Category Archives: Virtue

On intuition.

So when I think about logically valid inferences like the fact that if all men1 are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal, I conjure up the incorrigible belief that they are absolutely certain (when their premises are true). But why, exactly? For any story you could tell me I could ask “why does that make these things certain?”. For example, if you try to explain the rules of deduction, I could simply ask why such rules should have purchase with me2. It would be difficult for me to do this with a straight face however, and without losing you as a friend, but still. I could.

But why do we take the reliability of logic and math for granted?

I think it’s because the veracity of things like simple arithmetic and obviously valid inferences are strongly intuitive. In fact, our intuitions concerning simple math and logic are so powerful that just to understand what it means to add two and two or what it means for something to be true of a class of objects, causes the one who understands to believe that the sum of two and two is four or that what is true of every object in a class is necessarily true of any given object in it. The veracity of the enterprise is simply indubitable for the sane man or woman.

In this way I actually think that intuition is the foundation of reason. I intuit that it is the case that if it is true that P implies Q and you grant P, then Q follows inescapably. Assuming that intuition to be correct, logic can proceed. But there is no independent evidence for the truth of what is being assumed. Any “evidence” you could give me for the reliability of logic and math would assume the veracity of the things you’re trying to prove.

Not all intuitions are this powerful, however. And many of our intuitions turn out to be wrong. Therefore the goal of philosophy is to, with sincerely attempted intellectual honesty and other virtues, iron out our tree of intuitions and what we’ve inferred from them in conjunction with observation, so that there aren’t any kinks in our weltanschauung.


1 That is, those men who are not Elijah, Enoch, Jesus, those to be raptured, or the sheep to be welcomed into the Kingdom.

2 In fact, in every logical inference lies a hidden presupposition that cannot be argued for without infinitely begging the question. Namely, the veracity of logical validity. So when presented with the facts that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, to believe on the basis of those two facts that therefore Socrates is mortal, assumes that if all men are mortal and Socrates is a men, then Socrates is mortal.

But it gets worse. Let us temporarily grant the assumption that “if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal”, which permits us to infer that Socrates is mortal, granted that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man. The new meta-syllogism formed by the original in conjunction with the assumption duplicates the same assumption on a higher order: that validity is veridical. It assumes that if it is the case that if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal, and if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal!

Similarly to believe on the basis of it being the case that if it is true that if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man then Socrates is mortal, and so if all men are indeed mortal and Socrates is indeed a man then Socrates is indeed mortal, therefore given that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal after all.

And so on.

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Filed under Mathematics, Paradox, Philosophy, Virtue

Are you seriously going to write a blog right now?

…my wife asks at the end of our date night. “It better be a short one.”

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5 Parenting Concepts

Our son Soren is pretty much the most adorable little boy you could imagine. Observe. Soren’s the one on the left. That’s his “cousin” David on the right.

He is also fairly obedient. Truth be told—he’s been struggling with obedience lately, but still. He’s a really great boy. He loves his mama and dada, loves seeing “friends!” (anyone he gets to interact with), loves cleaning, loves helping, and loves snuggling. His enthusiasm for life is inspiring. He is tickled with the very existence of things. He is a true philosopher: filled with wonder. Not just curiosity about how things work, though he has plenty of that, but awe at the fact that they do. Awe at everything. Everything is peculiar to him. Everything is neat. He has an unquenchable thirst for life. More life!

I have a long list of worries. I am worried about discipline—I don’t know how to do it. I am worried about his education. I am worried about his relationships. I accidentally smacked him in the face in the dark the other night and I worried I had already done psychological damage he’ll have to work through one day in counseling. I am worried he won’t be charitable enough or hard working enough or know how much we love him no matter what. He woke up crying very abruptly the other night and Lindsey mentioned it was probably a nightmare and the very thought of my sweet little baby son having a nightmare broke my heart. When he cut his chin on the curb it really impacted him. He points to it in remembrance every time we explain to him that someone else has a hurt, and more recently every time he observes for himself that someone else is hurt. There was blood. He has a scar. The fact that it happened just knots me up!

