Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Applying philosophy in your daily life

Rate this topic


LovesLife
 Share

Recommended Posts

From an evolutionary perspective, volitional action (free will) and man's ability to reason seem like they must be relatively recent occurrences. Chimpanzees, which are very close to us genetically, still lack these abilities. Being relatively recent, it seems to me that these abilities are probably not fully mature. Based on experience, it's also increasingly clear to me that the degree of their presence in humans is not consistent. Perhaps that's in the nature of an evolutionary change; the whole population doesn't move along at the same rate or even in the same exact way.

What led me down this line of thinking is that I see these things in myself. I am generally a very Objectivist person. But I find that I have "automatic" (for lack of a better word) thoughts and feelings that occasionally pull me off-track. If I sit down and think about it, I can usually identify where I went wrong. But in the heat of the moment, it is sometimes an extremely difficult thing to do. I suspect the same is true for most people, to some degree.

At least part of the problem is cultural. Modern schools certainly don't teach kids how to think. But I think it's also deeper than that. I suspect that it might be impossible for many people to grasp reason and reality in any deep sense, and even if they do, applying it fully in their daily lives represents another huge challenge.

To help those of us who sometimes struggle with personal issues along these lines, I wonder if something like Objectivist-oriented psychotherapy would be useful. Not therapy in the Freudian sense -- rather, help with thought processes and applying tools like induction and principles to our daily lives, or helping us recognize when we are drifting off into rationalism or empiricism. Maybe "philosophical consulting" is a more descriptive term. Does such a service even exist? Or am I the only one who feels this way?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From an evolutionary perspective, volitional action (free will) and man's ability to reason seem like they must be relatively recent occurrences. Chimpanzees, which are very close to us genetically, still lack these abilities. Being relatively recent, it seems to me that these abilities are probably not fully mature.
What does that mean? What is the difference between "mature" free will and "immature" free will? Or, to put it differently, what capacity does man lack regarding the capacity to reason or the capacity to choose?
Based on experience, it's also increasingly clear to me that the degree of their presence in humans is not consistent.
What are examples? I question your analysis; but let me suggest that you rethink your question in terms of "focus". What might appear to be a failure of an individual to reason is, in my experience, a failure to focus. Logic requires non-contradictory integration of new conclusions with the totality of your knowledge, and an apparent lack of reasoning on a person's part is, I find, very often a failure to fully integrate a conclusion -- to not focus sufficiently on the relation between knowledge and some new conclusion. Free will and reason are absolutes: you have it, or you don't. But focus is a matter of degree.
But I find that I have "automatic" (for lack of a better word) thoughts and feelings that occasionally pull me off-track.
Lack of focus. You need to just sit down and think about the problem. Focus more intensively on the exact problem, not irrelevant stuff.
If I sit down and think about it, I can usually identify where I went wrong. But in the heat of the moment, it is sometimes an extremely difficult thing to do.
See, what did I tell you?
At least part of the problem is cultural. Modern schools certainly don't teach kids how to think.
I personally think it's entirely cultural; that development of problem-solving skills is not considered very important except in a perfunctory way, and one cure would be to get into the habit of teaching laboratory science from the get-go.
I suspect that it might be impossible for many people to grasp reason and reality in any deep sense, and even if they do, applying it fully in their daily lives represents another huge challenge.
I just don't see how we need any genetic explanations -- it's all because methods of reasoning are not automatic, and people don't always learn / develop decent skills in reasoning.
To help those of us who sometimes struggle with personal issues along these lines, I wonder if something like Objectivist-oriented psychotherapy would be useful. Not therapy in the Freudian sense -- rather, help with thought processes and applying tools like induction and principles to our daily lives, or helping us recognize when we are drifting off into rationalism or empiricism. Maybe "philosophical consulting" is a more descriptive term. Does such a service even exist?
Welcome to OO.

