May 14th, 2005


Stoic Musings

As individuals, we are at the center of a web of nerves, connecting us
to the world. Waves of information flow in, and waves of intention
flow out proportionally, in accordance with the tuning of this web.
Sins and faults mark weaknesses and instability in this web, places
where we do not have proper tension.

In looking at other people, and trying to improve ourselves, we look
for the steady beat of goodness, flowing calmly in both directions
The hope is that as you advance toward a good life, our actions will
become more consistent until your behavior achieves wisdom, that is,
your behavior shows that the web is in tune. We hope that the sins
will damp down to faults, and the faults will become eccentricities,
and finally vanish.

But we backslide, we forget, even the simplest formulations:
"Fortitude in the face of adversity: prudence in affairs, and
moderation in enjoyment" flies right out of mind at the first
appearance of a challenge: an insult, a Nazi, a Communist provoke us
into leaving the ground we know is good and embarking on an adventure
in response.

So the center of the web of nerves has faults: weaknesses of
perception and apperception, of understanding and reaction. Brain
studies have established that our apperception does not cover the
force with which we strike back very well, and so all fights escalate,
each party blaming the other.

Rules, as rules, typically succeed in making us conscious of failure,
and only improve things on the margin of our behavior, leaving the
center untouched. "Friends don't fight" is a longstanding rule
designed to cover the specific weakness in apperception noted above:
yet we do it anyway. We need something better than rules.

One proposal that the Stoics used, inspired by Aristotle, was
establishing a relationship with someone who has been where we are and
who can help us act appropriately. They spoke of Odysseus, Hercules,
and Socrates in this way. This way, too, can have weaknesses: they
can reinforce their own weaknesses in us (see the correspondence
between Seneca and Lucius for examples).

For those who are Christian, this is part of the triumph of Christ and
the communion of saints: we have examples of how to behave, and in our
relationship with Christ, we come into a better relation with all of
reality based on our understanding of its creator.

How do you handle your own faults?
  • Current Mood
    contemplative contemplative

CBS Manufactures Another Quote

This time, their manufactured quote is not from a dead guy who can't contradict them (their prior tricks), but from Ken Starr, who can.

I'm not sure whether I should be laughing harder at them because they did so badly, or being appalled that they don't learn to say truthful things. All those "layers of editing" that journalists insist create their credibility are certainly no guarantee of even minimal standards.

Of course, "freedom of the press" meant something different when first drafted: it meant that anyone could use the presses to say whatever he wanted (within the bounds of true things) to encourage public understanding and debate. The fact that press owners started hiring people to write things so that their presses got used and they got paid for them is irrelevant: reporters are just guys who are hired to keep the press busy so its owner gets repaid for the investment. On that rather low standard, CBS is doing just fine.
  • Current Mood
    amused amused

A A Long: A Stoics Apologia (retouched in part)

As Stoics, we have what we belive is a fully consistent explanation of reality. Basically, we believe that the word "truth" has the same relationship to a statement that "real" has with regard to a metaphysical entity: cause and effect are matters of basic reasoning. The pattern of cause and effect is fairly easy to demonstrate:
1. If p then q; p is true; therefore q is true.
2. If p then q; q is untrue; therefore p is false.
3. Not (both p & q); p is true; therefore q is false.
4. Either p or q is true; p is true; therefore q is false.
5. Either p or q is true; q is false; therefore p is true.
That this is different from the limited form of symbolic logic in use merely demonstrates to us that its "truth value" does not correspond to reality. Reasoning requires the refinement and effort to make ourselves into the best people we can be.

To be sure, our ethics is a system which locates goodness solely in the proper functioning of reason. Hence we do resemble Kant in judging the moral worth of an action solely in terms of the agent's reasons and intentions, and not in terms of its outcome. But Kant arrives at this position by very different steps from ourselves, and even the points in which we seem to resemble one another need careful elucidation. Unlike Kant, we think that reason cannot function properly unless it seeks to produce results which are "in accordance with nature", i.e. agreeable to one's own normative condition and that of others. The legislative principles on which we act are grounded in empirical data -- e.g. the naturalness of health, family affection, and social cohesion to human beings. We think that well-fuctioning rational beings should do everything in their power to promote these states of affairs, and that happiness consists precisely in such efforts and in the mental states that accompany them.

Our critcs are reluctant to take us seriously when we make this claim. This is because we deny that happiness requires us to possess or succeed in implementing any of the things we rationally seek to promote. But there is no in compatibility: look at the way things are. Rason constrains you to agree that we should seek to promote all things that accord with our natures: our health, our family relationships, our lives as citizens, &c. Equally, reason constrains you to admit that such objectives may sometimes conflict, requiring you to prefer one to another, and that the final outcome of all such efforts is not something for which you are solely answerable or which can have any bearing on the goodness of trying to promote such things. Consequently we conclude that thoroughly rational will be content and happy entirely in the proper exercise of their rational faculties.

Our ethics make sense only on thbe assumption that we value happiness above anything else. However, in order to find our postion palatable, it is essential to recognize that we defend positions that some object to: first, determinism; second, its equivalent, divine providence; third, the availability of happiness to every normal person; fourth, the perfectability of reason. If you reflect sufficiently on those positions and accept them, you will find that we offer an account of happiness that is fully coherent, and neither impoverished or disingenuous. If you cannot recognize those positions, we are neither your predecessors nor successors.
  • Current Mood
    contemplative contemplative

Fun Article

Read this and then answer for yourself:

Are there any parts of your approach that are conservative? Liberal?

Should you worry about those that answer this question in horror?
  • Current Mood
    amused amused