One Small Voice

The Journal of Peter Saint-Andre


Personalism

2019-01-19

In my philosophy department talk last October, I said something that might turn out to be more true than I had realized: it's a worthy ambition to become an accomplished person. Recalling that there used to be a philosophical journal called The Personalist, I've started to wonder if "personalism" might be an appropriate name for my approach to philosophy. A quick Internet search revealed that there has been a loose tradition of personalism over the last 200 years, encompassing thinkers as diverse as William James, Karol Wotyla (Pope John Paul II), and, appropriately enough for this weekend, Martin Luther King, Jr. (who studied with personalist theologian Edgar Sheffield Brightman at Boston University).

In my first encounter with personalism, I recently absorbed one of the best books I've read in years: Phenomenology of the Human Person by Robert Sokolowski. Several aspects of Sokolowski's book are especially intriguing. One is that he explains the epistemology of reason in the context of human conversation: by embracing the back and forth of speech (in Greek λόγος means both speech and reason), he sidesteps the ever present dangers of solipsism and mental representationalism. Another is his call to overcome the opposition of individualism and collectivism through deep human connection or communion, especially in the form of friendship.

The concept of personalism is connected, too, with some thinking I've been doing about personality (an area where I still have much to learn). Over the last 50 years, psychological researchers have formulated a robust theory of personality called the five-factor model, which distills more particular behaviors into five basic traits or dimensions: introversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, and openness to experience. (There are sub-traits and such, which are more granular.) The worldview that makes sense for you depends in large measure on your mix of personality traits. For instance, the Hellenistic schools of Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Skepticism might have appealed to different kinds of personalities. How does one best integrate philosophy and personality? How do various philosophical practices and exercises and attitudes ("philosophy as a way of life", as Pierre Hadot has explored) help you work both with and against the grain of your inborn personality traits to flourish as a person? This is another fascinating aspect of personalism.

I've already racked up a long list of personalist thinkers to explore when I write my book on The Art of Living Well (which I plan to start after completing the composition of my "eudaimonia suite" on Rand, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Thoreau, Epicurus, and Lao Tzu).

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION


2018 Readings

2018-12-31

Here's a list of the books I read in 2018 (including the complete works of Aristotle and a number of related scholarly books, along with a smattering of fiction):


Aristotle Research Report #6: A Second Look at the Eudemian Ethics

2018-12-11

Aristotle wrote two treatises on ethics, which have come down to us as the Nicomachean Ethics or NE (in ten books) and the Eudemian Ethics or EE (in eight books). Confusingly, for reasons lost in the mists of time three of the books appear in both treatises (NE 5-7 = EE 4-6). Although until the commentary of Aspasius in the second century AD the EE was apparently considered to be the definitive statement of Aristotle's views, since then the NE has taken priority (so much so that many scholarly treatments of Aristotelian ethics completely ignore the EE). Yet detailed stylometric and textual analyses conducted by Anthony Kenny from the 1960s to the 1990s indicate that the three "common books" go with the EE, not the NE. It also seems likely (though so far not yet proven) that the EE was written after the NE, during the last eight years of Aristotle's life.

If that's true, there are significant implications for Aristotelian interpretation. Although the differences between the NE and EE are not wide-ranging, on the question of the τέλος or goal of human living the differences are fairly stark: in book ten of the NE Aristotle argues that the highest goal is life of philosophical contemplation (which sounds rather Platonic), whereas in book eight of the EE he argues that the highest goal is a more balanced existence that includes family, friendships, social engagement, and excellence of character as well as theoretical inquiry.

This topic interests me along several dimensions, from the statistical analysis of Aristotle's works to the philosophical conclusions he settled on. I'm not sure I'll fully explore these matters while writing Complete Yourself, but I'm thinking about delving into them deeply later in life. I might even attempt to translate the Eudemian Ethics, since the NE has been translated plenty of times, most ably by Joe Sachs (yet even he missed some opportunities to get as close to the pagan Greek original as possible). This would be a big mountain to climb, but it's good to have high ambitions. :-)

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION


Investing in Life

2018-11-17

Recently I got to talking with my friend Dave Jilk about happiness, flourishing, and my future book The Art of Living. While relating my ideas about the goals of life (as captured in a recent blog post), I described the importance of taking a balanced approach and including all or most of these goals in one's life pursuits. He likened this to portfolio management in investing, which is a great analogy. This spurred me to thinking further about the value that each area of life brings to one's overall success in life. Consider a few somewhat fanciful extensions of this analogy:

As I mentioned a few years ago, the approach to financial investing I have adopted (the Permanent Portfolio) involve equal weighting of four asset classes: cash, stocks, long-term bonds, and gold. Supposedly, the ultra-rich (who often think of maintaining wealth across generations) typically invest in real estate, gold, and art. Putting these together yields six asset classes, similar to those I'm exploring for investing in life. Although these analogies might be merely suggestive, I find them intriguing nonetheless.

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION


Impasses

2018-10-30

Impasses along the path toward the goals of life can occur in three dimensions:

  1. From beginning to end: immaturity, getting stuck on earlier phases of life, inability to let go of upbringing issues, unrealistic / fantastical goals for the future, living too much in the past or the future, inability to translate goals into specific plans and practices.
  2. From below to above: materialism, consumerism, hedonism, over focus on preconditions for eudaimonia like health and wealth, guilt over natural needs and drives, (less commonly) otherworldliness.
  3. From without to within: envy and anger and resentment, over concern with how others perceive you (reputation, desire for fame), over acceptance of external standards, submerging your identity in a movement or ideology, self-absorption, lack of friendships, inability to form healthy relationships, lack of self-knowledge.

Along all three dimensions a healthy balance is needed and enables a truly human kind of flourishing.

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION


Goals of Life

2018-10-30

There are many ways to categorize and divide up the various areas and activities of life. Here is a six-fold scheme I'm exploring:

  1. Health, diet, exercise, etc., focused on the goal of vitality
  2. Family, friendship, marriage, belonging, etc., focused on the goal of love
  3. Work, creating value, finance, security, etc., focused on the goal of achievement
  4. Creativity, art, appreciation, nature, etc., focused on the goal of beauty
  5. Inquiry, learning, understanding, spirituality, etc., focused on the goal of wisdom
  6. Self discipline, self mastery, self improvement, etc., focused on the goal of character

In this scheme, life consists of striving for vitality, love, achievement, beauty, wisdom, character. I understand all of these as stable states or ongoing activities, i.e., as ends in themselves. In turn, these goals are fulfilled through projects, relationships, and experiences. The hardest part, as always, is implementation: translating your goals into actionable plans and sustainable practices. Philosophy as a way of life is, then, a matter of making sense of life and guiding your plans and practices by that understanding. (Note: many people make a mess of at least one area of life!)

This is the merest sketch, and will need to be refined and revised based on evidence from psychology, philosophy, happiness studies, etc.

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION


For older entries, check the archive. To track changes, follow the feed.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal