by Massimo Pigliucci
Can we make ourselves into better human beings? Can we help others do the same? And can we get the leaders of our society — statesmen, generals, businesspeople — to care about the general welfare so that humanity may prosper not just economically and materially but also spiritually? These questions have been asked for over two millennia, and attempting to answer them is crucial if we want to live a better life and contribute to building a more just society.
Within the Western tradition, with which this book is concerned, the issue of becoming a better human being has often been understood in terms of “virtue.” Before we can sensibly ask whether and how virtue can be taught, then, we need to discuss what exactly virtue is and why we should care about it. These days the word has acquired a rather old-fashioned connotation, as our thoughts are likely to wander toward Christian conceptions of virtues such as purity and chastity. The term has, accordingly, fallen into disuse. Google Ngram shows a pretty steady decline from 1800 on, plateauing for the past half century or so. … (continue at Big Think)