Aristotle and Linda Ronstadt on Earthly Honors

2563360347_37976c070d_oSometimes a point is so obvious that people from extremely diverse backgrounds readily understand it. Thus natural law theorists point to moral commonalities among broadly diverse cultures and historical periods as evidence for the reality of the natural law. ((e.g., J. Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know (Dallas: Spence, 2003).)) This article is not designed to evaluate the merits of natural law theory, but rather to make an obvious, easy-to-understand point that we tend to forget: Earthly honors are not the indicator of a person’s goodness or the goodness of a person’s life.

In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, we find the following statement:

The cultivated people, those active [in politics], conceive the good as honor, since this is more or less the end [normally pursued] in the political life. This, however, appears to be too superficial to be what we are seeking; for it seems to depend more on those who honor than on the one honored, whereas we intuitively believe that the good is something of our own and hard to take from us. Further, it would seem, they pursue honor to convince themselves that they are good; at any rate, they seek to be honored by prudent people, among people who know them, and for virtue. It is clear, then, that—in their view at any rate—virtue is superior [to honor]. ((Trans. Terence Irwin, second ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999), 1.5; bracketed items in orig. See also my article on Dante’s position on this issue: “Earthly Acknowledgement in Dante’s Divine Comedy,” Journal of Faith and Academy, 2[1]:51-70.))

From this we take it that a person ought not place the highest value on worldly honors, because he has little control over them (they are not apparently a poor measure of virtue), and because honors are sought as indicators of some more important good. If we read on in Aristotle’s Ethics, we find that virtue is said to be the indicator of the goodness of a life.

I recall Aristotle’s point in light of what Linda Ronstadt said in late September about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ronstadt was at one time in the 1970s the top female artist in rock music, and yet in her more than 20 years of eligibility for induction into the hall of fame, she has never been inducted. After being snubbed again, she told the Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times:

I remember one of the guys at my record company asked me once if I would induct somebody into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I said ‘I really don’t like going to things like that.’ And he said, ‘Linda, you have to do it if you ever want to get inducted yourself!’ I said, ‘I don’t care if I ever get inducted. . . . I never thought of myself as a rock ‘n’ roll singer. I’ve thought of myself as a singer who sang rock ‘n’ roll, who sang this, who sang that. ((“Linda Ronstadt on Hall of Fame Induction: ‘I Don’t Care’,”,0,5027737.story (2013).))

And in her recent autobiography Ronstadt writes,

There was an unyielding attitude that came with [rock—CC] music that involved being confrontational, dismissive, and aggressive—or, as my mother would say, ungracious. . . . I cringe when I think of some of the times I was less than gracious. It wasn’t how I was brought up, and I didn’t wear the attitude well. Being considered, for a period in the ’70s, as the Queen of Rock made me uneasy, as my musical devotions often lay elsewhere. . . . People write music from the most personal point of view, and that process endlessly renews itself. . . . they use music the way all people should use music: to help you process your feelings and to help you get on with your life. ((Quoted in “Linda Ronstadt on Hall.”))

In Ronstadt’s value system, at least as it applies to this issue, there are two things that carry far more weight than earthly honors: (1) Doing well at her profession as she conceives of it, regardless of what others think; (2) Being the right kind of person. Ronstadt is not far from Aristotle’s view.

She also gives us an occasion to point to the biblical value system. God does not require that we be indifferent toward what people think of us (e.g., Proverbs 22:1; Ecclesiastes 7:1; 1 Timothy 3:2), but He does require that we prioritize an infinitely higher good than approval from our fellow human beings. We are seeking God’s approval. Consider the following passages:

  • You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice … (Exodus 23:2).
  • For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? (Matthew 16:26).
  • But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
  • For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
  • Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord (Colossians 3:22).

- 2024

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