This week’s DYK was written by a prominent professor with long-term sobriety: There was another reason for Bill Wilson’s hostility toward the Four Absolutes (Love, Honesty, Purity, and Unselfishness) and the kind of rule-based either, or morality which they represented. On page 65 of the Big Book, in his sample fourth step, we see those mysterious words in the third column: sex relations, self-esteem, security, and personal relationships. In his chapter on the fourth step in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill explained more clearly why he put them there. All human beings, he pointed out, have certain kinds of natural drives and instincts, which are not at all evil in and of themselves. We have an instinct for survival, which motivates us to obtain food, clothes, and a warm place to sleep. We have a social instinct, a natural drive for banding together with other human beings, where we desire respect from other members of the group, and a role within the structure of the group. The human race would not last more than a generation without sexual desire. Since sex also plays an important role in the formation of family bonds and other social structures, it is also strongly linked with our social instinct.
It is resentment and fear, the Big Book says, which keep us from living happy and serene lives. Bill observed that if we attempt to regulate natural instincts by drawing up complicated sets of moral rules they are not at all useful in dealing with the real culprit’s; resentment and fear. First of all, the question of whether someone had, or had not, broken one of the legalistic moral rules did not in fact put us in any kind of contact with the real factors that were causing the problem. So he replaced the idea of an ethical system based on following legalistic rules with the idea of an ethical system more like the one which the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle laid out in his Nicomachean Ethics. In that work, Aristotle explained on philosophical grounds the impossibility of setting up rules, or moral laws that adequately defined virtuous behavior. It was, however, easy to describe extremely bad behavior, and to explain why bad behavior was so destructive. The reason why virtuous behavior was so difficult to define was because it was in fact the middle point between two extremes of undesirable behavior. The formula which we therefore needed to follow in describing ethical behavior was quite simple in terms of its basic principle: in order to lead the good life we should seek the Golden Mean, the balance point between those two extremes.
Aristotle used the virtue of courage as one of his examples. It was impossible to design a set of rules, whereby following them would automatically make a person courageous. If only it were so simple and easy! We could however say that courage was the mean (middle or balance point) between two extremes: cowardice and foolhardiness. In a life and death situation, cowards let their fear drive them into doing things which made it more likely they would be killed. They either totally froze with fear or they turned and tried to run away in a situation where their only possible hope of survival was to stand and fight. At the other extreme, foolhardy people dove into situations which any rational person could see were too dangerous to attempt. Just in order to show off to other people of for some other equally foolish motive. Among the ancient Greeks the word virtue, arete’, was derived from the word Ares, which was the name they gave to the god of war. So virtue originally referred to the kinds of qualities which made a good warrior, a man who fought in combat that was presided over by the fierce god of battle. To be continued…
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