Anyway we often get asked about parenting and how we get him to behave and what principles make sense to us because people know we (Lindsey) does a lot of research and has multiple relevant graduate degrees, etc. I think I’ve boiled it down to 5 principles that have so far stood out the most to me as being particularly effective for behavior modification, character formation, and general healthy development. Ask me in a couple years and the list may be different (and my child might not be one to make one ask, either; who knows).

5. Consistency

Whatever we do, we try quite hard to do consistently. This means we all have to be on the same page. Not just Lindsey and me, but Lindsey’s mom too, as she watches him often enough to be considered something of a primary caretaker. Inconsistency confuses. Consistency convinces. Consistency makes habit.

Consistency takes endurance. Not Ironman endurance. Just more endurance than a one year old. Which is almost as strenuous, and to be honest, sometimes even more so, in part because it can be required at unexpected times.

4. Followthrough

If we say something, we try very hard to do it. This goes for keeping our promises, like “you may have a snack when we get home” (even when we know he doesn’t understand the vocabulary used in the promise), and it goes for threats, like “if you throw that food on the floor, then you’re all done eating for tonight”. This does a number of things.

Followthrough teaches language. If we say something and then do not exhibit it, how is he to understand what the words we used mean?

Followthrough teaches boundaries. If we make a threat that we do not followthrough on, how is he to understand where the boundaries are? How is he to learn obedience or to trust that we mean what we say—how is he to learn honesty?

Followthrough teaches parents. It taught us, fairly rapidly, not to make threats we cannot carry out or wouldn’t want to if we had to. Admittedly, this occasionally leaves me without anything to threaten. I sometimes feel powerless because I have no consequent to the antecedent condition I want to mitigate. But you know what would make me feel even more powerless? A 5 year old who knows I won’t do anything if he runs away when I call him back. An adolescent who feels free to strike his siblings because there won’t be any consequences for doing so. A teenager. And one who doesn’t believe his parents mean what they say or are willing to respect their own boundaries would be even worse.

3. Positive Reinforcement

We reserve the right to punish, and do punish. But we reinforce positive behavior far more often, and we could not be happier about it. How often do you see kids acting out for attention, and getting it! Oftentimes it is in the form of discipline or some semblance of it—but it’s attention, which is what they wanted. How often do those same kids do something right only to have it go completely unnoticed? It has been empirically shown that positive reinforcement is a more powerful modifier of behavior than punishment. The research is so strong in fact, that there is a movement to do away with punishment entirely. I’m not talking about some progressive new age bleeding heart movement motivated by a contrived sense of compassion. I’m talking about hard-nosed behavioral scientists just wanting results, and believing that pure positive reinforcement is the most efficient means to that end. We don’t go that far for several reasons, but the point is that positive reinforcement is effective. And to me it just makes sense on a higher level, too. The focus should ideally be on what to do rather than on what not to do. Refraining from crime isn’t nearly as powerful as engaging in charity. We should be facing forward.

2. Modeling

Our behavior is far and away the single most powerful driver of Soren’s behavior. Whenever I don’t understand something he’s doing, I can think back to a time when he saw me doing it or something that looked like it to him. Almost every time. And the anomalies are probably due to my selective memory or general lack of creativity. I mean, it’s simply amazing. The other day I was leaning against a wall with my arms and legs crossed and after studying me a second he went and found a place to try it himself. Heart-meltingly adorable. I punished him a couple times for climbing on the coffee table after telling him not to (10-20 second time-outs after saying “if you climb on the table, then time-out”). Later on David saw me sitting on the coffee table and called me on it! Soren will take a rag to the floor when there’s a spill because he sees grandma doing it. He would rather push the stroller than ride in it. I could easily go on.

It’s usually adorable, but it’s sometimes frustrating. He’ll want to do things he can’t or shouldn’t. Sometimes that’s ok and even good, and we need to make room for it, even if it means it’ll take us longer. For example, he loves sweeping, but isn’t very good at it. Completing a sweep of the kitchen will take four times as long if Soren is helping. But it’ll be worth it when he is an 8 year old who sweeps regularly because he wasn’t constantly told to go play instead of cleaning up. To him right now sweeping is playing.

Sometimes though, it’s neither adorable nor frustrating. Sometimes it’s convicting. Realizing just how powerfully my behavior affects my son’s is frightening and inspiring. But mostly frightening. May God help me to be a better man for the sake of my son.

