence and (admittedly unachievable) perfection.

Which leads us to the opposite of good, which in modern parlance would be moral neutrality, the idea that some things are "harmless."

Not at all. Nothing is. In the nourishment of virtue (even the Greeks saw its resevoir as "the soul"), the "harmless" is like eating sawdust. A bellyful of it leaves no room for nourishment. And since our days are numbered, every step not taken forward is one really moving back.

And so, if I were to break my own code and take a stab at a code, it would be:

Do only good, and as much of it as you can. And run, don't walk.


(Thanks, Sam and MJ. This one sure made me think.)

Matt Huisman said...

A true gentleman respects other people and the creation that surrounds him, and he does so because he recognizes and accepts his place in the world:

So the Golden Rule needs some help...sounds like a good idea to me.

But in the new and improved version, I'm still a bit confused as to why I ought to give up my seat to a woman (as opposed to a college student).

And what's this his place business all about anyway?

Matt Huisman said...

As an aside, the Carrie Lukas article makes reference to Harvey Mansfield's new book on Manliness.

Given that Mr. Mansfield is somewhat of a conservative icon and that he picked a topic that was destined for some controversy, I felt lucky to catch him being interviewed on TV twice in the last week or so.

That is, I had anticipated that I would enjoy the spectacle of Mr. Mansfield matching wits with Naomi Wolff and Stephen Colbert. However, it wasn't long before each host had in their own way completely undressed the poor man.

Now I know that his position was a difficult one. But good grief, it's not like it was a surprise that some people were going to have a hard time accepting his premise. You're not prepared for that?

If I were one of the students fortunate enough to be graced with a 'C+' from him, I'd make sure that I owned a copy of those broadcasts.

James Elliott said...

Mansfield's book on "Manliness" suffers not from being controversial, but a far more ugly sin: It is dumb. There are some nuggets of insight, and he could have been on to something interesting if he hadn't decided to belly flop into Stereotype Lake.