By Dr. John Nieto
Thomas Aquinas College
Tutor Talk (prepared text)
October 3, 2018


Let me begin by explaining the title of this talk. In each of his two works on ethics and the moral life, Aristotle makes comments early on about the importance of a “target” in the moral life. In his lesser known Eudemian Ethics he says: “Everyone able to live according to his own choice must set up a target for living beautifully—either honor or glory or wealth or education, looking toward which he will perform all his actions, since not to order life to one end is a sign of great imprudence.”


Dr. John Nieto

Dr. John NietoHere Aristotle proposes a number of targets upon which people set their sights in life. Each of these things —honor, glory, wealth, education—seems to some constitute the good life and therefore, as I translated Aristotle, a beautiful life. In Greek these concepts, good and beautiful, come together under one name, as I will presently explain. But, as I will argue, this target has its power principally as it directs us toward something we experience as beautiful, in Greek kalos. We incline to it more as beautiful than as good.

Now, I am claiming here that the word “cool” names a certain target for the good life and for living beautifully. Many desire and even strive to be cool. They fear not being cool and perform many, perhaps most, of their actions, looking toward this target. Immediately two examples of cool come to mind—James Dean and James Bond. There may be many examples of people, personas, or characters cool enough to equal these two Jameses. But I doubt that any could excel them. If one of them is more cool than the other, I certainly cannot see it. I hope to show—and I think these two Jameses are perfect examples of what I aim to show—that what we call cool, when we use it in this sense, is a false, deceptive understanding of a beautiful life and one that corrupts the moral lie and prevents one from attaining happiness.

Do note that I am not concerned here principally with another use of the word “cool.” Like “great,” “fabulous,” “terrific,” and many other words, “cool” has lost much of its original force as an ethical judgment and merely means “good” or “I like it.” I regret the fact that so many words that have such distinct connotations function more or less as one. But here my concern is principally with the aim in the moral life rather than reform of the language.

Nonetheless, I urge you to take care in using this word no less than any other. I suggest this especially from two motives. First, we ought to feel humility and gratitude before English as one of the most excellent languages ever developed by the human race. We owe it to those that have formed this language and given it to us to use it well. Second, we ought from the love of our intellect to love language as the intellect’s most immediate bodily instrument. Here more than anywhere else the spiritual, in fact the angelic and divine, part of our soul and our being expresses itself immediately in the sensible world. We should honor that part by using words well.

In fact my first memory of acting cool was the time I decided, as I later put it, “to use all the words,” the bad ones as well as the good ones. I was then about eleven. I had tripped slightly over a sprinkler head as I walked with classmates through the park and the sprinkler head came out of its place in the ground. I used a vulgar word as I kicked the sprinkler head away from me.

Now, as I clearly realized even then, I would never have done this if there had not been others there. I wanted to appear a certain way to others. In particular I wanted to impress Stanley Rogers. I wanted to feel some bond between him and me. And I wanted to separate myself from others I might resemble. Something far more important, something I felt but could not have put into words, was that I was violating my sense of what was beautiful. I had refrained from using these words not merely because they were forbidden. Speaking well was beautiful. Slang and vulgarity—for reasons I did not clearly recognize—were not beautiful.

Now I can clearly say that I did this to be cool. But what might seem odd is that I would never have used the word cool to describe this at that time. “Cool” was on a list of words the hippies used. Like “groovy,” “far out,” “swinging,” and so on, “cool” seemed slightly passé, not quite old fashioned, but it was certainly not our slang. I had no idea at that time that the word would return—for the second or third time, I believe—until it has fixed itself solidly in standard American English.

Unfortunately it has done so together with a view of happiness and human flourishing that I understand to be highly corruptive of the moral life. This corruptive character is what I want to focus on.

Now man is distinct from all other beings, but most obviously from animals, by a moral life. Only for man is there a distinct part of life in which he thinks about good and evil and strives to conform himself to his understanding. To say this in another way, with his intellect man thinks about right and wrong and strives to bring the rest of the powers that bring forth action, in particular, his will, his desires, and the spirited part of his nature into agreement with that conception of right and wrong. And from this very fact, from the agreement of these powers with our understanding that life is beautiful. I will briefly show how the moral life is beautiful by pointing out first that it has the three properties of beauty—clarity, integrity, and proportion—and second that it thereby agrees with the definition of the beautiful, what when seen pleases or that which when apprehended pleases.

Now it is not difficult to see from the description I have given of the moral life that it has clarity. Clarity, clearness, brightness is nothing other than the power something has to be easily seen. A beautiful face is easier to look at than an ugly one. One finds it easy to focus on a beautiful face. So, if our desires and choices agree with our understanding of right and wrong, our actions are easier to understand. We can explain them.

I recall hearing a soldier pleading guilty to the murder of civilians in an Afghani village. The judge asked him why he did it and he appropriately responded: “I ask myself that question every day and I don’t know why.” He does not know why because at some level he did not act according to reason, to his understanding of what is right. Only that understanding of what is good and right makes our actions intelligible and thus open to scrutiny.

In a similar way the moral life has integrity, its unity and wholeness. When I was a boy, attention to this was called a “holistic” view of human life. Our intellect is the one power able to integrate all the parts of human nature for a very simple reason. The intellect can understand the other parts of man. The other parts cannot understand each other; they cannot even understand themselves. Now the others parts of human nature important to the moral life all have some inclination to something good and the intellect understands them by understanding that good and the power’s order to that good. So we understand our digestive power through its order to growth and maintenance of our bodies. We understand our sexual powers through their order to reproduction. For this reason, the understanding of the good is able to integrate these and other human powers so that they constitute one principle of the moral life.

The powers of a man successful in the moral life work together to cause actions that constitute a life that is one in the manner of a whole. Very different are the actions of the man who refuses to live in accord with his understanding of right and wrong. His actions are not merely difficult or impossible to understand. They also fail to cohere with one another.

Again, in agreement with the clarity and integrity of the moral life is its proportion. Precisely because the other powers act in agreement with the intellect’s understanding of right and wrong, each of these powers bring forth acts proportionate to the role of the good the act pursues. Food, drink, and sex, as well as ambition, pride, and daring, and the exchange of goods, all contribute to a good life but they do so according to various proportions. Only if one aims well at what is right and further at what is right for himself with his particular temperament and circumstances will these all be proportioned to one another and ordered to some one good, as Aristotle suggested as necessary for living beautifully.

Finally, such a life is beautiful, as we can see by bringing it under the definition of the beautiful, that which when seen or apprehended pleases. Because it has integrity it is and appears to us as one, integrated life and not a life that begins over again and again. Precisely because the moral life is made intelligible by our understanding of what is good and right we can see or apprehend it. And because the parts have their proper proportion to one another, apprehending such a life pleases us.

Now, to see that we necessarily experience the moral life not only as good and right but also as beautiful is critical to a proper grasp of the moral life. We cannot merely experience it as the good life, much less a life of duty and responsibility, as some seem to think. Rather, because the moral life proceeds from our consideration of right and wrong and our concrete application of that understanding to our actions in reality, we live the moral life precisely as we observe it. It must then necessarily please or pain us to see how we live.

Note that I do not deny that one way of becoming a bad man is precisely to turn the mind away from the principles that underlie the moral life. Perhaps a worse way is to falsify these principles, to claim and even to believe, for example, that theft or rape is something good. Still, one can become vicious merely by living as if what is wrong were right and by refusing to think about this difference. Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello exemplifies the man who really thinks that something wrong is right and Anatole Kuragin from Tolstoy’s War and Peace exemplifies the man who never asks these questions. Tiberius Caesar sounds more like Iago, Caligula more like Anatole.

Now Iago may well imagine that he lives beautifully, though he is wrong. Anatole perhaps sees only pleasure, even in beauty. But note that either man must see the falsehood of the principles he lives by at least for fleeting moments of his life. I recall the memoirs of a hit man and later a mob boss, in which he describes the night he left home to perform an act that would irrevocably commit him to the mafia. He tells of looking in on his sleeping children. He realized this would change their lives for good and considered not taking this next step. But the thought that he was already committed to this way of life and the thought of the difficulty involved in turning around at this point in life led him to suppress the thought of the evils he was about to bring upon his wife and children.

One last comment about moral beauty before I go on to consider its corruption. There are in fact many kinds of beauty. I intend to speak more distinctly to this next semester in a talk on the beauty aimed at in the imitative arts. Here I will assert that there are at least, perhaps precisely, four kinds of created beauty. My defense will involve no more than pointing out the four ways such beauty relates to our knowing powers.

First, there is mere sensual beauty. The beauty of the human body and the human face reign supreme here, but I mean real faces and real bodies. In this way the sunset is beautiful, the sky is beautiful, and so on. Such beauty even has a power over animals, although they do not attend to it as such. Our sensitive powers, including imagination, memory, and a power seated in the brain that Aristotelians call the cogitative power and the neuroscientists call the pre-frontal lobe. Let me call is the power of judgment. Through this power, intellect has a power experienced properly in the senses and ultimately for this reason, we not only feel sensuous beauty but pay attention to it.

Second, there is artistic beauty. While I have the imitative arts primarily in mind, I am not denying that the beauty of a chair or table shares in artistic beauty. Artistic beauty always begins with sensuous beauty but it lifts it to some kind of representation or “meaning” to use this word very loosely.

Third is moral beauty. But I want to pass by this for a moment and turn to the fourth kind of beauty, what we philosophers call beauty as a transcendental. In this sense everything is beautiful to the extent that it exists and fulfills its existence. Some things are also ugly insofar as they fall short of what they should be. This beauty is grasped precisely by the mind or intellect, however much it must turn to lower, sensitive powers to pay attention to its object. The various sciences all share eminently in this beauty. So Aristotle says that even mathematics “says something” about the beautiful. But in this sense, even particulars are beautiful as well. Perhaps a forest fire is beautiful with mere sensuous beauty like any other fire, but its power appears in its physical and sensible qualities as an aspect of its transcendental beauty. This power is something the intellect sees that the senses themselves cannot. To that extent awareness of it is proper to the intellect attending in some way or another to what the forest fire is.

Now the moral life, as I have argued, does not exist apart from attention to that life. Further, this attention is not merely the work of the intellect as a separable and immaterial power of the soul. The moral life consists in bringing real sensible beings, ourselves, those we interact with, and other things of various natures under concepts expressing what they are and what they are like as well as whether the actions concerning them are right or wrong. This can only happen concretely, in the here and now. And this can only happen if we attend to them and judge them not merely in the intellect according to its abstract power but insofar as the intellect works in the power of judgment, located in the pre-frontal lobe of the brain, to size up and evaluate the particular qualities and conditions of ourselves and all the other things involved in our moral actions.

So taken the intellect at work in the power of judgment experiences the beauty or ugliness of the moral life. The pleasure or pain proper to this life occurs precisely from looking at what we and those we share our lives with have done. To the extent that our actions agree with our understanding of what is right we experience our life as pleasing to look at and observe, as beautiful. To the extent that our actions oppose our grasp of what is just and right they constitute a life painful to look at. In this life the intellect and other powers do no work as one. The passions impede the good desired by the intellect. This man recognizes that his actions contradict his understanding of the good. He lives a life he must observe with regret. This is an ugly, miserable life.

Now, ugliness as such can never be pleasing. The ugly, in the moral life no less than anywhere else in life, has only one power and that is to repel. And in this sense no one desires or enjoys a life of regrets and contradictions. Rather, they flee this life. And this is true of bad men as well as good, though bad men do not do this successfully. So Hitler, I suppose, committed suicide from horror at the thought of facing the utter failure of what he proposed as a moral and political truth, the domination of the world by his supposed super-race.

Though ugliness cannot please as such. It can please insofar as it takes on the appearance of the beautiful. Under the guise of beauty, ugliness can have tremendous power to move us. This may well be true in the moral life even more than in other parts of life.

Now this “guise of beauty” has a name. We call it glamor. I am speaking here not merely of glamor as an ideal for life centered around physical beauty, wealth, and pleasure, an approach toward life we associate with Hollywood at its zenith, with what we used to call the “jet set.” This is certainly a species of the false beauty I am speaking of. Being cool, I claim, is another species of such false beauty and there are almost innumerable others. But first I want to make the general nature of such beauty clear.

As in many other cases, the etymology of the word glamor helps us understand its meaning. In origin, “glamor” is merely a Scotch pronunciation of the word “grammar.” The word grammar begins in English as a name for the art concerned with making speech, a meaning the word has retained. But the association of grammar with writing led to an extension of the name to refer to all learning involving books. Then, especially under the form “gramarye,” it came to name occult learning, magic, and necromancy. Some say it developed this sense because “all learning fell under suspicion.” I suspect it may well have developed the sense because necromancy, magic, and the like involve what we call “spells” that one must decipher or “spell out” from a book.

Once grammar named the knowledge of such magic incantations, it came to name, especially under the Scottish pronunciation, the spell itself and then the magical and deceptive beauty that such spells produce. Now this is what we Catholics still renounce at Easter when we are asked, “Do you renounce the glamor of Satan?” and we respond, “I do.” Notice, however, that insofar as this power comes from Satan, it has one purpose, to draw us toward a false understanding of right and wrong. More precisely, he intends that we should see something wrong as if it were right. So the serpent tempted Eve, “You shall be as gods.”

Now I wish to move beyond the dictionary’s concern with words. Whether Satan is immediately at work or not, beauty of a superficial form often draws us toward things that are not substantially beautiful. I use language appropriate to bodies here and distinguish between the substance and its surface. In the moral life, beauty moves us easily enough at just this level. We feel attraction for those who have good looks even when we see they have no moral “fiber,” even when we think them outright cads. We often avoid someone ugly, even when we know him to be good, perhaps better than ourselves or our friends.

Such superficial or specious beauty bears the name of glamor—in its moral sense—precisely insofar as this beauty has the power to draw us toward something intrinsically ugly. Glamor does not name the intrinsic ugliness as such. It does name a kind of beauty. But it names a superficial or accidental beauty given to something substantially and intrinsically ugly. Before proposing that “cool” names a particular form of glamor, let me point out some other kinds.

Now, hypocrisy clearly names a moral action as something wrong, ugly, and repulsive. No one feels inclined toward hypocrisy as we conceive it under this name. Rather, we use the name to condemn actions and to rebuke persons who perform such actions.

But we also have a name for hypocrisy as it has the power to appear something good and beautiful. We call it self-righteousness. This name recognizes that act properly described as self-righteous are in fact hypocritical. But the name also makes clear that hypocrisy has its power for the self-righteous because it makes them seem righteous. So self-righteousness names hypocrisy as the substance of a moral act as it appears under a surface or appearance of righteousness.

Likewise, “prodigality” and “gluttony” name acts precisely as they are ugly. But the same acts, conceived as “sumptuous,” suggest the abundance of pleasure these acts provide as contributing to or even constituting a beautiful life. And if some portion of life really should be abound in the pleasant, it becomes even easier to imagine a life wholly given over to such abundance as something beautiful, when it is in its substance ugly.

Again, even a name that expresses the highest form of the good, “nobility,” also names a kind of glamor. The word “noble” first signifies the good as desirable for its own sake, even if it were not pleasant. It names the good that perfects us and makes us good. But it also names some part of a society as if that part has the responsibility to lead the whole society to the attainment of the noble good. But the word also names the mere trappings of this part of society insofar as it cultivates its own interest and privilege at the expense of society at large.

I have mentioned three forms that glamor takes.

Now, what I have said so far looks toward the claim I am now going to make. I am proposing that the word “cool” has come to name a particular species of glamor and that this species of glamor may well be the most powerful corruptive moral force in our time. To make the first point clear, I will do three thing. First, I will look at how the word came to name a species of glamor. Second, I will the describe the type that this species of glamor proposes for the moral life. Third, I will discuss how this type opposes the happiness that the moral life aims at.

The etymology of the word “cool” helps make clear how it came to name a species of glamor. From the word’s opposition to hot and the association of heat with passion, it next names those not excited by passion or not disturbed by passion. This sense is already found in Beowulf and Chaucer. In the 1940s, however, it became associated with jazz music. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the 1947 album Cool Blues by the Charlie Parker Quartet as the first evidence of this meaning, which they gloss as “restrained or relaxed in style.”

The name is almost of necessity extended to those performing such music. And it is also to those who enjoy “cool” music and, most importantly, to those who “relaxed and unemotional” in the way this music is. Let me agree with those who object to the claim that relaxed music is unemotional. More important, let me note that a further development of the word has the power of expressing this fact. Although the word clearly has a meaning tied to deficiency—we speak of a “cool welcome” and so on—it develops a decidedly favorable sense which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as

Assured and unabashed in demeanour, where the circumstances would call for diffidence and hesitation; calmly or deliberately audacious or impudent in making a proposal or demand: said of person and their actions.

However someone may intend this, as something good or bad, “cool” in the sense I am talking about, considers it not only as something good but as a goal for the whole of life.

Now, let me focus my claim that cool names a species of glamor. I am not merely stating here that the word names a habit or temperament that corrupts the moral life in the way that self-righteousness names hypocrisy’s power to convince one that he is righteous. Rather, I am claiming that “cool” names the beauty at which one aims in this understanding of life. The word “cool” bursts forth in appreciation of something happening or something done in just the way the Greek word kalon would in a Platonic dialogue.

I will illustrate this claim by translating some lines from the opening of Protagoras, where a Socrates encounters a friend who imagines Socrates has just spent time with Alcibiades. The friend says, more or less, “When I say Alcibiades the other day the man seemed so cool!” When Socrates says that, yes, he has just been with Alcibiades but had no thought of him and forgot that he was there, the friend insists, “You could not have come upon someone more cool than Alcibiades, not in this city!”

But Socrates says, “A lot cooler.”

“Someone from here? or a foreigner?”

“A foreigner,” Socrates answers, ”from Abdera.” The friend responds, “And this foreigner seemed so cool to you that he seems cooler than Alcibiades?” And Socrates explains, “How could the wisest man not be the coolest?”

Of course, this sense of the word “cool” did not develop to name wise men. It really expresses something we see or imagine in a character like James Bond and a persona like James Dean. I suspect if Alcibiades were around today we would think it names him too. Now it names these men primarily from a certain beauty in the way they act. They do things in a cool way. They have a relaxed and confident manner. And this manner is not itself the result of any effort. No one is really cool who has had to cool down. The beauty that is precisely “cool” follows this effortless, relaxed and confident reaction and interaction with the vagaries of life.

But one must not confuse the relaxed character of the cool man with patience. Patience involves effort. Not only must a patient withstand things opposed to his inclinations, he must do so for some time and must develop patience as a habit. He is neither indifferent nor without concern. Rather, his desire that something eventuates in the right way causes him to restrain action based on impulse. This desire leads him to observe and to allow things to turn out well and to assist insofar as he can help in this.

The cool man is relaxed because he feels satisfied with himself and he because he finds effort wearisome. Effort is work and work is only a curse for the cool. As James Bond makes quite clear, a cool man may well have employment. But this employment is play. With James Bond it may be play for him, if not for others. For our sports stars, who are very cool, employment is play in the strictest sense of the word. For the same reason actors are cool. They seem to live a life of play.

Again, one must note the lack of passion from which such a man takes the name cool with temperance or moderation and certainly not with chastity. He differs from the moderate man—to use that name to include all these virtues—in several ways. First, someone cool may well have intense and violent passions. But they never interfere with his acting and reacting in a relaxed manner. If they do influence his action, they only encourage that relaxed manner, perhaps by heightening his determination and confidence.

