Some Thoughts on Good and Virtue

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote a post, and this is not a beginning of regular posting again. I’ve started my PhD program and between work, family, and study I’m incredibly busy. However, I do need a place to write down some thoughts and simply get things in print (rough ideas and drafts if you will) and this is as good as any.

This evening I was grading a paper on Thomas Aquinas’ connection between virtue and natural law and some questions a student raised got me thinking. The students critique of Aquinas was that he provided no clear way to begin the process of growing in virtue, and that he saw the law–and specifically punishment under the law–as somehow leading to virtue. This is a common critique of both Aquinas and Aristotle. With Aristotle’s work I happen to think that it is a valid critique, but Aquinas provides a meaningful and in depth answer to it. Aquinas’ answer, found spread across Summa Theologica Volume 2 questions 49 (A1), 51 (A2), 52 (A1-3), 61 (A5), and 63 (A2) is complex. He argues that virtue is a habit, and thus a virtue (the origin of which is natural) is increased by consistent practice. As a quick picture, Aquinas’ conception of a vice-virtue relationship can be imagined as a spiral. The center of the spiral is the ‘seed’ or ‘null point’ where one is perfectly between virtue and vice. The bottom end of the spiral is perfect vice and the top end of the spiral is perfect virtue. The spiral itself represents two contrasting habits of action (i.e. courage vs. cowardice) and one moves along the spiral in either direction by performing consistent actions of X kind (courageous actions move one up the spiral while cowardly actions move one down the spiral).

However, Aquinas also sets out four levels of virtue. For our purposes here only the first level matters. The first level of virtue is ‘social virtue’ in which I engage in virtuous actions because they bring desirable consequences in this world. Now, Aquinas here distinguishes between that which is truly desirable and that which merely seems desirable. So, there is an objective good that is truly desirable, and virtuous action leads me to it (or goods/them if you prefer). Thus, the social virtue is effectively egoistic: I do what is virtuous because I realize that it is the best way to achieve what is truly desirable in the world. Punishment can instill this level of virtue in men precisely because avoiding harsh punishment is an actual good in this world. It is truly desirable to stay out of prison, and thus I act in ways that keep me out of prison. However, the brilliant part of this is that Aquinas connects an egoistic good (good for me) with a social good (good for others) with an objective reality (good in actuality). Thus, what is truly good for me is also truly good for others because it actually reflects a real, objective good.

Plato makes the same move in his metaphysics in books 4-7 of Republic. He argues that that which is good for the city is inevitably good for the individual, and this is so because it actually images the form of the good. Interestingly, though, while it shouldn’t surprise us that Aristotle and Aquinas follow Plato in this, Thomas Hobbes and Ayn Rand also make the same move. Hobbes argues that individuals should submit to a government because it maintains a social good that is in everyone’s best interest. For Hobbes, avoiding a state of nature is the ultimate and actual good (i.e. good reality) and he connects this to both a social good and an individual good in founding his social contract theory. However, while Plato et al essentially argue that what is good for me is good for society as well because it is good in reality, Hobbes effectively argues that what is good in reality is good for society because it is good for me. Ayn Rand follows similar in her argument for objective self-interest. Rand argues that we should all do what is in our objective self-interest, but she believes that if everyone actually does what is in their own best interests then it will inevitably be good for society because having a stable society is in everyone’s best interests. Thus, Rand argues that what is actually good for me is also good for society. This line of reasoning is similar to that of Plato et al in some important ways, but is also effectively inverted.

End of Regular Posting

Well, I know it’s been a while since the last post went up (about two weeks actually). I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a week now and I’ve just been two busy/stressed/not wanting to do it to actually get it done. As many of you have probably guessed, most of us here at the blog have gotten extremely busy over the past year. Paul is busy advertising his new book (see more on that below), Tom is very focused on his own writing, Selanya and I are both starting Ph.D. programs, Alayna and I have a new baby, Sam recently(ish) started a new job, etc.

On top of this, it’s been over a year since I’ve done any serious fiction writing, and I know that some of the others can say the same. Between the stress of busy and changing lives, shifting interests, and new pursuits we are all feeling tapped out. What started off as a fun and engaging way to build and contribute to a community of authors has become a chore that many of us dread, and this means both that we aren’t as focused on what we are actually doing as we should be, and that we aren’t giving all of you good or consistent material. As such, we have made the decision to end regular posting on the blog. I will (for a time at least) keep it open for people to post if they wish, and I may eventually revamp the blog to emphasize my new interests and focus. However, what this means for all of you is that there won’t be regular writing exercises, advice, or stories going up. This blog has been running for five years, and over that time I like to think that we’ve given all of you a lot of good material and advice to work with, but all human things must come to an end.

That being said, back in November of last year I promised Paul that I would write a review of his new book Drowning the Sands of G’Desh, which is intended to be the first of a series of novels. With everything going on I haven’t had the time or energy to do a full review of the book, but I do want to write something for him. So, given what I’ve read (something like half of the novel) and skimmed (somewhat more than that), Paul has a strong world and an interesting story. Now, this is his first novel, and you should expect that. The book doesn’t have the polish that you would expect from a more experienced writer, and there are some things that stick out quite a bit. So, if you’re looking to replace George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series on your reading list, Paul’s book probably isn’t what you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a new author who has an interesting take on the fantasy genre and are willing to read through some rough edges, then I can suggest picking up his novel (available from Abbott Press here). A further brief review and clarification below:

Story and Plot Development:

Paul’s story is fairly interesting. I’m not going to give you the details of his plot (no spoilers), but you can expect a generally well-thought out story that makes sense and is not difficult to follow.


Paul’s characters are interesting, but they suffer from some of the general issues that you might expect in a new writer. Some of his main characters are underdeveloped while others suffer from the ‘super-hero’ complex in that the main difficult the character faces is resentment from others because the character is just so darn good at everything. That being said, even with these issues it’s not difficult to get involved in the characters and they serve as a driving impetus in the novel as a whole.

World Building and Originality:

Paul’s world-building is, I think, one of the strongest points of the novel. First of all, expect unoriginal names. While Paul’s world itself is a strong and well-developed Middle-Eastern Fantasy setting, the names he gives to races, cities, nations, etc tend to be fairly generic. However, the unoriginal names mask a very original setting and world, which I fully appreciate. My suggestion to readers is to just let the names be what they are and enjoy the depth of the setting.

Structure and Pacing:

Paul’s novel follows the story of several main characters and he tends to write each character a chapter at a time. This is not an uncommon technique, but it can be difficult to pace a novel well in this style, and Paul’s novel is no exception. In some chapters the pacing is very strong, but some chapters seem hurried and other chapters seem slow. Again, with the structure that Paul is using this shouldn’t be surprising and I could make the same comment about several of Timothy Zhan’s Star Wars novels. That being said, you will probably have some characters that you like better than others, and you very well may be tempted to just skip ahead to the next chapter that character is in. Don’t.

Style and Form:

Paul’s writing style is somewhat rough, again as you would expect from an author’s first novel, but it is pleasant and easy to read. His form needs work in places and the novel as a whole would benefit from more thorough editing. However, as far as I know Paul did all of the editing on this novel himself, and given that what you see is the work of one editor/author it is quite well done.

Overall Quality:

So, my conclusion for you is this: if you’re looking for a top-end author to replace someone like David Eddings, George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, etc on your reading list, then Paul’s novel probably isn’t what you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a fun, quick, easy to read novel that is interesting despite its rough edges, then I recommend picking up Drowning the Sands of G’Desh.


Story Challenge of the Week

Okay, again, apologies that this post is going up late. However, I do a plot challenge for you today. I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to develop a part of your world based on what you see. It should be a setting that is believable in your world, and that has potential for stories in it. Here’s you’re picture:

abstract cars funny fantasy art artwork 3d demon 1618x1213 wallpaper_www.wallpaperswa.com_80

Plot Challenge of the Week

We are very tired. Actually, between work, trying to read, the gym, taking care of Tobin and Alayna, and the sleep study, I am flat out exhausted. However, I have a plot challenge for you. Last week I asked you to develop a metanarrative for a story: the broad, overarching details and plot. One of the major things I asked you to do is figure out what the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story are. This week, I want you to narrow your focus. I want you to choose two of those three points (i.e. beginning and middle or middle and end–not beginning and end) and figure out how the story gets from Point A to Point B. You want to treat this in the same way that you did the metanarrative–just narrower. So, if you choose the beginning and middle, then the beginning is still the beginning, but the middle is the new end of this portion of the narrative, and you need a new middle or middles. Some questions to consider:

  1. What settings are significant for this section of the story? Does it all happen in one place or are multiple settings important? Perhaps characters are traveling?
  2. What needs to change to move the story along? Perhaps a house burns down? A civil war begins? Someone gets fired? Perhaps multiple things need to happen.
  3. Who are the important characters for this part of the story? What new minor supporting characters are necessary? How much of a backstory do they need to have? Consider that none of your characters should simply be flat. Even if a character is just a bartender who appears in two scenes, you should have some idea of who he/she is and what his/her life story is.
  4. How do you major characters need to change between the Point A and Point B and what is going to motivate this change? If you want a masterful example of masterful character development over the course of a novel read Glen Cook’s Shadow’s Linger and pay attention to the character Marron Shed.
  5. What needs to happen to set the stage for the next part of the story? Remember that, once you get down under the metanarrative you’re dealing with parts of an interwoven whole. So, what connects this part of your story to the parts that come before and after it? What needs to happen in this part that either ends story-lines from the last part, or opens story-lines for the next part?

Scene Challenge of the Week

Well, it turns out that when very, very young kids develop bad habits (which they do very quickly), it can be very difficult to break them. We’re working on teaching Tobin that he doesn’t actually need to nurse in order to go to sleep, even though he’s convinced that he does. Eventually we’re going to have to teach him that he can go to sleep on his own, without one of us holding him, but I have a feeling that it’s going to work better if we deal with one thing at a time. Trying to handle everything at once is probably going to be a nightmare. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you. You all should know the rules, but just in case: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your Challenge: write me a scene of at least 300 and no more than 1500 words that effectively expresses your preferred approach to parenting. This could be a specific parenting theory (like Tiger Momming, Attachment Parenting, Free Range Parenting, etc), or it could be a view espoused by some acclaimed expert (like James Dobson or Dr. Spock). This is not to be an essay about your position, nor is it to be a character simply presenting your position in monologue. I want your scene to be vivid, dynamic, and meaningful, but also to give the reader a clear sense of your opinion on the event/issue about which you chose to write. Express your opinion through the way you set your scene, the setting that you choose, the situation in which your character’s find themselves, and the way they interact with one another both verbally and, more importantly, non-verbally. Have fun!

Story Challenge of the Week

Okay, I do have a story challenge for you, and it’s time for my favorite story challenge. I’m going to give you a series of criteria including genre, theme, some character archetypes, etc. Your job is to write a story that includes all of the features required in the challenge. If you intend to post it here, please keep it short. However, the complexity of this challenge often requires a longer story.

Theme: Wisdom

Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Modern Fiction

Setting: Your setting for this story is very open. I cannot be a Science Fiction setting, and like last time it must be a practical setting (i.e. a setting in which the characters actually need to make wise decisions). However, other than this you can do what you please.

Character Archetypes:

1) The Angry Dwarf

2) The Mystic

3) The Bandit

4) The Naive Pilgrim


1) A seashell

2) A sword

3) A book of high literature

I’m a Father Part 3

So, we’re slowly adjusting to having a baby. My apologies that my week of posts hasn’t been about anything other than my home life, but at the moment that’s what matters most and everything else is revolving around that. I’ve managed to get back to the gym a couple of times, and I’ve gotten some reading done as well. Alayna is fantastic at taking care of Tobin during the nights without waking me up, and that has been a massive blessing for me. So far this week she’s only needed to wake me up a couple of times when something was going on with Tobin in the middle of the night.

He himself is cute as a button and growing. He’s getting used to home life pretty quickly, and we’ve even started taking him out every now and then (for instance, we’re going to church this morning). However, sometimes he’s not a fan of excursions. However, even then he handles them very well. Yesterday we went to lunch with my parents and Tobin lay quietly in his car seat just staring at me with a look that said, ‘I don’t know where I am, and I don’t like it, but I’ll be okay’ until I took him out and cuddled him for a while.

I’m hoping that by Monday I’ll be able to work reading back into my schedule, and then sometime in the next week or two Chinese will work back in. Overall, Tobin’s birth has been a huge blessing, and I’ve actually been surprised at how much it’s drawn Alayna and I closer together both emotionally and spiritually. The most significant difference, I think, has simply been the shift in perspective for both of us concerning what’s important and what’s worth getting upset about.

