Chapter 7 – Kindness and Unkindness

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To take Kindness next: the definition of it will show us towards whom it is felt, why, and in what frames of mind. Kindness — under the influence of which a man is said to “be kind” — may be defined as helpfulness towards some one in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.

Kindness is great if shown to one who is in great need, or who needs what is important and hard to get, or who needs it at an important and difficult crisis; or if the helper is the only, the first, or the chief person to give the help. Natural cravings constitute such needs; and in particular cravings, accompanied by pain, for what is not being attained. The appetites are cravings for this kind: sexual desire, for instance, and those which arise during bodily injuries and in dangers; for appetite is active both in danger and in pain.

Hence those who stand by us in poverty or in banishment, even if they do not help us much, are yet really kind to us, because our need is great and the occasion pressing; for instance, the man who gave the mat in the Lyceum.

The helpfulness must therefore meet, preferably, just this kind of need; and failing just this kind, some other kind as great or greater.

We now see to whom, why, and under what conditions kindness is shown; and these facts must form the basis of our arguments. We must show that the persons helped are, or have been, in such pain and need as has been described, and that their helpers gave, or are giving, the kind of help described, in the kind of need described.

We can also see how to eliminate the idea of kindness and make our opponents appear unkind:  we may maintain that they are being or have been helpful simply to promote their own interest — this, as has been stated, is not kindness; or that their action was accidental, or was forced upon them; or that they were not doing a favour, but merely returning one, whether they know this or not — in either case the action is a mere return, and is therefore not a kindness even if the doer does not know how the case stands.

In considering this subject we must look at all the “categories”: an act may be an act of kindness because

  1. it is a particular thing,
  2. it has a particular magnitude or
  3. quality, or 
  4.  is done at a particular time or
  5. place.

As evidence of the lack of kindness, we may point out that a smaller service had been refused to the man in need; or that the same service, or an equal or greater one, has been given to his enemies; these facts show that the service in question was not done for the sake of the person helped. Or we may point out that the thing desired was worthless and that the helper knew it: no one will admit that he is in need of what is worthless.

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Published on June 26, 2009 at 5:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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