Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Elimination of Waiting (A Thought Experiment)

Suppose we accept the following line of thought:
1. Waiting is always undesirable. (No one likes to wait; time is precious, etc.)
2. If x is undesirable, then x ought to be minimized.
3. Therefore, waiting ought to be minimized.

Were this right, then a "perfect" world would be one in which we never had to wait--a world in which waiting has been not simply minimized, but eliminated.

What would life look like if we never had to wait for anything? Pushing this hypothetical to its metaphysical limits, time as we experience it would almost cease to exist. Every desire would be instantly fulfilled, every pain immediately alleviated. (Any frustrations of our goals would have to be instantly alleviated, otherwise we would have to wait to get over our disappointment.) Every experienced moment would be filled to capacity. What about effort and achievement? If we eliminated all waiting, these things would have to happen instantaneously--anything that requires effort and time requires some modicum of patience between the setting of the goal and its realization. Thus, to eliminate waiting, we would have to eliminate, it seems, the need for effort. But if achievement is something special, something we recognize as the fruit of a sustained, attentive, meritorious effort, then in order to eliminate waiting, we would have to also eliminate achievement. I could go on, but the point should be clear already--the ideal of eliminating waiting, taken to its logical, if extreme, conclusion, would entail the elimination of anything much resembling human life.

This suggests that we should re-evaluate waiting and re-consider the facile assumption that less waiting is always better, even in those cases where it is possible to shorten our wait.

(As an alternative, one might suggest that waiting is not always undesirable; what we need is an optimum state of waiting, but prima facie that seems a bit like a silly way of putting the alternative point.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Practicality of "Slacking"

From "A Slacker's Apology", signed by "Philonous" who is (according to Leiter) Morris Cohen:
I believe in the division of labor. I am a priest or philosopher, not a soldier or propagandist. I yield to none in my admiration for the brave fellows who gave their all' on the bloody fields of Flanders, but I have no respect for the bigots who cannot realize that "there are many mansions in my Father's house," and that it would be a poor world if there were no diversity of function to suit the diversity of natural aptitudes. And when people begin to admonish me that if everyone did as I did, etc., I answer that humanity would probably perish from cold if everyone produced food, and would certainly starve if everyone made clothes or built houses. I admit the desperate need of men to defend the existence of our country, but I cannot ignore the need of men to maintain even in war the things which make the country worth defending. Purely theoretic, studies seem to me to be of those fine flowers which relieve the drabness of our existence and help to make the human scene worth while.
I think there must be much that is right about this--in particular, his rejoinder to a bad, thoughtless kind of universalism (or misapplication of the test of universalizability).

Morris continues:
My fellow philosophers for the most part are too ready to assert that theoretic philosophy can justify itself only by its practical applications. But why the fundamental human desire to know the world is any less entitled to satisfaction than the desire for kodaks, automobiles, india-paper or upholstered furniture, they do not tell us.
True. But one might argue that this is a narrow way of construing "practical applications." Morris almost suggests this point, but it isn't quite the point he explicitly makes--which is more about the intrinsic value of knowledge. That aside, philosophical knowledge might have practical applications that challenge or undermine narrower (e.g. merely economic) notions of practicality. Perhaps this would be particularly true if it turns out to be part of philosophical wisdom that the good life (or the moral life, etc.) don't strongly depend upon, or even radically opposes, conventional (or common/vulgar) ideas about the good life. The good life might not be a "practical life"--a life that contributes to the increase of the gross domestic product, etc., etc.--and as the Stoics suggest (and the example of Socrates illustrates), others may well think the wise person a fool. This isn't really to dispute Cohen's point, but rather to add to it--or perhaps to begin the philosophical critique of what is genuinely "practical" which his comments above invite.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Robert Papazian Essay Prize

Good news! My paper "Moral Courage and Facing Others" was selected as the winning entry for the Robert Papazian Annual Essay Prize on Themes from Ethics and Political Philosophy. It will appear as the lead article in the International Journal of Philosophical Studies 21(2), and be freely available, around April 2012. More info about the prize (and Robert Papazian) here.

I've agreed with the IJPS editor to take down, for now, my penultimate draft of the paper. But I suppose anyone dying to read it could email me, or whet his or her appetite on this less formal essay I recently drafted, which covers a few similar ideas: "The Courage of Conviction." (Some earlier discussion of this essay here.)

