WHAT CAN MORALOGY TEACH US ABOUT MORAL-EXEMPLAR METHODOLOGY? Comparisons With Approaches Old and New.
As well as serving as an entry point to the system of moralogy, the choice of the topic of ortholinons is motivated by my interest in moral-exemplar methodology (i.e., the use of moral exemplars as motivating role models in moral education) and the current prominence of this methodology in philosophical, psychological, and educational literatures. I am interested in problems that are typically attributed to the method of learning from moral exemplars and how those have been addressed, or brought into sharper relief, by theorists old and new. More specifically, in the present article, my guiding question is to what extent Hiroike's thoughts on ortholinons illuminate those problems and, perhaps, help with their amelioration.
I begin with a brief rehearsal of moral-exemplar methodology and its current status. I then turn the spotlight to Hiroike's moralogy in general and his ortholinon-principle in particular. Subsequently, I explore this principle in conjunction with historic accounts of great role models (by theorists such as Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, and William James), and recent accounts (by William Damon and Anne Colby, and David Brooks). I look both for areas of complementarity and contrast. I conclude with some general remarks about the salience of the ortholinon-principle for understanding how learning from moral exemplars can be discriminatory, motivating, and edifying--rather than uncritical, dispiriting, and stupefying. I wish to alert readers beforehand, however, that this article offers an exploratory whistle-stop tour of many destinations, rather than a set of pat questions and definitive answers. I think it will help, especially for those not well versed in Hiroike's thought, to set his moralogy against a backdrop of a varied group of thinkers who have been grappling with similar issues.
In this section, I review briefly recent work on moral-exemplar methodology, as a core method of moral or character education, including two problems to which it is typically believed to be vulnerable. I then rehearse some of the fundamental tenets of Hiroike's teaching about ortholinons--for readers who are not familiar with the nuts and bolts of his theory.
Moral Exemplars and Their Potential Shortcomings
Role-modeling, especially of the kind that moral philosophers, moral psychologists, and moral educationists define as learning from moral exemplars or exemplarity, has been achieving renewed prominence of late (see further in Kristjansson, 2017). The reasons for this development are probably varied, but it seems likely that they stem from declining trust in the ability of pure reasoning principles--untethered from experiential associations with real people in real situations--to enact lasting changes in the moral make-up of young people. The most sustained and enduring interest in the topic can perhaps be seen among character educationists, especially of the Aristotelian kind (Annas, 2011; Kristjansson, 2007; Sanderse, 2013), as moral role-modeling constitutes a time-honored staple of Aristotelian methods for cultivating character. Furthermore, psychologists such as Bill Damon and Anne Colby are reviving what they call "exemplar methodology" (2015, p. xv), and philosopher Linda Zagzebski is developing a whole new moral theory of exemplarism (2013, 2015). Even a recent self-help bestseller (Brooks, 2015) draws on the lives of high moral achievers in the past and encourages moderns to follow suit.
The dark side of this interest in exemplarism is the continued fear of parents and educators that young people are (increasingly) identifying with, idolizing, and emulating the "wrong" sort of role models. Academics keep producing findings indicating that these fears are unfounded; most young people nowadays, as ever, cite parents and relatives as their role models (see various references in Kristjansson, 2007, Ch. 7; Sanderse, 2013). Nevertheless, it might be unwise to rule out this concern completely. Another worry is that little if any consensus has been reached on how best exemplar methodology works in classroom contexts; there is simply insufficient empirical evidence available on the effectiveness of different strategies. In professional ethics, considerable literature exists on the teacher (qua professional) as a role model--inevitable or self-chosen--and how that role needs to be cultivated in teacher training. Disappointingly, however, much of this literature shows teachers to be unprepared and/or unwilling to take on such a task and, counterintuitively perhaps, it also finds students rarely mentioning teachers as their most important role models (Sanderse, 2013).
Apart from those concerns about how exemplar methodology might be abused, or not optimally used, more general misgivings exist about its shortcomings. Those misgivings come in two different types. One concerns the way in which exemplar learning stands in danger of degenerating into mere hero worship and uncritical groveling at the feet of the presumed exemplars. Contemporary (Aristotelian) character educationists agree that an imitation-conditioning model, often associated with social-learning theories (cf. Sarapin, Christy, Lareau, Krakow, & Jensen 2015), is not the ideal to aim at, except perhaps with very young children, and that it must gradually be replaced with critical reason-informed and reason-guided engagement (Kristjansson, 2007, Ch. 7; Annas, 2011; Sanderse, 2013). For even if the immediate source of motivation remains as the admiration for a particular exemplar (be it the student's current teacher/parent/mentor, or a sage from the past), the ultimate source must be something other than simply a desire to "imitate a hero." It is incumbent on character educationists, however, to explain how this shift of motivation can be elicited and sustained in students. The other objection concerns the threat of moral inertia, where the moral exemplars are seen as standing so high above the learner that idolizing them becomes disempowering and dispiriting, rather than empowering and uplifting. Sports psychology is replete with stories of people who gave up because they realized that they could never reach the same heights as Olympic winners; how can we avoid the same effect taking hold in moral education? I structure the exploration in this article around those two much belabored shortcomings. How can exemplarism, such as Hiroike's, circumvent them?
