Monday, 10 February 2014

Shaftesbury on the Good


He is reckoned to be a fine writer says Thomas Gray of Shaftesbury. To me that suggests a demurral and reading in his 'Characteristics' does not incline me to a contrary opinion. Moreover he does not gain a place in the authoritative collection of English Prose selected by William Peacock for the O.U.P. English Prose. Neither is he in the Everyman Anthology edited by S.L. Edwards. Fame has a momentum like a top or a celt that before it dies takes a contrary wobble. That may yet happen. I personally find a slackness in his style, a certain diffuseness which flattens his conclusions.

'Tis not the same with Goodness as with other Qualitys, which we may understand very well, and yet not possess. We may have an excellent ear in Musick, without being able to perform in any kind. We may judg well of Poetry, without being Poets, or possessing the least of a Poetick Vein: But we can have no tolerable Notion of Goodness, without being tolerably good.
(from Section V. Bk.1)

There is a languid understating quality about that 'tolerable' which erodes his intent which I take to be the Aristotelian maxim that the good man is the best judge of what the good is. An example of what Gray referred to as 'seeming always to mean more than he said' perhaps.

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