I should thank here (and you will be thanked in the paper, too) the following people whose online comments and feedback on earlier posts and drafts about courage helped me in various ways: Joshua Kortbein, Duncan Richter, Rob Sica, and Tommi Uschanov. Thanks!

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Waiting

"Stories allow us to pretend that there is a cure for waiting." Harold Schweizer, On Waiting, p. 52
I recently finished Schweizer's book, which I have ultimately decided that I enjoyed, although there were times when I was finding it a bit...I don't know...strained in its language, in something like the way that "analytic philosophers" are annoyed by the style of some "continental philosophers." (I suppose the complaint is that there's not enough substance, if any, behind what looks only like wordplay.) But I pushed through and it's a neat little book. Schweizer attends to the experience of waiting, and among other things to the idea that waiting is integral to a kind of deepening of experience and understanding (of self and other)--that waiting is integral to the attention necessary to appreciate and draw out the significance in art and literature, and that it is in waiting, in the stillness of waiting, that we come into contact with ourselves as temporal beings.

The line I quoted above is one that stuck with me as I read. Stories come to an end. There is--traditionally--some kind of resolution: our waiting and our wading through the story has been served. This helps me understand the frustration some people have with stories and films that have abrupt and somewhat unresolved endings. (My wife hates movies like this.) One's expectations (for resolution) have been frustrated--one is "left hanging" with nowhere to go, or at least the filmmaker has refused to take you there. I tend to approach such films by thinking that if I am disappointed by the ending, then perhaps I have misunderstood what the story was that I was being told. Of course, endings can be disappointing simply because the film wasn't well-made, but there's a kind of jumping to that conclusion that itself might show a lack of reasonable patience (or attention, etc.). Of course, depending on what you're looking for in movie night, you might not be interested in the exercise (cf. my wife)--maybe you prefer instead the respite of that illusion to which Schweizer alludes above.

Friday, January 13, 2012

In Defense of Patience (Draft)

UPDATE (1.14.12): I made a few corrections to the draft today.

...with references to the Stoics. In addition to the "defense of patience," the paper offers a way of thinking about Stoic fortitude and detachment (and the related ideal of tranquility), and how to respond to the usual objections against those ideals, from the perspective of the value of patience. (The responses I consider are brief and not original, but it is the filtering of them through patience that I am suggesting--and I might be wrong--can help us see those responses in a new light.)

There are a couple different things going on in the paper, and my hope at this point is that it hangs together well enough for a talk. Comments appreciated.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Patience: A (Tentative) Definition

I'm working on a paper about patience and Stoicism, and here's a crack at a definition (or sketch, if you prefer) of patience:
Patience is the virtue of bearing unavoidable and wisely assumed burdens with equanimity.
I hope to post a draft in the coming days, so I'll not defend this at length here. My reservation was with the term "wisely," because I worried that this would seem to overintellectualize matters. I suppose this isn't as much of a problem if "wisely" is construed in fallible terms--wisely, given one's current information and understanding of things, for example. Or if one said something like the information one could be reasonably expected to have, then matters wouldn't be overly subjective. (One might object that "burden" might seem too negative since things like raising and teaching children take patience, and it might seem awkward to regard children as burdens...but I have a response in the paper: roughly, "burden" should be understood in a neutral, technical sense here.) Thoughts?

In other news (and I couldn't bring myself to do a separate post about this), I'm not sure what to make of Will.i.am's new Viagra commercial song and video entitled "The Hardest Ever." It's either (nearly?) brilliant or trash. Maybe both. He's going hard, but where is he going in that spaceship? It's hard--for me at least--not to be a little tickled by the line, "Imma go hard like a motherfuckin' boner." But maybe that just shows that I need to grow up (and/or refine my tastes in wordplay). The end (if you haven't seen it) will either reaffirm or destroy your love for Mick Jagger (or reaffirm your disdain for him). Unfortunately, perhaps, the song is (ahem) growing on me. But I have a soft spot for a catchy (er, hard) beat, so be patient with me.

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Dustbin of History Goes Online

I recently discovered that my dissertation had become accessible (though not any more interesting) online through ProQuest, and now it's on GoogleBooks (here). Even worse, you can buy a copy on Amazon at a bargain price (see right). What really blows my mind is that there is a used copy out there, too.

It was released on September 20, 2011 (says Amazon). I guess ProQuest forgot to invite me to the release party.

I'm posting this as a curiosity, not as an endorsement.

(It turns out that my Master's thesis is listed on GoogleBooks, too, but fortunately, there is no preview...)