Second, those who have the virtue of moderation are eminently concerned with the good of others. They do not eat too much to see that others have enough. They are chaste because sex brings children into the world who deserve to proper care and education. In particular, a man who is chaste cares deeply about the whole life of the woman he takes to his bed.

Not so the cool. Together with the cool man’s confidence in his own abilities is an even deeper sense of where they end. The cool man sees the fact that he cannot bring about a good life for others without losing that equanimity that defines him, should he become anxious about the evils that might befall those he loves and feel the need to assist in something he cannot fully control. This leads to a particular kind of ennui or weariness. He cannot care about others so much that it will disturb his own relaxed psychological state.

Now this might sadden someone cool. The cool are iconically sad when they see those they love in trouble, say his girlfriend turns up pregnant. But, so far as I can see, this is at root a self-pity. He would like to do something but he cannot. If there is no other solution, he will have to turn away. Of course, he himself might suggest marriage. But this will only be cool because it agrees with his present feelings and circumstances. Were it a burden, it would not be cool and uncool things do not often happen to cool people.

I would note here the enviable situation of James Bond. He lives in a world in which the women that he sleeps with are not only independent and liberated. They do not exist once the film or the book has ended. The world of James Bond is fantasy. In the real world, however, the cool with which men establish an emotional distance from the children they conceive without the convenience of marriage conspires is a deadly fantasy. This is the fantasy that such unborn children not only belong to their mothers alone but also that they are disposable parts of their mothers.

I have argued that the relaxation of the cool man is not patience and that the moderation of his passions flows from his temper and perhaps a kind of despair rather than a tempering and moderation of his desires. Now, I propose that his confidence and daring are not bravery.

First, as already suggested, his daring deeds are always pleasant to him. Even on the battlefield, he maintains his cool because he experiences battle as play or feels so great a confidence in his own ability. And he does this from a temperamental ease, not from a habit of facing difficulties that threaten even his emotional stability. If he had found them difficult, he would have gone to do something else.

Even if he finds out later that luck has caused his success no less, or even more, than his abilities, this does not disturb him. He can laugh at this in part from the ease he possesses by nature and in part from the relation the cool man has to luck. I will discuss his luck in a moment.

A second aspect of the cool man’s daring deserves attention. I think our association of cool with athletes, adventurers, superheroes, and spies and the like makes clear that the confidence and daring in their actions differs little from that of irrational animals. They move and react—at least in our imaginations—the way a tiger would, the way a wolf does. Perhaps the greatest confirmation of this is the pleasure they take in doing this. Such acts, in fact, cease to be cool, if the thrill and elation is lost, unless, of course, luck arrives to bring that pleasure back.

We do imagine warriors and soldiers to have such cool. But I think that most are ready to admit that a battlefield does not remain cool for long. We begin to form the habit of bravery just when we see that we must summon confidence and daring for the sake of goods much greater than that heady pleasure found in daring deeds. The defense of family and the city not only keep a brave man on the battlefield despite the fear that makes him cautious. The love of such goods also checks the impulse to react with the irrational prowess of the big cats. But of course the brave man is patient.

And the brave man is also prudent. The cool man at best is clever. He certainly has expended no effort to understand those with whom he lives in community. If he does understand them and their motives and actions, this arises from a native sensibility and often enough from selfish interests. If the cool man is clever, he will size up situations with the ease of an irrational animal or he might even give himself over to planning his action. But he does this because it pleases him in one way or another.

Of course, the cool man may also be rather dumb. He may even revel in his deficiencies as if they save him from the various responsibilities that entangle the clever. Likewise, in his native ignorance, the cool man may have a benevolent simplicity that makes him agreeable to the discerning, if not more successful than the clever. If a cool man lacks cleverness, however, he will never recognize that he must work even harder than others to figure out that most important human fact, how to live. If he is really cool, it will all work out.

