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GRADED PAPER #1.
Using Socratic Reasoning to Construct an Interpretation
of Ideal Buddhism, Buddhism-at-its-Best
There is no prescribed format for this paper. The assignment is:
- to construct an interpretation of some central teachings of Pali Canon Buddhism that represents Buddhism-at-its-best
- using some of the elements of Socratic reasoning explained below
- making sure to show how several key Buddhist teachings are unified around some common core (#4 below)
Refer in your paper to the elements of Socratic reasoning listed below, making it clear which of these elements is illustrated in which parts of your paper.
As in all papers for this course, papers that attempt tasks that take on tasks that are very challenging intellectually get more credit than papers focusing on ideas that are not that challenging or difficult to explain.
You don't need to try to cover all Buddhist teachings presented in the reading. Aim for an in-depth explanation of a few central teachings, clearly explaining their unity and relation to each other.
Do not write about Karma and Reincarnation, (unless you think this is important to an understanding of Nirvana as freedom from Karma and Reincarnation.)
Four Elements of Socratic Reasoning Relevant
to a Critical Interpretation of Buddhism
1. Treat objections to Buddhist teachings as "counterexamples" leading to clarification and refinement.
Think of objections to Buddhist teachings, and use them as "counterexamples." Counterexamples are stories that reveal weaknesses and ambiguities in some given principle or piece of advice, the fact that this advice can easily be interpreted (misinterpreted) and applied to life in such a way as lead to ways of being that are clearly not admirable.
In Socratic reasoning, counterexamples reveal ambiguities in some piece of advice, and the proper response to counterexamples is to remedy the ambiguities uncovered by further clarifications and refinements. For example, if we hear the Buddhist advice to, "have no attachments," this is ambiguous because it can be interpreted to mean "have no care for other people," clearly not admirable. Find some way of modifying or adding to the phrase "having no attachments" so that it remedies this ambiguity, and refines this concept so that it more clearly refers to something clearly admirable.
This use of counterexamples help in "defining by contrast." That is, helping to articulate the character of Buddhism at its best, by contrasting truly admirable Buddhism with things that resemble the Buddhist ideal but are not admirable.
Click here for a list of COMMON OBJECTIONS TO BUDDHISM*, many of which will suggest counterexamples to be used in this way.
Click here for some sample discussions of other virtues illustrating the USE OF COUNTEREXAMPLES-FOLLOWED-BY-REFINEMENT IN SOCRATIC REASONING**.
(One further way in which this use of counterexamples can be helpful in making sense of Buddhism: One result of serious attempts to find counterexamples is the realization that concrete rules for how to behave can never represent something only and always admirable. No matter what rule you give, someone can always obey this rule for bad motives - e.g. a terrorist can follow the best kind of rules in order to gain people's confidence so he can destroy them. In the case of Buddhism, this reinforces the fact that, while the Pali Canon does teach some moral rules, its main focus is not telling people how to behave, but teaching an ideal and a set of practices having to do with internal, invisible, psychological and spiritual personal transformation. A person who has undergone this inner psychological change will of course act differently, but the change does not consist in following some different rules. Buddhist spirituality does not consist of a collection of pieces of advice about what to do in various life-situations. It consists in a long-term project aimed at deep psychological change.)
2. Define the positive character of the Buddhist ideal by contrasting it with some negative opposites.
Another way of "defining by contrast" consists in trying to articulate the positive character of the Buddhist ideal by contrasting it with the negative opposites of this Buddhist ideal. These negative opposites consist in the kinds of life problems that Buddhist teachings mean to resolve. Think of various possible before-and-after scenarios. For example: Before Jane began to make progress toward the Buddhist ideal she was ....... (insecure, inflexible, dependent, needy, etc.) After making great progress toward this ideal she could be described by the positive opposites of these words, namely ...........
(In making sense of Buddhism-at-its-best, it is important to use the right kinds of contrast. Contrasting Buddhist teachings with clearly negative opposites (such as neediness) will give some idea about what Buddhists find inspiring about the Buddhist ideal. Contrasting Buddhist teachings with things you find admirable will inevitably put Buddhist ideals in a negative light, making no sense. For example, if you contrast Buddhist non-attachment with the virtue of "caring for others," this will lead to an interpretation that makes Buddhism the negative, non-admirable opposite of admirable caring.)
