In teaching classical works of ethics – say, Cicero’s On Duties -- one of the most difficult things to explain is the idea of the fitting. Our ancestors considered it obvious to any decent mind that some things are rationally appropriate to a given situation, and others are not. Instead, we take notions of what is fitting to be nothing but “manners.”
It’s even difficult to explain the difference between the two views, because today the term “manners” is also misunderstood. To us it refers to arbitrary conventions which do nothing but infringe on our liberty. We tell ourselves that the Chinese have one kind of manners, the Canadians another, and the Hottentots another still – just what we tell ourselves about morality. The fact that universal ideas of courtesy and gratitude underlie all these differences is lost on us.
Chip by chip, like mosaics, all these obvious, forgotten things must be restored.