This leads me to a last observation about the cool man, one I have mentioned and promised to discuss. The cool man is lucky. This luck allows him to remain relaxed and confident without the misfortunes that befall those less cool. Luck also makes up for his lack of intellect or his neglect to study life and the difficulties it presents with the care and diligence that define the prudent man.

A few unlucky things may happen to someone cool. And he may well have the cool to turn them to his advantage. But once luck turns against him, he simply cannot work out his life without effort, thoughtfulness, concern for others and vulnerability to those others. Even if we think he really was cool himself, life was not cool to him.

 Let me note in passing several things I do not have time to develop. First is my suspicion that fear of this vulnerability to those we love is the root cause of the power that this form of glamor has upon us. Nothing can really unseat our love of ourselves, however it can pervert that love. But our love of others and the concern and effort it inspires can go wrong many ways. The fear of being hurt and ignored by those we love clearly interferes with that love in innumerable ways. I think, as my own early experience suggests, that the fear of being ignored and looked down upon in particular by those we admire is the principal cause of freeing oneself from emotional attachment either to them or to things that interfere with this admiration.

This also explains another fact about cool. This form of glamor is more proper to men than to women, though it affects them both. So the form of glamor we associate with Hollywood under the name of “glamor” is more proper to women, though it too affects or affected both sexes. Men, I suggest, experience this vulnerability with greater pain than women do for many reasons.

Also, nature does not help men succeed in the relationships that make us vulnerable as well as it helps women. Again, for many reasons, habits, especially the virtues, are more necessary for men to experience these relationships as fulfilling rather than threatening. Perhaps there is little need to point out that a society of men who have not known a father or, what may be worse, a father who does live up to his responsibilities, sees in the emotional distance of being cool what seems a refuge in life. Unfortunately it is also a refuge from life.

Here too I can point out one of the most prominent notes of the beauty we call cool. It thrives on its distinction from the ugliness of being uncool. Inevitably, the cool separate themselves from and look down upon the uncool. If fear of vulnerability is really a cause of the power that coolness exerts, it is not hard to see that this rejection of the uncool is a necessary consequence of the fear the cool man really fells that he is himself is not cool. He fears that this is the reason his mother paid no attention to him or his father drank.

One can also see in this rejection of those who are not cool a necessary effect of the lack of virtue. Only virtue, as I stated earlier, precisely as it is depends upon intellect, can integrate all the various powers in man and direct them to complete and flourishing life. A necessary consequence of this integration is healthy and happy interaction with one’s companions in life. Likewise, coolness demands contempt for virtue as demanding effort and significant doubt in one’s natural condition. But without the integration virtue offers the cool must set off at a distance anyone whose deficiencies or sufficiencies make clear that the cool man has not achieved this integration. What would James Bond do in the movie beginning with a call from the last Bond girl reporting her pregnancy.

To make an end of it, a cool life imitates many aspects of a beautiful life. A virtuous man is relaxed and confident. His desires do not wreak havoc in his life. He grasps things easily and often sizes them up quickly. But the good man does so because he has expended effort throughout life. For this reason, one Latin name for a good man is studiosus. This corresponds to a Greek name for the same, spoudaios. We often translate these by the English word “serious” and this is not altogether wrong. The good man takes life seriously and he is earnest. But the critical sense of these words is sometimes expressed by “zealous.” The good man cares so much about life and living rightly that he works harder at this than at anything else.

“Cool” names a beauty that arises precisely insofar as one does not make this effort. Aristotle mentions an objection that many make about moral responsibility. “What  if someone is just the sort that does not take pains?” Now, this is not merely the excuse the cool man makes, that he is the sort that does not take pains in life. This is his ideal, the very maxim by which he lives. When life seems to works out well for such a man, especially in the face of the failure of so many who take pains, it seems beautiful. We have named that beauty from its coincidence with a lack of effort and a refusal to take pains in life. And it is certainly attractive to those uninclined and those afraid to take pains.


Streaming & downloadable audio


Receive lectures and talks via podcast!