Virtue and Capital

The primary virtue of capitalism is the way it holds you accountable for your actions. Do something stupid or bad, and people stop buying from you. Do something remarkable and good, and people buy more from you. That’s the idea anyway.

The problem with headlong deregulation of the industry over the past twenty years, combined with the moral hazard of “too big to fail” is that we have boosted rewards while removing accountability. We are, then, in danger of stripping capitalism of whatever moral legitimacy it may have attained since Teddy Roosevelt began building barriers to rampant exploitation.

Take away the accountability, and you remove the virtue. Experience has shown that self-regulation is inadequate.

The Conversion of Aristotle

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Aristotle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the historic challenges to the Abrahamic faiths has been the rise of the Epicurian schools of rational thought. Judaism came to an intellectional accommodation with rationalism over time, a process that was completed and formalized through the brilliance of the Rambam. My understanding – possibly faulty – is that Thomas Aquinas attempted to do the same thing with Christianity and the greeks.

In my studies I have come across several claims that Aristotle underwent a deathbed conversion to Judaism. As near as I can tell (admittedely based on desktop research), the story is apocryphal. I have yet to find any conclusive evidence either way.

The claim stretches credulity both because of an apparent lack of evidence and because it appears to address the secret hopes of every Jew (including this one) that even the most ardent advocates of rational thought have discovered in its precepts a hole, a fault, that leaves too many questions unanswered. Like the Man on the Grassy Knoll theory of JFK’s assassination, the story’s support of our worldview makes it too tempting to believe. At moments like this, the precepts of our faith demand we step back and put our brains rather than our hearts to work.

Is there any historical basis? Would it matter if there was? The veracity of Torah and the worth of a life lived according to its precepts do not rest on the whims of an aged Greek philosopher. It should be enough for a thinking Jew to follow his own inquiry and reach his or her own conclusions. The need for us to tell ourselves stories of eleventh-hour conversions of skeptics only hints at unaddressed self-doubts.