Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year.... :)

Happy new year every one. You can easily realize from my posts that I certainly believe that values and virtues play a significant role in our pursuit of happiness. The most recent branch of psychology, called positive psychology, emphasizes the importance of them as well. I intend to write a lot about this fascinating branch but I will do this later.

What I am planning to do in this post is to offer you guys a little gift for the New Year. Positive psychologists have developed various examination methods to help us in realizing the values and virtues which are the strongest in us.

This is a link to one of the most respectable questionnaires to guide you in discovering what positive psychologists call character strengths. Character strength is an alternative name of virtue. You will discover through this questionnaire the most significant personality traits about you which have been shaped by what you take to be the most valuable.

I think it would be great for each one of you to start the New Year while knowing his most significant routes to being happy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From Scratch to Solid Ground: Live According to Your Will but Make Sure That This is What You Are Doing!!!

It is amazing how apparently simple questions can be very difficult to answer. The question "how should I live my life?" is certainly one of those questions. I think the reason why such questions might appear both simple and difficult in the same time is that while, the answer to such questions can be easily provided intuitionally through common sense, further reflection upon those answers clarify that that there are several inconsistencies in them which requires management. Grounding our intuitions might be so difficult. However, sincere efforts can finally provide a full blown theory that explains our common sense and answers our most basic questions.

This is exactly what I have been trying to do in the last few articles I posted. It is here in this post that I will try to put an answer that I think is the most coherent up to this point. Lots of what I will state here has been stated repeatedly by me before. However, at least I would benefit from rewriting the whole thing for one more time. So, here it goes.

I am a human being. I am naturally equipped with biological drives, shaped through centuries of evolution to ensure my survival. Those drives are the basic drives of seeking food, sex, shelter, security and most importantly to bond. The particular drive of bonding that makes me a social animal might be the most important among other drives in shaping the next stage of evolution that human beings have undergone through, namely cultural evolution.

It is through cultural evolution, that I now posses drives other than those biological ones. Those drives are my values. Those values constitute my personality. They go all the way down in me. They don't only drive my actions but they shape my emotions, my reactions and my judgments and so on. Those values and biological drives don't only drive my will but they constitute the very essence of it. Even though, through the theory of evolution I can explain how such motive came to exist, I can't justify them. Again, reason can never justify my passions. I just have to follow them or more precisely act upon them. Passions constitute the essence of my will and who I am. Justification is not need for them; it is only needed for managing them.

Among the values I hold and I think all of us hold are the values of understanding and practical reasoning. They are the motives for writing those particular articles. The value of practical reasoning moves me to do the following;

· I need to understand my self. In other words, I need to understand the motives which constitute me. It is easy to understand my biological drives. However, understanding my values require reflection upon my actions, my emotions, my reactions and my judgments. The broad ideal account which I accepted as the theory the describes my actions, emotions and judgments convinced me that my values can't be reduced to only one value but rather a list of irreducible different values that primarily consist of understanding, friendship, accomplishment, pleasure and practical reasoning.

· I need to understand the world I live in. I need to understand not only the environment I exist in but the people that I share my life with. I need to construct a theory that explains the behavior of the world and of other people. Such theory would allow me to appreciate the situation I am in and to determine the best chances available to me to achieve my motives.

· I need to use this knowledge together with reasoning to make my decisions and choices. Knowledge and reasoning would allow me to choose to get involved in forms of practices already developed by the society or to develop a whole new form of practice that I have to imagine and come up with.

· I need to be able to implement my choices and decisions voluntarily without being coerced by anyone else but my own self.

It might seems that since the values of practical reasoning requires understanding of myself and the world I live in that this value can after all be reduced to the value of understanding. However, all that is required by the value of practical reasoning is just having a set of beliefs about my self and the world. Putting the further condition of those beliefs to be true is something not required by the value of practical reasoning but instead required by the value of understanding. So, those two values are distinct from each other after all. However, since I value understanding as well, I need those beliefs to be true. I think science provides me with the most coherent, accepeltabe, adequate, and successful theory that explains the world. On the other hand, I think psychology based on the broad ideal account is the best theory to explain the behavior of other humans.

However, there is a point which I need to consider when it comes to understanding myself and when it comes to understanding others. I have concluded that each human being acts according to his own values. But what about variations among our values? If we are not justified in holding values, and if values are mainly the creation of human culture, then our values might differ and accordingly I can't secure any understanding of human behavior. It is here where morality plays a crucial role.

Cultural evolution didn't simply develop values as an integral part of my nature. It developed a whole moral theory based on values shared by all the others in the sphere of my culture. Those values stemmed from shared social forms of practices. Those values are not only a part of me but rather a part of an ideal person that has been drawn through generations of human beings. As I act upon my values, I get to realize the criteria of this virtuous person that I don't only aspire for but as a matter of fact all of those surrounding me aspire for. What I am trying to say is that my values can't be isolated from the values of others. They can't have ever been developed in me unless at least it was shared by the culture I grew up in.

But, this moral theory that shaped my values is not static. The culture that produced it is continuously changing. In today's world, there are many states with different histories and different forms of culture. In each state there are many different social groups with different situations and different chances. On the other hand, science develops and it brings out new discoveries and it changes our vision of the world. Economy fluctuates and the whole environment we live in change every single day. How can values be anchored in anything if every thing that constituted them changes almost every single day?

Even if values might change, there is something about human beings that can't change in us unless we ceased to be human beings. It is our basic drive to bond. Bonding is another biological drive in us that was shaped by evolution to ensure our security and our survival. We are driven to bond with all other human beings who are within the sphere that can affect us. In toady's world this sphere has extended to involve the entire globe. All of us need to bond together. This in not a mere act of preaching. It is a fact enforced upon us by our nature and by the world we live in today. Fortunately, our history extends for so long. We have started affecting each other long ago. We share lots of core values. It seems that we only dispute over the more trivial ones. Our dispute is more related to how we might realize our values rather than what is most valuable in our lives.

To sum it up, I should realize my values. I should cultivate them and allow them to grow in me so that I can become happier. I should not act in ways that would violate those values. I should be open to learn about the best ways to realize my values since my knowledge is certainly still limited. Whenever, there is an apparent conflict with others, I should realize that there are ways to resolve those conflicts. Morality is an integral part of me and all of us. It doesn't allow us only to be happy but through its share in the construction of our values it constitutes the very essence of happiness itself. With the mere exception of sociopaths, we all share the values of pleasure, understanding, practical reasoning, friendship, and accomplishment. Any conflict among us is only due to limited knowledge and not being open enough to understand others.

Here is my final advice to myself and to others. Happiness is nothing but realizing your values. Realizing your values can't be done unless you have proper understanding of yourself and the fact that you are made of values which are not only a part of yourself but rather the main part of a whole theory made by others. In addition, realizing your values can't be achieved unless you have proper understanding of the world you live in. you might be prevented from achieving your values by the people surrounding you. It is time in such cases to remember that you share with others more than you might think. On the other hand, the world and circumstances might be an obstacle in achieving your goals but in such cases it is again that you can't do any less than changing the world you live in. after all it is your values that constitute your will. Failing them would only fail your own will.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Rise of the Virtuous Man

In the last posts I have reached the conclusions that passions can't be justified. Passions don't only include those biological drives of survival but they include values as well. Each human being has an over driving force to act. We don't have a choice when it comes to our well but to act according to our motives. Biological motives and the more socially constructed values have an equal footing when it comes to driving our actions. I think understanding that values are of no less importance in driving our actions has a significant impact on our choices. I will show why by the end of this series of posts.

Before going on through my line of thought, I would like to write a little bit more about values. Human beings are born with a set of biological drives of motives. Those motives have been shaped through years of evolution to ensure better chances of survival. Motives have an over driving force over our minds. They constitute the essence of our well. Humans are not only equipped with the basic biological drives of survival, but they are equipped in addition with fascinating abilities. Our abilities include various physical and mental abilities. Among those abilities are our abilities to perceive, conceptualize and even more importantly to imagine and innovate. Our unique abilities, allowed us to start our very own process of cultural evolution which goes much faster than biological evolution. Humans have managed to construct bigger societies. In those societies, more innovative practices have been developed to further our over all well being and survival. Each one was assigned particular roles in those practices. Those practices had specific rules of action that would again ensure better chances of survival. As societies got even bigger, humans managed to figure out alternative ways to fulfill their roles. Those alternative ways represented ways to break from the conventional rules of actions. Some of those ways were more successful and some were worse. Long before the development of big societies, humans have managed to develop the practice of language communication. Language allowed humans to further increase their abilities to conceptualize. It made them not only able to conceptualize about the objects of their perceptual experience but to conceptualize about their practices. As humans practices became so diverse, and with the expansion of the alternative ways of managing their rules of actions, humans had to conceptualize about the goals of those practices or of the various ways to fulfill a particular role within those practices. Through years of cultural evolution, humans were able to conceptualize those ends or goals of their various practices into more and more abstract concepts. However, just as wide as our imagination can go, the practices human societies invented became so diverse and so are the goals of those practices. Again some practices were more successful than others in improving the chances of our survival. This lead to a conflict between the goals of those practices. Some goals were thought to be so essential. Human societies had to make those goals important. Through reciprocal sanctions and human sympathy, the concepts of those ends or goals were transmitted from one generation to the other. And those ends through time became not only mere goals but they became important in conceptualizing our life as good. In other terms they became values.

Values are concepts of what makes life good to us. They are raised in our minds as we grow up. They are now not only essential for having a good life but they constitute the meaning of a good life. We can't understand any goodness about life except through them. As we grow up we face sanctions when we behave in a way that is in conflict with the common social practices. And as we grow up, we learn to conceptualize and rationalize between those concepts. Once, we are grown we found our selves we find that we have attained concepts which don't only explain the meaning of a good life but that have an over riding forces in directing our actions. Humans born in today's world don't only have biological motives of survival but they have values constructed through years of cultural evolution. Those values as I have mentioned before can never be distinguished in their importance from those basic biological motives. Again, as I have mentioned over and over, even though you might be aware of the causal process involved in the construction of those motives, you are not justified rationally in holding them. It is just something that constitutes your nature and you simply have nothing but to follow them.

So, values such as love, friendship, or mercy are just culturally innovated concepts. This view runs against a common view that conceives values as entities existing independently of the human experience. Some might argue that love is good, even if there were no human beings to experience it or act according to it. Such an objectivist view is not consistent and it has limited power of explanation. I will not argue against this view here. There are arguments against this view raised by so many philosophers and there is no enough space here to manage this matter.

However, this relativistic view of our values opens the door for so many problems. I will get into the heart of the matter. There are values held by human beings which are conceived by other as bad or even evil. Nazis and terrorists provide a clear example. It would be naïve to think that such people are moved by any thing else other than values. They behave in such a manner sincerely believing that they are at least making their own lives better or even the lives of others as well. If we allowed it that such people have nothing in their choice but to follow their values just as all humans have to follow their values, we would loose the significance of morality. It seems that we must have the ability to judge actions as either wrong or right. Judging some actions as right or wrong is not simply because of holding different values between us from one side and others on the other hand. It might seem that if we accepted the idea that values lack any justification in holding them, then our judgments of right and wrong are only subjective and lack any power of compelling others to behave in a particular way as long as they don't share our own values.

However, things are not like this. Even though, reason can't justify the values we hold or drop, it can investigate and judge the conceptual links between them. Humans might hold values different from each other, but they all agree in conceptualizing them as being essential to a good life. Now, think of a rational being that holds all the values that has ever been developed through the human culture. Such a rational being to be considered as understanding the meaning of those values must be able to provide the conditions required for them to develop a good life. In other words, he must be able to explain how a particular value can be realized without losing another one and so on. Let's call this rational being the virtuous man. The virtuous man will certainly find lots of contradictions between those many different values. However, following rules of reason, those contradictions can be solved. Guided by knowledge of how those values came to exist in the first place and by knowledge that they are not any supreme to our existence as humans' beings, it can be concluded that some value can be reduced to others, and that some need to be qualified into a different concept. We might even find that the problem lays in the kind of practice we are following to realize a particular value and that this practice while may be realizing one value is demolishing another.

The virtuous man first conceived by Aristotle many centuries ago can solve the problem of contradiction between our values. Reason might never be able to justify why we became to hold some values but it can direct us in better understanding of those values. Through better conceptualization of our values we would be able to construct a moral theory that explains the meaning of a good life depending upon a consistent explanation of our various values. The virtuous man exists in many among us. It whispers to us through our intuitions to direct us to what is good and what is right. Through clear thinking, we can become more aware of him inside us and his judgments would become more than ungrounded intuitions. Appeal to him would construct a moral theory that we might all agree upon. Morality can thus be developed through being open minded, communication with others, and understanding of the meaning of our values.

Anyway, the virtuous man or the virtue theory of morality might still face problems. There are situations which might prove challenging for the success of such a theory in guiding our actions. I will consider this theory, its implications in our life, and objections that can be raised against it later.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

One Step Further: It's Passion Over Reason

So, in the last post I have reached the following conclusions:

· There are other motives for actions than values. Such motives mainly include those natural drives to ensure survival. Mere survival is not good. Therefore, if I understand values as those concepts which makes life good. Survival is essentially not a value.

· However, I find myself so much driven by survival that I can't think of any other choice but to use the instrument of rationality to guide my life in the world I exist in to just continue living.

· The use of rationality to guide my choices so that I would go on living doesn't satisfy the definition of the value of practical reasoning. Having drives such as that of survival doesn't justify me in holding the value of practical reasoning. Again I am left with the fact the values themselves can never be justified.

· On the other hand, the use of the drive of survival as the main motive fro being rational regarding your choices can not be generalized to all humans in all different circumstances. It is just so in my case and I think in the cases of many other human beings. Yet it can't be considered as a universal explanation.

So, up till now, all I can say is that I really want to survive. The world I live in forces to use the best instrument available to me which is rationality to make the right sort of choices regarding my actions to ensure survival. Simply, I have to rationally get a job that will provide me with the chance of having food, shelter, and sex. I will commit to the rules of actions set by the society only to the extent that rationally would allow me the best chances to get those conditions of survival. But is this really what life is all about?

I think not. I still want other things in addition to the mere survival. I want to have a good life. I can't be aware of the possibility of having a good life or a better life than this required only by survival unless I already hold on particular concepts that I think make life good. In other words, I can't claim that there is a possibility of a better life than the one I have just mentioned unless I hold other values. So, what are those values that underlie my preference of having a better life?

I have mentioned before that even though I can never be justified in holding a value, I can be justified in holding beliefs about what values I already hold. Reflection on the history of my actions and reflection on my primary theory of practical reasoning I can be justified in arguing that I hold particular values. I think I am justified in arguing that I hold the values of practical reasoning, understanding, accomplishment, friendship and pleasure.

Now, there is a question which I have to face. If I allowed it that invaluable motives such as those of survival can direct my actions depending on the claim that they are so basic in my nature that I can't choose any other thing but following them, then why can't I allow the same thing for my values. They are so basic in my nature just like those of survival. They might have been caused in me by a much greater amount of social intervention when compared to the natural motives of survival, but why would this make them any less significant than the natural drives of survival? Whether the causal chain involved in forming a human motive is formed only of events of biological evolution or of cultural evolution in addition doesn't make any of those motives more or less justified.

So, justification wise, there is no difference between what I can call the purely natural drives of survival and the more culturally innovated drives of what I hold valuable. However, this is a difference after all. Survival drives are more compelling than those of values. It seems very difficult to me to choose any thing else but survival. However, it seems more possible to choose not to follow the motivation based on my values. I can choose not to have a good life but it is very difficult to choose not to live. But is this true? At least, I have to admit that this claim can't be generalized to all human beings. There are lots of people who upon the loss of what makes life valuable for them choose to put an end to their life. There are others who might sacrifice their own life for the sake of what they value. This fact makes me suspicious even of my claim that I personally would be more determined to survive but less so to seek my values. I think I can't be justified in arguing that survival is more compelling than realizing my own values. I can only be justified in such a claim if I was given the choice between mere survival and value realization and yet I choose mere survival. If I was giving the choice between being transformed into a unicellular bacterium that would survive forever and the life of a philosopher making significant contribution to knowledge but would last only for forty years, I think I would certainly choose the life of a philosopher. I have to admit that values might be just as compelling as survival.

So, I can't think of anyway through which I can distinguish natural drives from values. If I allowed it that I can act directed by natural drives, I have to admit that I can act driven by my values.

Things are just like Hume stated. Reason can't be but the slave of the passions. Reason is useless when it comes to determining your ends. All you have to do is just to stop thinking when it comes to your main motives. You simply have to follow them.

But if I accepted my values just as they are and realized that I have no choice but to follow them, won't this be at least in some situations dangerous? Aren't Nazis and terrorists moved by values and motives? It seems just wrong to accept that they can be allowed to follow such values. There are values I might hold which can affect the lives of others in a negative way. On the other hand, the world I live in might show that I can't realize all of my values and that I have to choose between them, how can I choose between them if I can't reason between them? Furthermore, it seems that the very nature of some of my values might contradict the realization of other values, again how can I choose between them?

The fact that reason is useless when it comes to deciding upon which values I should hold and which I should drop and the fact that I can't do anything about my passions but to follow them might be problematic after all. However, up to this stage I am satisfied with the conclusion that the well to act itself is so strong in me that I can't neglect and that I can't reason with this well, I simply have to follow it. I am also satisfied with the fact that values are just as important as my natural drives. They stand on equal footing. It might be true that natural drives are shaped by nature and that's why they are more shared by almost all human beings, while values are shaped more by cultural evolution and that's why they involve greater amount of contradictions, but both of them are strong in each one of us. How to solve the contradictions between values is a problem that I should figure out. I will try to do this later.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reflections of a Man Starting from Scratch

I have been so busy lately studying the philosophy of ethics which as you will see in this post is literally driving me crazy. That's why I didn't fin enough time to post in my beloved blog. However, I thought I should share with you some of my crazy philosophical reflections. I know that most of you won't like it. However, I promise you that soon I will write something that would be more appealing to your tastes.

Here I am again totally lost regarding what I should do. I will try to handle things from a new prospective. Maybe values are mainly related to evaluation of life. However what guides my actions are not values. My actions are directed toward achieving goals. Those goals and rules of actions are determined by the game I am involved in. Values move me and direct my choices of the games I should be involved in. depending upon my values; I will choose those games which have goals compatible with my values. I will follow the rules of actions of a game or I will innovate in them depending upon the space created by my values as well. Following the rules of actions is what is required by morality. The extent possible by which those rules can be broken or modified is a problem concerning morality. Following the rules, breaking them, or modifying them is all shaped by values. Which values should be followed in managing rules of actions is another problem facing practical reasoning and thus morality.

Contradictions among values make rule following problematic. In addition, it makes the choice among games problematic as well. Solving this problem is another task required by practical reasoning.

How should practical reasoning work? I need a theory of practical reasoning that would allow me to claim that it is true. This theory should be acceptable, utilitarian, stable, and coherent so that it can be called true. Do I need such a theory to be true for the sake of the value of understanding or for the sake of the value of practical reasoning itself? The value of practical reasoning can be conceived as the preference of bringing about a state of affair at which I am able to have a theory that would enable me to make practical decisions and in the same time be able to implement my decisions. Whether this theory is true or not is not something required by the value of practical reasoning itself but rather through the value of knowledge. Over all, the value of practical reasoning is realized in my life. I have some kind of an intuitional theory of practical reasoning that I decide upon and which I am to a large extent able to implement. What is really pushing me to act and think right now is the value of understanding. This value is driving me to develop this proto theory into a true theory. However, the construction of a theory about practical reasoning that will be useful in achieving the goals it determines, that is acceptable by all rational beings, that is stable under all possible circumstances, and that is coherent is very difficult.

This theory should be concerned with explaining how I should act. But why do I need such a theory in the first place? Why can't I just act randomly? Why do I think that there is a right way to act and a wrong way? This question has already been answered. It is because of the value of practical reasoning. Again, the value of practical reasoning is the preference of bringing about a state of affair at which I do what I want. Doing what you want can be broken down into the following conditions;

· You must know what you want. So you must have a theory about what you want. This theory should be true. If this theory is false, then it can't be said that you are doing what you want since you don't know what you really want in the first place.