3. Plato's Ladder
In a passage in Plato's Symposium, (included below) he pictures the pure transcendent Platonic Form of Beauty Itself as something very abstract, difficult to understand and grasp in one's mind or put into words. However, the beginning basis for understanding this pure Form of Beauty consists of exposure to more everyday concrete beautiful objects. We begin understanding what beauty is by "falling in love with one beautiful body," he says. This beautiful body is not pure Beauty Itself, but we do not have direct, immediate access to the Form of Beauty Itself. Pure Beauty Itself is like something at the very top of a "heavenly ladder." We cannot immediately leap to the top of the ladder, but must start at the bottom rungs, which consist of individual concrete beautiful bodies, beautiful paintings, beautiful sunsets, etc.
In the same way, the pure and transcendent Platonic Form of Courage is something difficult to formulate and grasp for oneself. But we begin to grasp what it is only be observing individual concrete acts of courage such as a soldier bravely standing at his post.
Think of Buddhist Nirvana as the pure and transcendent Platonic Form of some kind of human goodness. We cannot directly leap to a clear understanding of why Buddhists feel Nirvana as such an immensely inspiring ideal, or why they look on the person who has achieved Nirvana as a (spiritually) Supreme Being, superior to all the gods and goddesses of Indian popular religion. We can begin to understand the kind of goodness that Nirvana is by thinking of more everyday concrete examples of this kind of goodness. For example, Nirvana is clearly freedom from insecure dependencies. It seems therefore a kind of supreme self-confidence. One way of beginning to grasp the kind of goodness it is by reflecting on more common everyday concrete examples of self-confidence, and trying to articulate what is admirable about the admirable kind of self-confidence.
This ladder image also helps counter an all-or-nothing approach to Buddhist Nirvana which makes it sound like Buddhist ideals are irrelevant to the lives of all but a tiny minority of hermits willing to make achieving full Nirvana a full time occupation. But if Nirvana is an image of some kind of goodness in its full transcendent perfection, then any small progress made in moving toward this ideal would make a person more good. In Plato's thought, Platonic Forms are not goals to be fully achieve, but ideals to "participate in" to a greater or lesser degree. When trying to make sense of Buddhist ideals in the context of ordinary life, think of ways that ordinary life could be improved by small degrees by greater "participation" the transcendent ideal of Nirvana.
4. Describing Buddhist teachings as an organized unity, defining one Buddhist teaching in the context of other Buddhist teachings.
In explaining Buddhism, a person could just make a list of various ideas found in the Pali Canon, just giving a brief explanation of each separate idea. This would lead to a superficial understanding, and would not succeed in showing how all these teachings lead to a single ideal. Teachings regarding tanha, upadana, dukkha, impermanence, an-atta, nirvana, vipassana-meditation form an organized unity. You can only properly understand one of these teachings by understanding it in relation to other teachings. If a person eliminated tanha, and accepted universal permanence, she would come to regard everything as an-atta. Explain why. Nirvana needs to be understood as the elimination of tanha, and coming to regard everything as an-atta; Nirvana is also described as a "non-abiding consciousness" or as "the Unborn realm." How are these ideas related to each other? Vipassana can be understood as the practice of the an-atta doctrine, gaining the ability to actually see everything as an-atta. Explain this. How are all of these spiritual ideals unique to Buddhism compatible with Buddhist support for rules of moral decency common to most human societies, and for compassion and "friendliness" toward all? (See Appendix 2 below for related passages)
One important aspect of Buddhism to keep in mind here is the pragmatic rather than theoretical intent of Buddhist teaching (represented in the parables of the Arrow and the Raft): Buddhist teachings are all to be understood as practical guides to personal transformation, not theories about the world.
(The corresponding task in a Socratic discussion of some other virtue you choose would be first to expand on your personal associations with this virtue, then achieving more depth and unity in your description of this virtue by saying how these various associations are related to each other around some common core.)
Two sample papers following these instructions***
The Mental Ladder Leading to a Grasp of Beauty Itself
From Plato's Symposium
[If a person wants to learn what Beauty Itself is:]
First of all... he will fall in love with the beauty of one individual body... Next he must consider how nearly related the beauty of any one body is to the beauty of any other, when he will see that if he is to devote himself to loveliness of form it will be absurd to deny that the beauty of each and every lovely body is the same... Next he must grasp that the beauties of the body are as nothing to the beauties of the soul... And after this he will be led to contemplate the beauty of laws and institutions... and... the sciences, so that he may know the beauty of every kind of knowledge...[This paragraph is transposed]
Starting from individual beauties, the quest for the one beauty existing in all must find him ever mounting the heavenly ladder, stepping from rung to rung -- that is, from one to two, and from two to every lovely body, from bodily beauty to [other kinds of beauty, and finally] to the special lore that pertains to nothing but the Beautiful Itself, until at last he comes to know what Beauty is.
Whoever has... viewed all these aspects of the beautiful in due succession is at last drawing near the final revelation. And now... there bursts upon him that wondrous vision which is the very soul of the beauty he has toiled so long for. It is an everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades, for such beauty is the same on every hand, the same then as now, here as there, this way as that way, the same to every worshiper as it is to every other. This vision of the beautiful will not take the form of a face, or of hands, or of anything physical. It will be neither words, nor knowledge, nor something that exists in something else, such as a living creature, or the earth, or the heavens, or anything that is -- but subsisting in itself and by itself in an eternal oneness. Other things participate in this beauty, but however much these things may flourish and deteriorate, beauty itself will become neither greater nor lesser, but will always be the same inviolable whole...
If it were given to a man to gaze on beauty??s very self -- untainted, unmixed, and freed from the mortality that infects the frailer loveliness of flesh and blood -- if it were given to man to see the heavenly beauty face to face -- wouldn??t you say that this man has the most enviable life, whose eyes had been opened to the vision, and who had gazed upon it in true contemplation until it had become his own forever? When a man looks upon beauty??s visible image, then and only then will true virtue come to life in him -- true virtue and not just apparent virtue, because it is virtue??s own self that has come to life in him, not just a semblance of virtue.
Buddhist Moral Advice
A Meditation Practice called "The Awakening of Friendliness"
May all beings be happy and secure
And all come finally to be happy in themselves.
All in whom the breath of life exists --
The strong and the weak,
The tall and large, the short, and those in between
Omitting none, the little creatures or the very great,
All creatures who are seen, and all those unseen,
Those that live far away, and those that live very near
Those that are here and those that would like to be here --
May all come finally to be happy in themselves.
Let not anyone ever mislead another,
Nor look down on anyone in any place.
Let no one wish ill to others
Because of fights and hostility.
Just like a mother cares for her child,
Her only child, as long as it lives,
So awaken in your heart a boundless thoughtfulness
For every creature here.
Awaken in your heart a boundless friendliness
For all the things and creatures in the world,
Above, and below, and all around the world,
A friendliness unrestricted, free of all hate and hostility.
As you stand, or walk, or sit, or lie,
Till you are overcome by sleep,
Devote yourself to developing this kind of mindfulness,
A state of mind truly called "the saintly way". (From the Sutta Nipata)
True "purifying" by good moral conduct
Think: "Others may do harm, we will do no harm"
This is how "purifying" is to be done.
Others may do violence to living things
we will do no violence to living things.
Others may take what is not given
we will refrain from taking what is not given.
Others will not travel the highest way
we will travel the highest way.
Others will speak lies
we will not speak lies.
Others may be of harsh speech
of rough speech
of frivolous speech.
We will refrain from harsh speech
from rough speech
from frivolous speech.
Others may be greedy,
we will not be greedy.
Others may have corrupt minds
we will not have corrupt minds....
This is how "purifying" is to be done.
Cunda, I say that the "arising of thought" is very helpful
in the achieving of skilled states of mind,
not to speak of gesture and speech
that are in accord with good thoughts.
And so, Cunda, the thought should arise:
"Others may do harm, we will not do harm.
Others may do violence to living things,
we will not do violence to living things,
Others may take what is not given,
we will not take what is not given."
there is a rough road to travel on
and a smooth road to travel on.
there is a rough ford for crossing the river
and a smooth ford for crossing the river.
