30 minutes of free writing, every day.
I write here to clear my head. I write here to practice saying things
I mean to say. Sometimes these log entries will be short.
Today's post is always on top.
** Thu Oct 14 13:08:01 2021
One of the reasons that I've been dabbling in texts on virtue ethics,
agency, and aesthetic experience has to do with my interest in
understanding the distinctive properties of play and games.
The philosopher C.T. Nguyen thinks of games as a sort of costume
shoppe of agency and aesthetics. That is, they are valuable as an
activity in that they let you "try on" different agencies, and they
are valuable as an art form in that they offer distinct aesthetic
experiences that have nothing to do with how they look or sound.
Aesthetically, games offer, among other things, an experience of
harmony. The harmony specific to games might be thought of as a
"challenge harmony". In other words: the difficulty of a game feels
"good" when it is "just right", when it harmonizes with your agentive
powers to meet it.
But what about that other part? The part about "trying on" agency?
This is the part that is specifically interesting to me. What might
trying an agency on mean? What is "agency"? To paraphrase Agnes
Callard again (see yesterday's entry), to act with agency is to be
responsive to reasons. With that provisional definition in mind, I
interpret "trying out" an agency to mean exploring the experience of
what it is like to care about X.
For example: Playing baseball? Experience what it is like to care
about X, where X is a chain of concerns: hitting a thrown ball in a
particular way with a bat such that the ball volleys out into a field
where nobody is there to catch it so that you can proceed to care
about being allowed to run around a diamond in the dirt to end up
where you started, so that you can collectively care, with others on
your team who are also in the process of caring, about racking up
points in accordance with some rules, that everybody has agreed to
explore caring about.
Exploring this way, these particular X's, is also about exploring some
underlying values that are implicit in those X's. For those who care
to interpret the specific rules of baseball, caring about them
involves: caring about luck, skill, chance, patience, and seizing a
moment, not for your own glory, but for a shared glory, yours and your
What I am calling "exploring what it is like to care about X" is also
called the "lusory attitude" in Bernard Suits' framework. The lusory
attitude is that state of mind in which one wishes to achieve an end
in accordance with some rules in such a way that to violate the rules
would be to not acheive the end, even if, materially speaking, it were
in some sense achieved. I.e. You're already at home plate when you
start, but that's not baseball. You've got to start at home plate and
return there, by playing the game.
What about ethics? Where do ethics come in? In philosophy, the field
of Virtue Ethics is a way to answer the question "what is worth doing"
by appealing to traits of character that a person might possess,
exhibit, embody, and act according to. The Standford Encyclopedia
Of Philosophy has a pretty good article on virtue ethics
One interesting thing about virtues is that, from my perspective, they
require something like lusory attitude. Here's what I mean: according
to some virtue ethicists (Aristotle, for example), being honest isn't
perfectly virtuous if you do it, not because you're "on board" with
the intrinsic value of honesty as a heurstic that leads toward the
greater good, but rather because you were afraid of being punished or
found out. You still told the truth, but you're not virtuous for
doing so, or not perfectly virtuous for doing so (depending on which
philosopher you ask).
It is that being-on-boardness that interests me. In order to actually
"be virtuous", you have to "try on" the virtues. When you begin to
feel that they're right, then you're actually being virtuous. That's
the lusory attitude in effect.
The game doesn't exist until you're taking its goals seriously. Which
is ironic, in the case of games, because the goals are not the
point. Its the same with the virtues. Telling the truth isn't the
point - being commited to honesty is.
Just one example. Much more could be said about this. But that'll have
to do today.
** Wed Oct 13 08:44:27 2021
More about Nihilism.
Nihilism follows, so goes the idea in Nietzsche, from this desire for
the goods of an "otherworld", a world of fixed values - a desire
termed "the ascetic ideal". Such desire induces you to ignore the
goods of this, real, world -- goods you come to know as you invent,
discover, and create by "living them out" as experience.
