Sunday, April 8, 2012

the grouch reads

The Grouch reads....
about "akrasia", weakness and strength of will....

I was reading an essay by a philosopher last night.  He wants to advocate for "strength of will"---the idea that when you've made up your mind, you should stick to it---ignore voices (even in your own head) that go against your decision.....

Now, it strikes me, and has struck me on many occasions how bizarre this debate is.

The philosopher was talking about jogging early in the morning.  He imagined someone who had not recently exercised and who now was showing signs of decline, who decided he should start jogging in the morning.

Something about this set-up strikes me as perverse.  First of all, it's a solitary decision by an individual.
Secondly, jogging is an especially brutal form of exercise.  Where shall one jog?

In my current environment, I could jog on sidewalks, or on a tread mill, or?  Well, there arent' really any parks with green trees and shade.  Given the local heat one should not be outside in the sun between, say, eleven in the morning, and sunset....

Jogging is not an especially pleasant activity.

But, our haphazardly, not-designed cities and living spaces don't encourage walking.  Nor do they especially accomodate the real needs of our bodies.

So, here's an individual who is getting fat and has decided to start jogging.

And our philosopher sees this as a case where there's a need for willpower.  I  don't see it that way at all.

It shows a social failure.  We should be able to walk to work every day, say, or we should have ready and easy access to social forms of exercise such as dance or yoga classes---or, if that's what you like (though the whole notion of sport does not appeal to me) basketball.....

It is very spartan, very Puritan---this sort of early morning jog....and it is even so un-social, so individualistic.

The whole set-up strikes me as simply perverse.

And when philosophers talk about whether they should have another piece of cake or another beer, I think it is similarly bizarre and narrow.  They miss out on the broader component of one's life and one's location in a society.

Well, you might say they recognize the latter inadvertently.  I once read an essay by a philosopher who reasoned that his knowledge of the consequences of his action allowed him to turn down a drink of wine----just before he was about to take part in an important seminar.

But, what was (so far as I recall) invisible to that philosopher was the way that he was located in a social network----as a scholar among other scholars who cares about his scholarly activities--and how all of that situation was as much responsible, as much a part of his decision as anything that belonged to him as an individual.  Now, that might be a little unfair, because by "knowledge" (as I understood him) one thing he meant was recognizing all of that social embedding, recognizing his role.

And he did not speak of it as an individual achievement, though others might.  The conclusion I'm coming around to is that this thing that's called (wrongly) strength of character or will power has more to be with one's happy location in society than it has to do with any kind of inner achievement.

But it would not be surprising if philosophers in the USA were prone to blindly assume a sort of individualism....

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