Just so, Cunda,
there is the harmless path for the harmful person to travel
there is refraining from violence for the violent person to go by...
there is not taking what is not given
for the one who wants to take what is not given.
just as every unskilled state of mind leads downwards
and every skilled state of mind leads upwards,
So non-harming comes to be a higher state for one who was doing harm
not doing violence comes to be a higher state for one who was violent
not taking what is not given comes to be a higher state
for one who used to take...
(From the "Sutta on Purifying" in the Majjhima Nikaya)
*COMMON OBJECTIONS TO EARLY BUDDHIST TEACHINGS
Below are common objections students have when first exposed to Buddhist teachings. I list them here as aids to exercises in Socratic inquiry. They are helpful in two ways:
1) Many of these objections can be used as "counterexamples," ways of interpreting and applying Buddhist teachings that lead to things clearly not admirable. In a Socratic inquiry into Buddhism-at-its-best, the proper response to these counterexamples is clarification and refinement, helping to define admirable and wise interpretations of Buddhism by contrast with these unwise interpretations. Some of the objections are the result of taking individual Buddhist concepts out of their context - this can be remedied by interpreting each Buddhist concept in relation to other Buddhists concepts around some common core. Some of the objections are due to taking an all-or-nothing approach to Nirvana - this can be remedied by thinking of "Plato's Ladder," an image of the way that more everyday examples of goodness "participate in" perfect transcendent ideals like Nirvana in lesser degrees.
2) Many of these objections are motivated by strong feelings favoring other admirable things that Buddhist teachings seem to ignore or actively oppose. For example, some people place a high value on a certain kind of emotional intensity that makes them feel alive and fills life with drama. Some place a high value on close relationships with other people that they feel enrich their lives and are one of the main things that make for a meaningful life. Thus, encounter with Buddhism can make you more aware of your own value-priorities that are different from Buddhist priorities. These are possible good topics for another Socratic inquiry (Graded Paper #2), a self-critical self-exploration clarifying and refining your own concepts, and making you more articulate about them, able to find words that clearly express what you find admirable about these other kinds of human goodness.
Tanha is easy to understand; it means Craving, or Desire
Upadana is easy to understand: it means Clinging or Attachment.
Buddhist criticism of Tanha/Upadana means that Buddhists are against desire and attachment of any kind. They believe that anything designated by the English words desire and attachment are morally wrong. Since they are morally wrong, they must be repressed. I don=t believe in repression, so I think Buddhist teaching is mistaken.
Buddhists think that craving food when you are hungry is wrong.
A person who had no desires or attachments would have no feelings and no ambitions. Buddhists think that it is wrong to have feelings or ambitions, and these should be repressed. A person with no feelings or ambitions would be like a zombie. This ideal could only be attractive to people who can=t cope with life and want to escape.
Normally, people only care about things that they feel deeply connected to, or invested in, or attached to. Buddhism seems to advise people not to form any deep connections or attachments, and not to feel personally invested in anything. This seems to leave people with no reason for caring about anything. Is the Buddhist goal to be uncaring? How can this be an admirable goal?
Buddhists urge people to crave Nirvana and become attached to achieving Nirvana, but this violates their own view that all cravings and attachments are wrong. Buddhist teachings contradict each other, and Buddhists are hypocrites.
Buddhists say that craving and clinging inevitably cause suffering. But what if I cling to my loved ones now, but am able to easily adjust to life without them. This would not cause me any suffering.
It is easy to understand what Buddhists mean by turning away from feelings; it means having no feelings. But people find happiness in life through feelings, so Buddhists must believe in the nonsensical goal of not being happy, being apathetic.
Buddhists are against craving, but don??t they crave Nibbana?
They are against dependencies, but aren??t they dependent on teachings and practices like meditation? Isn??t everyone necessarily dependent on air to breathe, food to eat, etc." Don??t Buddhists "care about" meditation and about reaching Nibbana.
One easy way to understand Buddhist teachings is to understand them as doctrines as to what kinds of feelings or behavior are motivated by Craving and Clinging, and so what kind of feelings and behavior are OK or not OK.
Is anger motivated by Craving? Is monogamy motivated by Clinging? Is desire for possessions motivate by Craving?
On some of these questions Buddhist writings are distressingly silent, not giving me answers to important questions I am most interested in.
On some of these questions Buddhists writings are plainly mistaken: They say that all pleasures are motivated by Craving, but I think there are lots of pleasures not motivated by Craving.
Dukkha is easy to understand; it means pain or suffering.
Buddhists insist that life is full of pain and suffering, but this is clearly not true. Buddhists are pessimistic people who don=t seem aware that life offers many pleasures and joys as well, or else sour people who perversely insist on focusing on the down side of life.
Buddhists think that changing your state of mind can do away with pain and suffering. But it=s obvious that no matter what your state of mind you will continue to experience toothaches and various other physical pains. Buddhists are deluding themselves.
It is easy to understand the goal of Buddhist meditation. It is something I am already familiar with. I have my own way of meditating and being enlightened, so Buddhism has nothing new to teach me:
It=s like Christian praying, which gives you peace of mind.
It=s like running, which gets your mind off your troubles and gives you runner=s high.
It=s like looking within yourself to understand yourself better; to understand the source of your problems so you can solve them; or to understand better who you truly are. But this focus on your self contradicts the Buddhist teaching that there is no self (another case of contradiction and hypocrisy).
It is like calming your mind, or emptying your mind. (But I am unable to empty my mind, so Buddhist meditation is impossible for me.)
One easy way of understanding Buddhism is to examine the rules it gives regarding how to conduct one=s life.
B Some of the rules I get out of the readings are not good rules (e.g. do not get angry when someone does you an injustice, or try to remedy the injustice).
B Buddhist teachings are distressingly vague B it is difficult to pin them down to any specific rules on issues I=m most interested in. A good religion would give clear advice on how to behave.
You can easily understand Buddhism if you understand it as requiring that everyone reach a particular goal: complete freedom from all craving an clinging.
But it seems highly doubtful whether anyone can be completely free of craving and clinging, so Buddhists are self-deludingly pursuing an impossible goal.
At least it is clear that such complete freedom is impossible for the average person leading a normal life in society. So Buddhist teaching is irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people. This makes it not a good religion, because a good religion would be relevant to everyone=s life.
It is easy to understand what Nirvana is: It is breaking the cycle of reincarnation, not being reincarnated again. This is the goal of Buddhism.
But how do we know that reincarnation happens? If it does not happen, then Buddhists are pursuing a goal that does not exist. It turns out that Buddhism requires irrational blind faith, just like all religions.
It is easy to understand what Nirvana is; it is extinction, ceasing to exist.
People would only want to cease to exist if they thought life was unbearable B another indication that Buddhists are pessimists who ignore the pleasures and joys of life?
Why do they not just commit suicide if they want to cease to exist?
Is Nibbana a kind of "place" like heaven is a place?
How would a person know whether she has achieved Nibbana? Is this achievable by degrees? How would a person know she is getting closer?
A person who has a "non-abiding consciousness" is said to have reached Nibbana. What do "consciousness" and "abide" mean in the phrase "non-abiding consciousness"?
To reach Nibbana is to exist in an "unborn" realm. What does "unborn" mean here? Is it best understood literally, or as a metaphor?
Everything directly perceptible (internal or external) belongs to one of the five categories called "the five khandas." Achieving Nibbana is coming to regard anything belonging to the khandas as "not-me" (an-atta). Does a person who has reached Nibbana cease to be an existing person? If not, how can we describe the existence of such a person? Does such a person cease to be a "self," in any sense of the English word "self"? How does the Pali term "atta" compare to the English word "self"?
The complete cessation of tanha/upadana seems impossible to achieve. Aren??t Buddhists foolishly striving for a goal no one could ever achieve?
**SOME SAMPLES OF
IN SOCRATIC REASONING
In past semesters I assigned a different format for the graded papers doing a Socratic discussion of a virtue of your choice. I now require a different format, but the following excerpts from previous student papers should be of help in understanding the use of counterexamples-followed-by-refinement. In this previous assignment, I asked students to propose theories of the as yet unknown "X" that would the the Platonic "essence" of their virtue, then subject their initial proposals to criticism by means of counterexample, to reflect on what the counterexample shows, then revise and refine the theory to remedy the weakness shown in their counterexamples.
