If you’ve been reading my posts from this week, you may have found yourself asking why I did certain things. Why, for example, did I mention guns and violence over and over again?
What makes a person a violent person? Really think about that. Do you think it’s a natural state? That they were just born bad? Do you think, on the other hand, that they may have become bad over time? Perhaps by being exposed to bad over and over again?
Aristotle is this week’s philosopher and I’m going to help you guys out by pointing out the few things I think matter:
- Character as a process
- Knowing what things are and why
- Being able to express yourself logically
- The golden mean
That’s it. At least for me. We can add in the fact that Aristotle didn’t recognize slavery as wrong, didn’t really think women belonged in politics or philosophy, and appeared to have no problems with elitism.
So why is that dude called the philosopher?
You could say it’s because what he was able to do through his relationship with Plato and the world. Instead of just going along with his teacher’s philosophy, Aristotle decided to try his hand at theorizing and instead of looking up to some rational realm of Forms, Aristotle would look around. He would analyze the world and its creatures and he would spend a lot of time discussing differences, noting fine distinctions between this and that.
This would help when he discussed character. What makes someone a good person? Who should you strive to be? You want to live your best life, don’t you? Aristotle will think that comes through being virtuous and you are virtuous, first, by developing habits of both action and mind that promote virtue.
You also, to live your best life, need knowledge and not just popular opinion; popular opinion isn’t knowledge, after all. Instead of an opinion, one needed knowledge and to reach that, one needed to understand why things are as they are. He would look at the four causes of something. Put simply, these causes answer the question “Why?” four times but in different ways.
Example: Why is there a gun? Why is it made of what it’s made of? Why is it in the shape it is in? Why is it used how it’s used (is there a goal it should reach)?
We can debate about the accuracy of those examples, but when you know what something is, you’ll generally be able to do more than just describe it. It’s here because this person made it of that stuff to do these things in this fashion.
- I always use guns to teach Aristotle.
- I teach Aristotle in school.
- I always use guns to teach in school.
It gets uncomfortable kind of like yesterday’s post, or this one from weeks ago. It deals with knowledge of evils and rules, how schools should be operated, what we allow in our society, and who our role models are. Plus, there are very real victims. It’s not just me discussing it. People have lived it. I recently cried watching a commercial from a beer company not because of the player retiring but because of a young woman mentioning her dead brother in the same shooting that gave me a panic attack several states and thousands of miles away.
Aristotle tried to give us ways to organize our thoughts succinctly and efficiently. Unlike my blogs which are all over the place or Plato’s dialogues that proceed sluggishly through prose, Aristotle’s like, “There’s this. There’s that. This is X. That is Y. To understand X, you need to know a. To understand Y, you need to know b. So, a is a thing of this nature. Now, we understand X.” For Aristotle, there wasn’t a need for long dialogues that often ended with no resolution. There’s truth to discover. Let’s find it.
He wrote about natural science, politics, logic, and rhetoric (remember?), but I remember him most as an ethicist who helped me realize, along with both Plato and Epictetus, that my drinking was wrong. Here’s the thing, though: drinking, by itself, isn’t wrong.
Drinking how I was doing it was. Drinking for the reasons I drank was. For me. That’s the beauty of Aristotle’s virtue ethics which give us the target we should aim for in our lives under our circumstances. It isn’t relativism, but it’s also not absolute. It allows for variance. So? Think of the best people you know and try to be like them. Then, think about the difference between vices and virtues.
With being foolhardy or cowardly, for example, one would need to know where on the spectrum they should be. If I rush into a building where there’s an active shooter thinking I can be John Wayne, there will be problems. Conversely, if I sit under a desk hiding with a shooter prowling nearby, I’ve not escaped my problems. I could be a hard target. I could decide to take actions that would mitigate the risks. I could develop good habits beforehand so when the time is right, I don’t panic and I can save my life and, perhaps, those of others.
The undercurrent in this week’s post is easy to spot. I’m discussing differences and purpose. Understanding and explaining. If my goal is to get you to live a better life, it will be with others, some of whom will disagree with you. Aristotle, and the study of philosophy in general, can help you navigate those troubled waters.
Posted in: Philosophy Friday