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Chapter 2
The Condition & the Odyssey
The Predicament
• All philosophizing is rooted in one simple
fact of our existence: each of us is trapped
in an egocentric predicament that sets
limits on the way we perceive the world
and relate to others.
• Can we overcome such a deep-rooted and
troubling condition?
The Coherent Worldview
• A worldview is a more or less coherent, all-
inclusive frame of reference through which one
sees the world; it is a subjective attempt to
provide unity and consistency to the totality of
one’s experience
It is one purpose of philosophy to help the
individual build a worldview that is functional
The ideal worldview will be internally consistent,
pragmatically realistic, and personally fulfilling
The Egocentric Predicament
• 1910, Ralph Barton Perry
• To know what any real object/event is, we
have to perceive it.
• How then can we know whether our
perception of an object/event changes it?
• I am the center of MY universe, but not
THE universe
Blaise Pascal
• “It is pitiful to see so many Turks,
heretics, and infidels following in their
fathers’ track, for the sole reason that
each has been conditioned to believe that
this track is best. This accident of birth is
also what decides everyone’s condition in
life, making one man a locksmith, another
man a soldier, et cetera.”
Aristocentric Claims
• Whenever any creature fails to correct for
his egocentric illusion and begins to feel
that he really is the center of the universe,
and further, if he feels that he should be
treated by others as though he were the
center, then he has taken a giant step
beyond the illusion itself.
• He is making an aristocentric claim.
Egocentric Illusions in
Time & Space
• Time – our lifetimes are short in the
perspective of geological time or human
history, yet we tend to think of all
existence in terms of our allotted span
• Space – our life-space becomes the center
of all things good, and more distant
regions somehow lack the reality of our
We Live in Two Worlds
• “From birth till death each of us is locked
into a physical organism from which there
is no escape.” This condition is known as
• We confuse the “world in here” and the
“world out there”
• Reification
Albert Camus
Man & the Absurd
• The problem lies in the individual’s
relationship to the world. Man is not
absurd, and the world is not absurd. It’s at
the interface between man and the world
that the Absurd is encountered.
• The story of “the Three Christs of
Ypsilanti” is more than a case study. It is a
metaphor. As a metaphor, what does the
account say to you about the claims and
rationalizations that universally
characterize the human species?
• Not a few philosophers have argued that
the development of an authentic self is
the central lifelong project for each of us
• What does it mean to be a “self”?
• Is the “self” something we can know and
From the Movie Cleopatra
• Mark Antony to Cleopatra, as he lay dying
speaks of his impending death as “the
ultimate separation of my self from
• What does he mean?
News Item
• A man is indicted for embezzlement, but
he is never caught, and lives under an
assumed name in another state for
twenty-six years. Then, in a freak move, a
relative turns him in. “Yes,” he confesses,
“I did it.”
• But did he?
From The Sixth Sense (ABC-TV)
Where are you?
I am sitting on a rock by the lake
What do you see?
I am not really at the lake. I am in the large
mansion looking at the man I am about to kill
But you were not in the mansion were you?
No, I was sitting at the lake
Yes, I know, because I was sitting beside you
A Sense of Self
• What each of us can become during our
lifetime is determined by two fundamental
conditions: (1) the degree to which we
experience a more or less consistent sense
of self or identity, and (2) whether the
feelings we have developed about that
self are predominantly good
A Sense of Worth
• How we feel about our selves strongly
reflects how others felt about us during
our earliest years
• If we are loved = then we feel lovable =
we can love ourselves
• Most of us never move beyond selfconsciousness
The Autonomous Self
• Autonomy – refers to one’s ability to
function independently in terms of an
authentic self
• The ability to make autonomous decisions:
1) courage to be; 2) courage of selfaffirmation; 3) understanding of culturepatterns
Ayn Rand
The Productive Life
• Who is John Galt?
• Ayn Rand was for: rationality, individuality, living
life as an end in itself, courage, happiness,
success, life, pleasure, joy, freedom, Aristotle,
Aquinas, atheism, love, friendship…
Ayn Rand was against: the irrational, selfsacrifice, martyrdom, belief, anything that
erodes self-esteem, sheep, suffering, failure,
death, pain, hedonism, Kant…
Three cardinal virtues: reason, purpose, selfesteem
• Have you ever made a list of the things
you are for and the things you are
against? How much of Ayn Rand’s “fors”
and “againsts” can you agree with? Now
clarify (to yourself) why you are for or
against these things
• What happens when we remove our
masks – if we can?
