Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

The virtue and vice of the analytic tradition of philosophy as it has developed (and floundered) in the 20th and now 21st centuries is its focus on dialectic, and this especially over and beyond rhetoric. This may in fact be considered its substantial difference from the continental tradition, for while the continentalists may concern themselves over the dialectic what they are really doing, as I am using the terms in their classical sense (and this will provide an etymology of “the dialectic”), is focusing their efforts on a rhetorical process.

Understood classically, rhetoric is “the art of speaking with persuasion.” It treats of the psychological mode in people as its fundamental category, to see why what is said has such an import on the ultimate ideas which people will implicitly or explicitly act upon. Dialectic, on the other hand, is “the science of treating meanings (ideas) as themselves.” It seeks to “get past” people’s psychological modes, to hash out for-itself that which is meant and what applies to the real.

That I treat one as art and another as science is, I hope, a rhetorical distinction not lightly glanced over, and I should be subject to it even if I were to pretend that I were being plainly and strictly analytic, or participating in mere dialectic. This illuminates the problem of communication, or speaking, in that our rhetoric remains a substantial part of what we say. I believe we can take this to mean that there is really no such thing as dialectic per se, void of rhetoric; likewise, though, there is no rhetoric per se. They are both intrinsic parts of the action we call communicating, the act of “meaning to another, beyond oneself.”

It is relevant to focus and dwell on rhetoric because, no matter the supposed analytic ideal of a “perfectly logical argument,” you cannot crack the egg of understanding in another without prying them open with rhetoric. Even the notion of a merely dialectic discussion is rhetorical. I believe the idea of a “non-rhetorical argument” should be treated as economic models: ultimately oversimplifying and not anything you can find out there in the world. Does this make it beside the point? No. It remains useful, but this to the extent that it does not make of itself the world. This is because the world is filled with people for whom rhetoric is substantial. This is not some cute sociological observation, but rather a description of people as they are. People are rational creatures, but they are also rhetorical creatures. The idea of the purely logical man is not something we can assume of reality. For while logic/dialectic is an essential element to who we humans are, and we would not be human without it, nor should we even attempt to go outside it, rhetoric remains a structure we are placed within and cannot go beyond because it is the very condition of meaning to another at all.

The rhetorical inheres to the dialectical, and the dialectical inheres to the rhetorical.

Logic is just another rhetorical game. It is not a wrong game, but its psychological attributes ought to be appreciated. It is something we undertake and understand from a psychological mode of being human, and were one to remove the psyche, one should also remove the care for logic at all. I am loathe to call it strictly a passion, but logic is a tool we use to fit our purposes. Logic cannot instruct of itself. Its explanation and reason is external.

I do not mean by any of this that dialectic can be done away with, as though we should simply drift off into the dialectic and cease trying to get anywhere. It is only that one cannot truly see the world without knowing something about the glasses they are wearing. But there is nothing to see without the glasses on, without an instrument facilitating the sense. The instrument cannot be left out of the equation! How one sees something is crucial to knowing what one sees.

I will admit that this creates a problem. If rhetoric is substantial and fundamentally colors our view of the world, how can we truly know of the world? For now, my answer is that truly knowing of the world does include rhetoric; one should be not themselves if they try to go without it, since it is an essential element of being oneself as a human. But then how do we get out of the rhetorical circle, with the rhetoric we adopt being arbitrary? After all, if the rhetorical circle cannot be escaped, then you cannot transition yourself to another rhetoric on a reasoned basis. Ah, but that is to miss the point of what I am saying! Rhetoric is substantial, and its substance can be examined for fault. No rhetoric leaves itself without some way of looking at itself, for the glasses analogy aside, rhetoric is truly an apperceptive sense. It perceives itself, such is the matter of the dialectical inhering to the rhetorical!

Therefore, I propose a new project. The study of rhetoric as substantial in facilitating what we are able to understand.


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Part 1 and Part 7 here, in case you’re just catching up.

A: I have come upon a paradox concerning our discussions on moral virtue.

B: What is the paradox you have discovered?

