Why? Why? Why? – PhilFri #6

Aristotle would teach outside. When I teach Aristotle, I try to take students outside.

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?

Country or rap? Nobody knows. Perhaps we need ways to identify distinctions.

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:

  1. Character as a process
  2. Knowing what things are and why
  3. Being able to express yourself logically
  4. 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.

I try to look like Aristotle when I teach Aristotle

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.

  1. I always use guns to teach Aristotle.
  2. I teach Aristotle in school.
  3. 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.

NSFW: I’m sorry for the profanity

6 thoughts on “Why? Why? Why? – PhilFri #6 Leave a comment

  1. It’s funny – funny peculiar, that is – but I don’t warm to Aristotle so much as I do to Plato. These two are the central characters in the painting The School of Athens, and in many ways, they illustrate the great philosophical divide.

    There’s a book by Neal Stephenson – Anathem – I found useful. It has another artwork as a central icon, and apart from a scarcely credible plot, it provides a sweet look at philosophy and the human condition. And is a rattling good read.


    1. I am more of a Platonist than I’m comfortable being. We had a seminar and the two works we compared and discussed were Republic and Nicomachean Ethics. We read Republic first and I was in love, of course, and my head was all over the place seeing contemporary examples. Then we read Aristotle and it was a struggle. Less imagery, more words. After going all the way through and discussing it, we had to write a paper. I read Plato again and I was like, “I got it, man! Get to the point!” I think Aristotle had trained me out of appreciating stories.

      I mentioned the painting in the video. I was debating taking it down and it looks like it may not be showing up.


      1. If we ask “why”, then must there be an answer? If there is always an answer, then is it something we can know? Some problems are beyond the scope of a living brain in a human lifetime. Why is pi?

        As for Plato’s Republic, I hope that I may be forgiven if I, as a woman, do not support the totality of the concept. In fact I find much in classical philosophy that is repugnant, if for no other reason than it seems that women have no part in serious thought.


      2. I think there are things that surpass our attempts to understand and we may not find an appropriate response to the question of why. But we can get closer to discovery by finding out what isn’t the case.

        It’s very easy for me to get caught up with my fandom and my own experiences and I was listening to a book just yesterday that discussed the problems with dead white guys being the foundation of a liberal education (The Vanishing American Adult). Plato had his problems, too. But he believed women could be guardians and highlighted the role a woman played in developing Socratic ideas about love.

        I hear a lot of people give Plato shit because his moral failings and I try to resist the urge to just fight back against it without thinking about it first. I pick and choose from all of the philosophers I’ve studied what to adopt and what to reject. It creates a lack of consistency, but also a way to apply thought differently. With Republic, I looked at it like it addressed problems we currently have with mass media, moral education, wise governance, and both temptation and deference.

        Who is your favorite philosopher to place women in, or paramount to, serious thought? We only covered Ayn Rand, Simone de Beauvoir, and Patricia Churchland as far as I can remember. Wollstonecraft wasn’t addressed (except by Mill, I think). We did have a woman named Carol Adams come in and talk about the relationship between advertising, food, and sexism (https://caroljadams.com/spom-in-trump-era). Sorry to ramble. I hope you’re warm. You gave me proof there’s winter in Australia, a thought I found mind-boggling.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Plato’s later writings give gender equality a much more sanguine appraisal; at least he does not rule out the participation of women in sport or politics, no matter how far removed that might have been from the world in which he lived.

    No, it is the almost universal practice, throughout civilisation, of relegating women to specific roles. Only recently has there been much movement in this regard. Women can now be seen as leaders, as scientists, as thinkers.

    And not just women, but those of different ethnicities, or gender-preference, or the disabled. We are no longer in a society where manual labour is necessary for the survival of the species, and thus more cerebral considerations may arise.

    As to Australia and winter, why even now in Melbourne the first leaves are turning. We will not see snow, but we will certainly have grey cheerless days of cold and rain and wind.

    If you desire winter, then Mount Wellington above Hobart will give you as arctic a blast as ever you might wish for.

    But then again, I had never seen snow that lasted, nor a frozen river until I visited Washington DC one January, and lost my gloves one day at the Jefferson Memorial. There were great sheets of ice covering the Tidal Basin, for all love!

    Liked by 1 person

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