Davidson: Actions, Reasons, and Causes

Tuesday, 20 August 2019.

First, we form beliefs that do the work of informing us about the world and our present situational context. Second, we usually have some kind of an emotional reaction to our collection of beliefs (which may or may not be true). Third (and this is the part that I added), we then sometimes form an idea about how we would like the world to be, or how we ourselves would like to be in relation to the world – in short, an ideal. Fourth, our practical intelligence deliberates and forms plans about both whether to and how we can realize the ideal.

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The Trolley Problem

Monday, 19 August 2019 ☔️

As far as the standard version of the trolley problem goes, while I too have the intuition that numbers really do actually matter, still I disagree with her that it is permissible for the neutral bystander to switch the tracks and thereby to result in killing one person instead of five — but if it is true that without any intervention at all, the runaway trolley would surely have killed the five persons instead of the one. And I would say that while the numbers do truly matter, it isn’t necessarily the case that more of what is good is hands-down always what is best.

What is the right number of people that should populate a planet?

Saturday, 17 August 2019 🌎

Essentially, Aristotle gives an argument for the ‘Thanos snap’ to happen. For, if there is a numerical range that says what is the right number of people that one can have intimate friendships with, and again another range for what is the right number of people required to make a city, then surely there is also a numerical range that tells us what is the right number of people that can populate a planet and all expect to live in accordance with a high standard of living.

The warriors who were fighting for his sake

Friday, 16 August 2019.

These two passages seem to offer contradictory advice. In the beginning of the Iliad, Agamemnon behaves perfectly in accordance with the logos of the first passage; thus, he takes Achilles’ woman because he is accustomed to thinking that he, as the highest ranking person there, deserves to be given the best and biggest share of the goods (including the taken women). But if Achilles’ anger is to be divine and righteous anger, then his anger seems to be rooted in some aspect of Agamemnon’s behavior that makes it actually unjust and wrong.

But what about it is unjust and wrong? The second passage (the one from book 4) makes that clear. For the sake of the warriors who, for the sake of honor, had heard his call to arms and came to risk their lives and limbs for the sake of Agamemnon’s campaign, the basileus should have given up his own prize. It would have been the pious thing to do in that situation, as a sign of respect for the warriors who were risking it all for his sake. As the man of superior rank, as a basileus, he should have been willing to give up his prizes in order to save and preserve those who were his social inferiors. But he was not, and instead he clung to his prizes as if that wealth was worth more than the respect of the warriors who were fighting for his sake.

In that moment, rather than being the magnanimous benefactor, he becomes petty and small; he tarnishes the dignity of his social rank. In that moment, Agamemnon becomes a tyrant.

In order to survive in an unhealthy world

Thursday, 15 August 2019.

By “self-controlled” person, Aristotle doesn’t mean the sophrosune person. He just means something like “the person who is in control” or “the person who is in power”. In effect, what Aristotle is saying here is that a sophron (temperate) person would not have excessive or harmful appetites in the first place to have to control. It isn’t as though a temperate person would have no appetites at all. Instead, what’s being pointed out here is that the temperate person would have, in the first place, useful (ie, chrestai χρησταὶ) appetites. And that is why it isn’t necessarily the case that a person who is simply “in control” over her appetites is the one who is sophrosune—and hence, virtuous. The truly virtuous person must have, whether by nature or by habituation, beneficial appetites.

And this is why Aristotle says that a person could also be “in control” over her appetites, but she wouldn’t be virtuous if she overpowered her healthy appetites in order to force herself to commit harm or injustice to herself. So, someone like Epictetus (and other quite harsh and self-depriving Stoics) would be being unjust (to themselves and in general), since they must overpower their healthy appetites in order to survive in what is, essentially, an unhealthy world.

Towards an ideal

Wednesday, 14 August 2019.

It’s a rare thing for me to say that I think that Aristotle is right about something, but I do think that Aristotle definitely gets it right when he says that mere thought moves nothing. There must be a goal, which determines a direction a course for movement and change; and this goal is set by a conscious desire. So, given that I think this to be true, at least, then then there’s a sense in which it is a very good thing (and not only good, but necessary thing) for humans [especially] to have ideals, since that is something that one can have a desire for and that we can be heading towards.

To hold the moments together as a coherent whole

Tuesday, 13 August 2019 📖📖

What Austin is saying here is that the mind is what organizes all things. Without this organizing force, there is only undifferentiated material (chaos) and incoherent movement. It doesn’t seem like much, but without the organizing force of the mind; life becomes only a hazy blur and there is no story because there is nothing to hold the moments together into a coherent whole. And so, movement becomes “action” only when there is an intention behind it to organize it, to mark out its beginning and its ending, and to differentiate between what movements belong to the action and what movements do not.

The origin of action

Monday, 12 August 2019.

To return to what’s relevant here (for most people in any case), it’s clear that according to the Aristotelian viewpoint one can only be said to truly own the consequences of one’s actions if one can claim to be the cause of the outcome (but by means of rational choice). (This would apply not only to bad outcomes, of course, but also to good ones.) So—if one wishes to own the fruits of one’s own labor and be able to say that those fruits are rightfully my own, then one cannot regret anything that one has done—whether for better or for worse.