A: The paradox is this. We earlier came to the conclusion that moral virtue, action undertaken in order to be happy, is simply those actions of man which are true to himself; that is, they are actions which are struck by a pure integrity to the part used for action. As such, speaking is for communicating reality, eating is to continue the motion of the body, and so on. Yet, man is capable of vice. How is vice a capability of man unless it is equally of his nature as virtue is? That is, why is truth-telling integral to that part of man which communicates, but lying is not simply what is integral to that part of man which deceives?

B: There are some who would say man is such a duality. We generally recognize that one represents good, and the other evil. Thus, man has a nature towards good and evil. They are both a part of his nature.

A: Then it would seem that, in order to be happy, a man must proportion himself to only so much truth-telling, and allow for lying as well, for otherwise he should not serve his nature and thus become excellent as a human being, for a human being in order to excel at being himself must serve that nature.

B: Indeed, such would follow.

A: But then there is nothing particular a man must do to make himself happy! Yet we recognize that vicious actions place one under the pursuit of the fleeting and impermanent, which cannot bring man to rest in the permanent beyond where he might be happy. He would, in pursuing vice, mire himself in pleasures and thus always be left to further actions beyond what he manages to complete, indicating he is not actually happy.

B: That is indeed a contradiction. The paradox must then be resolvable in some way.

A: So it would seem. But how do we discern which is the true part of man? Does man have a nature to communicate, or to deceive? Since it cannot be both, only one can represent the coordination of pleasure under will, and the other representative of the coordination of will under pleasure. Is the will integrally expressed in honesty, or lying?

B: Remember that happiness for man is in being fully himself. Since he can only be expressed in one nature, the two paths which vie for man’s action cannot both be of his nature. Which ever is the case, how would we understand their relation?

A: They cannot both be parts of man’s nature. The way that communication and deception must stand in respect to each other must be one of asymmetry. That is, only one can be substantive, by which I mean that it forms a part of man’s nature, and thus integral action in respect to that part would be an instance of man’s excelling. The other must not be substantive, and so not actually a part of man’s nature. But then what would that be?

B: Might I propose an analogy which seems an instance of asymmetric duality like we’re presently discussing?

A: Yes, go on.

B: There are realities in this world which are caused by the deprivation of an active substance. For instance, light is substantial and thus exists of itself, while darkness exists only inasmuch as it is the deprivation of light. We can only recognize something as darkness provided there were the possibility of light; to put that generally, we can only recognize the deprivation provided there were the actual possibility of active substance. There is no such thing as “substantial darkness,” as it were, only “privative darkness.” The substance is distinct to itself, the privation knowable only in relation to the substance.

A: That is a very helpful analogy, and does seem like it should be an accurate reflection of man’s nature. For man’s nature is substantial, and that which is a part of man’s nature must like be substantial, and thus the contrary part of man’s nature, whether that be virtue or vice, must stand to the substance as its deprivation. We would say that what is true to man’s nature is substantial, while what is false to man’s nature is privative.

B: I believe you have captured the insight well.

A: However, this does not inform us which of the two is substantial and which is privative.

B: It does provide a foundation for beginning to make the distinction. Remember that I said the substance is distinct to itself. What do you make of that?

A: For a substance to be distinct to itself means that it can be understood apart from that which is a privation. In other words, you can know it for itself, rather than as standing in a privative relationship with some other thing. For instance, we can know light for itself without thereby knowing darkness, but we can know darkness only by knowing its relation to dark. There can be light without darkness, but no darkness without the possibility of light.

B: How do you think this would apply to action in man, as respecting his parts of nature?

A: That act which is integral to man’s nature must be able to be understood in itself, and not in relation to its privative. As the two realities stand in respect to each other asymmetrically, as active substance and privation, likewise would privative action imply an asymmetry to the self’s action. As we suppose that man must be capable of acting always in regards to his own nature, and thus excel as such in order to attain perfection, so would perfection bring with it the incapability of acting viciously. But we can also recognize that, so long as man remains man, he must retain the capability of virtue no matter how vicious he may be accustomed to acting, since the possibility of virtue is essential to his nature.