I'd suggest concretizing your ideas / claims. Conclusions are only as good as the facts that they represent. So what are the data? That question / request reflects the Objectivist epistemology, that concepts are derived from and subsume specific facts -- you start with the facts and derive conclusions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dr. Peikoff was asked about the "sense of life" a person has, and the issue of changing that sense of life came up. He said he believes it can be done, but it is very difficult, and it requires specialized training. (I believe that was the exact expression he used)

He did not give any other details, but I'm pretty sure he meant the same thing you are talking about.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What does that mean? What is the difference between "mature" free will and "immature" free will? Or, to put it differently, what capacity does man lack regarding the capacity to reason or the capacity to choose?

The difference is an ever-present realization that one has choice. In my experience, people often act in a particular way because they feel they have no choice. I also know many people who live their lives on auto-pilot, reacting as an animal does to the dominant sensation of the moment.

What are examples?

Intentionally self-destructive behavior, irrational hopelessness, acceptance based on belief, pack-like follow-the leader behavior, etc. An extreme, but more concrete example: primitives living in the bush, who base their lives and actions on superstitions. Only in my experience, people with similar thought processes are not isolated in The Lost World; they are also all around us.

I question your analysis; but let me suggest that you rethink your question in terms of "focus". What might appear to be a failure of an individual to reason is, in my experience, a failure to focus. Logic requires non-contradictory integration of new conclusions with the totality of your knowledge, and an apparent lack of reasoning on a person's part is, I find, very often a failure to fully integrate a conclusion -- to not focus sufficiently on the relation between knowledge and some new conclusion.

OK, that makes sense to me. However, the type of focus you're describing is a learned thing; it's not automatic. And since it's learned, it's easy to make potentially serious mistakes.

Free will and reason are absolutes: you have it, or you don't.

But having them and not knowing you do, or not knowing how to integrate them fully into your life, or how to use them to improve your life, is a different thing entirely; that's what I'm talking about.

I'd suggest concretizing your ideas / claims. Conclusions are only as good as the facts that they represent. So what are the data?

OK, let's take a more realistic concrete. Why do some people eat poorly, when they know it's bad for them? It seems like there's a disconnect between known facts and actions / behaviors. In some people, it might partly be the rationalist trap of floating abstractions. But even tying the abstractions back to reality by providing concrete examples of how eating poorly damages you usually won't fix the problem. There is also clearly a biochemical component: blood sugar, hormones, stress and fatigue can all interfere with one's ability to think clearly when the time comes to make a food choice.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think it is true that volition or free will is not fully developed in humans. It may well be that some people do not have it as well tuned as others, but if they were fully not human then that would be obvious as they would act more like animals and not just acting as a short-range human. But acting short-range or long-range is open to one's choice, though there have been many people on oo.net who claim we don't really have free will and that it is an illusion due to bad philosophy. If you accept that you have free will, verified via introspection, then you can learn how to use it to your advantage; but if you deny it due to rationalism or other mistakes, then you are not going to utilize free will to accomplish your goals. So, I don't think it is genetic, but rather philosophical; and some people do not want the responsibility that comes with free will -- i.e. they don't want to have to morally evaluate all of their choices, so they deny free will as a means from escaping that necessity.

And let's face it, it is much easier to live without making explicit choices for everything -- living on auto-pilot for most of one's life, as many people do; never questioning what they have been taught and never taking a first-hand look at existence. Objectivism will change the culture in that sense in the long-run, but in the mean time you will be dealing with a lot of people who just don't want to accept the fact that they are human beings and not animals or not biobots who have no control over their thoughts or their actions, because that is the default position. Free will has to be used by an act of free will, it is not automatic that one will think something through.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The difference is an ever-present realization that one has choice.
I see. I don't think that lack of such constant realization reflects anything like "partial free will"; rather, it reflects evasion (of the fact that you do have a choice). Similarly, one can evade the knowledge that making unsecured mortgages is a poor business, which doesn't mean that people doing this don't have the capacity to reason.

