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chuckbutler

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About chuckbutler

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    Professional Commercial Composer.
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  1. Thanks for including "My Life" in your top 5 -- I appreciate it!
  2. Hi there, Sorry for cross-posting, but I wasn't sure how many of you read the Activism area. If you have a few minutes, you may enjoy my entry for the ARI's "Atlas Shrugged" video contest: http://tinyurl.com/29l2u38 Please vote if you like it, and share it with your friends. Thanks!
  3. Hi Folks, If you have three minutes, you may enjoy my entry for the ARI's "Atlas Shrugged" video competition: http://tinyurl.com/29l2u38 Please vote if you like it, and share with your friends. Mostly, I hope you'll find it useful in your activism. Thanks for listening!
  4. My answer is: by properly integrating your values. "Will" implies action, i.e., the will to do this or not to do that. In order to act properly, you've got to have some idea as to why you're acting. Are you acting on emotion or impluse? To what end? Or are you acting in your long-term, rational self-interest? In order to answer such questions you must first figure out what your values are, and why. In the example I gave above, when fitness and general good health are not properly valued it's much easier to reach for the jelly donut ("What the hell, it's not going to kill me today, right? I'll go to the gym next week and work it off." And then you make the same evasions tomorrow, etc., until they do eventually catch up with you). So strengthening your will is really a question of knowing yourself and what you value, making sure that those values are arranged in a rational hierarchy, and then acting, day-in and day-out, on that knowledge (staying focused on your values). I do think that the more you become conscious of what your values are and get into the habit of considering them before you act, you can at least automatize that part of the process (meaning getting into the habit of always thinking: "before I act I'm going to focus and think about how this impacts my values"). But there's always ultimately a choice involved, and there's no way to automatize making the right choice. If you could somehow automatize making only right choices you wouldn't have free will--you'd be a plant. How does a plant make a "wrong choice?" Sorry if some of my previous examples were simplistic; it's hard to know exactly what level of information someone is looking for. I think there are a couple of aspects to what you're asking. First, in Aristotle's Ethics he talks about the "incontinent" man; one who knows he's making the wrong choice but makes it anyway. I think my answer above covers that: do your values matter to you or not? If one is prepared to live in a state of constant evasion, then I would question whether his values mean anything to him at all. But second, you raise an issue that is something like "courage under fire"; in other words, the ability to keep yourself in focus under stress (like a noisy classroom, a crisis situation, whatever). I think that people who handle themselves well under pressure are people who (1) really know themselves and what they value, (2) have practiced and succeeded in pursuing their values over the long term, and (3) are therefore really confident in their ability to analyze a situation and choose the course of action that is in their rational self-interest. If you start thinking in these terms, and if you challenge yourself to focus on your decision making process (as you've begun to do just by virtue of posing the questions you have in this thread), I think you'll find yourself increasingly able to find the willpower to make quality choices, even in emotional or stressful situations. It won't happen overnight, but give it time and keep reading Ayn Rand.
  5. Well, with respect to improving general focus, I previously outlined a few suggestions. With respect to evasion and not acting on emotional impulses (as indicated by Mr. Miovas' excellent post) I would suggest that recognizing emotions as a response (rather than a means of cognition) is an important first step. Emotion is treated as a primary by most people in our current culture; hopefully better philosophy will eventually change that. As far as your dietary example, I would only slightly disagree with Mr. Odden in that I think we do have a pretty good handle on nutrition. For whatever its flaws may be, the sport of bodybuilding (and sports fitness in general) has nutrition down to a science, with the ability to adjust for specific body types, and even conditions like diabetes. So if eating is a problem, and you want to know how to effect "personal change," here's what I would do: 1. Join a gym, and start working with a personal trainer if possible. 2. Develop a workout program--not overly hard, you're not training for the Mr. Olympia--and stick to it. Sometimes it helps to get into it with a friend so you can motivate one another. 3. Make sure your program includes aerobic as well as anaerobic activity; you need some of both. If you don't know what that means, ask your trainer or some regular at your gym who seems to know what they're doing. 4. Subscribe to Muscle & Fitness magazine and read it cover to cover every month. You'll find detailed information about how to manage your nutrition; not wacky diets plans--sound, scientific advice with proven results. 5. Set goals for yourself including how much you'd like to weigh and what you'd like to look like in the long-term; these will be achieved by setting and meeting smaller, short-term goals related to your workouts and your diet. These are proactive, relatively inexpensive steps that can lead to "personal change." One side benefit of sticking to your workout schedule (as well as the exercise itself) will be improved mental focus and discipline. But more importantly, when the impulse arises to reach for that jelly donut (or fried chicken, LOL), you'll have concretized the very real consequences of that action--namely, its impact on the fitness goals you've been working so hard to achieve. The good news is that once you get your fitness to a decent level, you can enjoy the donut (or the chicken) in moderation, with very little impact on your overall condition. And guess what? As you work to maintain your condition, you may find that some of the impulses you had for unhealthy foods tend to disappear (because you've now re-ordered your hierarchy of values such that "fitness" trumps "tastes good"), and when you do choose to indulge, you'll be better equipped to make a rational judgment as to the impact of that choice on your life (i.e. can I or can I not "afford" this?). Until it means something to *you*--until *you* value it--you'll continue to evade until you either kill yourself or get rudely awakened by a heart attack or some other medical problem. I understand that this nutrition question may have just been an example, but I think this kind systematic, proactive approach can be applied to any area where you find focus or evasion a problem.
