Tuesday, December 30, 2008

note to self.

for further thought and attention post-metaphysics comp: religion! (as a moral motive)
i've added the two linked journal articles to my moral motivation-themed summer reading list.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

and another thing.

the same actions which are responsible for and instrumental in the origin and development of the virtues are also the means of their destruction.

the nichomachean ethics
book ii, part 3

aristotle famously posits the golden mean as the way to understand virtue-- courage, for instance, as the virtue standing midway between cowardice (a vice of deficit) and recklessness (a vice of excess). virtue is the target, standing at the balanced dead center of all manner of vice and moral compromise.

i wrote a little about virtue ethics over the summer-- not so much about the golden mean, but what the actual exercise of a virtue consist in. what i mean is, i was addressing not so much the question of how, in theory, we understand what courage is, but what it is to be courageous (or to be patient-- the example i used at the time). to actually be virtuous is to be someone whose behavior conforms to virtue time and time again. it has to do with a consistency that is the result of each action springing from the same firm character. and just as consistency depends on firmness of character, firmness of character depends on authenticity. if it's not really you, you can't sustain it. beyond that, the virtuous person explicitly takes herself to be striving for virtue, undertakes virtuous acts for their own sake (that is, for the sake of the ultimate end-- the good life) and not in pursuit of some extrinsic end (like money or something like that), and, in turn, gets a certain pleasure from acting in the way according with virtue.

so, i'm trying to finish a paper on all this. in the paper i try to come to some understanding of how we can make sense of extremists-- radicals, visionaries, ascetics-- in these terms. a lot of our moral heroes (religious saints in particular, but also secular figures like ghandi or john brown) fall into this category, and there are lots of other people (particularly artists) who make valuable contributions to society, although their value isn't explicitly moral, which seems to be generated by certain extreme or ultimately self-defeating character traits. on the surface, at least, it looks like these sorts of extreme characters are not conforming to any sort of "happy medium", and yet we revere them, either for their moral integrity, or some quasi-moral aesthetic integrity.

are creative highs and principled stands the elevated end of a seesaw-- dependent upon, caused by, or one part of a whole that necessarily includes a lowered end? does the golden mean leave us perfectly balanced at the fulcrum, the low end raised, and the raised end lowered? what do we lose, if anything, and is it worth it?

i seriously have to finish this paper.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

something i've been thinking about.

attributing good faith to all other human beings-- particularly those who have done some harm to us-- is often considered naive. but it seems to me, given all of the complexities of circumstance, cognitive biases toward attending to our own interests rather than those of others, and the myriad ways in which people makes sense of (rationalize, perhaps) their own behavior, that the real naivete lies in attributions of bad faith or, more precisely, ill will. it strikes me as almost superstitious-- naive in the way that it's naive to attribute weather that scares or injures us to angry gods. we're harmed in some way by some movement in the world, and, in our pain and ignorance and self-absorption, we make sense of it by attributing some ill intention. this is not a new idea. but i don't mean to say that it's naive to attribute intentions to people in general-- i mean bad intentions in particular. i'm suggesting that bad intentions, despite all the wrenching harm that people manage to do, are relatively rare, and that making adequate sense of all that harm, even in terms of human agency, will require a more sophisticated analysis.

this sounds a little funny. on the one hand i'm trying to correct a certain misanthropic world view. on the other hand, my criticism is built on an understanding of human beings as vulnerable and ignorant and self-absorbed. but i don't mean these terms pejoratively. we're relatively small things with a lot of nerve endings (literal and metaphorical) and limited resources and just two eyes to see out of. to have contempt for a thing because it's that sort of thing strikes me as being ungenerous to the point of its being a kind of misapprehension. what's naive (though forgivably so) is to have ever believed that things were otherwise-- to have been operating on the assumption that we are more, or that our being good or worthy depends on such a thing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

more cut and pasted email.

(this one's from elissa j. do your part, creeps.)

the suburban needs your help

Hello all,

The Peter Coffin Studio and The Suburban Gallery, Chicago are working on a project called; "How to Sneak into Art Museums Without Paying". We'd like you to share any techniques you have acquired through your life/work experience to submit to this project. These instructions (of "How to...") from you should be hand drawn and scanned to reproduced in a booklet/zine that will be distributed for an exhibition at the Suburban and to participants.

These illustrated techniques should actually work and must be relatively current. The instructions you provide should not require doctored documents such as fake passes etc or fake uniforms/badges and should be relatively easy to understand so that someone on the street can enter without paying using the instructions you submit.

If you would like to submit a plan, please hand draw it on 8 1/2 x 11 white paper in black pen/or pencli and scan in on gray scale @ 200 DPI and send to; assistant.petercoffinstudio@gmail.com

Include your name/pseudonym separate from the drawing in the email, to be included in the credits of the booklet. All accepted participants will of course receive a copy of the booklet/zine. And remember to include in the drawing the museum's name and city.

These are plans that should actually work so stick to keeping them as clear as possible....including street entrances, descriptive markers or "what to say to a guard"... anything to make the drawing effective. I have included a sample of a plan to sneak into the KW museum in Berlin to show generally what we are looking for. Feel free to forward this to any sneaky pals you know anywhere, especially outside the US as this is for any major museum/institution across the globe.



Tuesday, December 09, 2008


from: matthew allen
to: me

i searched for "agency philosophy" in google images - hoping to find some obfuscatory diagram to wave at architects to my rhetorical advantage - and i came across an image of you! brightened my day! but no diagram...


(it's true! i'm on page 3!)
(also, soon i'll post real blogs again-- as opposed to cutting and pasting self-promotional materials.)