Thursday, February 21, 2013

What is virtue, what is vice? In reference to Fitzjames Stephen

Specifically, his arguments in "Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality". Stephen puts forward a good argument that a purely libertarian society, where people didn't intervene with others unless they break the law, can lead to a pretty sorry state of affairs, where though technically no one is seriously hurting anyone, people are treating each other pretty badly. He talks about the need to cultivate virtuous behavior, and he's also pretty down on what he considers to be vice, so why not look at the concepts, specifically vice?

Stephen uses public drunkenness as an example of a vice that shouldn't be tolerated, that people should intervene personally, or possibly with the police, to stop. But what does he feel is the problem with public drunkenness? From his discussion, the problem is people noisy and rowdy on the streets after coming out of a bar, being loud, and being impolite to others that they encounter. Technically, it's possible to be a really big fucking asshole when you're intoxicated with others on the street, and not break any specific law. He considers getting drunk like that, which he imputes to all drinking to excess, to be a vice that should be prevented, either by people taking personal action or the police getting involved.

The vice, though, as I see it in this situation, isn't getting drunk on its own. It's not even being rowdy, something which if done inside a bar according to the tolerance of the bar itself isn't a problem. The vice is thinking that it's okay to inflict your rowdiness on others without consideration for them, and possibly being oblivious to the consequences of your actions. In other words, in this situation, I think that the Utilitarian argument still applies, but that instead of simply recognizing very personal, criminal, hurts, it's expanded to include treating people inconsiderately in the extreme. Vice can be generalized to a mindset or habit or behavior where the rights and well being of others to live their daily lives in peace are sacrificed to one's own selfish indulgence.

That's quite different than saying that getting drunk is a vice.

Again, I think that the solution for this and other similar situations is self help rather than getting the police involved, people being vigilant enough to put personal pressure out there to intervene and to stand up for themselves when things like the above are happening. 

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