Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
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Saturday, July 10, 2010

What in your view . . .

Is the single greatest impediment, towards mankind and individuals from achieving a really good life?

53 comments:

  1. I think the single greatest impediment is people's erroneous ideas of what a good life consists in. What constitutes a good life is not obvious; it requires thought and some experience (if not personal experience, then listening to the right people, and who the right people are isn't obvious either).

    In particular, people are drawn to mistake less important compoments of the good life for the whole. Look around, and you will see people whose idea of the good life is the accumulation of material goods, a big one in our culture. Material goods of course are a component of the good life, but hardly the whole. This is but one example; there are many others.

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  2. The greatest impediment that mankind and individuals encounter when trying to achieve a good life is the difficulty of knowing what a good life is. The issue as I see it has three components.

    First, Aristotle reminds us that knowing the end of the things and actions we pursue will help us to achieve the intended goal. Whitehead, in his essay The Organisation of Thought, affirms. He says, "when we understand the product we shall be in a stronger position to improve the machinery." To summarize the first component of my argument, mankind on the whole or rather most individuals do not know what a good life is, thereby reducing or even preventing the chances of its attainment.

    The second component of my argument is built on the definition of “to know.” To know something is to have some kind of truth, as Dr. Adler explains in his lecture on the great idea of Truth. Herein resides the point of the second component: if we are to know what a good life is, then we must have some truth about it. Here again, Aristotle assists us, for he explains that the investigation of the truth is hard in one sense, and easy in another. Basically, one person alone cannot secure the entire truth about something, but if everyone contributes a piece of knowledge to the puzzle mankind would have a more developed understanding of the truth. This leads to the third component.

    Mankind is divided into distinct groups of thought and culture, of which many are unwilling to share their pieces of knowledge or contemplate the views of others, along with the individuals uninterested in getting to know what a good life really is.

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  3. In my opinion, the single greatest impediment, towards mankind and individuals achieving a really good life is the quality of the conversation we have with ourselves and others. The quality of the conversation. Is it critical or inspiring? Does it invite us to explore a question with our own minds or does it impose “answers”? Are we even recognizing when we are experiencing what might be termed “…a really good life” or are we just missing it due to our non-recognition of it when it is present or available?

    Go find another planet and sit there a minute. Now come back to Earth and just sit there a minute. “Man, this is a really good planet. To be on a planet like this one would be a really good life!” Go out on the street. Observe a person in a wheelchair negotiating getting to a corner and negotiating all that it takes to get there and wait for the light. Walk over to the corner and push the button. “Man, these are great legs! Having legs like this is wonderful! This is a really good life!”

    In my opinion, it is our recognition or non-recognition of the experience of having “…a really good life.” that is the greatest impediment to experiencing it. As the only way to “have it” is to experience it.

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  4. Kasuan and anyone else who would like to respond.

    How do you respond to Plato's Socrates, regarding knowledge of good and evil?

    Socrates to Protagoras: Now the rest of the world are of opinion that knowledge is a principle not of strength, or of rule, or of command: their notion is that a man may have knowledge, and yet that the knowledge which is in him may be overmastered by anger, or pleasure, or pain, or love, or perhaps by fear,--just as if knowledge were a slave, and might be dragged about anyhow. Now is that your view? or do you think that knowledge is a noble and commanding thing, which cannot be overcome, and will not allow a man, if he only knows the difference of good and evil, to do anything which is contrary to knowledge, but that wisdom will have strength to help him?

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  5. To determine the greatest impediment towards mankind and individuals in their attempt to achieve the good life requires identification of the various types of impediments and the determination of their various relations to the other impediments. It seems there are two generic types of impediments: internal and external. And of the internal, there are the intellectual and moral impediments. The external impediments would include social, political, economic, physical etc. of which we may have little control.

    I think the greatest impediment to the good life for individuals is one of the internal types, since the individual can effect the character of the internal impediments to a greater degree than the external. And further, the external impediments insofar as they are impediments can be mitigated to a certain degree by removing internal impediments.