B: Where does that bring us?

A: We cannot, by these provisions alone, answer. However, this still points towards further elements for grounding which of two contrary realities is virtuous and which vicious. When it comes to particular actions, we would have to be able to recognize the principles upon which they operate, for that is at once what distinguishes them as a certain kind of action from others, and also what their essential purpose as a part of man is.

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I just realized I should probably include a link back to Part 1 and Part 6.

A: Moral virtue is what maintains the coordination of pleasure under the will. Contrariwise, moral vice is what maintains the coordination of the will under pleasure. Now what does this have to do with specific human actions, such as loving, thinking, and working? It is a rule meant to apply to such things, right?

B: The rule is indeed meant to apply to such things. You are wondering how it might be applied in order to provide a catalogue of prescriptions and proscriptions?

A: That is my question.

B: Then let us apply it to a basic human activity, such as eating. How do you think the rule could be applied?

A: I must remember eating, a pleasure of the body, is in order to provide sustenance so that I may further the end of willing. But I don’t see how this leads to a matter of definite practice. I can see that I must be able to acknowledge that I partake in it not for itself, but in how it furthers the activity of the will.

B: That is a beginning. Think on what has been considered a vice regarding eating. How would our rule understand gluttony?

A: Gluttony is the coordination of will under the pleasure of eating. It seeks eating as an end above the higher concern of happiness.

B: Yes. Gluttony needn’t even be a caloric excess, if there are more immediate concerns relevant to our will than eating.

A: I can see your point, but then how do we know to structure our desires? Clearly, pleasures are meant to be enjoyed in the case that we do not sacrifice moral virtue, but how am I to know when virtues are at stake?

B: Our finding happiness requires ultimately that our will remain focused upon the permanent beyond this world. Volitional integrity is therefore our highest concern, and this as the focusing upon that permanent beyond. Doing this is moral virtue.

A: That seems to follow of what we’ve discussed before, but I’m not following how this answers my original question.

B: Come back to human action. Happiness is its end. And this lies in coordinating pleasure under will. Coordinating will under pleasure frustrates this end, leading away from happiness. Happiness follows from being perfectly human. As such, for some given human activity, it ought not be subverted as an end in itself, since no such activities are our end in that way in order to provide happiness.

A: So to pursue one given human activity above all is in defiance of our nature as a whole? And we make some given human activity an end above all others when we seek to corrupt it, for this is motivated by the coordinating of will under pleasure.

B: Yes. Happiness is found in being perfectly human, and the corruption of our natures is the coordination of will under pleasure, since these pleasures are naturally ordered for the perfection of our will.

A: In other words, our activities as they are naturally ordered is towards the perfection of our will and subverting them subverts our ultimate end.

B: Yes.

A: It follows then that moral virtue is simply the excelling at being human, in our natures, since we are by our natures ordered towards happiness. Our nature, its aim being happiness, can only bring us to happiness provided we act in accord with this nature.

B: Do you think now you can apply it to specific human actions?

A: Yes, for I only need to understand the end of some given activity. Eating is to provide energy for motion. Speaking is to communicate reality. So on and so forth. That is why gluttony and lying are contrary to moral virtue; they are contrary to the natural end of these parts, and being contrary to our nature which end lies in happiness, their subversion is contrary to happiness.

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A: In our last discussion, I remember saying that a happy man is a perfect man.

B: I remember you saying that as well.

A: Now, my question is this. What do we do in order to be perfect?

B: In our last discussion, we spoke about how happiness comes with the perfection of will.

A: Yes. And this requires motion as undertaken by the individual, since will is man’s internal principle of movement. I have deduced that the perfection of the will requires the practicing of what we call moral virtues, which is just action undertaken in order to be happy.

B: Why does it require practicing?

A: An instance of practice is just the movement of the will towards that in which it rests.

B: Let me see if I can follow your reasoning. Man’s end is happiness, and man moves towards this by his internal principle of motion, which is will. Happiness comes with the perfection of the will, and the will is perfected by resting in the permanent beyond this world. It follows that the will must practice moral virtue, which is action undertaken in order to be happy?