So I don't think you've identified anything suggesting evolutionarily incomplete development of free will and the faculty of reason, but rather a consequence of free will, that one can ignore reason and can ignore facts.

However, the type of focus you're describing is a learned thing; it's not automatic. And since it's learned, it's easy to make potentially serious mistakes.
Yes, mistakes are possible, and focus is a skill that has to be learned.
But having them and not knowing you do, or not knowing how to integrate them fully into your life, or how to use them to improve your life, is a different thing entirely; that's what I'm talking about.
You know you have the power to reason and the ability to choose -- those facts are self-evident. But you are entirely correct that the problem is learning how to properly use those abilities is learned, and not trivial. Personally, I find it most important and effective to thing of purpose when considering an action. I find it really shocking how many people start by trying to decide between two courses of action when they haven't even thought of what they are trying to do. I think this is probably because many people have not philosophically analyzed what it means to make a choice, and what it would mean to use a principle to make a choice. It appears to be much easier to "just do it" -- thinking is a pain in the ass, etc. Chuckbutler has good suggestions for actions that counter the culture of the inactive mind.
Why do some people eat poorly, when they know it's bad for them?
It's hard to say, but I have various theories. First, I don't think they strongly know the consequences of poor dietary habits. There are big gaps in our knowledge of the relation of food intake to health consequences. An example of that is the question of cholesterol intake; similar gaps exist w.r.t. sodium consumption, the consequences of eating grilled food, and so on. So you cannot generally know that consuming large amounts of meat is bad for you, since it is not a general fact -- it is, possibly, a statistical tendency. Which means that a person may suspect that their diet is a problem. I do think that if a person of 6 ft height weighs 350 lbs, that would be pretty clear evidence of an effect on their body caused by food. But again, is that really "bad for them"? If they drop dead of a stroke, that would be convincing evidence that it was actually bad for them, otherwise, it's not clear what the real harm is. And to consider the problem from the other perspective, I gotta say, I love Popeye's fried chicken, I could imagine having it every meal. This "poor diet" stuff, you know you're talking about tasty diet. Nobody would be eating poorly if it tasted like crap.

In fact, your example is a non-trivial moral puzzle, since it involves making a decision that on the face of it is immoral (sacrifice of life-affirming experiences without positive tradeoff) based on a very shaky knowledge basis (most people can't read technical medical journals and performs the tests, and actually know with certainty what the consequences for them will be). In this case, I think the question which one should ask is "How do I determine what the consequences for me will be?". In addition, matters of diet are plagued with too many strongly-stated ill-supported (and contradictory) claims, which hinder judgment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I see. I don't think that lack of such constant realization reflects anything like "partial free will"; rather, it reflects evasion (of the fact that you do have a choice). Similarly, one can evade the knowledge that making unsecured mortgages is a poor business, which doesn't mean that people doing this don't have the capacity to reason.

Evasion is certainly possible. However, I'm not sure how to differentiate between someone choosing to evade a choice (which is of course actually making a choice), and someone who is driven to a particular action based on an animal-like response to a dominant stimulus. Based on personal experience, most people I know don't appear to actively choose evasion. They just act.

First, I don't think they strongly know the consequences of poor dietary habits.

OK, point taken. However, I'm thinking of a situation where the person has no doubt about the effect of his actions on his health; whether the issue is debated in some circles is immaterial. Let's narrow it further and say that someone has diabetes, and knows that foods containing sugar will make him feel bad and generally shorten his life, yet he does it anyway. The science of the relationship between diabetes and sugar intake is well-established. Equally important, the person is convinced about the truth of that science.

What I'm trying to figure out is how someone like that can accomplish the full integration of mind and body that would be required to change his behavior. It's easy to say "focus," but how do you do that? Or how do you learn to do it? And is that really all there is to it? In my case, I think I have extremely good focus 99% of the time (in fact, I sometimes hyper-focus, which can actually be a problem). I read and write a lot, and games, puzzles, etc are very easy for me. But it does slip away at certain moments.