    Whether the greatest impediment is of an intellectual or moral type is less clear. I think it depends largely upon the individual. One may possess the requisite intelligence to ascertain the principles of a good life but lack the moral courage to attain it. Conversely, one may possess the character and moral courage but lack the intellect to determine the prudent course in particular situations.

    This leads me to believe that the greatest impediment to the good life for individuals or mankind is the lack of Prudence; i.e., practical wisdom which implies wisdom and virtue.

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  6. Scott,

    As we do not come into this world with prudence, whence comes prudence?

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  7. Following Aristotle, I believe Prudence involves the perfection of the rational (scientific and calculative faculties) and irrational (desires capable of being under the control of the will as determined by principle) parts of the soul. Education serves to perfect the scientific faculty, but the realization of this perfection is a matter of degree since it depends largely upon one's native intelligence and quality of education. Prudence, insofar as it is a perfection of the calculative faculty includes a certain perfection of the intuition in order to recognize the particular good as such. And finally, Prudence, insofar as it is perfection of the control of the will as it relates to desires, is a perfection of the moral virtues. This latter perfection is a function of moral education and training as a necessary but not a sufficient condition to achieve perfection moral virtue, since as Plato shows us, there is a sense in which virtue cannot be taught.

    I think that lack of Prudence is the greatest impediment to the achievement of the good life. But for the sake of greater precision, I think the greatest impediment to the achievement of Prudence in the individual is in one sense objective and in another sense relative to the individual. Objectively speaking, the greatest impediments to the achievement of Prudence in the individual are bad education, stupidity, and viciousness, particularly moral pusillanimity. Relative to the individual, the greatest impediment to achieving Prudence is some one of these vices or some combination.

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  8. I agree with Jay and Kasaun that not understanding the goal of a good life is the most common error. Desiring the wrong things or the right things but in the wrong amount or order is usually due to misunderstanding the sum of goods that make a happy life.

    I think this error is also behind Brent's point that we fail to appreciate or "experience" what we have because we fail to see its value for a happy life.

    Scott's excellent description of Prudence points out that moral education and training is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to achieve moral virtue.

    This seems to be the point about which Max was concerned and I have the question as well. It seems that a natural inclination toward the good must be present in an individual to consistantly choose the good. This tendency seems to be a principle element of the human spirit and has a close relation to human free will. I am at loss to describe it further. Can anyone else?

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  9. >How do you respond to Plato's Socrates, regarding knowledge of good and evil?

    I think people make excuses about somehow not being able to what they know they ought to do. The locus classicus is St. Paul: "I do not do what I want, but what I hate; that is what I do." (Romans 7:15). I don't doubt that Paul and his progeny (i.e., all of us) really believe this. But it's never true. If you do something you know you shouldn't do, or don't do something you know you should, and say you were "overmastered" somehow, that's just a dishonest way of avoiding responsibility.

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  10. Prudence is derived from wisdom, and it is the application of wisdom. Wisdom is derived from knowledge constructed in a way that yields insight beyond the surface of mere information. Aristotle directs us to seek out first principles and causes when we are in pursuit of wisdom.

    Here, I would like to take a step back and respond to Socrates’ discussion with Protagoras, regarding good and evil, as Max previously proposed. As I understand this discussion, Socrates highlights a problem that Descartes took on approximately 19 centuries later when he asks Protagoras, in short, if he agrees with the world that knowledge is subservient to people’s whims.

    I would like to state the problem by quoting Max: “we don’t come into this word with prudence.”

    I agree with Socrates response to this problem, in that knowledge is not at the mercy of pleasure —insofar that one has knowledge rather than its counterfeit, the appearance of knowledge, which often dresses up in pleasure and immediate gratification. Socrates says that an “art of measurement” is needed to prevent us from being misguided by immediate goods and acting in ignorance.