Beginning Story: Alice is a rather dull and shy person. She is usually afraid of saying the wrong things, doesn't make friends easily because she doesn't put herself forward at all, contributes very little to group discussions at work
, although she has many excellent ideas, and avoids situations where she has to meet new people. Her life is very contracted and rather unexciting. In contrast to Alice is Rosa. Rosa is very lively and friendly, she draws people to her by her enjoyment of life and by her entertaining stories. A natural leader she loves to work
with other people, who admire her wit and vivacity.
Reflection on the story: Rosa gets more out other life than Alice, who seems to not wholly participate in the world, or even in her own self. Most would agree that the charisma that Rosa possesses is a product other engagement in her life, unlike Alice. Rosa draws people to her and leads them by the power other personality.
Theory-of-X #1: When being charismatic is good, fully engaging in the world is at the essence of its goodness.
Counterexample to Theory-of-X #1: JuJu Wilson, a paint manufacturer, is a very engaging person; he draws people to him and is able to direct large groups by the force of his personality. JuJu wants a BMW in every color his company manufactures. When his wife balks at the purchase of his seventh (JuJu Green), which he really can't afford, he tells his employees that his son needs an expensive operation for which he won't be able lo pay if he gives them their promised raise. Instead he uses the earmarked funds to take his wife on a round the world vacation.
Reflection on the story: Although JuJu is a charismatic individual who is fully engaged in the world, this example illustrates the inadequacy of the earlier proposed X. There is nothing that is particularly admirable about JuJu's personal charm. This is an example of "Bad" charisma not just simply because his workers are cheated (charisma with a bad result) but because it is truly not virtuous, instead it is an example of manipulative pseudo-charisma. Rosa's charisma is an unselfconscious expression of real delight in life and in herself that is in contrast to this. Rosa's is the variety that is good.
Theory-of-X #2, a revision of Theory #1: When charisma is good, an unselfconscious expression of enjoyment in oneself and in an engagement with the world is at the essence of its goodness.
Beginning Story: Sue is a creative person. Sue is having a birthday party for her 6-year-old son, Timmy. 12 other 6-year-olds are at the party. Although Sue had a schedule planned for the events and games that would take place, she is flexible and able to change her plans when needed. When certain games don't work
out or cause conflict between the kids, she makes up new rules or alters the game to make it more fun for everyone. She encourages the children to make up their own activities and find new ways to have fun. When someone gets upset, she finds a way to get them involved again by making up a story that makes them feel less alienated or helps them to laugh at themselves. The kids have a great time because instead of trying to control them, Sue allows them the freedom to do what they find exciting, while she directs them and brainstorms ideas to give them more options. Also, the day
was full of original activities that left the kids wanting to continue to try new things and come up with new ideas for fun at home.
Reflection on story: Most people can agree that the creativity described in Sue is truly virtuous. She is open-minded and flexible enough to avoid being tied to preconceived notions and fixed plans. When things stray from what is expected, she can "go with the flow," and find new, positive ways to continue. More than just being flexible, Sue is thoughtful and clever and has the skills and strength to put her ideas into action and production. Her inventiveness shows through in the creation of original activities and the inspiration she gives to others to create as well.
Theory-of-X #1: free flow and active production of original ideas.
A counterexample to theory #1: Bill works
for the advertising department of Coca Cola and he produces many successful ideas for ad campaigns which increase soda sales and make the company richer. The company buys out all other soda companies and is popular in every town across the world because of Bill's advertisements.
Reflection on story: Although by society's standards Bill is very "good"at his job and has used his creativity in a productive way to make his company successful and rich, there is nothing truly admirable about his creativity. Money, corporate success, fame, and world domination are not what we are after. We are searching for the source of the true good of creativity that makes it an admirable virtue. We are not looking for a person who is capable of being creative, but a person who lives life with a creative perspective. Perhaps Bill's creativity is not the most admirable because it does not involve the personal connection we experience when self-expression is a result. He was not personally invested in his advertisements; they were not a sharing or an expression that helped us learn more about Bill on a personal level. Bill's story is an example of "false" creativity, or creativity used for the wrong reasons, or shallow creativity.
Theory-of-X #2, a revision of theory #1: a sharing of self through free flow and active expression of original ideas.
