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THE CONNECTION BETWEEN GOOD TASTE AND MORALITY

Mr. Ruskin introduces the subject by the statement that: All good
architecture is the expression of national life and character.
This suggests to him the more comprehensive remark that good taste is
essentially a moral quality that proceeds to fortify this position in the
following fashion:
Taste is not only a part and an index of morality, it is the only morality. 1
The first, last, and closest trial question to any living creature is, What do
you like? Tell me what you like and Ill tell you what you are. Go out into
the street and ask the first man or woman you meet what their taste is,
and if they answer candidly, you know them body and soul.
You, my friend in the rags, with the unsteady gait, what do you like? A
pipe and a quartern of gin. I know you, You, good woman with the quick
step and tidy bonnet, what do you like? A swept hearth, and a clean teatable and my husband opposite me and a baby at my breast. Good, I know
you also, You, little girl with the golden hair and the soft eyes, what do
you like?, My canary, and a run among the wood hyacinths. You little
boy with the dirty hands and the low forehead, what do you like? A shy at
the sparrows and a game at pitch farthing. Good; we know them all now.
What more need we ask?
Nay, perhaps you answer; we need rather to ask what these people and
children do than what they like. If they do right it is no matter that they
like what is wrong; and if they do wrong it is no matter what they like.
Doing is the great thing; and it does not matter that the man likes
drinking so that he does not drink; nor that the little girl likes to be kind
to her canary if she will not learn her lessons; nor that the little boy likes
throwing stones at the sparrows if he goes to the Sunday School! Indeed,
for a short time, and in a provisional sense this is true. For if, resolutely,
people do what is right, in time they come to like doing it; and as long as
they dont like it, they are still in a vicious state.
The man is not in health of body who is always thirsting for the bottle in
the cupboards, though he bravely bears his thirst; but the man who
heartily enjoys water in the morning and wine in the evening, each in its
proper quantity and time. (If Mr. Ruskin were living today he would
probably have revised this statement). And the entire object of true
education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the
right thingsnot merely industrious, but to love industrynot merely
learned, but to love knowledgenot merely pure, but to love puritynot
merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.
Crown of Wild Olive
1 It is evident that the author here uses the term taste not in its technical and
aesthetic sense but as equivalent to a susceptibility to truth and nobleness.

------------------------------------------------------------------Mr. Ruskin has rendered a valuable service in calling attention to the


fundamental importance of our desires or inward preference as affording a
basis for the right estimate of conduct. The unity of moral life can be
found only when the inner purpose is known. Because it is difficult to
ascertain the motive, our judgments respecting the worthiness or
unworthiness of conduct will often necessarily be erroneous. A better
acquaintance with this fact might prevent many a hasty and unfair
judgment.
Some qualification is needed to the statement that the sole purpose of
education is to make people enjoy the right things. The teacher of this
must educate the conscience in the discrimination between the right and
the wrong. It will often be his task to suggest standards of conduct that
rise above the level of the current morality of his time. And his work may
have a high educational value even if he fails to secure any general
adoption of such standards.
The history of all movements for reform sufficiently illustrates the point;
and the chief value of the ethical teaching of Ruskin himself may be cited
in further proof of the value of such service.

ANALYSIS
By 1858 Ruskin was beginning to move on from the specialist criticism of art
and architecture to a wider concern with the cultural condition of his age. His
growing friendship with the historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle
contributed to this process. Like Carlyle, Ruskin began to adopt the
prophetic stance, familiar from the Bible, of a voice crying from the
wilderness and seeking to call a lapsed people back into the paths of
righteousness.
This marginal role as a disenchanted outsider both legitimized and, to an
extent, required a ferocity and oddness that would be conspicuous features
of Ruskins later career.
The Crown of Wild Olive (1866, enlarged in 1873) collects some of the best
specimens of Ruskins Carlylean manner, notably the lecture Traffic of
1864, which memorably draws its audiences attention to the hypocrisy
manifested by their choice of Gothic architecture for their churches but Neoclassical designs for their homes.
The Crown of Wild Olive is, therefore, a commentary on the contemporary
social and economic life. In it Ruskin appears not merely as a satirist, but he