    But an art of measurement does not deal with the problem of not coming into this world conclusively, “because," according to Descartes, “the necessities of action frequently oblige us to come to a determination before we have had leisure for so careful an examination, it must be confessed that the life of man is frequently obnoxious to error with respect to individual objects; and we must, in conclusion, acknowledge the weakness of our nature.” (Taken from the last sentence in Meditation 6.)

    Max, what do you think about Descartes statement and my response overall?

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  11. Kasuan,

    >Wisdom is derived from knowledge constructed in a way that yields insight beyond the surface of mere information.

    Is that another way of saying that understanding follows knowledge and precedes wisdom?

    >I agree with Socrates response to this problem, in that knowledge is not at the mercy of pleasure

    Is that confirmed by your observations in life?

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  12. Lee,

    >It seems that a natural inclination toward the good must be present in an individual to consistantly choose the good.

    Are those who do not have this natural inclination, doomed?

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  13. All:

    It seems to me everybody is on the right track but I believe Jay quotes Paul to make the critical statement: "I think people make excuses about somehow not being able to (do) what they know they ought to do. " Max and Kausan further point out that 'prudence, critical to the entire idea of a a good life, is not something that is automatic to most people and it must be learned. But how do we know 'what' to learn?

    I humbly submit: "Fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom".

    Psalm 111:10
    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.

    Proverbs 1:7
    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

    Proverbs 9:10
    "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

    It looks to me like this is a good start on all the issues brought up by the group. You have to know what to seek; to know what to seek you have to want to seek the right thing; and to want to seek the right thing you have to want to do right. You have to fear the lord.

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  14. Jay,

    I'm not sure I understand, are you agreeing or disagreeing with Socrates?

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  15. Agim,

    >You have to know what to seek; to know what to seek you have to want to seek the right thing; and to want to seek the right thing you have to want to do right.

    In the early dialogues of Plato, Socrates observes that no man desires evil--that which in fact he deems injurious, harmful, or disadvantageous to himself and, conversely, that everyone desires that which in fact he deems beneficial, advantageous, or good for himself. Do you think Socrates wrong about this?

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  16. >It seems that a natural inclination toward the good must be present in an individual to consistantly choose the good.

    Good question, Lee. I think that what William James says about the two kinds of mental temper in his essay "The Sentiment of Rationality" may apply here. Granted, he was talking about an individual's inclination toward idealism or materialism, but I think the distinction he makes may apply to a good will and a bad will.

    "Idealism will be chosen by a man of one emotional constitution, materialism by another. At this very day all sentimental natures, fond of conciliation and intimacy, tend to an idealistic faith. Why? Because Idealism gives to the nature of things such kinship with our personal selves. Our own thoughts are what we are most at home with, what we are least afraid of. To say then that the universe essentially is thought is to say that I myself, potentially at least, am all. . . Now, in certain sensitively egotistical minds this conception is sure to put on a narrow, close, sickroom air. Everything sentimental and priggish will be consecrated by it. . . The strife of these two kinds of mental temper will, I think, always be seen in philosophy. Some men will keep insisting on the reason, the atonement, that lies in the heart of things, and that we can act with; others, on the opacity of brute fact that we must react against" (Gateway to the Great Books, Vol. 10, p.74).

    Similarly, might not the difference between a good will and a bad will be a function of different mental tempers; i.e., between the naturally credulous and the naturally skeptic?

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  17. . . . assuming all else being equal: say, two siblings both raised with proper moral training, good education, etc.

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  18. >are you agreeing or disagreeing with Socrates?

    Agreeing, just taking the implications of his position a step further than he did.

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  19. >Similarly, might not the difference between a good will and a bad will be a function of different mental tempers; i.e., between the naturally credulous and the naturally skeptic?

    Scott,

    Please explain what you mean by naturally, in this context?

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  20. Jay,

    >Agreeing, just taking the implications of his position a step further than he did.

    As Mortimer Adler and I believe Socrates is wrong on this matter, i.e., a person with knowledge of good and evil, will not, nay, cannot commit a vicious act. What argument will you use to persuade us otherwise?

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  21. Several more posts have been made before I could post this, but I think the point is still valid.