A: That is correct. But this produces a problem. An action must be something specific, so while it may be undertaken in the name of something general, we are presented with individual actions in the world that have their intermediary ends in the satisfaction of personal pleasures.

B: You seek a rule that describes what actions may be called virtuous?

A: Indeed. I understand that there must be some general rule, since the end is something general of specific actions in which they are all embedded, and this in order to accomplish one ultimate goal, namely happiness.

B: That seems true. Then like before, we will search out your questions, and find the answer there.

A: Yes. So what is the content of our questions?

B: We know that happiness is the end of human action. Our practice of moral virtue must then be struck by a particular quality of human nature, since human happiness is something which flows of ourselves by nature, after all.

A: Right. The end of a thing must likewise be provided a means in itself, since this end is directed by and for itself. The stone has mass in order that it may fall. But I reckon that our means is not falling, since falling is not what makes us what we are. Our means is will.

B: Yes. Our actions must be coordinated under the perfection of our will.

A: Might that be formulated as a rule?

B: I think we can say that, of our specific actions, insofar as they are for our personal pleasure, they do not end with that pleasure, but are so in order to perfect our will.

A: I’m not sure if I understand. Could you elaborate?

B: Consider what might impede the perfection of an end. A stone will not lay on the ground if it is broken up. In order to attain its end as that particular stone, its actions must be integral to itself, for otherwise it will break and its end cannot be achieved.

A: But of course the stone is only reactive. A human is in control of himself.

B: Yes. The stone can be harmed by factors outside its control. There is, however, no such thing for the human. Man is responsible for himself, and can only be harmed by himself, since the significant essence of man, what makes man man, is his will, and only his will has access to his will in order that it may be perfected or harmed.

A: And this because human action, in regards to its specific humanity, is a matter of will. All motion of the human-qua-human is by oneself.

B: Action must be directed of oneself, and likewise abide in oneself. Pleasures must be undertaken not as the end of our will, but as means of the perfection of the will. When a pleasure is will as an end exclusive and apart from our will, this is the frustration or our integral human end, since our end as humans lies not in any pleasure but in our will.

A: So a moral virtue is one which maintains the coordination of pleasure under the will, while a moral vice coordinates will under pleasure?

B: Yes.

A: I think I understand.

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A: I have come to discuss something.

B: What would you like to discuss?

A: We have just determined that happiness for humans is possible since each thing is directed towards something it may actually attain. Now, we considered how this leads to the conclusion that happiness is not found in this world. What, then, is happiness like?

B: We are to look at those qualities of this world which are incompatible with our happiness.

A: Yes, this seems something touched upon previously. The pleasures of this world are so in their incompleteness, being beside the point of our happiness. When we must continue striving, we have not found our happiness.

B: So that is one of the qualities our inquiry brings us to. Happiness is marked by a cessation of activity, since there is nothing further beyond which we might act to possess, and after all, there is nothing that will make us happier than happiness.

A: So it involves a kind of perfection. A happy man is a perfect man. For, once something is perfected, there is nothing that can be added that will make a human any better, since he will already be fully himself.

B: Absolutely. But I might note here that we should also say that it must also be an incorruptible state.

A: How do you reason?

B: Let us suppose that a thing, after reaching its state of rest, were moved.

A: Assuming such a thing remained itself, it would immediately return to its perfection, since it will have already achieved such a state in regards to its own end, and will be returned in a time proportionate to the degree it was moved. I mean to say that, were something at its perfection it will move as much to return as it was moved by another thing, though this not because it was already at its perfection. Clearly, a rock does not need to have lain on the ground before in order to go to the ground.

B: Indeed, we can see that is true of things such as stones and even animals, for in their being moved, and assuming they are not destroyed, “it remains itself” as you put it, they are quick to return. But now we can consider especially human happiness. There is a different quality to it. Compared to everything else in this world, what is that?

A: Everything else in this world has its end in the world. Humans have their end outside the world. But this doesn’t seem to show that human perfection is incorruptible.

B: Consider the internal principle of motion in man.