Think about pop music. Every time pop music makes you feel sad or
"lacking" and nostalgic for no reason, that's this principle at
work. The false mood, the style of experience at work in a pop song,
may not correspond to any real mode of being. It is, rather, just a
show that is performed in the "otherworld" of pop culture, a world
that purports to mirror this one. In the pop culture world, or some
pop culture worlds, decisions about experiential modes and values have
already been made for you. These modes are usually highly stylized and
idealized, and you are seduced by their appearance, their vibrancy,
their immaculate aptness, or their sexual verve. But again, those
goods are illusion - they are not your real experience. Instead, they
seem to overlay your experience, so much so that you actually begin to
identify with them instead of with the real.
Nietzsche's answer to the acetic ideal and nihilism, as the late
philosopher Lise van Boxel discusses, involves a kind of creative
activity -- an active reinvention and reinterpretation of the
given-at-hand, that is peculiar to your circumstance, and peculiar to
"you" - what Nietzsche sometimes refers to as "amor fati".
There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where
does it lead? Don’t ask, walk! -- Nietzsche
In the work of philosopher Agnes Callard, which I'm only just dipping
my toe into, a puzzle is presented. The puzzle is: how can the
intentional pursuit of acquiring new values be rational? If behaving
with rational agency is acting in response to reasons, and if reasons
to act are grounded in values, then how can acting to change values,
or acquire new ones, be itself rational? That is, how can reasons to
act be anything but reflections of currently held values?
I am not through with her book so I am not sure how she resolves this
puzzle, but part of has to do with the theme of yesterday's entry:
Values are the effect of action (and therefore experience), not the
cause of it. "If we want to understand how substantive value change
is possible, we will have to introduce a new kind of reason, one
directed not at satisfying wants but rather at generating them."
A further variation on the theme comes up in my own thoughts about
what I have been calling toyfulness: The possibility for play latent
in circumstance. Toyfulness is crucial to the discovery of purpose: a
toy has no purpose. Play, a form of activity that a toy's toyfulness
invites, is how new purpose is found.
That is, a ball is just a ball. But by tossing it around, rolling it,
kicking it, bouncing it, sharing its possession with those around you,
myriad purposes for that ball are discovered in the form of games.
If you want to find a new use for a ball, just make sure it doesn't
look like a baseball, a soccer ball, a football, a golf ball, or a
basket ball. If it is "just a ball", somebody will find a purpose for
it, since the 'otherworld' of inclusion into the implements of an
already formally defined game is not available.
** Tue Oct 12 16:12:01 2021
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is when you notice something once and
then, suddenly, seem to notice it over and over again "everywhere you
look". That's happening to me right now in my reading.
I am book hopping, reading in a noncommittal mode, around topics of
agency, aesthetic experience, value acquisition, virtue ethics, and
confrontation with nihilism. What I encounter again and again is
something like this: _value follows experience, which means value is
not formulaic, because experience is infinitely varied_.
This idea is both obvious and radical, depending on how seriously you
take it and how liberally it spreads.
Virtues, for example, are imperfectly enacted by aspirants, and
pursuing them is the only way to perfect them (or not).
Art can be seen as anti-experience, as a way to train the human to
value something other than what is real. This is a John Zerzan
notion. Making art is about making culture, that is, asserting in a
way "this is an example of what is good, of what a good human can be
like - and therefore, also, what a bad human can be like"; a notion
that crops variously up in both Sartre and Nietzsche. Art is a way to
"fix" value, and culture creates an "otherworld" that divorces us
slightly from the real world, so does language, so do all
symbols. Zerzan thinks this is bad, I guess. Schopenhauer might not
see it that way - rather, it might be a bold act of resistance to the
Will that drives and acts with us, everything, as its implements.
Nietzsche has a muddier collection of thoughts in this direction. And
the troubled quality of Nietzsche's picture is, I feel I must point
out, pedagogical. The ascetic ideal, in N's view, is that habit of
life that clings to some eternal fixed value or meaning, a habit that
is "grounded" in some "faith" in an "other world" as opposed to this
one. Afterlife? The world of culture? The platonic world of ideal
forms? Yes probably.
The point is that value follows experience; you have to exercise
experience to create, and therefore to affirm or perceive or know or
believe in, value.