    I agree with Scott. Prudence is the chief virtue among the intellectual and moral virtues and it is lacking today (as it probably does most any day). I would simplify the answer even further: the single greatest impediment to the good life is a lack of virtue. However, saying this is also to agree with Jay; for it is a lack of virtue that leads to Jay's point of poor choices for the good life. Aristotle pointed out that we all seek happiness. The real question, then, is "what is happiness?" Only the virtuous life, thus the prudent life, thus the wise life, can seek such an answer. Lucky for me Aristotle is wise where I am not. I guess the only problem now is the one St. Augustine pointed out: now that we know the good, how do we get out will to conform to it. Good discussion.

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  22. Dan,

    Thanks for responding.

    >I would simplify the answer even further: the single greatest impediment to the good life is a lack of virtue.

    Is the lack of virtue the problem, or a symptom of a problem?

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  23. >Please explain what you mean by naturally, in this context?

    I mean the sense of nature which stands opposed to nurture, as when we say of a toddler, "That one is much more willful than his sister." I do not mean to say that nurture does not factor in the shaping of one's will, but abstracting the effects of nurture may simplify the problem somewhat?

    I think we need to be clearer about what constitutes a good will as distinct from a bad will. As a preliminary stab at it, I propose that the common understanding of willfulness seems to be a composite one which sometimes carries the negative connotation of obtuse stubbornness or meanness; but the concept also carries a positive connotation which includes notions of doggedness in the pursuit of the perceived good, self-reliance and lack of credulity, i.e., a healthy skepticism.

    Such willfulness has a natural cause and a cause in one's nurture. But the question as I see it is, from a natural standpoint, what distinguishes a bad will from the good will? For instance, is a natural inclination to some form of Idealism the product of a good will, while the natural inclination toward nihilism the product of a bad will?

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  24. Max,

    >Is that another way of saying that understanding follows knowledge and precedes wisdom?

    Yes, that is correct.

    >Is that confirmed by your observations in life?

    According to Dr. Adler, I should not attempt to say that I am educated or probably even claim to have much life experience until I'm 60--and I agree.

    But so far, during my short time on Earth, I have observed people including myself make decisions based on an incomplete understanding of a situation, only to realize the error after the fact.

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  25. Agim,

    >You have to know what to seek; to know what to seek you have to want to seek the right thing; and to want to seek the right thing you have to want to do right. You have to fear the lord.

    Do you hold that the failure of one to recognize the truth of the Christian faith is due to a bad will on the part of the skeptic? If so, why? If not, why not?

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  26. All,

    For me, a new issue is lurking: is it possible for a person to know what good is and still decide to do evil, or voluntarily make wrong choices?

    The Apostle Paul and Augustine seem to support the affirmative, but ultimately both accredit sin to be responsible.

    So if sin is responsible for the yearning to do bad, does that mean sin is a need seeking pleasure in evil? Or is it simply a desire?

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  27. Sin is not a "need" or a positive "thing". It is simply, as Augustine noted, a privation. So to ask if sin is responsible for a yearning to do bad implies that sin is somehow a positive "thing" with "desires". It seems this is a misunderstanding of sin.

    Second, Max, to answer your questions (or address it), I would ask that you further clarify what you mean by "is the lack of virtue a symptom of something else?" My guess is there is no difference...but I still want to know what you mean by this distinction.

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  28. >I would ask that you further clarify what you mean by "is the lack of virtue a symptom of something else?" My guess is there is no difference...but I still want to know what you mean by this distinction.

    Dan,

    The most glaring example that has currency, is the so-called drug and alcohol abuse problem in our society. I posit that they are not problems, but a symptom of a moral problem, is that clear and do you agree?

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  29. Scott:

    You write: "Do you hold that the failure of one to recognize the truth of the Christian faith is due to a bad will on the part of the skeptic? If so, why? If not, why not?"

