Friday, December 30, 2005
Here's an essay -- now more than ten years old -- by friend-of-MOJ and Notre Dame professor Philip Bess, called "A Dutch Master and the Good Life." The piece is a reflection on Jan Van Eyck's painting, completed in 1432, "The Mystic Adoration of the Lamb." The essay is too rich to capture here, but anyone interested in the discussion we've been having, off and on, about urbanism, planning, architecture, sprawl, and human flourishing will want to read it. Here's a taste:
[The painting] is on the one hand a specifically Christian representation of the good life, but is also on the other hand-in its portrayal of the context of the good life as both city and garden-a representation of the good life with rational appeal across a variety of human cultures, and one specifically understandable in terms of the philosophical tradition of natural law theory.
The nature of the good life for human beings is a perennial concern of natural law thinkers. But where modern consumer culture would have us consider the good life in terms of personal freedom and creativity, the possession of wealth, power, fame, health, sexual vitality-not to mention cars, gym shoes, and beer-many if not most variants of the natural law tradition would view all of these admitted goods as less important to the good life than moral virtue (character habits of temperance, courage, justice, prudence, friendship, magnanimity, steadfastness, etc.) and intellectual virtue (habits of mind appropriate to particular practical arts and/or theoretical sciences) exercised in projects engaged in with others, and most especially in a city. In natural law theory, in other words, the good life for human beings is the life of virtue lived in community.