Archive for 2005

Points on which I agree with William James

by Jason Stotts

“I cannot understand the willingness to act, no matter how we feel, without the belief that acts are really good and bad. I cannot understand the belief that an act is bad, without regret at it’s happening. I cannot understand regret without the admission of real, genuine possibilities in the world. Only then is it other than a mockery to feel, after we have failed to do our best, that an irreparable opportunity is gone from the universe, the loss of which it must forever mourn.” ~ William James, from “The Dilemma of Determinism”

“Skepticism in moral matters is an active ally of immorality. Who is not for is against. The universe will have no neutrals in these questions.” ~ William James, from “Philisophical Conceptions”


by Jason Stotts

As I study the idea of Eudaimonia for my senior research, I’m struck by how this concept has been lost in our language: we do not even have a word for it in our language. You see, Eudaimonia means something like “human flourishing,” it’s the state of “happiness” that proceeds from being a good person and having favorable external conditions.

Yet I hesitate to use happiness since that is the one word that Eudaimonia is usually translated as; nevertheless there is a distinct difference between the two concepts since our modern idea of happiness is something that more similar to “pleasure” than “flourishing”.

The problem is that the contemporary dominant philosophies don’t even have a conception of human nature nor of what it means to be a truly good person (i.e. a person who is doing those things that are part of human nature well).

To draw a quick example: a “good” knife is one that performs the function of a knife well – in this case that means cutting. So a good knife is one that cuts well.

This kind of analysis is called “teleology” – which is just a fancy way of talking about the end of a thing, where “end” means nothing more than goal or proper state.

Without an idea of human nature, one certainly can’t talk about whether one is fulfilling the goals of one’s nature.

This is problematic since with its loss we have lost any true ideas we have about Happiness (properly defined), we have lost Virtue, and we have lost the right to say that someone is a good person. Nonetheless, these are things that we feel we should do and that seem very important to us as people.

I would even go so far as to say that the loss of the idea of Eudaimonia has caused much of the rampant depression that we see around us in this day and age: without an idea of what it means to be truly happy not everyone is able to stumble across the right path and they end up wandering dark roads of ignorance without the light that comes from the knowledge of Truth.

Eudaimonia is a very important concept and I shall be writing about it more as my research progresses – but if you’re curious about where to find out more about it I’d recommend two sources: 1. “The Virtue of Selfishness” from The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and 2. The Eudemian Ethics by Aristotle. If anyone would like more precise directions to the concept in Aristotle, leave a comment and I’ll post them.

A Sad Day

by Jason Stotts

It’s quite a sad day for me to know that we as a race have retrogressed so far that we are no longer able to shine light upon our own actions and see them for what they are. People have become so pragmatic that they have lost the ability to think in principles, they have lost the ability to put their actions into the contexts of theirs lives and see how they will affect them both now and down the road.

A case in point is the other day a person took a glass from a restaurant and then threw it away. When confronted about this and asked why he had done it, he replied that it was not an issue that it was merely a cup. For him all his mind was capable of grasping was that he had a cup and it was his to use. Why was it his to use? Because he had paid for its use while in the restaurant. Was the cup really his? No, he was only renting it for a small amount of time in a particular location. But he did not seem to grasp something so simple that one should not have to explain it to a child. He did not see that he did not own this cup, that another did, and that his removal of their property from their possession was not merely “taking a cup with you”, but was an act of theft. To make matters worse, he did not understand that the act of throwing the glass away was not merely discarding something that one did not need, as if it were a paper cup that had merely been used and had no other value, no throwing the cup away constituted the destruction of another’s property that one had previously stolen.

This person in effect had the cognitive capacities of a child and a mind so crippled by pragmatic philosophy and out of focus thinking that he could not even understand what he had done.

This makes it a sad day for me, to know that my brethren have sunk so far as to be able to understand their own actions, to know that their minds are crippled and they cannot even understand what it means to think in principles. Perhaps soon we shall have to celebrate another “memorial day”, except now we shall have to grieve for the memory of intelligence and rationality.

A Few Good Men

by Jason Stotts

I was recently was having a conversation with one of my friends, Sandy, and we were talking about whether you should care what others think of you. This got me thinking about whether there is any role for outside evaluation to enter into your conception of yourself or whether your idea of yourself should be purely internal.