    I'm not sure I even really understand your question. On one theological hand, God "chooses" whom to save (you know, "grace alone" and all that). On the other hand, we're all sinners and we're gonna burn UNLESS God saves us. If you are using "bad will" synonymously with "sinfulness", I suppose the answer would be "yes" but even then we may be talking around each other somewhat.

    Can you help me out and clarify your question for me a bit?

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  30. But the question as I see it is, from a natural standpoint, what distinguishes a bad will from the good will? For instance, is a natural inclination to some form of Idealism the product of a good will, while the natural inclination toward nihilism the product of a bad will?

    Scott,

    This subject is well addressed in Adler's book Intellect-Mind Over Matter, chapter 14 Appetitive Power and Its Acts: Willing and Choosing.

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  31. All:

    Max and I are currently disagreeing about this same question at my blog, Two Masters, at:

    http://two-masters.blogspot.com/2010/07/in-post-below-max-weismann-asked-what.html

    If anyone wants to join the religion/no religion discussion, I think you'll have to cut-and-paste the address above.

    (Max: Not trying to steal business from the Center. Just figure if the theological thread's already started over there...)

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  32. Agim,

    We have not disagreed on anything, I merely do not want to bring theology/religion into the discussion.

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  33. Agim's post prompts me to say, Mortimer Adler and I have restricted our discussions of the problems of the good life and the good society (moral philosophy) to the temporal life and to that life on its secular plane. Those among you who are religious persons and distinguish between the secular and the religious activities they engage in, as well as between their worldly and their religious aspirations, will be able to affix appropriate qualifications, additions, and even dissents to various things we will say "without regard to religion." Those who are not religious persons or who make no distinctions between the secular and the religious life will, of course, not be aware of any need for such qualifications, additions, or dissents.

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  34. Max:

    You write: "We have not disagreed on anything, I merely do not want to bring theology/religion into the discussion."

    I disagree that we are not disagreeing. I am asserting that one cannot adequately discuss "a really good life", a subject that inherently includes concepts such as morals, virtue, "right" conduct, prudence, and even sin (or evil) and at the same time demand that religion be left out of the discussion. It would be like having a pasta-making discussion where no one was allowed to mention boiling water.

    I no longer have as nice a straw hat as you do - I left mine in India - but that doesn't mean I have to defer to your judgement about whether we're disagreeing.

    On the main point - no religion allowed - if that's your rule I'll live with it. I do think however it is ill-advised. How does one discuss the metaphysical if we have to leave out the "meta"?

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  35. “Metaphysics” is a word that Aristotle's editors invented to name books he wrote that came after his books on physics. Today we would call it philosophical theology, which is welcomed here.

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  36. Max:

    Aw, come on! The etymology of "metaphysics"? Seriously? Okay. You win. I'll never mention religion again.

    Until necessary.

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  37. Max:

    In all the excitement of the disagreements we weren't having I somehow missed your earlier question to me. You wrote:

    "...Socrates observes that no man desires evil--that which in fact he deems injurious, harmful, or disadvantageous to himself and, conversely, that everyone desires that which in fact he deems beneficial, advantageous, or good for himself. Do you think Socrates wrong about this?"

    Yeah, I think Socrates was wrong. As pointed out by that rock-star philosopher, Michael Caine as the butler Alfred in Batman - The Dark Knight: "Some men just want to see the world burn."

    Destructive and self-destructive behavior is far too common to be ignored in a discussion of how people behave.

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  38. >Can you help me out and clarify your question for me a bit?

    I'll try, Agim. You're original comment seems to be reducible to a hypothetical necessity: You can do the right thing (lead a truly good life) if and only if you fear the Lord.

    This is the position of many Christians, and may be right after all, but most Christians also hold the doctrine of sufficient grace, which states that each person is given sufficient grace to recognize the truth of Christianity. And further, if a person fails to recognize this truth as such, this failure is due to a bad will. If my understanding of this doctrine is sound, I think "bad will" here simply means a stubbornness or pridefulness (perhaps sinfulness in a generic sense) which prevents one from embracing the truth of Christianity. Since this doctrine of sufficient grace and its implications is a commonly held position in Christian circles, I was wondering if you held this position or something else.