changes himself into a preacher and a prophet. The satirist being changed
into a preacher, exhorts work-men to be loyal and to love their work and
their employers; asks the traders not to be money-minded and advises the
soldier to be loyal to his calling.
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----- This piece of writing contains a small part of John Ruskins lecture Traffic
which he delivered in 1864, during an address to an audience of Yorkshire
businessmen, contemplating the building of a commercial exchange. John
Ruskin (18191900) was one of the most prominent English critics of art and
society of the Victorian era. He was not only a distinctive prose stylist, but also an
important example of the Victorian Sage: a writer of polemical prose. Ruskin initially
began his career as a critic of art and architecture, but during the late 1850s the
focus of his works gradually shifted from aesthetics to social problems.
In this essay Ruskin draws connections between good taste and morality. What
indeed can be the relation, one might think! Mr. Ruskin introduces the subject by
the statement: All good architecture is the expression of national life and
character.
A very profound statement indeed! Pick up a historical building and it will tell you all
about the nation that built it. Egyptian architecture shows us that the people of the
nation were extremely hard-working, intelligent, ingenuous and knew various
architectural techniques. Similarly the buildings from the Mughal era are a display of
the grandeur and luxury the Mughal emperors were accustomed to. Thus, by
looking at a nations architecture, one can judge its overall character and lifestyle.
Ruskin follows with the pronouncement that: "Taste is not only a part and an
index of morality; it is the only morality. The first, and last, and closest
trial question to any living creature is, "What do you like?" Tell me what
you like, and I'll tell you what they are" Ruskin ties the question of taste, or
what a person likes, to that person's social situation. Taste operates a principle of
habit or social custom. Ruskin's argument is that taste internalizes a persons social
position as their subjective disposition:
Go out into the street and ask the first man or woman you meet what their
taste is, and if they answer candidly, you know them body and soul.
You, my friend in the rags, with the unsteady gait, what do you like? A pipe
and a quartern of gin. I know you You, little girl with the golden hair and

the soft eyes, what do you like?, My canary, and a run among the wood
hyacinths. You little boy with the dirty hands and the low forehead, what do
you like? A shy at the sparrows and a game at pitch farthing. Good; we
know them all now. What more need we ask?
Here Ruskins interprets that a person who is wearing worn out clothes and an
unstable gait, will most probably be a drunkard. So if we ask him what he likes, he
would probably say he would want something like a pipe or a quarter of gin. A little
boy who keeps himself dirty would probably have evil tastes like shooting birds and
hitting sparrows. Thus Ruskins, through various examples shows how a persons
tastes in dressing up and preparing their appearances can help one to make an
estimate about that persons likes/dislikes, interests, and hobbies, which in turn help
one to decide that persons moral character. This proves Ruskins point that taste is
essentially a moral quality.
As if sensing what arguments might be brewing inside the readers minds, Ruskins
goes on to further prove his stance, by tackling the argument that one might give.
Obviously one may argue that Ruskins is suggesting to judge people only by their
likes and dislikes which are a superficial quality only. There is a saying that goes: It
is not who you are underneath, it is what you do, that defines you. And Ruskins
understands this stance as well. He elaborates the stance of the opposing party by
explaining that :
Doing is the great thing; and it does not matter that the man likes
drinking so that he does not drink; nor that the little girl likes to be kind
to her canary if she will not learn her lessons; nor that the little boy likes
throwing stones at the sparrows if he goes to the Sunday School!
But after elaborating and explaining the argument of the opposing party, he again
strikes back, by explaining his stance. He reminds us that in a provisional sense it
might be true that a person may not be judged just by what he likes to do, but
eventually people start doing things that they like. A person who does not drink
wine and yet likes wine, cannot be guaranteed that given the opportunity, he would
not drink or overdrink it. Many people only do the right things under restraints or
restrictions, once they are free they start doing what they like to do. Thus, Ruskins
is right when he says that it is important for people to like only what is right, so that
they eventually do what is right, no matter what the circumstances are. As long as a
man does not like what is right, he cannot be trusted to be a morally righteous man.
For if, resolutely, people do what is right, in time they come to like doing
it; and as long as they dont like it, they are still in a vicious state.
Lastly, Ruskins maintains that the entire object of education is to teach people not
only to do morally righteous deeds but to enjoy them. A truly righteous person
enjoys doing what is right, one wrong deed is enough to make him restless and
disturbed, because his conscience is alive. Thus, once again we all end at the
conclusion that taste is essentially a moral quality. A persons tastes can go a long
way in determining his moral character.