THE NATURE AND ROLE OF ORTHOLINONS IN MORALOGY
Firmly rooted in a traditional Japanese moral outlook, but inspired and strengthened by some deep insights from Western moral and religious traditions, moralogy presents an ambitious synthesizing project, aimed at unearthing fundamental truths about the nature of "the good" and what it means for human beings. More specifically, moralogy attempts to craft out of this diffuse material a unified position on the inheritance of the good (i.e., its provenance), the fostering of the good (i.e., its cultivation in one's own life), and the transference of the good (i.e., its inculcation in future generations; see M. Hiroike, 2010, pp. 15-17). As already noted, I can only focus here on a limited aspect of this unified theory, which has to do with the "inheritance" facet; in particular, how we (ideally) pick up truths about the good from worthy exemplars.
Not content with existing terminologies, Hiroike gave a twist to the Japanese word dento as denoting a "line of succession." As he could not find an equivalent in European languages, he coined the term "ortholinon" from the Greek roots ortho (meaning "straight") and linon (meaning "line"). The original meaning, then, is a straight line of succession, but it is also used to denote individual agents in this line (Hiroike, 2002, III, pp. 111-112), and that is the sense in which I use it in what follows. The root ortho is taken to convey both the straightness of the legitimacy and learning--that moral truths are handed down through an unbroken line--and the moral straightness (uprightness, integrity, ballast) of the predecessors (the individual "straight-liners") in this succession. In modern philosophical jargon, what may be hinted at here is a causal account of moral goodness, according to which basic moral concepts are anchored foundationally in exemplars of such goodness (Zagzebski, 2013).
What Hiroike calls "supreme morality" can only be comprehended by retracing moral truths all the way back to the beginning of the line, to the teaching of "world sages" (Hiroike, 2002, I, p. 3). Those are called spiritual ortholinons, and Hiroike specifically singles out five of these: Amatersau Omikami (the mystical ancient goddess who allegedly founded the Imperial House of Japan), Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, and Jesus (2002, III, p. 114-115). Hiroike toyed with the idea of including Muhammed in this select group (2002, II, p. 147), subject to further scrutiny. That study has now been undertaken at the Institute of Moralogy, resulting in Muhammed being added as one of the world sages (M. Hiroike, 2010, pp. 36-37). From this decision we can divine that the category of spiritual ortholinons is, to some extent at least, a fluid one, open to argument and debate about which historic greats of moral teaching present unique, paradigmatic lessons in how to live: for example, lessons about the true spirit of benevolence, respect for the "golden mean," lack of self-centeredness and ostentation, and deep understanding of divine truths (Hiroike, 2002, II, p. 149). Other relevant categories comprise ortholinons of the family (the line of parents and ancestors), ortholinons of the nation (heads of state), and quasi-ortholinons (particular benefactors from whom we receive blessings and can learn). Every year, around the anniversary of Hiroike's death, an "Ortholinon Festival" is held on the campus of Reitaku University: an institution grounded in his teachings (Palencia-Roth, 2010, p. 17).
Supreme morality teaches that we owe our physical body to our ancestors and parents, our safety to the state, our daily wellbeing to mentors and benefactors, and our capacity for divine enlightenment to the teachings of the sages (Hiroike, 2002, III, p. 164). The principle of ortholinons dictates that we acknowledge our indebtedness to them and revere them as our moral guides. This can be done either by expressing our gratitude to them directly, or doing so indirectly by following their precedent in our daily lives (Hiroike, 2002, III, p. 118). Included in the former method are acts of prayer and public ceremony; included in the latter are various ways in which we serve moral ideals and foster future generations. All these acts fall under the principle of "returning favors to ortholinons" (M. Hiroike, 2010, p. 218): a core principle of "supreme morality." Adhering to this principle carries with it various benefits for the actors; it extends their creative powers, helps them understand the correct way to live, defines the meaning of their existence, and nurtures the wellbeing of their offspring (M. Hiroike, 2010, pp. 234-236). There are similarities here to a well-known modern account of the benefits of gratitude: as a moral barometer, reinforcer, and motivator (McCullough, Kilpatrick, Emmons, & Larson, 2001). However, whereas this modern account understands the moral benefits instrumentally--as enhancing prosocial cohesion--Hiroike's proposed benefits are also meant to be constitutive of the stable moral character of persons and hence intrinsically good: namely, good in and for themselves. In the field of moral education, emulation of moral exemplars--in this case motivated by reverence for the ortholinons--becomes the fundamental didactic strategy, as "all education starts with copying" (M. Hiroike, 2010, p. 221). Human beings are neither born good nor bad (C. Hiroike, 2002, III, p. 89); they become good or bad by emulating either true ortholinons or false ortholinons.
