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In one of my recent posts I wrote about laudability (see that post here). I’ve been rethinking my argument on the matter. Originally I said that the only laudable actions are those generated by agency. However, I think there is a problem with this analysis, namely it seems to me that the concept of laudable only makes sense with an opposite. That is to say, I’m not sure that acting in fashion x can be laudable without not acting in fashion x is somehow negative. Since my account of laudable is ‘acts autonomously’ it seems to follow naturally that it is somehow blameworthy to fail to be autonomous. However, by my argument, one’s autonomous state is not something done. This ties back to my post on epistemic injustice, in that I think it is much easier for those who are privileged to be autonomous. Therefore I do not feel that I can justify finding people laudable for their autonomous actions.
I’m quite hesitant in this judgement. It is very counter-intuitive to me to say that there are no laudable actions. However, at the moment, I haven’t thought of a way for one agent to be more laudable then the next. All actions, good or ill, are products of circumstance and innate unearned properties of an agent. This doesn’t mean that we cannot praise those actions we consider good, but this praise seems inevitably to be pragmatic affirmation, as opposed to recognizing some action of the agent. Praise is essentially the statement ‘I like the being you are’.
Let me know what you think,
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One philosopher who I’ve never really understood is Judith Butler. I’ve only read two or three of her articles, and I got literally nothing from them. I’d pretty much dismissed her work as at least unintelligible, if not nonsense. I’m not the only one who has had this kind of experience of Butler: she was awarded 1st place in Philosophy and Literature magazine’s somewhat mean spirited but funny ‘bad writing contest’ in 1998. Recently I came across an article that purported to explain Judith Butler in more understandable language (read here). I have no idea whether this is an accurate representation of Butler or not, but I found that which the writer interpreted as Butler’s central claim quite interesting. She said (that Butler said) that A) sex does not exist outside of gender, and B) that gender is something done. This is a notion that I am quite sympathetic to – it actually seems like it would be rather difficult for me to reject given what I have previously said about epistemology. Our identity is as much something we constitute within experience as anything else. I do have the minor caveat that I probably attribute less of how we constitute reality to society then Butler does, but overall I think we stand on similar epistemic grounds on the matter. The dichotomy of male/female is something to which we subscribe (by some combination of genetic inclination and social teaching), and, at least when it comes to our own identity, it seems like it can have little reality beyond the way in which it effects our actions.
This got me thinking about identity in general. I would say (in a very Aristotelian fashion) that you are what you do. If I say that someone is a doctor, I mean that she doctor’s people – if I say that someone is a good person, I am referring to a general trend in their behaviors. The reality of these labels are not as simple as we sometimes treat them though. One interesting aspect I think is how it seems to quite naturally follow from this that we are different people in different environments. I act (and feel) substantially different when I’m working at my retail job and when I’m writing my blog posts, for example.
One of my friend’s once made an interesting observation: it is important to have an identity within a friend group. A mutual friend of ours had recently been extremely depressed because she felt that she didn’t have any kind of identity within the group – that she had no skill or expertise that she could claim as her own. We are, I think, quite driven to find uniqueness in ourselves – we seek identity markers to set ourselves apart (though we also seek other markers to bond over as groups).
So, just some thoughts on identity. Let me know what you think,
We all have wished that the world was fair at some point or other. We’ve wished that people would get what they deserve, or that there wasn’t such inequality, or any manner of such thoughts. Not only do we wish for fairness though, we also tend to see it in the world. We have karmactically inclined minds – we tend to think that others get what they deserve, that being a good person should be pragmatically rewarding (heaven), and so on. Unfortunately, our desire for fairness can be a dead weight upon our lives.
When faced with adversity, when faced with struggle, my experience of myself is that I must struggle against my desire for fairness. That is, I must hold it off so that it does not cripple me. If I focus on the unfairness of a situation, if I allow myself to dwell on how I feel that my circumstance is unjust and ill-formed, I cut myself off from action. To dwell on fairness is to demand of the world that it give itself to me, that it yield the fruit I perceive given to others to me as well. To dwell on fairness so is paralyzing, because it is against action: to act is struggle towards that which should simply be given. That this is so is not fair (though I am hardly hard-done by when it comes to the gifts given me by the world), but it is a brute reality.
I think it is much better to dwell on my own responsibility then on fairness. If I take myself to be responsible for my circumstance, then I am moved to action. No longer can I bitterly complain about my perceived ailments, because I take them to be my own doing. The only recourse that is left to me is to act, to seize my circumstance and make it otherwise.
I do not mean to say that fairness is bad. I think it is a good thing to encourage fairness in the world. It is just that no good can come from dwelling on unfairness. It is perhaps a piece of sophistry to say that my circumstance is entirely my own doing, but I think most of us are probably already sophists when it comes to fairness. We take our privilege as given, while swooning over our woes.
Let me know what you think,
Despite my examination of many existentialist thinkers, there is one existentialist concept that I have not really touched upon – the concept of absurdity. Before I started writing this, I realized I only had a faint notion of what the concept of absurdity actually was. After some research though, I would say that the concept of absurdity is essentially this: meaning may or may not exist, but it is not within our capabilities to know it. This situation is called absurd because we are meaning-seeking beings, inclined to find meaning in our world, but actually determining real meaning is beyond our ken. This concept can be taken many different ways, but a common path is to follow absurdity with the proposition that the essence of human existence is to create our own meaning in the face of absurdity.
With a bit of rewording, much of the thoughts I’ve previously proposed could be argued to be in line with absurdity. I think that knowledge is an infinite activity, and that no one can know truth. I take the essence of human existence to be continual confrontation with the question ‘what should I do’, while I think that the answer is unattainable. It is only a short skip and a jump from that to saying that the existence of meaning is fundamentally unknowable and that the essence of human existence is to make – aka, absurdity.
If I was willing to stop there, I’d be on fairly firm philosophical grounds. However, I’m not quite comfortable with what I’ve said – I want to insist somehow that people can be wrong, that there is some sort of tangible difference between the reflective and unreflected stance. I do have some ideas for how to tackle this, but they are currently in the works.
Thank you for reading; let me know what you think.