I had an idea the other day to write down some of my analysis of "undesirable" actions on a 3x5 card, and carry it in my shirt pocket -- then pull it out for review under times of stress. I also feel, as I said in the OP, that it would be very helpful to have someone to talk to who understood the background. Writing about it just isn't enough (particularly in a public forum).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Evasion is certainly possible. However, I'm not sure how to differentiate between someone choosing to evade a choice (which is of course actually making a choice), and someone who is driven to a particular action based on an animal-like response to a dominant stimulus. Based on personal experience, most people I know don't appear to actively choose evasion. They just act.

In man, that is called reason versus emotion, or in the case of your diabetic eating sweets when he knows he shouldn't, it is definitely evasion.

Emotions are automatic, as are our senses, so getting an emotional twinge to do something versus thinking about it is what is going on. Thinking is not automatic, one has to will to think. In fact, in Objectivism, reason is volition (or man's free will). If someone is going by emotion or going by sensations, he is not using his mind to decide what to do. In your words, they just act.

But they are not acting on instincts, which is what your beginning question presumes -- i.e. that they don't have fully developed free will. If there is ever a conflict between emotion and reason, and one choses to act on the emotion rather than thought, that is evasion. If one refuses to think, that is evasion -- evasion of a greater power he has than going by whatever strikes one's fancy on the spur of the moment.

In other words, in the words of Ayn Rand, man has to be man by choice. There are many people who abdicate on that choice and on that responsibility. Miss Rand did write an essay called "The Missing Link" in which she speculated that maybe some people just don't have what it takes to be fully man -- to go by reason -- and she called it the missing link because they acted as if they were somewhere between man and animals, but I don't think there is any real scientific evidence of this. One does have to wonder about some people, but if you ask them they will generally tell you that they would rather not think, so it is not as if they don't have that biological power, but refuse to use it -- which is evasion. At some point in their lives, they decided not to put forth the effort to figure thinks out, and so that ability to be rational atrophied.

There have been people posting to oo.net who claim they have no awareness of their own will and do not detect the ability to choose, but I'm not sure one can take them at their word at that. For one thing, they do show the ability to reason, which is free will in man, so I think these people are just not very introspective. Whether that in and of itself is evasion is open to debate, I suppose, though making the claim that they do not have free will means they are not man, but something else.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've just re-read "The Missing Link" in Philosophy: Who Needs It and the theme of that essay is exactly the issue brought up at the beginning of this thread. At the end of that essay, Miss Rand mentions the theory of evolution, but she doesn't say that there is a missing link in the biological sense, but rather in the psycho-epistemological sense --i.e. the existence of men who are anti-conceptual.

It is as if, after aeons of physiological development, the evolutionary process altered its course,and the higher stages of development focused primarily on the consciousness of living species, not their bodies. But the development of a man's consciousness is volitional: no matter what the innate degree of his intelligence, he must develop it, he must learn how to use it, he must become a human being by choice. What if he does not chose to?Then he becomes a transitional phenomenon -- a desperate creature that struggles frantically against his own nature, longing for the effortless "safety"of an animal's consciousness, which he cannot recapture, and rebelling against a human consciousness, which he is afraid to achieve.

For years, scientists have been looking for a "missing link" between man and animals. Perhaps that missing link is the anti-conceptual mentality.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm still not completely clear how to turn that into personal change, but it does shed some light on a possible path.

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've just re-read "The Missing Link" in Philosophy: Who Needs It and the theme of that essay is exactly the issue brought up at the beginning of this thread. At the end of that essay, Miss Rand mentions the theory of evolution, but she doesn't say that there is a missing link in the biological sense, but rather in the psycho-epistemological sense --i.e. the existence of men who are anti-conceptual.

I haven't read Philosophy: Who Needs It (since I'm already convinced that I need it) -- but I can see I'll have to add that to my reading list.

The quote you provided leads me to think that the issue I'm struggling with could perhaps be characterised as a lack of will, or a disconnect between reason and will. How does one learn to have a stronger will?

Well, with respect to improving general focus, I previously outlined a few suggestions.

In my case, focus of the type you described is not the problem. I read a lot, I can solve puzzles well, I can hold my focus on a particular task for an extended period, etc. Rather, the problem is focus at particular times -- such as when under stress, when I feel poorly, etc. It's like learning how to fight in a classroom environment, compared to being on the street in a real life-or-death battle. This used to be a huge problem for the military. Their solution was to "train like you fight," so that the reactions become automatic. I'm looking for something similar, with reasoning being the automatic response, rather than physical action. How do you train your mind to reason in situations where it would normally be impaired?

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.

Although my conscious mind completely rejects the idea that emotions are a means of cognition, I suppose it's possible that I'm allowing that to happen at some subconscious level. I'll definitely try to watch for it, to see if that's the case.

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.

This was just an example; but the problem is not in coming up with a rational plan. That's easy. The problem I'm interested in is when executing that plan is difficult or impossible. Joining a gym is easy; going there regularly and actually working out might not be. Knowing you shouldn't eat a particular food is easy; actually doing so might not be.

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.

But how? What if you know you should do something, you come up with a plan, and are then just unable to execute? There's a piece missing there for me. The more I think about it, the more I agree that it's some form of evasion. But how does applying more reasoning to the problem fix it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Although my conscious mind completely rejects the idea that emotions are a means of cognition, I suppose it's possible that I'm allowing that to happen at some subconscious level.

LL, that's not Chuck's point as I understand it.

Emotions are not a direct means of cognition. However they are an absolutely imperative part of dealing with daily life, and the introspection about your emotions, their causes, and your reactions to them is an absolutely vital feedback tool, and a means of understanding yourself better.

I think Chuck is suggesting that you may be actually denying, repressing, or refusing to analyze your emotions because you think they are not tools of cognition.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The quote you provided leads me to think that the issue I'm struggling with could perhaps be characterized as a lack of will, or a disconnect between reason and will. How does one learn to have a stronger will?

The thing is that reasoning is never automatic, and it can't really be automatized because it involves volition. What one can do is to get into the habit of thinking in terms of principles so that the daily thinking becomes more streamlined. What this means is that one ought to think about the principles -- in terms of actions and living, think of man's life as the standard -- and then catch yourself if you begin to wander away from those principles. It may seem like extra work at first, because maybe you think you already know enough to live your life, but after a while you will be able to re-integrate your thinking to your rationally accepted philosophy -- i.e. Objectivism.

One thing you can do is to read or re-read works by Objectivists -- primarily Ayn Rand's essays -- and think about how those principles apply to your life and how knowing those principles and integrating them makes it that much easier to think about things -- i.e. applying the philosophy to your personal life. But integration on that scale is not automatic, you have to do the work of applying it to your own life; and then you can begin to see that the things Miss Rand writes about are applicable to you in your daily life.

Going back to the missing link idea, those anti-conceptual mentalities do not have a philosophy -- no explicit guide as to how to live their lives -- because philosophy is not a rules book that you take out for each incident. They are incapable of thinking in terms of principles because that requires real thinking and not just going along with what they have been taught (to be short-range and immediate moment reactions).

So, I think what you are looking for is how to think in terms of principles. And my best advise is to understand the principles that Miss Rand outlines in her essays and the demonstrations she gives in her novels. You are looking to become like Howard Roark or John Galt, whereby the principles are there at the ready for each decision; but it is thinking in terms of principles that will get you there.

To answer your specific question, the will to follow principles comes from understanding the principles; that is, once you grasp the principles and apply them to your daily life, you won't lack the will to follow them, because you will know that to not follow them is self-destructive.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How does one learn to have a stronger will?

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?"

This was just an example; but the problem is not in coming up with a rational plan. That's easy. The problem I'm interested in is when executing that plan is difficult or impossible. Joining a gym is easy; going there regularly and actually working out might not be. Knowing you shouldn't eat a particular food is easy; actually doing so might not be.

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.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What one can do is to get into the habit of thinking in terms of principles so that the daily thinking becomes more streamlined. What this means is that one ought to think about the principles -- in terms of actions and living, think of man's life as the standard -- and then catch yourself if you begin to wander away from those principles.

Aha! This is great. Yes, of course: principles. For example, very little effort is required for me to not initiate the use of force; clearly a principle is at work. Another way of looking at this is the crow epistemology: if you try to hold too much in your mind at once, it actually interferes with thinking; concepts and principles are the way to reduce a large amount of information to a form that can be easily and quickly processed.

So, this leads to my next question: How does one go about establishing new principles? Can it be reliably done using a particular methodology? Perhaps by the "chewing" technique that Peikoff has described?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I want to add a quick aside here: if you have difficulty integrating principles with your daily life, you might want to reevaluate those principles.

Either Ayn or Leonard Peikoff said, "A rational man has no contradictions". When your actions contradict your stated beliefs, that's a sign to examine your premises. It is possible that what you think should be important to you actually is not, or perhaps your values have a different rank than you expect.

For instance, if you know you should go to the gym, but choose not to, look at what you're doing instead. If you're reading a book you enjoy or staying connected socially on the web, it's possible those are more important to you (for now) than an even healthier body. If you want to go to the gym also, you might go during a different time of the day when it doesn't interfere with the other activity you also value.

I've addressed several issues in my life this way where I would say, "I want to do X but I'm not. Why?" It's important to answer that as honestly as you can. Don't worry about what you "should" think; "should"s usually come from other people and haven't been rationally examined. This is about you, how you choose to spend the life that belongs to you, and what you truly value.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, this leads to my next question: How does one go about establishing new principles? Can it be reliably done using a particular methodology? Perhaps by the "chewing" technique that Peikoff has described?

There is a sense in which you have to be patient with yourself as you are transitioning to Objectivism fully. For example, if you feel nervous about some aspect of Objectivism, that indicates what you have to work on. The first step is to think it through and to realize that the new principles are indeed rational by your own mind. This is chewing the principles of Objectivism, as you indicate. I was once Catholic and had a very difficult time with The Virtue of Selfishness, so I kept reading it and thinking it through and eventually got convinced that Miss Rand was right.

When it comes to acting on rational principles, that is not going to happen overnight. You have to become integrated before it becomes semi-automatic. I say semi-automatic because once you understand the principles by chewing them, then when an issue comes up they will be at the ready consciously, but then you have to choose to act on them, which is more difficult, depending on your background.

As to the example of exercising. It's probably a good idea, and I used to exercise a lot, because I used to throw fifty pound backs for a living and took karate lessons, but over the years because I got busier and had a less physically demanding job, I got out of the habit. However, I don't think I have violated some major virtue by not exercising, so that is down my list of what is important to me. That is, while I would love to be ripped and muscular, I don't think it is necessary for one to be rational. Though since I am fifty, I probably ought to get back into it so I don't become a blob :thumbsup: In other words, physical health, in the sense of exercising, is not as important to me as being able to think things through, though to be more rounded personally, then exercising is probably something I ought to do.

So, it is an issue of prioritizing. If you are relatively new to Objectivism, I would recommend focusing on that, and I think staying healthy will follow from that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Either Ayn or Leonard Peikoff said, "A rational man has no contradictions". When your actions contradict your stated beliefs, that's a sign to examine your premises. It is possible that what you think should be important to you actually is not, or perhaps your values have a different rank than you expect.

As part of trying to establish a new principle, I decided to "chew" the ideas I'm having trouble with, in the Peikoff sense: establish a context and then list pros and cons, supporting issues and facts, deductive/inductive reasoning and conclusions, etc, keeping them grounded in reality and referenced both to emotions and back to core/contextual principles. This was my first time doing this, but it went very well. One of the things I discovered is exactly what MichealH said above -- I have some principles that contradict the new one that I'm trying to establish. Just knowing that is a major step forward, but seeing the contradictions also makes it possible to resolve them. That's the next step. So far, so good!

FWIW, I found the process to be very therapeutic. In fact, traditional therapy in some ways feels like "assisted chewing."

Edited by LovesLife
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What led me down this line of thinking is that I see these things in myself. I am generally a very Objectivist person. But I find that I have "automatic" (for lack of a better word) thoughts and feelings that occasionally pull me off-track. If I sit down and think about it, I can usually identify where I went wrong. But in the heat of the moment, it is sometimes an extremely difficult thing to do. I suspect the same is true for most people, to some degree.

Peikoff discusses the significance of using morality as a servant to one's happiness, and NOT as a set of rules to impose on oneself in his lecture series "Understanding Objectivism". If you find yourself doing the later (using Oist ethics as a bunch of rules to follow), it means you do not yet see how those principles you're trying to follow serve your happiness and self interest. I suggest simply thinking about it more, and in the meantime, most importantly, not to repress your emotions/ desires (but study them instead).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To help those of us who sometimes struggle with personal issues along these lines, I wonder if something like Objectivist-oriented psychotherapy would be useful. Not therapy in the Freudian sense -- rather, help with thought processes and applying tools like induction and principles to our daily lives, or helping us recognize when we are drifting off into rationalism or empiricism. Maybe "philosophical consulting" is a more descriptive term. Does such a service even exist? Or am I the only one who feels this way?

Cognitive therapy comes closest to what you seem to be looking for. Nathaniel Brandon's early attempts to marry psychology w/ Objectivist priniciples was a disaster IMO. Just as there can be no such thing as Objectivist mathematics or Objectivst sociology, there can be Objectivist philosophic consulting services as such.

Your post highlights for me something I think about: the manner and extent to which a system of ideas can be healthy and beneficial to one. Obviously it depends on each individual and their sense of life; I personally know many neurotics that are the most logical of thinkers, committed to principles of rationality. Just as religion proposes the ideal of human perfectibility, there is danger in the belief that a philosophy provides intellectual certainty.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

the manner and extent to which a system of ideas can be healthy and beneficial to one. Obviously it depends on each individual and their sense of life; I personally know many neurotics that are the most logical of thinkers, committed to principles of rationality. Just as religion proposes the ideal of human perfectibility, there is danger in the belief that a philosophy provides intellectual certainty.

This is a bizarre position to be taking considering that Objectivism is reality oriented via reason, which will not led to neurosis. Whatever neurosis an individual may have, it does not come from being rational, it comes from subconscious malfunctions that can be overcome with reason.

Regarding the perfectibility of man, I think you might have the wrong standard. It is possible for each and every man to be rational, and therefore it is possible for each and every man to be perfect -- morally perfection is achievable via Objectivism. To the extent that you reject reason, you will not be morally perfect, but a psychopathology, in and of itself, is not a moral mark against someone.

And a rational philosophy can provide intellectual certainty -- a certainty that one's mind is capable of understanding all of existence and man's place in it.

You seem to have developed some sort of intellectual skepticism, and I suggest you check your premises. You might not be certain of your stance, but that did not come about due to Objectivism, unless one does not go through the effort of being rationally integrated and the existence of Objectivism acts as a mental gadfly to you.

One thing that may be a problem is too much of a focus on others, as is implied in the beginning of this thread. If you think "mankind" will never reach that perfection of being rational, that is too second-handed in nature. Be concerned for yourself and your rationality, and leave the irrational to their lives so long as they are not initiating force against you. In other words, live and let die if they choose not to be rational -- it is of no concern of yours if they reject reason. The only way it might be of concern of yours if you notice a loved one turning away from reason, but even that concern can only go so far; once it becomes sacrifice for you to try to save them, than forget them and move on -- like Roark with regard to Wynand, or like Galt et al with regard to Dr. Stadler.

Edited by Thomas M. Miovas Jr.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...