THE PROBLEM OF HERO WORSHIP
In this section, I explore briefly some historic accounts of the relevance of "heroes" for the moral progress of mankind, and to what extent those can enter into methods of moral education without slipping into unrewarding hero worship.
It is a commonplace that learning from moral exemplars is main pillar of Aristotelian character education, at least in its early stages. Yet Aristotle is notoriously reticent about the details of this method, as he is, indeed, about the minutiae of his other favored methods, such as "habituation," although it is possible that those were covered in a lost work on child-rearing. Most of what we know about Aristotelian exemplar methodology is derived from his writings about the emotion of emulation in his Rhetoric (see Kristjansson, 2007, Ch. 7, for references and a commentary). Emulation, which Aristotle elevates to the status of a (quasi)-virtuous emotional trait in young people, is characterized by pain at the moral superiority of a moral exemplar, and by a desire to reduce the moral distance to her/him without diminishing the latter's standing in any way. There seems to be some missing pieces in this motivational story, for exemplarism arguably also needs the pleasant emotion of admiration to go with the painful one of emulation (Zagzebski, 2015; cf. Kristjansson, 2017) to create a double inspirational pull toward the modeling of the exemplar.
The exemplars, worthy of emulation in Aristotle's system (1985), are presumably the phronimoi: people who display all the moral virtues, but also possess the intellectual virtue of phronesis to administer and guide the moral virtues, for instance in cases of virtue conflicts. However, to complicate matters, there is a level above the phronimoi of the even better morally equipped megalopsychoi: those phronomoi who, in addition to ordinary accomplishments, are blessed with unusually abundant "moral luck" in the form of resources and riches and, hence, are able to act as public benefactors on a grand scale (just as Bill Gates is, for example, at the present point in time). While the phronimoi are capable of living fully flourishing lives, the megalopsychoi can lead lives of (even higher) blessedness. At the same time, they are exempt from some of the more mundane virtues and niceties that characterize ordinary phronimoi.
There has been a tendency to read Aristotle's descriptions of the different levels of moral maturity quite literally and, thus, to posit discrete stages, ranging from moral indifference at the bottom, through incontinence and continence, toward the levels of the phronimoi and possibly megalopsychoi (Sanderse, 2015). Few people reach the top levels, according to Aristotle's account, and so there is serious psychological danger of young people falling into the temptation of celebrating the most mature exemplars as moral superstars and worshiping them as such. Recent commentators (see e.g., Curzer, 2017) have argued against a stage-theory interpretation of Aristotle and consider his descriptions of moral levels as shorthand idealizations rather than depictions of real people. On this anti-idealization reading, each virtue comprises various different components, where individuals can be strong on one (say, on proper feelings) but weaker on another (say, on putting feelings into action). Rarely will all those components align in perfect harmony in a person; hence, if we "worship" individuals, we can at best worship them as flawed heroes. This reading reduces the danger of hero worship; yet, because Aristotle did not acknowledge the possibility of being drawn toward exemplarity rather than individual exemplars (see later), exemplar methodology in Aristotle may still seem to smack of an overreliance on personal accomplishments, and a failure to acknowledge the essential fallibility of even the best of individual sages, gurus, or mentors.
John Stuart Mill
Mill's treatise On Liberty (1859/1972) is a masterpiece of philosophical writing--whether or not one buys into its core message--and Chapter 3 on "individuality" is perhaps its most precious gem. This chapter is about the moral value of great individuals (geniuses, spearheads, and trailblazers) for the progress of mankind. Although the argument is not explicitly about moral heroes qua exemplars, but rather about their more general value for utility in the widest sense, there is no doubt that Mill wanted us to take our cue from them in our self-directed moral learning. Mill's chief complaint is about the "despotism of custom" that maims modern society "like a Chinese lady's foot" (p. 127). The value of individual originality and individual precedent is "hardly recognized by the common modes of thinking as having any intrinsic worth" (p. 115): an oversight that is dragging society into the swamp of "collective mediocrity" (p. 124). What has been forgotten is that "nothing was ever yet done which some one was not the first to do, and that all good things which exist are the fruits of originality" (p. 123).