  6. First, I agree with Mr. Odden's comments. Second, I would suggest that conscious focus is something that you can work to improve. For example: 1. Read more. If you already read, try reading some non-fiction (and/or some more challenging fiction). 2. Take up a musical instrument. 3. Mensa puts out books that contain logic problems in the form of "brain teasers." You might even take a course in logic or mathematics. 4. Certain video games could be useful; for example, "Tetris" demands a degree of concentration, the "Legend of Zelda" series requires problem-solving skills, there is also a game called "Brain Age" that is designed to improve focus. I'm sure there are other examples. I could go on, but I think you get my drift. Third, I also think that discipline is a (secondary or tertiary) virtue that can also be developed through certain activities like maintaining a regular fitness routine, practicing a musical instrument on a regular schedule, writing on a regular basis--in other words, any (positive) activity that you need to perform with some regularity in order to see benefit (but might be tempted to "blow off") provides the opportunity to reinforce the value of that activity in your mind, and reassert your will to focus. Hope that helps.
  7. I first read "Atlas Shrugged" during the summer of 1999, mostly on the beach. I was 35 years old. I had never heard of Ayn Rand or "Atlas." I only picked up the book because I saw The Modern Library's "100 Best Novels" list published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I was surprised that I had never heard of the book that Readers had ranked #1. Prior to reading it, I had no idea that the book had anything to do with philosophy. I was raised as a Christian, but that never "took" with me, and I spent most of my time in high school and college reading about various religions. (Although I had given up any belief in God by the time I was fourteen, I remained fascinated by religious thought, and hoped that I might find some religion that would "make sense"). Unfortunately, I was never exposed to the subject of philosophy in school or by my parents, so beyond religion I had only read parts of Plato's Republic and a little bit of Aristotle. It honestly never occurred to me that the questions I was wondering about had been addressed by many philosophers--but I was committed to music from a very young age, and studied very little else. I think I've always been a kind of rational egoist, implicitly, so when I read "Atlas" it immediately connected with me. When I finished reading "Atlas" my first thought was, "finally someone who sees the world as I do!" I was quite naive and ignorant. Ayn Rand enabled me to finally understand the person I had always been. I've spent the 9 years since then studying philosophy in general and Objectivism in particular. I am an Objectivist.