• What do we then become?
• “We are what we pretend to be, so we
must be careful about what we pretend to
be.” --Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
When Things Go Wrong
• Harlows and the young monkeys
• Human psychological development: 1)
reassurance/security/trust; 2)
courage/aggression/exploration; 3)
• We know that something has gone wrong
(when things go wrong)…and we wonder
The Masks We Wear
• When things go wrong, the feeling that one
does not know “who he is” may be intuited by
ourselves and inferred by others, but it is
perhaps the last thing we will confess. The pain
of unmasking is too great. We can’t risk being
open. We are ever fearful that someone might
see beneath our masks and discover…nothing.
“It is easy to become lost in the other when we
have no real sense of self.” --Richard Moss
I Will Not Stop Till I Know
• To be innocent is to not know
• Therefore, to be innocent is to be
• Dependence requires trust and faith
• Dependence requires obedience
• Innocence is an instrument of control
Growth & Insecurity
• Neophobia – we are afraid of new objects,
unfamiliar behavioral patterns in others, strange
feelings in ourselves, or any other new and
threatening elements of life that we do not
Neophilia – if we have enough security when we
need it, then we can explore more and more of
the unknowns, assimilate them, explore some
more, widen our horizons, and grow
The Answer-Givers
• The actual fact is that answer-givers have
a need to persuade. One of their goals is
to contain us within a state of innocence
and thereby establish control over us.
• Their true motivation is disguised by
perhaps the commonest of human
rationalizations: that they are really
helping us
Crisis of Authority
One of the major roadblocks to
autonomy is failure to achieve
separation from authority
Developing Self-Awareness
• When we are open to experiencing our
selves precisely as they are – rather than
expending energy feeling anxious or guilty
over what they are not – a change in
feeling can take place
The Law of Pathei Mathos
It is a painful insight to discover that one
holds a belief because one needs the
belief, and not because the belief is true.
This is the sort of insight one would like to
make go away, like a bad dream or clouds
on a rainy day
Sigmund Freud
Humanity is Blocked by Our Pain
• We are blocked from being human by our
own repressed pain and seeing the truth
about ourselves could release enormous
stores of bound-up energy for rich and
responsible living
• Id
• Superego
• Ego
• Zero in on the problem of dealing with
those who would “[provide] us with the
answers before we have asked the
questions”. Do you agree with the
problem as stated in this chapter? How
would you suggest that we confront such
Life Time
• Direction?
• Is life then goal-directed?
• Are we driven, deeply and perhaps
unconsciously, toward something or away
from something? Is life inherently
meaningful, carrying us toward a telos, or
is it meaning-less?
All the World’s a Stage…
All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
Mapping a Lifetime
• The four ashramas
• Japanese fivefold division of the human
• Freud’s five distinct stages in the
development of a young human being
from age zero to about eighteen
• Shakespeare’s “seven ages”
The Ground Plan
• Scientific studies have discovered that there
exists within us a psychophysiological timetable
that provides a plot for each individual human
The unfolding of this ground plan gives our lives
a predictable structure and allows us to achieve
a general overview of a full human life from
birth to death
Infancy to Childhood
• Infancy
• Early Childhood
• Middle Childhood
• Late Childhood
The Adolescent Years
• Early Adolescence
• Midadolescence
• Late Adolescence
The Maturing Years
• Early Adulthood
• Intermediate Adulthood
• Middle Adulthood
• Later Adulthood
The Final Phase
• It begins when we must face that fact that
our own death is imminent
• Reliving our past
• An attempt to see the life/time drama in
perspective, and to write a good
The Shriek of Ivan Ilytch
• Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan IIytch
• As Ivan reflects upon the meaningless of
his death, what hits him so forcefully is
the meaninglessness of his life
The Hero’s Journey
• Joseph Campbell
• The Importance of Myth
• “There is a single formula, a single plot, to
the hero’s adventure”
The Laughing Philosopher
• “Crush the infamy!:
• “My baffled curiosity continues to be insatiable.”
• He had an abiding faith in the intelligence and
rationality of man
“This century begins to see the triumph of
“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to
invent him.”
• If you think of life metaphorically as a
“path” or “road,” can you locate yourself
with some accuracy (somewhere) along
that path? Did you personally go through
the earlier challenges as described in this