Who are these trailblazers whose legacy tends to be forgotten? Mill thinks these are few and far between; however they are "the salt of the earth" without which "human life would become a stagnant pool." More specifically, the people he is referring to are geniuses of wisdom, truth, and learning, "persons of genius" who "are, ex vi termini, more individual than any other people" (1972, p. 122). They may look unorthodox, even eccentric, to others, but the apparent eccentricity is nothing but a cloak of geniality that some of the masses fail to see through. However, the "honor and glory of the average man is that he is capable of following that initiative" (p. 124). Mill, somewhat surprisingly, does not explore the possibility here that, rather than not acknowledging and following any exemplars, the "ordinary man" might be lured by cheap populists, masquerading as moral superstars. He is clearly more worried in this chapter about the tyranny of mediocrity than the worship of false prophets.
Is Mill guilty of uncritical hero worship in this chapter? He may seem to be taking some steps in that direction when his stylistic swagger gets the better of him and he starts to rhapsodize about "the stuff of which heroes are made" (1972, p. 118). But in other places he is quite clear that he is "not countenancing the sort of 'hero worship' which applauds the strong man of genius" for forcing his will by hook and by crook (p. 124). What counts as true geniality is informed by moral constraints; it is only such morally imbued geniality that the "average man" should see as his guiding light. The safety valve here is Mill's strict condition that no course of action be chosen except as a result of critical deliberation: "He who lets the world... choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation." Speaking metaphorically, our human nature "is not a machine to be built after a model [...] but a tree, which requires to grow and develop on all sides" (p. 117). Mill's saving grace is that what he is really celebrating is morally inspiring individuality rather than (great) individuals as such. He is not advocating the Nietzschean Ubermensch.
Reading Mill's chapter on individuality reminds us of the thin line between being inspired by the precedent of what Hiroike calls ortholinons versus simply suspending one's critical judgment and groveling at the feet of presumed exemplars. The latter course is a display of the sort of mediocrity against which Mill warns rather than an act of defiance against it.
A couple of decades after Mill, the great American pragmatist and psychologist William James wrote an animated article (1880) about the role of "great men" in shaping history. James's motivation is different from Mill's in that he is not so much interested in the moral mission of geniuses as in their more general contribution to the progress of mankind. The challenge that he takes on is to reconcile that contribution with the evolutionary theory of Darwin, which seems to offer a more mundane account of the slow evolutionary course of all natural beings. James fastens, however, on Darwin's concept of "spontaneous variation" and explains the legacy of great minds as shifting, rather than adapting to, environmental conditions.
James memorably compares the role of great exemplars to "ferments," changing the very constitution of the objects upon which they act. He gives examples of individual initiatives without which the course of history would have run in different--and arguably less propitious--directions: Queen Victoria, John Stuart Mill, Bismarck, etc., the fermentative influence of which we can only ignore at a cost to our understanding. Yet James is also acutely aware of the fact that not every person fits every hour, and that ferments require certain environmental conditions to be in place, in order for them to work. On the other hand, he is adamant in rejecting the sort of environmental determinism that he reads off from the sociological work of Herbert Spencer, according to which society remakes individuals before they can remake it. James accuses Spencer of conflating necessary and sufficient conditions. True, it is not sufficient to be a genius in order to work your magic on the course of history; your teachings must find a soil in which to grow. But no geographical environment can, by itself, produce a given type of mind; the true historical trailblazers have the necessary ingredients built into them to change history and to act as exemplars for others to follow.
Hiroike was well versed in the writings of both Mill and James and cited them repeatedly in his oeuvre. While there is no evidence of a direct influence of those writers upon Hiroike's account of the ortholinons, it is not difficult to detect some salient affinities. Yet Hiroike's (implicit) response to the problem of hero worship is more Platonic and Confucian than Millian or Jamesian, as we see shortly.
The great German poet and writer Brecht offers what many people consider to be a strong reductio argument against the great-individual theory of progress, in one of his best known poems: "A Worker Read History" (1947). Its message is so powerful that it is worth reproducing here in full:
Who built the seven gates of Thebes? The books are filled with names of kings. Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone? And Babylon, so many times destroyed. Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses, That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it? In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song. Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend The night the seas rushed in, The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves. Young Alexander conquered India. He alone? Caesar beat the Gauls. Was there not even a cook in his army? Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears? Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War. Who triumphed with him? Each page a victory At whose expense the victory ball? Every ten years a great man, Who paid the piper? So many particulars. So many questions.