· You must have a theory of how to achieve what you want. This theory doesn't have to be true. Even, if you didn't know how to achieve what you want, having mere beliefs about how to achieve them is enough for you to claim that you are doing what you want. I think this loose condition upon this component of the value is related to the fact that up till now we don't have a true theory of practical reasoning.

· Having the circumstances which allow you to implement your way of achieving what you want.

So needing such a theory in the first place is required by the value of practical reasoning itself. That's why you need such a theory as long as you want to realize this value. Why do actions has to be wrong or right is something related and judged by whether your action would realize those wants of yours or not. That's why actions have to be either right or wrong. Those wants I have mentioned are other values. However, there are lots of problems concerning values. I can test all of those problems by thinking about the value of practical reasoning itself.

Should I or shouldn't I hold the value of practical reasoning itself? Answering this question would reveal the first problem concerning values. Values can never be justified. your beliefs about whether you hold this value or not can be justified but you beliefs about whether you should hold this value or not is very difficult to be justified. For example I am justified in believing that I hold the value of practical reasoning through reflection upon the history of my practice. Sitting down right now and attempting to figure out what is wrong about with my practical reasoning is clear evidence that in my practice I value practical reasoning. However, what justifies me in holding this value? The right answer is nothing. I intuitionally believe that practical reason is good because it is simply is. I can't even claim that it is good because it realizes other values like being happy for example. Happiness itself as I have understood from the broad ideal account consists of a list of many different values. The crude list of those values include in addition to practical reasoning, the values of understanding, accomplishment, pleasure and friendship. However, this list is formed of those values in particular because each of them passes the isolation and completeness tests. Since practical reasoning itself is among the values of this list, then it has passed those tests. This means that I have already agreed to take them as something that would make me happy with my life even if there was nothing else good in my life other than it and that this value is good simply because it is good.

The broad ideal account is a theory which attempts to explain the notion of happiness. This account is based on the very basic assumption that we can never be justified in holding what ultimately makes us happy. This assumption is further explained by another assumption concerning the nature of human beings themselves. We, human beings, are mainly practical animals. We have needs, basic preferences, and abilities all of which are mainly concerned with our survival. We face challenges, we improvise in solving them, we imitate what proves to be successful in meeting those challenges, we transmit our knowledge of what is useful to our offspring, we conceptualize, we adapt to what ensures our survival, and finally we hold on our concepts of what we think is valuable through long history of evolving human culture. This assumption is plausible when you accept the sentimentalist account of our values stated by philosophers such as Hume.

The point is thus that I can never be justified in holding a particular value. I might be well aware of what caused me to hold this value but causal origins of a concept can't be though of as a justification for that concept.

But accepting the idea that values themselves are unjustifiable is still problematic. This is because just like values are held by us through a particular causal chain, they can be dropped or demolished through another causal chain. If I accepted the idea that I don't have to be justified in holding a particular value, and yet I choose to hold it, then I don't have to be justified for dropping a particular value to drop it. So, why can't I just drop the value of practical reasoning?

I think I am not free in answering this question. I have no choice here but to choose to hold the value of practical reasoning. The human society I live in has developed a system that I can't survive through unless I try to be rational as possible regarding my choices. So, it might be for the sake of survival that I choose to hold on practical reasoning. But won't this make survival another value in itself? Survival is not a value. You can't claim that your life is good simply because you survived in it for the longest time possible. But if survival is not a value, it is certainly, one of the most significant drives in humans. At least, it is the motive for holding upon the value of practical reasoning. But can't I think that at least I still have the choice of braking free from the value of practical reasoning through dismantling this social system I live in that requires me to necessarily hold on this value? Can't I just some how convince people that they should give up on rationality that underlies practical reasoning? Again, this doesn't seem possible. People hold on rationality. It might not be a value. But it is certainly an important instrument is ensuring survival. It is survival as basic motive and rationality as am important instrument that requires me to act rationally regarding my actions. It is the very basic nature of me as a human being and the fact that the world is not so merciful to creatures which don't act rationally that makes me have to hold on practical reasoning. I might not be justified in holding it but I am certainly caused to hold on it.

This is the first step in moving forward to figure out what I should do.