Beginning pair of stories:
Story #1: Ed is an optimist, partly motivated by his hope that, all in all, things will be okay. He has been applying for jobs that would pay decently and which he thinks would satisfy his desire to help less fortunate folks in his community. He is hopeful that he'll find such a job soon, but so far he hasn't. He is realistic that his job search could take a while, but for now he's not taking rejections personally. He also knows that no job could be expected to be perfect. Ed is optimistic that he'll be successful in finding a good job partly because he is appropriately skilled and partly because he's putting forth a persistent job -hunting effort.
Story #2: Jasper is a professional politician. He is running for political office as the Republican candidate in a district that so automatically votes Democratic that he is practically assured of losing. But for the effort of presenting the Party's platform to the district's voters, Jasper will be rewarded by the Republican Governor with a plum political job after the election even if he loses.
Reflections on stories: Even though both Ed and Jasper have confidence that their efforts will be rewarded, Jasper's confidence stems from the knowledge that his next job is assured, no matter how the election turns out. He's in a no-lose situation. Jasper can easily project that care-free image that we often associate with optimism. In fact, Jasper is free of the concerns facing Ed. Ed's optimism must be generated from within himself and is a trust that he can improve his future he so chooses. Ed's optimism also stands in the face of risking failure at least a number of times before success. Jasper's optimism, then, differs from Ed's in at least a couple of significant ways. First, Jasper isn't really risking anything, not even his time. Secondly, Jasper's success is being assured by an outside agent - the Party- while Ed's fortune depends to a much greater extent upon his own efforts. I think it can be fairly said that the more self-reliant, riskier nature of Ed's optimism is more admirable considering the importance that taking risks has in supporting human progress.
Theory-of-X #1: the largely, self-motivated willingness to continue working towards a goal in spite of the risk of failure. Let's look at some other stories to try to see more clearly the qualities that would make any optimism more admirable.
Counterexample to theory # 1: Mary is a wonderful, kind-hearted woman who lives with the constant psychotic delusions that she will be elected President at the next national election. She spends all day
downtown shaking hands and passing out pamphlets that describe her hopes and dreams.
Reflection on this counterexample: Even though Mary knows that she has to make an effort to talk with people if she's to have any chance at being successful, she not really in touch with reality.
Theory of X #2, a revision of theory #1: Optimism, then, should be connected to a goal that is possible and realistic with reasonable effort.
Counterexample to theory # 2: Sam is optimistic that he will win the Megabucks lottery soon and so is quite happy to be waiting for that and watching daytime TV. Reflection: We see again that optimism is more admirable when it is reasonably connected to reality; fUrther, even if Sam were to win, the event seems so unusual, so unearned, and so unexpected that Sam's optimism seems far from admirable. Another refining story: Sam gives up the lottery and decides to begin robbing banks. He is sometimes successful and sometimes not. But he goes into every robbery thinking that success is likely if his plan is good and his efforts are focused. He probably does have a better chance of making money by robbing banks than by playing Megabucks, and he is indeed taking a risk like our optimist Ed, but is this optimism what we would call admirable?
Theory-of-X #3, a revision of theory #2: the largely, self-motivated willingness to continue working towards a realistic, constructive goal in spite of the risk of failure.
Beginning Story: Paula has always wanted to be a doctor. As she got older, she began to understand the great amount of effort and dedication that goes along with that career. However, she never once doubted her ability and drive. In high school, she attended college seminars on becoming a doctor. She also subscribed to a magazine for aspiring doctors, and she read it religiously. Throughout college, as in high school, she was consistently at the top of her class due to her devotion to her studies. She also volunteered her time at a local clinic in order to gain valuable experience. While her friends were out partying, she was concentrating on her studies. After several years in college she graduated magna cum laude and began her career as a surgeon soon thereafter.
By this story we can see that Paula was truly passionate and devoted to becoming a doctor. The passion she has can be seen as truly virtuous. The time and effort that she puts forth in accomplishing her goal is amazing. She goes the "extra mile" in order to immerse herself in the world of medicine. She does nothing short of her best when it comes to her goal.
Theory-of-X #1: Going the "extra mile" is the essence of passion's goodness.