A: Humans will. The activity of man, insofar as we regard it unique in the world, and so I am supposing of importance to what I ask, is what we call volitional.

B: Indeed. And so while something like a stone acts reflexively, without being able to ask why it does so, a human is brought to his own end by the choice of his own will. The quality of this choice is that, in regards to his uniqueness as man, only he can move himself.

A: So a human whose happiness is obtained not in regards to anything that changes or is impermanent, finds this happiness by focusing on something permanent. And so, having affixed the will in this way, he can also not be moved, for there is nothing that moves him but himself, and he has no reason to move himself since he has already precisely what he was moved for in the first place.

B: So what can we say of happiness?

A: Happiness in man is the perfection of man, and this especially the perfection of his will. Upon being found, happiness becomes a cessation of activity, what we might call eternal life.

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*This is a substantially longer post. I’m thinking about writing an addendum to this part 4, as a summary of the argument presented, but in treatise form rather than as it is dialogically presented here.

A: I have been thinking on happiness.

B: What have you found?

A: I have come to one certain conclusion.

B: And what is that?

A: There is some thing that we seek.

B: That seems clear in saying that we seek at all.

A: I mean that there is some particular object we seek. Our happiness lies in orienting ourselves to it in some way.

B: That is a more specific claim. How do you reason?

A: I consider that there are intermediary goods we act towards. These pleasures are of a nature that we seek them, but as was concluded in our last discussion, what we ultimately seek, or what we seek in the end, is something behind or beyond all these pleasures. However, they do still have their place in our seeking.

B: What place is that?

A: Consider the highest hope of the hedon. He seeks the pleasures of food, sex, and leisure, but each time he attains these things, he loses them. Their pleasure comes in consuming them, which is to make them no longer exist.

B: So you are saying that they, of themselves, reveal their incompleteness?

A: Yes, and this is an aspect of coming to know ourselves.

B: Coming back to your claim that there is something beyond them, is this revealed in their incompleteness?

A: Yes. For, in coming to know ourselves in this way, we then understand that what we seek is of a different nature. The incompleteness of pleasures lies in their impermanence. In being had, they are lost, and we are compelled to continue actin. What we seek is something in which, upon being attained, is kept; something for which we need no longer act when it is found.

B: So what we seek is to rest in something, to be able to cease acting?

A: Precisely. Something in which we can retire and be secure. Something which is permanent.

B: But nothing in this earthly life is permanent!

A: Yes. Our happiness lies in something beyond these earthly pleasures, and by extension, this earthly life.

B: So it seems we cannot be happy.

A: That is what I have resigned myself to.

B: I think you give up too early.

A: How do you reckon?

B: We are such that what we seek cannot be had in this world, or this life. The conclusion can only be that there is something beyond.

A: You derive this from the fact of our desiring it?

B: Indeed. I cannot see how we could be seeking something which does not exist.

A: I don’t see how. There are many thing which I might desire that may never be. I could desire to possess all the world’s riches, or the elimination of poverty, or to play the piano at Carnegie Hall, but it does not mean these things will be the case.

B: For those sorts of things, yes, but do you not remember how you distinguished between such pleasures and that which brings us happiness?

A: Yes, but I don’t see the relevance.

B: Let us call this intrinsic seeking you have concerned yourself with our essential desire. It is marked by, among other things, being beyond pleasures. It is something we understand by knowing ourselves. On the other hand, these pleasures are something we desire not for themselves. They are accidental desires.

A: Those are true distinctions, and are certainly something I elaborated upon myself. But this doesn’t bring any clarity.

B: We could say that our essential desire is what marks us out as human.

A: Yes. To be human is to have this particular desire and, as such, to make other desires in humans accidental. A person may or may not have the desire for sex, but they will have this desire to attain rest.

B: So we can that happiness is the end of man? It is, after all, essential to what makes man, man.

A: That is a true way of putting it.

B: Then I will point out what may be considered the essential desires, or ends, of other things in the world.

A: Are you saying that everything is a kind of person?

