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#256536 - 05/22/06 04:45 PM The problem of 'improvement'
TimBlack Offline
Exalted

Registered: 05/10/05
Posts: 1403
Loc: UK, Brighton
I've been thinking recently about some of the new 'virtue theory' problems, which I seem to find with meditation-based philosophies and Eastern tradition.

If you don't know what Virtue Theory is, it's a kind of post-Ayer and Hare theory which rejects the non-Realist claims of Emotivism and Prescriptivism and attempts to resurrect the virtue elements of Platonic and Aristotelean moral theory. The theory, simply put, is that experience of trying to be 'good' makes us more and more 'good'. Now, the problems with this theory come under two main categories:

1) The theory is essentially vacuous - since it places importance not on acts but individuals, it fails to define what constitutes a 'good' action. While this is understandable if we look into Moore's intuitionism (in a nutshell, you can't have a bucket of goodness, or beauty. Moore said that 'you knew it when you saw it', but this is unsatisfactory because people have different intuitions), it means that we need either a consequentialist (ie. Utilitarianism) or deontological (ie. Kant's Categorical Imperatives or Divine Command Theory) basis to virtue theory.

2) This is the one I want to deal with. If you don't KNOW the truth, or what's good, already, how do you know that you're getting closer to it. Imagine you're blindfolded, and left in the middle of the african savannah. You've got to walk to Johannesburg. So you start walking off in a particular direction, but you don't really know where you're going, do you? You might say, "I'm covering ground so I must be going in the right direction", but this is patently untrue. In the same way, if we don't know what we're aiming for in meditation and 'bettering' ourselves, how do we know we're going in the right direction. Surely, we can't claim to be 'improving' unless we know what we're improving towards, and if we know what we're improving towards, surely we're already there?

I know that this has echoes of the criticisms of Richard Rorty's Redescriptivism, so I won't bore you with more chatter.

So, the question is: if you don't know the actual goal, how do you know you're getting there? Are we all marching off to Cairo when we're aiming for Johannesburg?

Discuss
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#256537 - 05/22/06 04:57 PM Re: The problem of 'improvement' [Re: TimBlack]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
Can't address the heavy duty academic stuff, but as for below...I should think that is why one would need a good teacher.

Quote:

So, the question is: if you don't know the actual goal, how do you know you're getting there?



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#256538 - 05/22/06 09:13 PM Re: The problem of 'improvement' [Re: harlan]
Bushi_no_ki Offline
Veteran

Registered: 05/03/05
Posts: 1667
Loc: POM, Monterey CA
I'm basically with Harlan on this one. Man, I just got done with Combat Engineer training for the US Army. I don't need all this heavy academic stuff so soon. What I need is the contact info for 20 people in my area to give to my recruiter, so I can have the rest of my time to myself.

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#256539 - 05/26/06 01:23 PM Re: The problem of 'improvement' [Re: TimBlack]
Joss Offline
Dragon

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 567
Tim, much of this is so complex I just don't follow it. Therefore I'll content myself to snipe at some logic issues I believe I see.

"You've got to walk to Johannesburg. So you start walking off in a particular direction, but you don't really know where you're going, do you?"

I would think that if your destination is Johaanesburg, you DO know where you are going. You just don't know the way. Take it to an extreme to see my point. If you were going to swim, you may be blindfolded and not know where the water IS, but you know you have to have some to swim. And if there is no water where you ARE - then you aren't THERE yet. But if you don't know WHAT Johannesburg is then you don't really have a goal. That would be like saying I am going to Frooglebingle and quackerspondle when I get there. That's just meaningless.

"You might say, "I'm covering ground so I must be going in the right direction", but this is patently untrue."

Actually it is not "patently untrue". It MAY be untrue, but it might also be true. About all that is certain is that it is not certainly true OR untrue.

"Surely, we can't claim to be 'improving' unless we know what we're improving towards, and if we know what we're improving towards, surely we're already there?"

I buy the first, as I implied above. You have to have a goal to pursue a goal. But simply knowing what the goal is seems hardly to mean that it has been achieved. Pretty much any technique of martial arts fits this. I can SEE what another can do, and aspire to it myself. But that hardly means I've accomplished it.

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#256540 - 05/28/06 11:26 PM Re: The problem of 'improvement' [Re: harlan]
Stormdragon Offline
Who Dares Wins
Professional Poster

Registered: 08/05/04
Posts: 3409
Loc: Salem, OR
Quote:

Can't address the heavy duty academic stuff, but as for below...I should think that is why one would need a good teacher.

Quote:

So, the question is: if you don't know the actual goal, how do you know you're getting there?







That's very true, however than you have to ask, who is the right teacher?
I've been reading the book Ishmael by Daniel Quin and I don't know if I yet believe this completely, but he views morality and such as anything else; a science of sorts that you can find the truth for, by experience and observation, just like discovering the laws of physics, at least as far as the question of how to live is concerned. The problem with that is everyone experiences life different and percieves life different so everyone is likely to find contrasting ways to live, but, if you believe that laws of life are like any law of science than I guess we would all find the same laws. But who can know for sure. This is why we have prophets and teachers.
Thoughts on this?


Edited by Stormdragon (05/28/06 11:28 PM)
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#256541 - 05/30/06 09:39 AM Re: The problem of 'improvement' [Re: Stormdragon]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
My thought is this: 'teachers', when we find them, are friends who point to the real teacher...the one inside.

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#256542 - 06/27/06 11:47 AM Re: The problem of 'improvement' [Re: harlan]
Foolsgold Offline
Veteran

Registered: 09/02/04
Posts: 1635
Loc: South Lyon, MI, USA
Or as my fellow panentheists would say, friends who point to the real teacher...the one outside.
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#256543 - 06/27/06 12:18 PM Re: The problem of 'improvement' [Re: Joss]
Foolsgold Offline
Veteran

Registered: 09/02/04
Posts: 1635
Loc: South Lyon, MI, USA
Quote:


"You've got to walk to Johannesburg. So you start walking off in a particular direction, but you don't really know where you're going, do you?"

I would think that if your destination is Johaanesburg, you DO know where you are going. You just don't know the way.




This is the point that Tim was getting at. Intuitionism at the very least provides us with a destination.

Quote:

"You might say, "I'm covering ground so I must be going in the right direction", but this is patently untrue."

Actually it is not "patently untrue". It MAY be untrue, but it might also be true. About all that is certain is that it is not certainly true OR untrue.




That is a logical mistake. It is indeed patently irrational.

Ex:

A or B or C
Therefore, A.

This statement is obviously illogical. While there is the slim chance that it may turn out to be true, it is still irrational.

Quote:

"Surely, we can't claim to be 'improving' unless we know what we're improving towards, and if we know what we're improving towards, surely we're already there?"

I buy the first, as I implied above. You have to have a goal to pursue a goal. But simply knowing what the goal is seems hardly to mean that it has been achieved. Pretty much any technique of martial arts fits this. I can SEE what another can do, and aspire to it myself. But that hardly means I've accomplished it.




You are entirely correct. It's an unfortunate mistake that we in the West have inherited from the Greeks to blur the line between action and desire. There is a simple causality between the two (no effect without cause), but there are other factors that create action besides individual desire.

This is similar to a common philosophical problem in Christianity. I'll reply more when I've got some time.
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#256544 - 07/05/06 03:36 PM Re: The problem of 'improvement' [Re: TimBlack]
Smouha_Karate_x2 Offline
Newbie

Registered: 06/14/06
Posts: 8
As cheesy and ridiculous as it sounds - let your heart guide you. You may never fully understand it, but you keep at it. You will know when you're there.

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