cataloging

Chesterton on the 'modern world'

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive.

--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, III
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Posts from This Journal by “quotable things” Tag

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GK Chesterton wrote amusing fiction and very jolly poetry, but both his theology and his social commentary were very... culturally specific.

Truth should certainly be pitiless. The role of pity is filled by other things, such as good education and social policy to address the needs and situations that arouse pity. Some sorrows are unavoidable (every one of us will in the end lose everything and everyone that we love and value), but a lot of them are fixable with enough attention and commitment.
Given that he was writing before bioethics was an acknowledged field of study, I suspect he had a point about a lack of pity/basic human decency among a certain set of scientists. I wonder if perhaps it's the opposite nowadays, where Political Correctness makes it almost impossible to examine certain topics through the clear lens of scientific inquiry.

But the basic idea of virtues gone mad is the one that caught my attention; each age will of course have its own set of examples and prime culprits.
A good point, and would certainly apply to many experiments conducted before it became politically correct to recognise that skin colour was not a respectable ground for regarding some humans as not really human.

Virtues and vices are mostly just extremes of general qualities, I find. The trick is to establish socio-economic structures that encourage the behaviour that you want.