Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Jeffersonian Life

Albert Borgmann, a philosopher at the University of Montana, writes about a "Jeffersonian life" as an ideal in his new book, Real American Ethics (Chicago, 2006).

"The dinner table is that focal thing, the center of grace where we can rest the case of our lives...The particular character of our ethics comes into focus through the American reality that is gathered in a household and at the table. We can think of that gathering as a Jeffersonian life" (p. 197).

He goes on: " The beginning of wisdom is to be broadly familiar with the width and depth of American culture and to realize deeply one of its possibilities at the dinner table...Although the celebration of dinner should be wholehearted, it cannot be unreserved. Celebration has to imply the determination to widen the circle of well-being until it includes everyone in this country and on earth.

Fortitude has to go ahead of dining and follow it. The temptation of yielding to the comforts of fast food and relaxing entertainment is always there...

Once retired, Jefferson was in the happy situation of having made the exercise of fortitude that is such a challenge for us a normal part of his domestic life. "From breakfast, or noon at latest, to dinner," he wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1811, "I am mostly on horseback, attending to my farm or other concerns, which I find healthy to my body, mind, and affairs""(pp. 199-200).

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