The message from this poem is unambiguous--and very much in line with the Marxist orthodoxy to which Brecht subscribed. The great-individual theory commits the misstep of underestimating the amount of moral luck that the so-called "greats" need in order to prosper and be heard. For every great visionary whose call is heeded there are hundreds who simply do not have the wherewithal to get their message across. They have no cooks to prepare their meals, while they were pursuing their great ideals, and no pipers to blow the trumpets for them. Where would Jesus have been without John the Baptist, or Socrates without his wife who (albeit grudgingly) took care of the home while he conversed with the young of Athens on street corners? Although Brecht's poetic argument is not aimed directly at the standing of what Hiroike calls spiritual ortholinons, it does problematize any attempts to analyze moral learning essentially in terms of moral-exemplar methodology.
My earlier exposition of Hiroike's account of the ortholinons and their educational relevance may have left the impression that it is easily susceptible to the problem of hero worship. Not all is what it seems here, however. The best point of departure to explain Hiroke's putative position on this issue is through a comparison with Aristotle. Aristotle was what we could call a "people person." All his moral philosophy is about human associations in human societies. His approach is naturalistic and earthbound. Wary of the high-brow idealism of Plato, he believed that mortal beings should think mortal thoughts, and he took emulation to be about modeling on actual exemplars of flesh and blood rather than on high-minded ideals of the Platonic type. Recall that Hiroike names Socrates, Plato's mentor, as one of the spiritual ortholinons, rather than Aristotle. Another of the spiritual ortholinons is Confucius who also shared Plato's attraction to ideals. Despite his practical, no-nonsense approach to moral issues, Confucius's idea of the ultimate sources of moral value is about those residing in "Heaven" and the "Way" (see Kristjansson, 2017). Heaven (Tian) is an impersonal force ordering the universe, and a transcendent anchorage of morality. The Way (Dao), in turns, refers to the right way to live and guide our lives. So for Confucius, just as for Socrates/Plato, exemplar methodology in moral education is, ultimately, concerned with the modeling of exemplarity, rather than of particular exemplars, although the exemplarity happens to be instantiated in individual persons. The danger of hero worship is, therefore, in some sense preempted, for what is being worshiped is not the person as a representation of an ideal but, rather, what the person represents or stands for: a divine principle.
There is much more of Confucius and Plato in Hiroke's thought than of Aristotle: "Supreme morality in the context of moralogy is the morality of world sages practiced after comprehending the mind of the fundamental God in the universe" (Hiroike, 2002, I, p. 3). As Palencia-Roth (2010) explains well, Hiroike follows in the tradition of so-called Axial thinkers in seeing the whole of nature as the reflection of a divine mind or nous: an intelligible principle permeating the universe. Reverence of an ortholinon is but a stepping-stone to awe and wonder at the elemental, the universal, and the eternal (Palencia-Roth, 2010, pp. 19-20). Hiroike is not presupposing the existence of any particular god or gods, but he considers the acknowledgment of a divine power or force in the universe implicit in the teachings of all the spiritual ortholinons. The moral order found in them, as persons, reflects a moral order of the universe. Hence, even if they could be found wanting as persons in some respect, it does not diminish the power of the ideals they represent which, in the end, exist as ideals in "Heaven" (be it understood in a Confucian, Platonic, or monotheistic sense). In sum, although Hiroike does not explicitly address the problem of hero worship, he has got resources from Confucius and Plato to respond to it.
There is a fly in the ointment, however. Some explicit claims made by Hiroike seem to exacerbate, rather than alleviate, the problem of hero worship. Some of them are, indeed, so far removed from current sensibilities that one might be tempted to treat them in the same way as contemporary Aristotelians tend to write off Aristotle's claims about the natural inferiorities of women, laborers, and slaves--namely as anomalies that can be ignored with impunity. Palencia-Roth (2008, p. 17) considers Hiroike's position here "problematic" enough to suggest a possible "modernization" to make it more palatable. The claims I am referring to concern the demand for "absolute obedience" (Hiroike, 2002, III, p. 91) to the ortholinons who, in different senses, constitute the venerable "parents" of our nation, our minds, or bodies, and our material lives (Hiroike, 2002, II, pp. 229-230). Ever since Locke's famous question in Section 229 of his Second Treatise of Government (1690), and his animated answer to it, of whether people should accept being exposed to the boundless will of tyranny, or whether rulers should be liable to opposition when they grow exorbitant in the use of destructive power, the right to oppose any immoral authority has been ingrained in the mind-set of Westerners. If Hiroike's absolute-obedience demand is thought to be a relic of an Eastern, Confucian mind-set, however, it bears recalling that even for Confucius, loyalty to what Hiroike would call national ortholinons is ultimately owed to the principles and dictates of Heaven, and if a ruler acts in ways that flatly contradict those principles, he can be overthrown with reference to those very principles (Palencia-Roth, 2008, p. 15). Such a move toward transcendent principles is, indeed, characteristic of the strengths of Confucianism in obviating hero worship, as noted above.
