apolliana: (Default)
Once we make certain discoveries, it becomes difficult to state them as propositional knowledge. Or even to state what question the discovery was the solution to. Because we ourselves have changed as a result (roughly the point of a digression of Cavell's in "Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy"):

"The more one learns, so to speak, the hang of oneself, and mounts one's problems, the less one is able to say what one has learned; not because you have forgotten what it was, but because nothing you said would seem like an answer or a solution: there is no longer any question or problem which your words would match. You have reached conviction, but not about a proposition; and consistency, but not in a theory. You are different, what you recognize as problems are different, your world is different" (85-6).

This analogizes philosophical problem-solving to therapeutic problem-solving, but it's not clear that the description is true of both, always. Or that the reasons for the dissolution or disappearance of the problem are parallel.

When one solves one's personal problems, the ones that seemed like insoluble mysteries, sometimes the problems do disappear; but usually one can say what the solution was, if there was one. Oftentimes fitting poorly with one's environment makes us think there's some deep problem within ourselves that vanishes when we find new jobs, places, neighbors, or relationships. The problem dissolves because it was caused by something external to oneself in the first place. You aren't different, necessarily, but your world is. (You might be different in that you have firmer ideas about what your scene is.) But the wrongness of a certain environment or path or person is still something one can state, even after the problem has dissolved.

For philosophical problems, it's somewhat different. The problems seem to arise in this way: when we first learn abstract concepts, they seem to present us with many possible problems, incompatibilities, paradoxes. It becomes puzzling how the world could ever have come together out of piles of opposites. But this is a view from 'above'; on the ground, concepts aren't so monolithic. The learning that resolves our paradoxes is simply detailed experience of life--and life with language--on the ground; in its minutiae, in its (ugh) ordinariness.

Some people, no doubt, address themselves to problems that seem to be both simultaneously. A young person's philosophical worries are tinged with the wrongness of his or her life thus far. Many of the questions I used to care about seem inane now. Those that remain concern the nature of inquiry and discovery, and the nature of thought and experience. These things are interesting because they are so complex that philosophers' accounts invariably leave things out. The questions I still care about arise from complexity, rather than from from stark oversimplification.
apolliana: (Default)
It's a dogma of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that emotions surreptitiously house beliefs, which beliefs when shown to be false or unjustified will defuse said emotions. For example, if I conclude from stubbing my toe that "I am clumsy and inept and no good at anything I do," and proceed to feel terrible about myself, the Cognitive Behavioral Therapist will aim to show me that this belief generalizes beyond my evidence.

My feeling terrible about myself, then, seems irrational because it rests on an unjustified belief. Troubling emotions need not always be the result of epistemic irresponsibility, however; in other cases, an emotion might remain troubling precisely because one does not have the evidence that would support the belief that might defuse it. In this way it does not reflect irrationality, but a less-than-ideal epistemic situation. I will call emotional defeaters beliefs that, for a given instance of an emotion, if the subject came to hold them through accumulating adequate evidence, would defuse the emotion. These inferential connections an emotion has--the facts that, being true, would defuse the emotion--need not be evident to the person experiencing the emotion until they are made clear by the subject acquiring the evidence and coming to hold the belief.

Not all troubling emotions, then, are the results of faulty inferences. Some are the result of imperfect access to the facts. I conclude that though emotions are not equivalent to beliefs, they may sometimes be causally dependent (irrationality case), or inferentially dependent (emotional defeater case) upon beliefs about the way the world is. And these dependencies need not be transparent to the emoting person. Sometimes they are dependent upon unjustified beliefs, but often they are not--they are dependent upon justifiably refraining from believing what isn't justified.

(My evolving position on what emotions are: events or processes, which do possess inferential connections to beliefs, and which perhaps dispose one to make certain value judgments, but which are not themselves to be analyzed in terms of beliefs (generally) or beliefs as value judgments. Like perceptual illusions, emotions may persist in spite of the defeat of beliefs that we believe to contradict them, and in spite of the subject holding value judgments that seem to contradict them. In the former case, the emotion might well be an indication of an imperfect epistemic situation (a sign that one does not know all one needs to know), and in the latter, it might well be a sign that one's value judgment isn't accurate.)
apolliana: (Default)
I ran across this post the week before last, on the avoidance of responsibility enabled by self-deprecation. And immediately I thought of Richard Moran's analysis of weakness of will, and other failures to take the deliberative stance.

From the blog post:

"Call it the "I'm such an asshole" speech or call it strategic self-deprecation, the end goal is always the same: deflect women's anger.....

"These guys figure that if they say truly awful things about themselves, they'll force their partners to cease the search for legitimate discussion and turn to the more traditionally feminine role of soothing male anxiety."

(Aside: the author assumes this is particularly something men do with women, and it may be, though I don't see why it has to be. The many commenters suggesting that appearance-based self-deprecation functions in the same way are wrong, however. Though feeling excessively miserable about one's appearance might deflect anger, it does not do so in the same way as claiming one's character is rotten does. Unlike the latter, the former does not attempt to make it look as if actively managing one's life is an impossibility for the person exhibiting it. Thinking you look like crap is not a character flaw for which one is failing to take responsibility by treating it as an incontrovertible fact.)

Here's Fred Vincy & Mary Garth:

Fred: “I wouldn’t have hurt you so for the world, Mary,” he said at last. You can
never forgive me.
Mary: “What does it matter whether I forgave you? said Mary, passionately.
“Would that make it any better for my mother to lose the money she has
been earning by lessons for four years, that she might send Alfred to Mr.
Hanmer’s? Should you think all that pleasant enough if I forgave you?”
Fred: “Say what you like, Mary. I deserve it all.”
Mary: “I don’t want to say anything,” said Mary, more quietly; “my anger is of no
use” (Middlemarch, Ch. 25).

One might notice a slight difference: namely, that Fred seems to be encouraging Mary's anger rather than trying to defuse it. But the goal--to avoid actually figuring out what to do about the mess he's gotten himself into--is also present in the cases the blogger describes. Anger is superfluous, after all; it's goal is to get the person who's messed up to take a more active stance in dealing with what they've done. If it's not going to accomplish that, it's pointless, as wise Mary Garth can see.

And this is an instance of the broader problem Moran sees with adopting the 'empirical'--or 3rd personal--stance in situations in which a commitment, deliberation, or other effort of the will is called for. These things are active, not passive. They determine one's will; and insofar as they do so they must be seen as possibly subject to change. Even if one admits with Frankfurt that some features of one's will are unchangeable, as features of one's will they must be able to be affirmed as such, rather than simply self-defeatingly proclaimed. Saying "I'm terrible, awful, and rotten" is not the same as saying "I'm terrible, awful and rotten; and that's all I want to be." For all the wantonness that it indicates, in the latter, at least, the will is active.


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