    I think this is a fascinating issue in itself, but I think this discussion could help illuminate the matter at hand regarding how the will relates to the attainment of the good life.

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  39. >This subject is well addressed in Adler's book Intellect-Mind Over Matter, chapter 14 Appetitive Power and Its Acts: Willing and Choosing.

    Thanks, Max. I'll have to run that work down. Any chance you could summarize the argument - or is that a polite way of saying I'm straying beyond the bounds of the issue at hand?

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  40. >Thanks, Max. I'll have to run that work down. Any chance you could summarize the argument - or is that a polite way of saying I'm straying beyond the bounds of the issue at hand?

    Not at all and I will send you the chapter, if you'd like.

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  41. Agim: Yeah, I think Socrates was wrong.

    Does anyone else here, think Socrates was wrong?

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  42. Max,

    I said I agreed with Socrates. You said you

    >believe Socrates is wrong on this matter, i.e., a person with knowledge of good and evil, will not, nay, cannot commit a vicious act.

    But I interpret Socrates to be saying the same thing you are: that virtue is knowledge, and that nobody who knows the good ever deliberately does anything vicious.

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  43. >believe Socrates is wrong on this matter, i.e., a person with knowledge of good and evil, will not, nay, cannot commit a vicious act.

    No, above I was reiterating what he said/meant.

    >But I interpret Socrates to be saying the same thing you are: that virtue is knowledge, and that nobody who knows the good ever deliberately does anything vicious.

    Yes, but he is very wrong, but it would be wonderful, if it were true.

    Here is what Adler says: Is there anyone who has not experienced remorse for having made a wrong choice or committed a wrong deed? How is it that we can know what is right and not choose it, or know what is wrong and still do it?

    The words used in the confession of sins are clear on this point. “We have done the things we ought not to have done, and we have failed to do what we ought to have done.” When Socrates said that knowledge is virtue, he asserted the opposite. Our knowing what is right necessitates our doing what is right. Therein lies the error made by Socrates.

    As I intimated earlier, Aristotle's analysis of incontinence in Book VII of his Ethics supplies us with the answer. We have two kinds of desire, not one: sensual desires and rational desires, desires of the intellectual appetite or will. They frequently come into conflict with one another, as most of us know from personal experience or from the vicarious experience of reading novels or seeing dramas in which the conflict between reason and the passions is central to the narrative or action.

    We make important choices many times in the course of our lives. They are always made at a particular time and place and under particular circumstances. The alternatives with which we are confronted simultaneously may be objects of sensual desire, on the one hand, and objects of rational desire, on the other hand.

    Intellectually knowing what is really good for us to choose, our intellectual appetite or will tends toward the objects of rational desire. Attributing apparent goodness to sensually attractive objects, our sensitive desires tend toward those objects.

    When the objects of rational desire are remote real goods-goods that cannot be obtained at the moment of choice-and the objects of sensitive desire are sensually present apparent goods, obtainable here and now, it is easy to give in to the temptations of immediately obtainable goods and hard to postpone the gratification of desire by choosing goods that are obtainable only in the long run.

    When persons make choices they later regret, or suffer remorse for choices they failed to make, what Aristotle called their incontinence consists in their refusal to defer gratification. He also tells us that the urge toward immediate gratification of desire is a typically childish indulgence in pleasures, meaning thereby not only the pleasures of the flesh, but also the pleasures that consist in being pleased when we get the things we want at the moment we want them.

    Acquiring moral virtue, forming the habit of right desire, is thus seen to be a process of conquering one's childish tendencies toward indulgence in immediate gratifications.

    This is not a complete account of all conflicts between reason and the passions. Objects of desire are not always pleasures of the flesh, or even objects that are immediately obtainable and pleasing in the sense that they satisfy our desires. Money, fame, and power are not objects of this sort. Nevertheless, they arouse passions which drive us to make wrong choices.