B: No. I am only saying that other things in the world demonstrate a directedness to some end which, like in man’s seeking for happiness, distinguish them essentially as what they are from other things. They are impelled to these ends, and that is just what it is to be that sort of thing.

A: Could you provide some examples?

B: Certainly. In humans, we witness this as a seeking after happiness. A dog seeks companionship with a master and to eat. A gas seeks to fill its environment. A stone seeks to lay on the ground.

A: I see. To say something has an end is not to attribute a consciousness to it, but to say that its activity is directed by its own nature.

B: Yes.

A: Now what is the relevance?

B: The relevance is this. In every instance that we witness an object in the world, we understand by intuition that it is directed by some actually possible thing. That is, when a thing acts, it is acting towards something which actually can be the case. That is the meaning of the word actual, in fact: something which brings a thing to act.

A: I am trying to understand, but examples would aid me again.

B: Consider a stone. When a stone falls, it is falling to some body in order that it may possibly lay on the ground there. And whenever a stone is falling, it is falling to something. Were there nothing for it to fall to, and so lay on the ground there, it would not fall. And in this case, it is required that there is some actual body, so that laying on the ground there is actually possible.

A: Let me try an example, to see if I am understanding the principle. A magnet acts in much the same way, only that a pole is seeking to be united with its opposite. How would you formulate the principle?

B: A thing acts towards its end only in the case that the end it seeks is actually possible. It acts when it can attain rest in something. So a stone fall to the ground, magnetic poles unite with their opposite, and seeds grow to be adults and animals seek food.

A: I think I see where you are going. If a thing acts only in the case that its end is possible, then it follows that what man seeks is actually possible, namely, the happiness that comes in resting in the permanent object beyond this world. But why must this be the case?

B: Why should we suppose the principle is false only in regards to humans?

A: you are right, an exception wouldn’t make sense. Then happiness must be possible.

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A: I have a question.

B: What is it?

A: It is much like before.

B: That is fine. Ask it.

A: What is the benefit of knowing ourselves?

B: You are right, that is a similar question.

A: Indeed. But I need your help answering it.

B: Alright. Then let us consider what we learned before. First, we learned that we ought to do philosophy in order that we know how to direct our activities to what will benefit us. Then, we learned that the end of philosophy lies in knowing ourselves. In light of this, your question is something like “Why does understanding what will benefit us require knowing ourselves?” Or, put another way, “Why does knowing ourselves help us to see what is beneficial?”

A: I suppose you are correct. So what is the answer?

B: Much like before, the answer can be found in the question.

A: I suspected. Like before, I see that asking such a question is unique to humans. We are seekers who seek to know what we seek. So my question is really about what we seek. And if I were to know myself, then I would know what I seek.

B: Indeed. And we can suppose that coming to find what we seek would make us happy.

A: Perhaps, but could you explain more?

B: We consider those things worth seeking after as those which makes us happy. In other words, “to be beneficial” and “making us happy” are the same thing.

A: That seems to be the case for some things, but not for all.

B: Which sorts of things?

A: Suppose I drank to excess frequently. I would be happy, but it does not seem beneficial.

B: Ah, but you would not be happy ultimately.

A: I can see that, but why does my intermediary happiness not become a falsifying example?

B: Consider how I defined happiness.

A: It is that which we would have if we had that which we seek.

B: Yes.

A: I see. Then, in drinking to excess, I do not find that which I seek. Indeed, it would stand in the way of finding what I seek.

B: Yes.

A: But then why does it seem desirable?

B: Because we do not know ourselves.

A: That makes sense. And were I to know myself, it would not seem desirable.

B: Indeed. You now have the pieces to answer your original question.

A: We know ourselves in order to know what we seek, and this is so that we can know how to find it and so become happy. Likewise, we would also know what to avoid and also find it undesirable in respect to our knowledge of ourselves. But I have one more question.

B: What is it?

A: Why does knowing myself inform me of what I seek?

B: Who is it that would become happy, were they to find what they seek?

A: Myself.

B: Then who must know what makes them happy?

A: Myself.

B: That is why. You know what you seek by knowing yourself, you know yourself by knowing what you seek.

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