Which Needs More Explaining: Vice or Virtue?

If, unlike me, you’ve watched TV over the last couple weeks, you’ve probably seen a few earnest talking heads trying to “explain” the psychology of Anders Breivik, the man who murdered several dozen people in Norway a couple of weeks ago. Quick question: when was the last time you encountered a similar effort to explain the psychology of a person who has helped others tremendously?

Our obsession with understanding wickedness and comparative lack of interest in understanding goodness is the topic of an interview with Theodore Dalrymple published last weekend in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve been reading Dalrymple’s essays in various publications for several years now; the experience is a bit like having ice water thrown into your face unexpectedly. You’re shocked initially, but your senses are sharpened by it.

One thing that grabbed me in this interview was the critique of the modern view, stemming from Rousseau, of wickedness as alien to human nature, and something that thus needs explanation. Of course, the classical and Christian view is that wickedness comes to us quite naturally, and that self-control and divine grace are the means by which we overcome it and become good.

From that perspective, we don’t need explanations of evil; we look at an Anders Breivik and say, “What else is new?” Instead we need to study goodness and seek an explanation for it. Dalrymple, though not a Christian, agrees.

Read the interview for more info on how Rousseau has screwed up the world.

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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4 Responses to Which Needs More Explaining: Vice or Virtue?

  1. Dr. T says:

    Virtue definitely needs more explanation, as such behavior often means going against our basic, selfish, self-preservation instincts. A number of sociologists are starting to come around to this view.

  2. Ginger says:

    Thank you for clarifying this issue. It really is a matter of world view gone awry. The problem of the entitlement mentality is self-control and responsibility. We are not intrinsically good and need self-control and divine grace to be descent. I tried to put this issue into words for a West-bashing ex-pat without success.

  3. Victoria says:

    “Dr. Dalrymple argues that the welfare state, Europe’s form of civic religion, deprives its citizens even of the “struggle for existence” as a possible purpose in life.”

    That is a very interesting insight.

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