Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Habit And Attitude Cultivation

I keep talking about life and philosophy. About how my philosophical work is all about working on myself. I want to be like my favorite thinkers. I want to be involved in a process of reflexively creating myself. Letting my thoughts and emotions come out in my writing, and in turn letting that writing change my thoughts and emotions.

I am committed to philosophy as a process of self-creation.

Further, any attempt at self-creation must gauge itself based not on the logical complexity or consistency of a philosophical system, but based on practical results in one's life. And I believe that practical benefits to daily living can only come in the realm of habit, attitude, and disposition. In other words, the rational work of philosophy must strive for something other than itself. Words must try to alter that which is not words. One must use language to modify parts of the self that are essentially ineffable. I believe that habit and attitude are parts of the ineffable self. They are the parts of us that are pre-linguistic, the parts of me that act, feel, and experience before I can ever think to think.

I am all about philosophy as a quest to cultivate my habits and attitude.

Much of my writing has thus revolved around the concept of habit and attitude. I am trying to define more precisely what kind of attitude I want to embody. How do I  want to live my life? I currently have several competing ways of thinking about this attitude.

The way I prefer to describe my personal attitude is with the word 'aesthetic'. But what I mean by that word isn't always clear, because I spent a lot of time developing it and so it has a lot of connotations for me. But generally it means that I want to become as habitually imaginative and expressive as possible. That life is about creativity, finding new ways to relate to myself, to people, and to things. I wish to come to terms with the rules of my day (grammatical rules, social norms, rules about politeness), and to adopt them for my own purposes. In other words, I only think politeness and grammar are important because they are the tools that we need to engage creatively with people. Those formal elements of social living are to be regarded as mere craft. The task is to use those elements of craft to transform life into art.
Another one of my major references comes from zen. I understand zen less. But it offers many of the same things.

In any case, what I want to say here is that despite the variety of references I make to elaborate this idea of philosophy as the cultivation of an attitude, there are certain features that transcend all of the categories I have.

The permanent features of my attitude, its hallmarks are:

1. A commitment to love, empathy, curiosity, and compassion. I have no interest in being mean. I am very interested in understanding you (all of you). And I always want to find a way to forgive everyone for everything.

2. A certain approach to language. One that recognizes that words are rarely valuable in themselves. They are useful only insofar as they help us connect with others and ourselves. Words are a means to an end. And that end is good living, compassionate living. I explained a lot of this in my latest essay on civility. Check out the part about zen. There I use a quote from D.T. Suzuki where he claims that koans, traditional zen phrases, are "compared to a piece of brick used to knock at a gate; when the gate is opened the brick is thrown away. The koan is useful as long as the mental doors are closed, but when they are opened it may be forgotten." That is to say, language is never valuable in its own right. It is valuable only in the way it affects our deeper emotional and cognitive capacities.

Language is most valuable when it is turned to the task of purposefully creating habits and cultivating an attitude.

Finally, I'll just say that I have been able to relate all of this back to simulation theory of mind.
It now appears to me that the attitude I seek is truly to be found in simulation theory. That simulation theory, with its emphasis on empathy, is the theory that can pull together my disparate references into a clear picture of the attitude that I am seeking to cultivate in myself.
There is no telling where all of this leaves me or will lead me.

But I wanted to make something a little bit clearer: Philosophy is about an attitude, about taking charge of your habits, about embracing a certain approach to relationships and to language.

This is what I try to do with philosophy.

I try to make myself a better person.

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