And the entire object of true education is to make people not merely do
the right things, but enjoy the right thingsnot merely industrious, but to
love industrynot merely learned, but to love knowledgenot merely
pure, but to love puritynot merely just, but to hunger and thirst after
justice.
Moralsaretrulyandfullyinculcatedwhenanindividualtakesthemoraloughtasthebasisforhisorher
subjectiveoutlookonlife.

Endowed with a passion for reforming what he considered his "blind and wandering
fellow-men" and convinced that he had "perfect judgment" in aesthetic matters.

According to classical rhetoricians, argumentation occurs in three basic modes,


those of logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos, or the appeal to reason, includes citations
of authority, testimony, statistics, and syllogisms, while pathos, the appeal to
emotions, includes any devices that allow the speaker to stimulate the audience's
feelings on his behalf. Ethos, the appeal to credibility, founds all its attempts to
convince on the implicit statement "I am someone worth listening to, I can be
trusted." Of course, virtually all rhetorical techniques to some extent achieve ethos,
and when any writer or speaker successfully demonstrates that he can use the tools
of reason, his accomplishment obviously makes him more believable. Basing an
argument entirely upon ethos, however, implies that neither intellectual nor
emotional appeals can win an audience's attention and allegiance. The dominant
role of ethos in the writings of the Victorian sage indicates quite clearly that this
form of discourse arose as a response to the political, spiritual, and aesthetic
situation of England in an age of changing beliefs. The sage's appeal to credibility,
in other words, particularly well suits not only romantic conceptions of the artistseer and Carlylean views of the Hero but also the needs of an audience which finds
all received opinion has been cast into doubt.

References

Ruskin,John."Traffic."TheCrownofWildOlive&TheCestusofAglaia.Ed.ErnstRhys.London:J.M.Dent
&Sons,1915.
Allgoodarchitectureistheexpressionofnationallifeandcharacter.TellmewhatyoulikeandIlltell
youwhatyouare!(partialtruth.statementsbasedonhisbeliefsandfeelingsratherthanfactsor
examplesfromrealincidentsorlogicalreasoning.eventheexamplesthathesusingtosupporthis
arguments,aboutthegirlwithblondehair,orladywithtidybonnet,aremadeup.hesnotusing
examplesfromincidentsthatreallyhappened,sothatmakesonequestionthecredibilityofhis
arguments.
Butthen,hestateshisbeliefsinadogmatictone,asiftheyarefacts,thatleavesnoroomforthe
readerstoquestionorchallengehisarguments.(E.g.hedoesntsaythatinmyopinion
architectureistheexpressionofnationallife,hesaysarchictectureisexpressionofnational
life.Followingthesyntacticpatterninwhichfactsarestated:TheEarthisaplanet,orAll
planetsrevolvearoundthesunetc.)
Thisiswhyitissaidthatinhisessaysheadoptsthediscoursestyleofaprophet,whomakesstatements
inassertivetonebecausetheyknowthatwhattheybelieveisright.Therewereotherwritersin
hiserawhousedtheprophetictoneandtheyareknownasVictorianSages.