Rush’s Table of Virtues

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of essays that looks at selections from Rush and Philosophy (Open Court Press: 2011), edited by Jim Berti and Durrell Bowman. The book came out in March 2011 and looks at Rush’s music through different philosophical lenses.]

The holy grail of ethicists is eudaimonia, the classical notion of happiness. In this context happiness is broadly defined. It’s not about having a good time or walking down the street with a smile on your face; it’s about achieving a state of well-being. By developing all of what makes us excellent as human beings—courage, hard-work, fairness, empathy, prudence, and so on—and internalizing all of those virtues so that they become our character, we become happy.

Purdue University philosophy professor Neil Florek in “Free Wills and Sweet Miracles” says Rush’s early work reinforces many of the virtues that go into a happy life. In pieces like “Something for Nothing” and “Freewill,” the band is both celebrating and teaching the classical table of virtues. But, of course, with Neil Peart penning the lyrics, the band doesn’t stop there; Peart adds his owns twists to the classical ideals: persistence and what Florek calls prudent non-conformity.

These Rushian virtues, which would sit alongside justice, courage, moderation, and the other classical virtues, are necessary to be happy. Persistence is necessary because, without it, we’ll never overcome the internal and external barriers we all have to becoming happy people. Think of people brought up in religious households and taught to believe their fate is in God’s hands. It takes time, as Rush says in “Marathon,” to break free of our upbringing to think for ourselves. And non-conformity is a virtue because we need the drive to be different to break free of institutionalized biases. “I’ll decide if our fate’s in God’s hands, thank you. I’m not just going to accept that because you say it is.”

Rush’s eadaimonic person is also an empathetic person. In pieces like “Red Sector A,” “Afterimage,” and “Everyday Glory,” it’s not just us striving as individuals to achieve happiness; it’s important that we bring others along with us, too. We have to do what we can to help others achieve happiness.

Florek labels this focus on the classical virtues (with the band’s additions) “pre-tragic” and contrasts it with what he calls the band’s “post-tragic” phase, the period after Peart’s personal tragedies and the band’s hiatus in the mid-1990s.

In the post-tragic phase, the classical virtues have collided with reality and the question of what defines happiness can’t be answered solely by reference to the classical virtues like moderation, courage, and justice. Where’s the justice in loved ones dying well before their time? Hence songs like “The Stars Look down.”

What is the meaning of this?
And the stars look down.
What are you trying to do?
And the stars look down.
Was it something I said?
And the stars look down.

Florek calls “The Stars Look Down,” from Vapor Trails, probably the bleakest of any in Rush’s catalogue, although the song “Vapor Trail” isn’t far behind. But if those songs represent the nadir of Rush’s outlook on happiness, other songs on Vapor Trails and on its follow-up album, Snakes and Arrows, at least carry the virtue of persistence and try to eke out an answer for someone who’s facing inexplicable loss. The answer Peart comes up with are two other virtues to be added to the classical table of virtues: hope and love.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Read Q&A with book co-editor Durrell Bowman.

 Read the first essay in this series: “Philosophy of Mind has a Headache; Cygnus has Aspirin.”

 Read the second:  “It’s Just Chemistry: Rush Try to Make Sense of Reality.”

Read the third: “Is Rush Helping Humanism Out-maneuver Religion?”

Read the fourth:  “The ‘Rand’omness of Rush’s Libertarianism.”

Read the sixth: “Rush’s Rosier Shade of Reality.”

Read the seventh: “The Trees: More Than Meets the Eye?”

 Read the eighth: “Plato: ‘Rush Non in Forma Petra Musica'”

 Read the ninth: ‘Rush Music: Spontaneous as a Baroque Jam Session

 Read all book reviews

~ by rvkeeper on June 11, 2011.

%d bloggers like this: