Aristotle on States of Character

One of the distinctive features of Aristotle’s philosophy of human affairs is his analysis of the various states of character, of which he identifies at least four: the corrupted person, the unrestrained person, the self-restrained person, and the good person. I might describe them briefly as follows: Two points here are potentially confusing. First, theseContinue reading “Aristotle on States of Character”

Best Self vs. True Self

As previously mentioned, I am skeptical about the notion of the true self. Recently I’ve done some reading that has reinforced this skepticism. In particular, research by the likes of Roy Baumeister shows that human beings tend to identify with the activities and desires that they think are best (either individually or socially) and toContinue reading “Best Self vs. True Self”

Approaching Excellence

Aristotle is famous for his so-called doctrine of the mean: a particular excellence of character is not the opposite of a single fault (e.g., courage vs. cowardice) but is intermediate between excess and defect (e.g., courage is opposed to both rashness and cowardice). Although some scholars never go deeper than this surface understanding, as IContinue reading “Approaching Excellence”

The Inner Revolution

One of the key themes of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which I’m currently reading for the first time) is self-deception. The reader quickly perceives that Nikolai Rostov, Andrei Bolkonsky, and many other characters are fooling themselves about their own worth, thoughts, and actions. There is a connection here to a famous quote from Tolstoy: Everyone thinks ofContinue reading “The Inner Revolution”

Political Moderation

Here in America we’ve survived another national election (yet again the most momentous in our history!), so following up on my post last week about moderation it seems timely to offer a few reflections on political and ideological moderation. Having been a dogmatic libertarian earlier in my life, I well understand the allure of politicalContinue reading “Political Moderation”

Decisions Accumulate

In a recent post entitled How a Business Wins, Arnold Kling made the following observation: Building a business, especially an innovative business in a complex environment, requires many, many decisions. You can be lucky with any one decision, but to get enough decisions right to make the business work takes much more than luck. AsContinue reading “Decisions Accumulate”

Egoism, Altruism, and Oxygen Masks

A friend asked me recently if I think that self-improvement is selfish. My short answer was that building up your character is a matter of cultivating your higher self rather than gratifying your lower self, so this activity might exist beyond the dichotomy of egoism vs. altruism. Here’s an analogy that’s fresh in my mindContinue reading “Egoism, Altruism, and Oxygen Masks”

The Self as an Achievement

What is the self? Naturally this question invokes vast reflections spanning philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, sociology, biology, and many other fields. Although I claim no special insight, in my Aristotle readings over the last few years I chanced upon a fascinating perspective that I thought I’d share. In her book Aristotle’s Philosophy of Friendship (SUNY Press, 1995),Continue reading “The Self as an Achievement”