Note: This is an essay I wrote when I was in college and still a baby philosopher. I wrote this essay back in 2014 for my Moral Theory course.
A question I’ve been long asking myself is: where do we find virtue in the modern period? Is it in our families; is it in our friends, or how about through our education system? I’ve had this question because trying to find an ethical system which to live by is no simple feat; especially if you do not consider yourself religious person. This is why I am pursuing a degree in Philosophy, because for me, Philosophy is a guidance for a good life. These years of education for me are supposed to mean preparation for the real world: how to be a good citizen, how to provide a quality life-style to myself and my family, as well as how to become a productive member of society.
However, many would argue that education is everything for them but a provider of virtues and ways on how to live ‘the good life.’ We know that the figures of student debt are rising and that it becomes more and more difficult to afford an education. We also know that institutions are now also offering online courses and accelerated programs in order to have attainable education offered to many. Yet it is also clear that many students are having a hard time finding a job that will provide them enough money to pay off their debt and everything else that’s in their plates.
Of course, many of these degrees that make it especially difficult to find a job or a good paying job are degrees from the arts and humanities department. Degrees in history, philosophy, art, literature, to name few, are considered worthless in a world dominated by science and technology. With this said, it is no wonder why many people do not question the meaning of virtue, or don’t take the time to examine their lives, and as a philosophy student I have to point out as one of our big guys said, Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.’’ Education has lost the ability to be a place of virtue and education has become a way to make us more profitable in society. The internal value of an education, I would argue has been overcome by its external value. And this creates a society where a moral vacuum is left. So where do we find morality? Through our families?
I want to argue that nowadays, even in a secularized and modern world, many families have an understanding of morality because or through their religions. We know that there are more religious people than non-religious. But what happens when you decide to leave the religion that your parents brought you up in? Are we left in a moral vacuum as well? As a religious studies student, I have profound respect and admiration to religions in general but I have to admit that knowing about more religions also makes it more difficult to settle for just one. It’s like going shopping, the more options you have, the more difficult it is to choose. I don’t mean this analogy in a bad way, and I do not mean to demean religion to something as trivial as shopping, rather point out that there are many religions out there that sometimes we fail to ignore as a Western civilization.
So one way we deal with this is dividing the world into believers and non-believers as I mentioned above. Into the religious and the atheists. And what happens to the atheists? What happens for instance, for me that I don’t seem to find a religion, which I belong to? I mentioned that I am very fond of religions so one thing that I have learned is that I don’t need to be a part of one religion; instead, I could use the good things that all religions provide. In pre-modern world thinking, ‘‘the chief means of moral education was the telling of stories. Where Christianity or Judaism or Islam have prevailed, biblical stories are as important as any other; and each culture of course has stories that are peculiarly of its own; but every one of these cultures, Greek or Christian, also possess a stock of stories which derive from and tell about its own vanished heroic age.’’ (121)
Many modern atheists or “strong atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, claim that religion is useless, meaningless, and sometimes even go as so far as saying that it is “ridiculous”. But I think it’s too easy; it’s too easy to dismiss the whole of religion that way. It’s too easy to ignore the fact that religion has provided so much comfort, hope and even a system of ethics to so many people throughout ages. You don’t need to believe in religion or in a doctrine to know or understand this, and as a religious studies student I have acquired a more insightful view into the areas of life which religion addresses that are not going to well.
I will go back to my point of education. Education is not something we go into because we want to learn how to make the world a better place but because we want industrial skills, commercial skills, business skills, and now these external values of money and profitability are the external values we as a society and individuals value. So I can’t go to college and say that I’ve come to college in search of morality, guidance, virtue, and consolation, that would sound silly to everyone since everything has become so rationalized and scientific, we are rational adults and we don’t need to talk about those things. After all, ‘‘each rational agent must be his or her own judge.’’(24)
So if for me it is not education where I sometimes find virtue, it is not through family or their religion, it is not through religion, then I will argue that it is through culture where we can find virtue. I think about Plato’s dialogues or even Macintyre’s book, or Shakespeare’s novels, and how we can find virtue in their stories as much as we find them in religious stories. Even then, you don’t need to be religious to listen to a sermon by a priest, preaching our duties to the poor, or how to be compassionate to one other, or how to be courageous and be honest. Zen Buddhists celebrate the festival of Tsukimi, which means ‘‘moon viewing”, and it takes place on the 15ths of the eighth month of the Japanese solar calendar.
Imagine we were all to give one day of looking at the moon, of looking at the skies, and realizing how small we are, putting our problems in perspective. Or take also, for instance, the Day of Atonement for Jews (Yom Kippur) this is a day of atonement and repentance, where Jews have the opportunity to ask for forgiveness to those who they have hurt. But we don’t do these things, why? Because there’s nothing or no one to tell us ‘’look at the moon, ask for forgiveness, go hear or give a sermon on virtue.’’
There’s nothing that is if you are not religious, but we should anyways. For instance if you’re a travel agent, look at pilgrimage, and acquire the virtue of patience, of acquiring virtue through a journey; if you’re an artist, look at how religion has spread virtue through art. That is why I argue that religious stories, poets, philosophy, art, film-making and culture is the new way of being pre-modern in a world of modern thinking. You don’t have to agree or even believe in religion, for us to abandon religion, for us to abandon pre-modern thinking and to fall into this world of emotivism and secularization.