Wednesday, July 21, 2010

From the comments

BobinCt writes:
"Don Draper's core values are the same as Dick Whitman's because he is Dick Whitman"
"But his core values remained the same, because they were formed by the experience of growing up as Dick Whitman, you cannot separate the two."
That perfectly sums up the view I respect but disagree with. To say that Dick Whitman has core values that were formed by his upbringing is to insist that there is a part of us that is authentic; that is the realest part of us. If you believe authenticity is important—and lots of people do even though I don't—this is what you will assert. I disagree. I say that he used to be Dick Whitman he has become Don Draper. Sometimes he lapses but he stays focused on that end.

I highlight this because these issues sum up what this blog is about and what I am about. In most modern ethics—which is to say ethics since the Enlightenment—core values and our real identity are what matter. In classic virtue ethics what really matters is your ability to take on and fulfill a particular role. There is a lot more to it than that but that is enough for my purposes here.

We cannot, of course, simply choose to be other than we are—a point Matt Weiner understands and is well-illustrated in the show. Nor can we simply make up a role, we have to choose from the menu that the culture, history and, I would insist, God has presented us with. But we can choose a social role and grow into it. That is what makes Don Draper admirable even though he has serious failings.


  1. "In classic virtue ethics what really matters is your ability to take on and fulfill a particular role."

    I see people doing this every day in the course of my work, and I can tell you few people are able to pull it off, and even when they do its not pretty.

  2. By "not pretty" I mean it always catches up with them or finds expression in unhealthy ways. And then they say "Why me God?"

  3. "But we can choose a social role and grow into it. That is what makes Don Draper admirable even though he has serious failings."

    I agree with that, but Draper's major failing from which all his other failings emanate is his lack of honesty, with himself and with others. And this, my friend, is what--up to now--has made it impossible for him to grow into the social role he has chosen for himself. If God is the embodiment of Truth, then honesty is the most basic virtue upon which all other virtues rest, as I see it. So how can being less than honest with oneself and others be considered virtuous?

  4. Maybe you could phrase it like this: there are no "core" values; just values that you have to live up to.

    I'm reminded of Hauerwas's quote, "I start my classes by telling my students that I do not teach in a manner that is meant to help them make up their own minds. Instead, I tell them that I do not believe they have minds worth making up until they have been trained by me... I cannot imagine any teacher who is serious who would allow students to make up their own minds.”

  5. I've read Hauerwas, he and my grad school mentor are close friends so she assigned a lot of his work. She's nothing like him. I have to feel sorry for him if he really believes what he said in that quote. Its his loss.

  6. "just values that you have to live up to"

    Yes, I think everyone would agree with that.

  7. Yes, I think Hauerwas's quote is a very good was to put it.

    Hauerwas is one of those people on my very long list of mean-to-read-them-someday authors. Thanks jd for drawing my attention to this.

  8. I read an interview with him recently, I can't remember where, but he does not seem like a very nice person or a particularly happy person. I think he comes from a strict Protestant/Calvinist background and has gone back and forth between a few denominations. Next time I see my former mentor I will ask her what about Hauerwas appeals (or appealed) to her, she is so unlike how he presents himself in the interview I read, they're like polar opposites.

  9. "just values that you have to live up to"

    So, in other words Hauerwas believes it is up to him to tell his students what values they must have? Maybe you can do that when your students are in their 20s right out of undergrad school (I guess like the good old days). I went to grad school in my late-30s, many of my classmates were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, and had been successful in other professions. That approach would never have worked. Maybe that's why Hauerwas appeared so unhappy in that interview. The more I know about him the less moral credibility he has in my eyes, and I'll tell my former mentor (now friend) that when I see her.