So how can we explain this apparent aberration by Hiroike with respect to both Western and Eastern philosophies? I think the reason may be not that he is succumbing to uncritical hero worship, but rather that he has an unreasonable belief--bordering on naivety--in the powers of rational persuasion. In fact, Hiroike does not shirk from the possibility of ortholinons turning bad. In "such extreme cases," as he calls them, "supreme morality advises the subjects to help another with sincerity, and to make efforts to enlighten... the minds of their superiors in the light of supreme morality " (2002, II, p. 329). More specifically, remonstrating with lapsed superiors is not only compatible with the ortholinon principle, but is a "splendid virtuous deed conforming to the mind of God" (2002, III, p. 94). Hiroike seems convinced that such "deeds of sincerity" will placate the mind of a wayward ortholinon and turn it back into a virtuous mode (2002, III, p. 93). Sunny optimism this may be, but at least Hiroike is in good company here, for he seems basically to be echoing the Socratic mantra that no rational agent commits wicked acts willingly. Eventually, however, Hiroike is ready to die, just like Socrates, rather than disobeying the judgment of authority.
THE PROBLEM OF INERTIA
In this section, I explore the problem of inertia (with respect to exemplars considered too perfect to emulate), and how this is dealt with in two recent works about the power of exemplar methodology. I end by inquiring how well Hiroike is equipped to address this problem.
David Brooks's The Road to Character (2015) is, in my view, a work that fascinates and frustrates in equal measure. While written for a general readership, and finding itself on self-help shelves in bookstores, the work gets off to a solid start with conceptualizations that are academically meaty as well as practically salient. Brooks makes a distinction--essentially coinciding with that often made between moral virtues and so-called performance virtues (Kristjansson, 2015, Ch. 1)--between what he calls "resume virtues" and "eulogy virtues." The former are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market, and that contribute to external success. The latter, however, are the deeper virtues that "get talked about at your funeral " and that "exist at the core of your being--whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful" (Brooks, 2015, p. ix). Brooks then argues that we live in an age that encourages us to nourish the resume virtues but neglect the eulogy ones, hence making us inarticulate about how to cultivate a moral life. He writes about this distinction with consummate skill and panache at the outset of his book.
Brooks's attention then turns to exemplar methodology. "Example is the best teacher," he observes, with moral improvement occurring most readily "when the heart is warmed, when we come into contact with people we admire and love," bending our lives to "mimic theirs" (2015, p. xiii). The rest of this big book is devoted to analyses of the lives of exemplars--some historically famous but others from humble settings--who have demonstrated "spiritual heroism" (p. 75). Brooks's caveat in the Introduction, that none of the exemplars chosen "is even close to perfect" (p. xiv), may seem like an important one in preempting moral inertia in readers. However, this caveat is easily forgotten as we read through the book, for while the protagonists have all lived through internal struggles, they seem to have emerged from those as pretty close to perfect. As Brooks describes them, they "possess an impressive inner cohesion" instead of "leading fragmented, scattershot lives." They have achieved "inner integration," being "calm, settled, and rooted." They "are not blown off course by storms." They are "like marble," and do not "crumble in adversity," or "in fright," but maintain their composure in all circumstances, and they are incredibility tolerant of "the flawed people around them" (pp. xiv, 111, 117, 128).
How does a person reach such splendid heights? Brooks presents a "pattern" of development that can lead people toward this state of moral marble-dom. His exemplars have all descended "into a valley of adversity" first, a scary underworld, exposing them to make-or-break crucible moments of moral crisis and confrontation (being "tossed to and fro")--only to have been lifted out of this valley ultimately and reborn to a state of redemption and growth (pp. 13-14, 191). In this new altered state, they have overcome sin through grace--not necessarily although often in a Christian sense--but always in a way in which suffering gives way to integration, at a distinct "turning point," through the dramatic workings of some "greater design" (pp. 77, 89, 93, 164, 207, 265-266).