The manner in which

Sunday 11, August 2019 🐖

So, this statement is like saying: if you are permitted to euthanize animals, it doesn’t matter how you do it (perhaps you could club the animal to death, or inject it with hemlock); or that if you are permitted to drive a vehicle, it doesn’t matter how you do it (perhaps one could be texting while driving, or driving while drunk, etc); or that if you are going to have sex with someone, again it doesn’t matter how you do it (perhaps it could be gently, or even quite roughly); or even that if you are going to die one day, then it doesn’t matter how you die when that day inevitably comes (we can imagine the various ways that we could die, I think, without explicit examples).

But I should think that it makes very much difference how one does things.

What is a performer?

Saturday, 10 August 2019 🐝

Thus, it is quite clear, I should think, that Aristotle considers actions to be the sort of thing to be judged by the intentions that cause them. Actions do not have a separate standard by which they are judged as being good or bad qua performers/actors.

Well, consider the following: to say that an action is to be judged by the merit of the will is like saying that a performer is to be judged as being good or bad by the goodness or badness of the lyrics that she sings rather than by the way she sings it or by her vocal ability. And again, it is like saying that an actor is to be judged  as being good or bad by the goodness or badness of the script or the directing, rather than by the way the actor plays his role or by his acting ability. I like this analogy because putting it this way makes it more clear that this is obviously wrong. Actions, and agents as actors/performers, should have a standard of evaluation that is separate from the will/intention.

The rectificatory justice of Rhadamanthus

Friday, 9 August 2019.

What a world this is, this brave new Aristotelian world! It is a world in which the old slaves have become the new “elites”, and now, these new “elites” suppose that it isn’t spirit which makes them aristoi, but that it is their money and their social status which makes them so. How perfectly Hellenistic!

A model for the future

Thursday, 8 August 2019
[Cartoon Bob Day]

It is passages like these that reveal a deep bias that Aristotle had about what a leader-figure is supposed to “look” and “sound” like. In many ways, Aristotelianism has essentially barred anyone who doesn’t fit the model image from taking positions of leadership (eg, women, minorities) for hundreds (thousands) of years. And this is only because Aristotelianism is so widespread. And these folks suppose that Aristotle is teaching them what he considers to be the ideal case, rather than supposing that he is saying aloud some of the things that he notices about the world; and so they think that what he says is the way the world is supposed to be. But the past is not necessarily a model for the future. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t; just because something was true in the past is no reason why it will and/or must continue to be so in the future.

To have something to give

Wednesday, 7 August 2019.

“But neither will the generous person take wealth from the wrong sources, since taking like this is not characteristic of a person who does not hold wealth in honour. Nor will he be the kind of person to ask for it, because it is not characteristic of the benefactor of others readily to accept benefits himself. But he will take money from the right sources, such as his own property, not because doing so is noble but because it is necessary if he is to have something to give. Nor will he neglect his own possessions, since he wants to use them to help others. And he will not give to just anybody, so that he might have something to give to the right people, at the right time, and where it is noble to do so.” (Aristotle, NE, Bk.4, Ch.1, 1120b)

Why I am so clever

Saturday, 3 August 2019.

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.” (Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Why I am so clever”, Ch.10)

The meaning of a ‘holocaust’

Friday, 2 August 2019 🕊️

“Holocausts [for the Greeks] were apparently not standard practice; they were marked rituals or so-called helige Handlungen. Often they seem to have been confined to particular contexts when a problem had to be dealt with, a kind of crisis management, contrary to thysia sacrifice, which constituted the fundamental ritual for the daily upkeep of the contact with the gods. . . A holocaustic sacrifice was instituted to placate their anger and get rid of the pollution that their murder had caused. The common denominator in these cases seems to be that the burning of the whole animal victim seems to get rid of or solve the difficulties of the situation.” (Ekroth, ‘Holocaustic sacrifices in ancient Greek’ p.313)

They have prepared the way for me…

Thursday, 1 August 2019.

“We ought to be grateful not only to those whose beliefs we share but also to those whose views are more superficial; for they have also contributed something, since they have prepared the way for us to reach the right state.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk.2, Ch.1, 993b)

homo sapiens sapiens

Wednesday, 31 July 2019.

The imitative act functions by allowing the child to place herself in the body, or in the position, of someone else who exhibits some particular behavior. Thus, what she really wants to “see” when she imitates another person’s behaviors or actions, is the inner world of that person. She wishes to see and understand the mental attitudes, the feelings, the thoughts, and the “what-it’s-like”, of being that other person. And this is because the young child has unconsciously realized that she cannot see directly the mental attitudes, the feelings, the thoughts, and the “what-it’s-like”, of another person. She realizes that she must find a way to bridge the gap of ignorance that stands between herself and the other person.

This instinct is very complex, actually. And so, we should not think that children imitate just simply to imitate, or even to mock (the mocking function of imitation comes later, with awareness of one’s own self-awareness and of the existence of other minds). We should not think that it is a base or low thing to imitate – at least, not when young children (and some adults, granted) do it. There is a very profound reason that has to do with what it is to be a homo sapiens sapiens.

Ekroth: Castration, cult, and agriculture

Tuesday, 30 July 2019.

“The uncastrated males, on the other hand, were considered the most prestigious victims because they were not only perfect but also rare and expensive, thus marking the sacrifice as exceptional in some sense. However, we should perhaps consider a third option: that the occasional offering of a bull, ram, billy-goat or boar may have been an elegant way of disposing of the old, worn-out males that nobody really wanted to eat.” (Ekroth, “Castration, cult, and agriculture”, “The ideal of the uncastrated male animal”, p.169)

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