The sort of animal that lives for the pleasure(s) of the day


0938 |  I was thinking some more about what it means to be a person, and I don’t think that “rational animal” is a good definition for us. It’s a bit too vague, and includes those it might exclude, and excludes those it might include. Depending on how “rational” and “animal” is understood, a robot could be a “rational animal,” but so could a dog. And sometimes, even some people don’t seem to qualify as “rational animals.”

I wonder what would be a better definition of us. I get the hunch that it would depend on what we’re comparing ourselves to. And if that’s true, then there isn’t a single definition of us that would be sufficient…


1404 |  I’ve been thinking again, about whether I am doing the right thing by pursuing a life at Harvard. It’s not so much that I doubt whether I am doing the right thing, but I am the sort of person who would sincerely reexamine existing beliefs whenever a serious challenge to it arises. And now happens to be such a time.

I only want to do the work that is meaningful for me. When I was younger and searching for meaning, I could have done any sort of work — and I did; I’ve had lots of different sorts of jobs in my life. But now that I know very certainly what is meaningful work for me, I only want to be doing that. And it is this: to be contemplating and analyzing and sharing it with peers or other interested parties by writing or by conversation. And I think that I’m good at it, that I could help others by doing it well, and finally, I enjoy it and it is indeed incredibly meaningful for me.

But it is not only this. There is still something else. Something more urgent.

The fact is that I literally don’t think that I can get through the day, if I don’t have academic philosophy as the primary object in my life. There is a certain sort of painfulness in the core of my being if I deliberately tried to stay away from it “for good,” and throughout the day I feel as though I might have a “panic attack” at any moment. And when I imagine my life without academic philosophy, the task of daily living seems like a chore, and I can’t make any sense of what the chore is for the sake of. I no longer feel human; I feel like a bundle of animated flesh with no name, no story, no soul. And I can no longer make sense of what the breathing, eating, resting, moving, learning, growing, is for.

Still, I might think that the pleasure of daily living might make life a worthwhile experience. But since academic philosophy is my pleasure, without it, I cannot even imagine myself to be the sort of animal that lives for the pleasure(s) of the day.

On all fronts, I am blocked. And so these things prevent me from turning away. I am like a king-piece that is in check. There is no other square for me to move into, except the one before me. I don’t know if it’s the right thing, but there doesn’t seem to be anything else that I can do.

These things said, I think that there is also something that makes what I am now doing not only a necessary thing for me to do, but also the right thing for me to do. It has to do with something that Darwall said towards the end of his paper which caught my eye. On page 40, he writes:

“It is important, moreoever, that accountability come through fair procedures. Studies of decision acceptance suggest that while both outcome and procedural fairness matter, procedural justice usually matters more.  People are more apt to accept unfavorable outcomes when they result from procedures they regard as fair.” And directly following the last sentence is a footnote that refers to a book by Tom Tyler, Why People Obey the Law (2006).

I had been letting this stew in the back of my mind for the last couple of days. This, and the fact that Korsgaard calls Scanlon’s view, “procedural.”

To be honest, after having read Darwall’s paper, I know that I don’t really care for his style of writing. In my view, his writing is the sort that stirs up trouble; saying something that appears to be true is worse than saying what is obviously false. But there is still some truth in it, and what he said reminded me of a question that I once asked a church minister when I was probably about thirteen years old or so. I had asked him: “Would you follow your God, even if you knew that following your God would lead you to hell?”

He had two answers. The first one he gave was this: “Following God would not lead me to hell.” But then I pressed him further, insisting that he take my hypothetical situation seriously. And finally he answered, “No, I would not follow God if I knew that following him would lead me to hell.” And I remember responding to him saying that if I were God, I would not want people to follow me simply because they wanted to go to heaven or to avoid going to hell, because what they would be choosing in those cases is not to follow me for my own sake, but for the benefits that choosing to follow me would bring them.

Well, I don’t know about the “fairness” of procedures that Darwall mentions in his paper, but I do think that there is something to be said for a sense of duty to certain procedures and to the source of those procedures.

Now, there is a certain “procedure” that has brought me here to this place, at this time, and has made me who I am today. You might even say that the procedure is itself who I am now. There have been times when the procedure has not been particularly kind to me — especially in my youth. (Perhaps this is because I had not fully understood the procedure when I was a youth.) And yet, whenever the procedure was benevolent to me, what I have received from the procedure has been something extraordinarily good. And so I think that I owe something to this procedure that has been so extraordinarily good to me — in the way that one owes at least good-will to true friends.

But even if the procedure hadn’t given me something extraordinarily good yet, it would still be choice-worthy at the outset (as is evidenced by my having taken the route prior to any gifts) simply because there is a deep and intrinsic pleasure in choosing it; it literally feels good. And that is why I chose to follow it initially, before it had something extraordinarily good to give me in addition to the intrinsic pleasure in choosing it.

In any case, how can I deny the procedure now? Especially now that I know the source of this procedure?

Eden Ahbez truly said a tremendous thing when he wrote: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”


2037 |  [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Reading Scanlon’s Chapter 2 on “values” is giving me something to think about.

For instance, I think that I understand now; why Mark Schiefsky said to me that there is a good reason for thinking that happiness is an objectively observable “flourishing,” rather than a more subjective feel of “satisfaction.” Ever since he had said that, I have been wondering what that “good reason” would be. I’m not normally one to accept something, simply because it is what is said — but, Mark Schiefsky is interesting to me and I admire his deep and insightful understanding of Plato, and so I had reason to want to understand why he thought that it was a good idea. But for many months, I couldn’t figure out what it might be. But now, I think I can start to see how it could be a good idea.

In the Republic, Socrates says that justice is both pleasant and beneficial.

If human happiness is itself a kind of justice, it would also be pleasant and beneficial. This would mean that while the subjective feel of “satisfaction” is a necessary part of human happiness, the more objectively observable aspect of “flourishing” is just as necessary.

Of course, this is only true for someone like Socrates. Presumably, the subjective feel is not a trustworthy thing in the oi-polloi… if this is the case, then I can see how “flourishing” as a guide can be more helpful to them than something like the feeling of “satisfaction.” For instance, it may be true that for a sick person, even pains and poisons can feel satisfying.

But I think that this kind of purely objective way can be problematic for more intuition-based, and feelings-based people, like me. It is also troublesome for my views on “sensitivity.” For me, the subjective feelings are what permit self-awareness. The aim ought to be to cultivate and promote better sensitivity, and not to simply give people what is good-for them whether they are aware or not. People aren’t things… The entirely objective way seems to want to kill sensitivity, and to make it even more dull and useless.

Perhaps the lesson here is that it is best to have both.