The pattern that Brooks is presenting here is a familiar one of the cycle of fall, self-estrangement, and redemption, found in a number of Western religions, but also in essentially non-religious ideologies such as Platonism, Rousseau's primitivism, Marxism, and Surrealism (Kristjansson, 2002, Ch. 6). It is beyond the scope of the present article to critique this pattern from an alternative, non-cyclic theoretical perspective (such as Aristotle's). I can only gesture here at the way in which thinking in terms of this pattern may be inimical to moral development. Firstly, whereas dramatic epiphanic moral conversions, or so-called Damascus experiences, undoubtedly do exist, they are not common, and they are definitely not the stuff out of which ordinary moral progress is made (Kristjansson, 2019). Not everyone needs to bend toward breaking point before turning straight. Brooks himself hints at an alternative route, in the case of someone like Montaigne who "had such a genial nature" that he could perhaps "be shaped through gentle observation." However, he thinks that most of us "will end up mediocre and self-forgiving if we try to do that" (2015, p. 234). In contrast, I recommend the Aristotelian tradition--represented in Brooks's book by George Eliot--of being "a meliorist and a gradualist" about moral development, believing that people and societies are best reformed by "slow stretching, not by sudden rupture" (p. 160). Analogously, I think the young soccer player should be taught to model herself on the "hero" of the local village team before she begins to aspire to playing like Messi--and I worry that the latter route may produce inertia. Secondly, another way the fall-redemption model may be conducive to inertia is through the assumption that one needs to hit rock bottom before one begins to climb up again. Just like an alcoholic believing in this developmental model may delay entering rehab by conveniently moving the presumed "bottom," which she needs to hit first, ever further down, so the young moral learner may be discouraged from continuing to make slow, laborious progress by the anticipation that a "turning point, " where struggles are transcended through some sort of a mysterious gestalt-switch, is awaiting around the corner. Not feeling fragmented and torn before the "big event" will, then, be seen as a sign of self-suppression and immaturity rather than of self-harmony and maturity.
All in all, while there is much to admire in the early parts of Brooks's book, I fear that, through committing a misstep in its basic moral psychology, it perpetuates the problem of moral inertia by painting an idealized, rarefied picture of the exemplars' roads to exemplarity, a picture that can easily turn young moral learners off rather than drawing them in.
Bill Damon and Anne Colby
Damon and Colby's thought-provoking book, The Power of Ideals (2015), about "exemplar methodology" (p. xv), is written from a higher academic level than Brooks's, although also easily accessible for an intellectually minded nonexpert. It engages with this methodology through a close study of the lives of six 20th century world leaders who have reacted to significant life and world events in ways that reflect moral awareness and intention, with special focus on manifestations of the virtues of truthfulness, humility, and faithfulness. While sometimes succumbing to language eerily reminiscent of Brooks's, about exemplars "at the highest level of genius" (Damon & Colby, 2015, p. 10) performing actions that are "nothing short of astonishing" (p. 32), and "almost saintly" (p. 37), such phrases constitute mere rhetorical flourishes in a book that constantly reminds readers of the ambiguities and ambivalences of goodness, and of how high degrees of moral virtue may be compatible with ongoing human frailties and mistakes (p. xvi). Refusing to "float on clouds of naive idealism" (p. xix), Damon and Colby realize that the very fact of "how thoroughly human" their exemplars are provides us with the possibility of learning from them (p. xvii), without falling prey to inertia. About one of their exemplars they characteristically muse that he "sought absolute honesty about his own limitations, errors, and failings" (p. 45), and they even define "humility" in terms of awareness of one's (noneliminable) limitations (p. 145).
The strength of Damon and Colby's formidable study lies precisely in the realism of their moral psychology: a psychology that recognizes the value of learning from real-world cases of the display of moral qualities, as "essential for inspiring and supporting people's efforts to strengthen those qualities" (2015, p. 30). Exemplar methodology is not about identifying the extraordinary for the sake of reifying and idolizing it, but rather for showing how it provides examples of what is feasible and possible in ordinary human development (p. 30). More specifically, Damon and Colby illustrate how individuals can, to a certain extent, choose the social contexts in which they live and develop--and also choose what they do with those contexts. They highlight the importance and power of "highly conscious reflection" (p. 49) about moral issues, and how such reflection crystallizes the nature of "moral agency" (p. 65). Their argumentation has a second dimension to it, in addition to illuminating exemplar methodology. They also offer their account of moral, self-aware, reflective agency as an antidote to recently fashionable "social-intuitionist" theories in moral psychology which posit the powerlessness of reason to do anything more than give lame post hoc rationalizations of decisions that our brains have already taken, based on our innate emotional make-up and the situational forces that toss and turn us around (pp. 79-80). Their book works admirably on both levels: the anti-social-intuitionist one, and the level of an uplifting but nonidealized exercise in exemplar methodology.
Damon and Colby's book comes closest of any work I have read to explaining how the methodology of moral exemplarism can work without instilling in students a debilitating sense of their own relative moral imperfections--and thus without running the danger of potentially triggering inertia in them.
Moral progress in Hiroike's moralogy--the progress of perfecting oneself and becoming more like the ortholinons--is a trajectory toward radical self-transcendence in the sense that one learns to set the needs of the self and its web of egocentric interests completely aside and act out of pure respect for the divine principles embodied in the ortholinons. "Supreme morality" thus places higher demands on the agent than "ordinary morality"--say, of the Aristotelian virtue ethical kind--for although ordinary morality also demands self-transcendence in the sense of transcending the interests of the bounded self--the small but fat ego--it still specifies the goal of morality in terms of the agent's own flourishing alongside the flourishing of others (Hiroike, 2002, III, p. 120).
Because there is little developmental psychology in Hiroike's works, it is not entirely clear how this trajectory away from egocentricity ideally takes place within a person's psyche. From what we can divine from the details of Hiroike's own progression, however, his views on the matter may have been more similar to those of Brooks than of Damon and Colby. Hiroike describes his own attitude of hubris as a young man, suddenly wiped out as he sank to the depths of physical illness in 1912, leaving him in great mental despair. But this life-changing challenge became a turning point, as he mobilized his energies and began a new journey toward spiritual peace and enlightenment. Moralogy was the very result of his conversion experience (Palencia-Roth, 2008, pp. 20-21).
Palencia-Roth (2008) explains in some detail how Hiroike's experiences here model those of many of the great thinkers of the past, such as St. Augustine and St. Paul, whose spiritual trajectories followed the same fall-redemption pattern, from psychomachia (battle within the soul) to enantidromia (radical turning away in the opposite direction). We are left wondering whether such a battle needs to be waged within everyone's soul before they can see the light. Although Hiroike does not say so explicitly, the extreme demandingness of the calling of moralogy--its radical self-denial--may indicate that the psychological battlefield of moralogy is one in which it must not only "rain" but "pour" for a dramatic change of positioning to occur. If that is his idea, however, I am not sure it can be accepted without cost to our understanding of what constitutes slow and incremental moral progress--the bread and butter of all moral education. Moreover, we are then hit by a double onslaught of the inertia problem. Not only do paragons of moral virtue appear uniquely superhuman and beyond reach, the demands of morality itself become so taxing that a great many people with their hearts in the right places will be turned away from them--as has happened with some demanding forms of consequentialism, which deny us the moral right to privilege the interests of our loved ones in any way over those of strangers in cases of moral conflict (Scheffler, 1994).
Hiroike's moralogy in general, and his principle of ortholinons in particular, offer a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of moral exemplars in moral education--or to what is nowadays referred to as "exemplar methodology." He even hints at an account, anticipating Zagzebski's moral exemplarism (2013), according to which moral truths cannot be fully understood in isolation from the embodied forms they take in the lives of ortholinons. Yet, in response to the problem of mere hero worship, Hiroike can draw on Confucian and Socratic repertoires, according to which the ultimate sources of those truths are transpersonal, and what is ideally being "worshiped" is not a hero but the hero's heroism in representing divine truths. Parrying the inertia problem is a taller order for moralogy, both because of the extreme psycho-moral demands of the theory, and the implicit assumption that a dramatic conversion experience may be required for one to be set on the course of moral enlightenment.
Whatever the pros and cons of moralogy are in meeting problems that typically bedevil exemplar methodology, moral educators should take notice of a moral theory that foregrounds the cultivation of minds and the perfection of character as essential ingredients in the theory itself, rather than just as additional extras. This is especially true in the modern climate, in which moral and educational theorizing often seem to run on parallel tracks without much direct interaction. Of particular contemporary appositeness is the highlighting of gratitude and of returning favors to benefactors. The recent surge of interest in gratitude as a psycho-moral value (Gulliford, Morgan, & Kristjansson, 2013) is often theoretically undernourished. Moralogy grounds this value in a system of moral reciprocity and interdependence. In general, moralogy offers rich resources for moral educators with a penchant for high-minded ideals.
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University of Birmingham
* Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Kristjan Kristjansson, email@example.com
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|Publication:||Journal of Character Education|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2019|
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