    The fourth book of Spinoza's Ethics is entitled “Of the passions or of human bondage.” The freedom we have lost when we are in bondage to the passions is the freedom of being able to will as we ought. That freedom is enjoyed only by persons of moral virtue. They have acquired that freedom by acquiring the habit of right choice, the habit of willing as one ought.

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  44. I hope Dan will forgive me if I offer a response to Max's question to him before he (Dan) has done so.

    In response to Dan's question to Max about what he meant when he (Max) asked whether the lack of virtue is (a) the problem or (b) a symptom of a problem, Max replied,
    "The most glaring example that has currency, is the so-called drug and alcohol abuse problem in our society. I posit that they are not problems, but a symptom of a moral problem, is that clear and do you agree?"

    I say it depends what we mean by a moral problem. Frequently when we call something a moral problem, we mean that the person with the problem could overcome it if s/he were sufficiently resolute. Robert Hutchins once said ruefully, after hearing numerous speakers praising him at a testimonial dinner, that if he were such a great man he would have been able to give up smoking. But there is enormous empirical evidence (Hutchins himself being one of myriad examples) that this is NOT the case with substance abuse.

    On the other hand, if morality is equated with Aristotle's notion of arete (virtue) as consisting in good habits, then to the extent that someone has developed habits that are not good, to that extent that person is not virtuous. And if we think the habit of substance abuse is not good, then a substance abuser to the extent of her/his substance abuse is not virtuous.

    My question back to Max is: with regard to whether we say lack of virtue is the problem or merely a symptom, what of it? What difference does it make?

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  45. Aristotle identifies Socrates' error in Bk VII of the Nicomachean Ethics when he takes up the question of how a man can fail in self-restraint when believing correctly - or knowing - that what he does is wrong. Aristotle's criticism hinges on a distinction between senses of 'knowing.' There is a passive sense of 'to know' which means being in possession of a certain science or knowledge without exercising it; the active sense, then is the active exercise of knowledge. For example, the geometer may possess the science of geometry without exercising that knowledge, such that the geometer may know that the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is equal to that of two right angles, but not recognize (yet) that the figure is a triangle.

    Later in ch 7, Aristotle presents the following:
    "Again, reasoning on matters of conduct employs premises of two forms. Now it is quite possible for a man to act against knowledge when he knows both premises but is only exercising his knowledge of the universal premise and not of the particular; for action has to do with particular things. Moreover, there is a distinction as regards the universal term: one universal is predicated of the man himself, the other of the thing; for example, he may know and be conscious of the knowledge that dry food is good for every man and that he himself is a man, or even that food of a certain kind is dry, but either not possess or not be actualizing the knowledge whether the particular food before him is food of that kind. Now clearly the distinction between these two ways of knowing will make all the difference in the world. It will not seem at all strange that the unrestrained man should 'know' in one way, but it would be astonishing if he knew in another way" (Loeb Classical Library, Aristotle Vol. XIX p. 389, 1146b35-1147a9).

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  46. >I say it depends what we mean by a moral problem.

    A vicious habit or inclination.

    >Frequently when we call something a moral problem, we mean that the person with the problem could overcome it if s/he were sufficiently resolute. Robert Hutchins once said ruefully, after hearing numerous speakers praising him at a testimonial dinner, that if he were such a great man he would have been able to give up smoking. But there is enormous empirical evidence (Hutchins himself being one of myriad examples) that this is NOT the case with substance abuse.

    Once addicted, I agree.

    >On the other hand, if morality is equated with Aristotle's notion of arete (virtue) as consisting in good habits, then to the extent that someone has developed habits that are not good, to that extent that person is not virtuous. And if we think the habit of substance abuse is not good, then a substance abuser to the extent of her/his substance abuse is not virtuous.

    Thank you.

    >with regard to whether we say lack of virtue is the problem or merely a symptom, what of it? What difference does it make?

    The important difference is what remedies are focused on and used to correct the problem, because usually, it seems, the symptom is addressed, whilst ignoring the cause.

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  47. >I will send you the chapter, if you'd like.