1. Love

What good is external behavior without love? What good is anything without love? The whole point of all of this or anything else is relationship. And none of this could be pulled off well anyway if it weren’t motivated by love. It’s all about loving and being loved. If some parents raise well-behaved children but have no relationship with them, they have failed. Abjectly.

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Filed under Fatherhood, Virtue

Default.

After getting sucked into my computer screen
for hours at a time
I will occasionally
realize I have been pursing my lips.

Or frowning.

Or rounding my shoulders,
furrowing my brows,
or, on rare occasion, smiling.

Sometimes my posture might make sense
given what I am actively engaged in – if thinking hard,
then furrowing my brow might make sense
as a physical expression
of an immediate inward reality.

Receiving a nasty email from a client might be just grounds
for frowning.

But other times, I wonder
whether something more raw – something deeper
might be exposing itself
to the outside world
via my countenance.

I wonder what happens when I become so entrenched
in the goings on of the cyber world
that I lose track of my physical circumstance.

I wonder what my face displays then.

What does my face look like when all the thoughts insulating skin from soul flow slowly
through my fingertips?

Does it start to mold itself onto the more permanent contours of my soul?
If it does, then does it leave me smiling, relievedly, because of my redeemed estate?

Or do I weep over my own shortcomings and disappointments?

Or what if, instead, I just giggle at the thought of my son’s dimples – or
smirk at one of my wife’s jokes?

What forces operate upon my most deeply running emotional climate?
What does it feel like down there, at the end of the day
where everything profound mixes together?

I hope
for my own sake
and for the sake of my family, and of others
that if and when the deepest and most permanent features of my soul express themselves physically
it results in a grin.

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City of Extremes

Lindsey once described Los Angeles as a city of extremes (eg. poverty and wealth). We’re now learning that Coeur d’Alene has its extremes as well. Compare: Burt Rutan (famous rocket scientist) vis-a-vis this lady (its depressing; read at your own risk).

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Filed under Roundups, Virtue

More Action

Less talk.

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Death Like Wine

King Solomon, in addition to writing and collecting proverbs, married an Egyptian princess. Now, Egyptian religion (if you remember from elementary school) was obsessed with the idea of a physical afterlife wherein a person could lug all of his earthly possessions (including wives, etc.) on into eternity, if he went through the proper rituals. Because of these screwy soteriological and eschatological beliefs, Egyptians never took seriously the finality and severity of death, and wasted much of their actual lives obsessing about their next, going so far as to enslave other humans in order to build grand, lifeless temples wholly dedicated to housing their rotting corpses and the proper arrangements for their afterlives.

Nowadays, of course, we know better. We know that our material possessions count for nothing in our deaths and the most important thing in life is to love. Right?

Solomon did, even back then. His book “The Assemblies” (which goes by its Greek name “Ecclesiastes” though it was written in Hebrew) quite forcefully asserts the vanity of materialism. Rather, we should be content with what we have, derive joy from our daily toil, love God, enjoy food and sex, care for people, be content, and live life – this life to the fullest. Because death is final.

Even though it’s not the End.

The truth lies somewhere between Egyptianism and Annihilationism. Long after King Solomon, St. Paul had to address a similar problem with his audience. Except instead of screwy Egyptian eschatology, it was screwy Christian eschatology. Paul had taught the Christians in Thessalonica about the return of Jesus, and they became so obsessed with it that they began quitting their jobs in anticipation.

What we believe has only everything to do with how we behave.

Paul had to remind them in a letter to live in the here and now, to work with their hands, to engage with those around them, and to be kind, charitable, and moral.

But overcorrecting is a real danger, too. There is an opposite error we must avoid. St. Peter warns that as time wears on it will be tempting to think the Lord will never return, and quit taking care of His property or following His rules. The Christian must always be expecting the Day of the Lord, but never with too much obsession. Likewise we must embrace this life and drink of it deeply, but never become too attached to it.

G. K. Chesterton reflects on the paradoxical view of life and death in the Christian life eloquently:

…he can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying. And it has held up ever since above the European lances the banner of the mystery of chivalry: the Christian courage, which is a disdain of death; not the Chinese courage, which is a disdain of life.

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