Friday, July 13, 2012

A Vision of the Good

    Human beings live stories.  The most immediate story is the one each one of us tells himself or herself, a story that makes a life into a life, rather than a series of random events.  The story of my life inevitably and regularly interweaves with other people's stories.  Therefore we are, as Aristotle said, intrinsically social beings.  Human beings should not think of themselves as isolated knowers, though Rene Descartes and other influential philosophers have conceived themselves that way. 
    (Mark McLeod-Harrison and I say more about the narrative form of human lives in Being at Home in the World.  I'm sure Wipf & Stock would be happy to sell you a copy--and the proceeds all go to the GFU philosophy club!)
    Narrative--story--is marked by movement.  We make sense of our lives by relating the various events in our lives to a central plot.  A long time ago, in my dissertation, I argued that if we want our lives to head toward some good destination, we need to have a "vision of the good."  I defined a vision of the good as "a global understanding, involving rational thought, emotions, and imagination, of something toward which a life can be lived."
    There are many competing visions of the good.  People organize their lives around all sorts of creeds, ambitions, hatreds, fears, etc.  A vision of the good is rarely communicated well by a philosophical lecture; visions are best passed through stories.  Lectures may carry rational thought, but they rarely engage the imagination or fire passion.  Stories, in contrast, carry all three parts of a vision well.
    In my dissertation I used true stories as illustrations.  Biography is a wonderful tool for the moral pilgrim; we learn what to admire and avoid in the lives of others.  But we are not limited to biography, obviously.  Novels, plays, short stories, movies, and yes, comic books ("graphic novels")--these stories shape our imaginations. 
    We need to be careful about the stories we consume.  I know that sounds censorious, but I don't mean it that way.  It is simply a fact that some of the stories we read or watch confirm us in the gospel; others contradict the message of God in Christ.  We may rightly read all sorts of stories, but we must do so critically.  We would like to imagine that stories of evil always repel us, but sometimes we have to admit they attract us.
    Readers of Castles are already aware that my stories sometimes include evil.  (And it will get worse.)  The story, I hope, is a good story, a story that will yield insight into good and evil--and a story that is simply good to read.  To some degree, I hope discerning readers will by it sharpen their vision of the good.

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