    Yes, please, and thank you.

    >Does anyone else here, think Socrates was wrong?

    I do.

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  48. >Does anyone else here, think Socrates was wrong?

    I think Socrates was right, insofar that people ultimately do not desire to do anything harmful to their well-being or diminish their happiness.

    If that is not case, then Aristotle must be wrong in that "all men by nature desire to know."

    As I see it, to know is to have the truth. Therefore, I think I can say all men desire to have truth. If all men desire to have truth, then all men want to have truth about the chief good--happiness.

    However, man by nature is fallible and corruptible; that accounts for his mistakes. As for mistakes, I mean to say being misinformed, mistaking immediate gratification for a real good, hasty action, etc. This is why I agree with Socrates.

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  49. Kausan:

    You write: "I think I can say all men desire to have truth."

    Well, you can certainly _say_ it but why on earth would you? There isn't really great evidence for the position. Certainly some men may want truth, maybe even most men, but I think some men simply desire that truth be what they wish it were.

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  50. Agim,

    >I think some men simply desire that truth be what they wish it were.

    If these men desire truth to be what they wish it were, then they are in fact wishing to have the truth. In their case, they either don't want to do the work necessary to attain the truth or probably think the truth is what works for them. In either way, they want the truth or rather a truth from a relativist or pragmatic perspective.

    Thrasymachus, for example, while he mistakenly thinks that justice is in the interest of the stronger, he exhibits his desire to have an understanding of the way men treat each other--the truth.

    Therefore, the fact that he mistakes the counterfeit for the genuine truth, indicates that he wants the genuine truth.

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  51. >Agim, Yeah, I think Socrates was wrong.

    This question is for Agim and anyone else who thinks Socrates was wrong, in saying that all persons, always do which they think/deem good and cannot do otherwise. If you have ever done anything in your life that you now regret having done, why did you do it?

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  52. At one point, It seems that this discussion was leading to a pluralistic view of "a good life," with a secular pursuit (i.e., not relying on any sacred scripture as an axiom) on one side and a religious conviction on the other.

    Can these two perspectives unite?

    Also, can a philosophical inquiry of a good life with truth of the matter as our goal lead to an understanding of its truth as it relates to religion?

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  53. An excerpt from Plato's dialogue "Meno".

    -----------------------

    [Soc.] Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good?

    [Meno] I think not.

    [Soc.] There are some who desire evil?

    [Meno] Yes.

    [Soc.] Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them?

    [Meno] Both, I think.

    [Soc.] And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be evils and desires them notwithstanding?

    [Meno] Certainly I do.

    [Soc.] And desire is of possession?

    [Meno] Yes, of possession.

    [Soc.] And does he think that the evils will do good to him who possesses them, or does he know that they will do him harm?

    [Meno] There are some who think that the evils will do them good, and others who know that they will do them harm.

    [Soc.] And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do them good know that they are evils?

    [Meno] Certainly not.

    [Soc.] Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose the evils to be good they really desire goods?

    [Meno] Yes, in that case.

    [Soc.] Well, and do those who, as you say, desire evils, and think that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will be hurt by them?

    [Meno] They must know it.

    [Soc.] And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them?

    [Meno] How can it be otherwise?

    [Soc.] But are not the miserable ill-fated?

    [Meno] Yes, indeed.

    [Soc.] And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated?

    [Meno] I should say not, Socrates.

    [Soc.] But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?

    [Meno] That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody desires evil.

    [Soc.] And yet, were you not saying just now that virtue is the desire and power of attaining good?

    [Meno] Yes, I did say so.

    [Soc.] But if this be affirmed, then the desire of good is common to all, and one man is no better than another in that respect?

    [Meno] True.

    [Soc.] And if one man is not better than another in desiring good, he must be better in the power of attaining it?

    [Meno] Exactly.

    [Soc.] Then, according to your definition, virtue would appear to be the power of attaining good?

    [Meno] I entirely approve, Socrates, of the manner in which you now view this matter.

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