Saturday, April 05, 2003

More on Manliness

Loyal reader, Mike Daley, wrote in to express some ambivalence about Mansfield's nuanced discussion of manliness (originally mentioned below) which Daley takes to be straightforwardly defined as "responsibility." Daley also expressed some hope that the issues Mansfield raises can be resolved by thoughtful people. Here is my reply to Daley:

I think what Mansfield has in mind is the case of Socrates whom Plato presents as a somewhat strange, new kind of hero and rival to Achilles, the traditional manly man, the tough-guy warrior. Socrates appears to be much more effeminate than the traditional hero, although there may be important aspects of manliness and courage in the incessant questioning he practices which most people don't have the "heart" or courage for and find psychologically unsettling.

On a simpler level, if you think that thinking is good, then you have some problem with traditional manliness which at a certain point ceases "on the one hand... on the other hand......" and prefers simply to act. So Mansfield defends manliness; but he thinks it has some limitations, and, hence, defends it "modestly." (It is interesting that "modesty" is traditionally associated with women.)

You're right about one thing: manliness is usually fairly simple and straightforward. I suspect that it's actually the man in you that says that and defends it. Mostly, that's a noble and decent sentiment, especially when responsibility or simple duty is part of it. But being a human being in the fullest sense, above and beyond being a man or a woman, isn't always so simple. This is what Mansfield is responding to.

As for working these problems out and benefiting society, I'm sure some kind of return to traditional manliness (if it were possible) would be beneficial. But Mansfield is pointing to a larger, perennial human problem, when he alludes to philosophy, that probably doesn't admit of resolution.


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