  8. The American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia is hosting an extensive exhibition of Sawaya's work through November 30, 2008. I took a walk through the exhibit back in August, and had mixed feelings. On the one hand, his technique with Legos is pretty remarkable; he achieves curves and contours that I wouldn't have thought were possible with that media. His choice of subject matter is less satisfactory, however. He seems very interested in surrealism and deconstructionism; I'm no expert in art, but I know what appeals to my sense of life and what doesn't; so while I admired some of the pieces, and certainly his inventiveness, overall I was a bit disappointed. I went because my 15-year old son is an avid Logo builder, and he was certainly inspired to try some new techniques after viewing the exhibit. So at least in that respect it was worth the trip. http://www.americanswedish.org/exhibitions.htm
  9. In re-reading this entire thread, it seems to me that some of the confusion has to do with an implicit versus explicit understanding of Objectivism. Rational egoism is certainly central to Objectivism. And I do think that one can function as a "rational egoist" without ever having heard of Ayn Rand or Objectivism (When I stumbled upon Atlas Shrugged in 1999 I was astonished to discover that there was someone else who viewed the world as I did. Up until then, I naively thought I was inventing my own philosophy!). But unless a "non-Objectivist rational egoist" can answer questions like "what is your standard of value?" or "why should one pursue values at all?" or "why should one pursue values rationally?" he may find it difficult to determine whether his egoism is rational or irrational, and his concept of "rational egoism" may in fact be a floating abstraction. While Howard Roark was clearly a rational egoist, he could not have identified himself as an Objectivist, since Objectivism, as a fully-developed philosophical system, did not exist in the context of his fictional world. We may identify Roark as an example of an Objectivist--now that we know precisely what that entails--but Roark could not possibly have understood Objectivism in the explicit sense (since Rand herself hadn't fully worked out the details at the time of writing The Fountainhead). So I would argue that Roark operated as a rational egoist and, from an implicit, sense-of-life standpoint, could be called an Objectivist. But for you to call yourself an Objectivist, given that Objectivism is a well-defined philosophical system and given that your questions indicate that you would like to understand Objectivism in an explicit sense, I think you would need to understand more of the detail of the system. That doesn't mean you have to understand it to the degree Peikoff does; only that you have some structured, integrated knowledge of what the system holds. For example, I could call myself a "Dodgers fan": I wear a Dodgers shirt, I root for them to win, maybe I go to a game now and then. That's fine. But if I can't name any of the players on the team--or if I can only name their most famous player--am I really a fan? That's a very loose analogy, but I think you get my drift. BTW, I don't think there's any need to go beyond being a "sense-of-life Objectivist" if you don't want to; all you really need is a grasp of the basics for everyday life. But if you want to call yourself an Objectivist in the explicit sense, I think you'll need to go beyond "rational egoism" and understand the basis for the philosophy and how it integrates into a full system. Then, if you're like me, you'll want to go back and gain a deeper understanding of other philosophical systems, using Objectivism as a frame of reference, to discover whether or not you're able to defend Objectivism against other philosophical positions.
  10. To add to Kendall's response (with which I agree): I think it's very difficult to read any one book by Ayn Rand (even "Atlas Shrugged") and gain a thorough understanding of Objectivism. That's probably true of any broad philosophical system--reading one single book by Plato or Aristotle or Kant is not going to reveal the full picture. Following "The Fountainhead," I agree that "Atlas Shrugged" should be next on your list. Then I'd take a look at "The Virtue of Selfishness" as well as "Philosophy: Who Needs It" and/or "For The New Intellectual." If you seek a deeper understanding once you have those under your belt, you might move on to "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" by Peikoff and perhaps "Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics" by Smith. That's a lot of reading, but I think those books are absolute essentials if you really want to understand Objectivism in full. It might seem as though Objectivism boils down to rational egoism--and in a sense that's true--but if you don't understand the metaphysical and epistemological basis that leads to Rand's theory of ethics, you're missing the fundamental why of the system. So while it's fine to think to yourself, "what would Howard Roark do in this situation," your broader values and goals will almost certainly be different from his. How you identify and order your values (which you intend to pursue as a rational egoist) is as important as the manner in which you choose to pursue them. I would be careful about the notion of "becoming an Objectivist." There's something about that phrase that makes it sound as if you could suddenly turn into an Objectivist, or that you would "convert" to Objectivism in the same way that some people "convert" to a different religion. If you've found something that appeals to you in Objectivism, I would encourage you to explore it carefully and methodically. If you're like me, you'll want to review all of the premises you hold, and consider which are consistent and which are inconsistent with what you are learning. Don't take Ayn Rand's word for it, or Leonard Peikoff's, or mine, or anyone else's. Think independently; draw your own conclusions. That's also a big part of what Objectivism is about. It's up to you to check your premises, validate concepts, and insure that your knowledge is properly integrated. As your understanding of the system improves, you can gradually begin to apply Objectivist philosophy in your daily life. Let me warn you--it's not going to be easy. It takes a while to sort through all of the bad philosophical ideas you've absorbed (I'm still working on that myself), and the more you learn the more you realize that the vast majority of our current culture believes exactly the opposite. But change has to start somewhere, so I congratulate you on your discovery, and wish you well in the journey toward truth that lies ahead.
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