The way I see it is like this:

If you care what everyone else thinks of you then you will have to try to pander to the whims of everyone, which will not be possible since people will always hold divergent positions.

To make matters worse, the majority of people are ignorant and do not know how to give an objective evaluation – this leads them to only give a subjective evaluation, which further exacerbates the situation as any action will necessarily please some and displease others.

So, if you try to please everyone then you will end up pleasing no one. Thus to worry about what everyone thinks is a worthless endeavor that will only serve to retard your life.

The conversation then took a different turn with this question: “But doesn’t it seem as if there is some role for outside evaluation and/or validation?” At that point in the conversation we did not come to a definite conclusion, but after thinking about it later I must say that I’ve come to have an opinion on this issue.

While my initial reaction was to say deny such a proposition and say that there is no role for outside evaluation, after much thought I’ve come to reevaluate my hasty position.

It seems to me that evaluation by others is important and necessary as long as these others are able to give objective evaluations. If they can do so, they render us an invaluable service as it is sometimes quite hard to be objective about ourselves. Not that I’m saying that one cannot be objective about oneself – I certainly believe that it’s possible and becomes easier with practice, but there are times when others who know us well can understand us better than we can understand ourselves since they can view us from a different perspective.

Also, to have others who we view as good people, people who we admire and who have qualities we value, give outside objective confirmation to our conceptions of ourselves can be very beneficial and can serve to reaffirm our self-image and strengthen our conviction of our worth as individuals. It cannot give us self-esteem, but it can serve to reaffirm it.

So, there is some role for caring about what other people think as long as they are good people and they can be objective in their evaluation. If they are not or cannot, then their opinions are nothing more than sophistry and illusion and should be committed to the flames.

Merciful Mirth

by Jason Stotts

I must thank Matt Morrell heartily for introducing my to Despair which is perhaps the funniest website that I have seen in a long time. For example look at this:

They have all sorts of amazing posters that will make you think “Wow…” 😉

William James on Habit

by Jason Stotts

The following if from William James’ The Principles of Psychology (1890), Chapter 4 – “On Habit”; their appearance here is not me condoning Pragmatism, but I think that there is some very useful information here. Note that these passages are not contiguous in the piece and have been excerpted so the relevant context may be missing.


[…] in the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall re-enforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.

[…] Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right.

We must be careful not to give the will so stiff a task as to insure its defeat at the very outset; but, provided one can stand it, a sharp period of suffering, and then a free time, is the best thing to aim at,

Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain.

No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved.

There is no more contemptible type of human character than that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly concrete deed.

Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day.

The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way.

We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar.


by Jason Stotts

Okay, boys and girls, here’s another important distinction that you should make when you speak or write.

“I feel” means that you are telling someone about your feelings or sensations…the next words out of your mouth had better be “happy”, “sad”, “cold”, “tired” or some other such feeling or sensation.

“I think” means that you are telling someone about your ideas…the next words out of your mouth had better be “…that capitalism is good”, “…that pride is the crown of the virtues”, or that “…there is a special place in hell for socialists”.

If someone around you opens there mouth and says “I feel” and then start talking about ideas, you are obligated to SLAP THEM ACROSS THEIR BITCH FACES.

An All Too Common Confusion

by Jason Stotts

I often hear people make a silly and obvious equivocation between two terms that mean drastically different things: namely Intelligence and Knowledge. I think though, that we must do as The Philosopher suggests, and start with that which is first.

Intelligence is a capacity (potentiality) for thinking and reasoning, analogous to a motor.

Knowledge is having actual understanding of facts and theories; it is basically justified true belief, analogous to fuel.

Now, when one calls someone “Intelligent” one means that the person in question is good at using their mind for thinking and reasoning.

When one calls someone “Knowledgeable” one means that the person in question knows a lot of (true) facts and theories.

Now, the Intelligence and Knowledge work together as do motors and fuel – the motor needs fuel in order to operate. (Although in this analogy the “motor” can run on other kinds of “fuel”.) Thus the two terms are often used together, although they mean different things.

It is from this intimate connection that the problem arises and although the two terms are intimately connected they are not the same thing.

One could be knowledgeable without being intelligent (i.e. know a lot about sports).

One could also be intelligent without being knowledgeable (i.e. a smart child or a intelligent adult ignorant of a specific subject).

So, next time you talk about someone being knowledgeable or intelligent, take a moment to think about the difference between the two and use the right term!