I’ve found that it’s also pushed my idea of priorities as well. Things that I was very worried and stressed about before Tobin was born (like some papers that were out to journals) just aren’t that important anymore. It’s not that they don’t matter, but I don’t feel like any part of my worth depends on them, and that is a good thing. I’m also recognizing that, while publication is important for my career, there are things that are much more important than my career, and while I knew that before, I’m not sure that I consistently acted like it was true. Hopefully I’ll do better about that in the future.

Plot Challenge of the Week

So, I honestly think that Alayna and I have been blessed with a dream baby. I struggle to think of something that you would want in a baby that our child isn’t: he is alert (very alert actually and interested in his surroundings), he is exceedingly calm (the only times he fusses at all are when he’s either really hungry or being changed… healing circumcisions will do that), he started nursing almost immediately, he is healthy, nurses well, poops well, etc, he sleeps very well, and he’s cute as a button to top it all off. Anyway, it’s time for a plot challenge. Many of you have probably done this challenge before, so I hope you have fun with it! This week’s post and next week’s post are going to go together. This week I want you to put together a general metanarrative for your story. You’ll need to figure out the following:

  1. Your genre: is this story a fantasy, sci-fi, urban fantasy, spy fiction, mystery, modern adventure, etc?
  2. Your theme: what ideas do you want to explore? Politics, relationship, metaphysics, criminal psychology, theological questions, mystical questions, etc?
  3. Your major setting: what nation, country, locale, village, apartment building, etc is your story set in? Consider that some novels/movies/etc have taken place in elevators… literally, the entire story… in an elevator. Others take place over an entire galaxy.
  4. Your main characters: who is your protagonist? Is he a hero, an anti-hero, a villain, something else? Who is your antagonist? What is his plan and purpose?
  5. Your major supporting characters: who is your protagonist close to? Your antagonist? What major people will help shape the story?
  6. Growth: how will your main characters/world grow over the course of the story? What is the beginning? The middle? The end? Pick out three specific, major events that you want to be the landmarks of your story.

I’m a Father Part 2

Okay, this is going to be another short post. Alayna, the baby, and I are all home. As you know if you’ve been reading for a while, Alayna and I use pseudonyms on here, and I’m sure that we’ll use one for the baby as well, but we haven’t talked about what that will be yet. So, for know he’s still just ‘the baby.’ He’s cute as can be, and he’s very calm and well-behaved. He likes to walk, and so when he does get fussy generally walking him around will calm him down very quickly. That being said, he rarely gets fussy unless he’s hungry, wet, or very lonely/bored. Honestly, with a Ph.D. program coming up, this has been a huge blessing!

I can’t quite explain how this little guy has affected me except to say that nothing else seems to matter quite as much as it did before he was born. I’m still looking forward to the Ph.D. program, hoping to get published, loving the new computer, struggling with the diet/exercise program and the sleep therapy, etc. None of the important things in my life have changed… but at the same time all of them have changed. The baby has given me a little perspective (which was probably desperately needed) about what is most important. Reading, writing, teaching, publishing, the blog, etc are still important to me. I see value in all of them, and I hope to be used to advance God’s will in the world through all of them, but he matters more (well, not more than God, but more than all of the stuff I just mentioned).

I’ve read about how new parents take one look into their child’s face and ‘know’ that they will do anything for that child. Honestly, I always wondered if this wasn’t exaggerated some, and at the moment I’m sure that it probably is–but when I look into the baby’s face I know that I’ll do anything to help him know the father and grow up to live a life worth living, and even if he doesn’t, I know that I’ll love him and do my best to help him be better anyway. I’m not really sure how else to say it– Alayna says that he already has me wrapped around his little finger, which is probably true.

Scene Challenge of the Week

Well, momma and baby are both still doing fine. Everything thus far is progressing smoothly and our son is a remarkably unfussy child. He generally seems content with life. However, still in the hospital and still getting used to the whole parenting thing, so: I have a scene challenge for you and you all should know the rules, but just in case: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your Challenge: I want you to write a scene using sentences of six words or less. The goal of this exercise is to develop a comfort with short, staccato bursts that get straight to the point. This isn’t a style that everyone uses, though some rather well known authors have, but it can be as helpful to have in your repertoire as the long, florid style that we practice using the 150 word sentence challenges. So, your scene should be at least 300 words, preferably somewhat longer, and it should be entirely of sentences that are six words or less. Here’s you’re prompt: “The head just popped out…”