Counterexample to theory #1: Brian grew up in a family of countless generations of engineers. His father had always pushed Brian to join in the family business. Brian wanted to please his father no matter what it cost. He had always dreamed of becoming a guitarist but his father obviously did not approve. In college, Brian studied engineering; he worked
at an engineering firm and kept up with the ever growing world of engineering. He even spent his weekends working with his father on his engineering work
. He was submerged in the world of engineering. However, deep down Brian was not happy with his life. He longed to be a guitarist - he loved making music.
Reflection on this counterexample: From this story we can see that Brian went the extra mile when it came to engineering. However, he was miserable because he was not following his dreams and doing what he loved. He succumbed to the pressure from his father to pursue a career that did not make him truly happy. Therefore, it is not enough to "go the extra mile," something else must be present.
Theory-of-X #2, a revision of theory #1: Going the "extra mile" and doing something you love is at the essence of passion's goodness.
Counterexample to this theory: Jamie works
at an Internet company that has just started up. She loves her job because she knows that it will soon make her rich. She could not think of another job that would make her happier. She comes in early and works
late Monday through Friday. Mostly she loves her job because she knows that soon she will be chief financial officer and will earn more money than most people she knows. She shows no overall enthusiasm in what she is doing and tends to go by the book on everything she does. She is the perfect employee because she is always working, but she shows no excitement for what she does.
Reflection on this counterexample: Here our character has fit into the description of the existing theory. However, she is lacking in a certain pizzazz that is associated with people who are passionate. Her love for her job is strictly because of the money and not something that can be admired as virtuous. Therefore, we must add to the theory something that describes a person's inner drive for what they are doing.
Theory-of-X #3, a revision of theory #2: Going the "extra mile" and doing something you love in which your motivation comes from a driving force from inside of you and which exhibits great enthusiasm is at the essence of passion's goodness.
Beginning pair of non-controversial stories:
Story 1. John is dedicated to his job and wants to see his company expand. He shows up to work
and puts forth maximum effort in order to get things accomplished. John enjoys his job and likes to see progress.
Story 2. Sue also shows up to work
everyday, but barely finishes her days work
. She dreams about finding a new job and could care less what happens to the company she works
Reflection on Stories: In both of these stories, John and Sue show responsibility. They both show up for work
everyday although, Sue's responsibility is not admirable. She is only showing minimal responsibility by showing up for work
. Yet she does not put forth any effort on the job. John is clearly the more admirable of the two. One possible essence to the goodness of responsibility is dedication. Without dedication there does not seem to be good responsibility. John shows dedication by believing in his company and always putting forth his best effort.
Theory of X #1: Part of the X that makes responsibility good is dedication.
Counterexample to theory #1: Jason is a painter and got a job for the summer to paint houses. He has always enjoyed painting and has been painting for years. This summer he spends many nights partying and shows up to work
with a hangover about two times a week. It takes him an entire summer to paint one house.
Reflection on this counterexample: This example shows someone who shows up to work
everyday, but does not show good responsibility. A quality of good responsibility is one who makes sacrifices. A good responsible person may wait until the weekend to party, in order to have a clear mind at work
. Without a clear mind, than one will lack in productivity. Jason's love for painting and ability to show up to work
everyday still lacked responsibility because of his failure to produce. This story illustrates a refinement from the first set of examples. Jason did not make the necessary sacrifices that he needed to do in order to have good responsibility.
Theory-of-X #2, a revision of theory #1: Good responsibility includes dedication and an ability to make necessary sacrifices in order to produce something.
Counterexample to theory #2: When Tim makes a commitment, he never backs down. Tim is an architect and his boss can always rely on him to be on time and have dead lines finished on the assigned date. Although, Tim stays up hours on end and sometimes does not get any sleep in order to make his bosses deadlines. Tim does not even enjoy being an architect, but he needs the job in order to pay the bills and keep a roof over the heads of his children.
Reflection on this counterexample: Tim is showing signs of responsibility. He sacrifices sleep in order to have his work
finished. He is always producing something and consistently shows his dedication. This is not a case of good responsibility, because Tim does not enjoy the work
he is doing. If you did not like what you did for a living than your actions are not admirable. People become tired, angry and frustrated when they are not enjoying their work
. His actions now may seem admirable to his boss but in the long run he is doing more harm than good.
Theory of X #3, a revision of theory #2: The essence of good responsibility is love for one's job, which in turn fuels dedication and the necessary sacrifices that need to be made.
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