4 comments so far

  1. Charles on

    Fascinating analysis. Thank you.

    I was raised in a “traditional virtues” environment, but in my early 20s (when else?) found myself moving toward the “situationist” paradigm.

    In my 40s, I met a therapist who was not a Christian but who firmly subscribed to the idea that anything we do is a choice we make, and that many of our “unconscious” choices are deliberately so. She believed one could change one’s behaviors, first, by learning to pay attention to the behavior in question at its onset, and to the circumstances associated with the behavior, and, secondly, by making a conscious decision to behave differently – that is, make a better choice — at the time one recognizes what is happening.

    What she was describing was a disciplined, attentive way of living.

    She also made me consider the wisdom of incorporating formalized spiritual direction into one’s weekly routine.

    Later, I was introduced to the concept of non-violent communication, and an early attempt to master some of the basic discipline of such communication made me realize how terribly difficult and demanding it is to be so attentive – never mind make a different choice.

    Self-forgetfulness is so much easier! And I do believe it reflects our current culture’s desire for effortless and instant perfection. All we have to do is redefine “perfection” so that who we are and what we believe doesn’t have to be challenged in any way; no effort or discipline on our part is required.

    On the other hand, I believe one of the reasons we struggle so much with such discipline is our own finitude. It is not simply a matter of infinite perfection, but rather a matter of finite knowledge. We really don’t, and I believe won’t ever, fully understand the complexities that account for what we call reality, human nature and its bewildering behaviors included. I don’t believe this excuses us from the responsibility of making thoughtful, rational choices. It does caution us that our choices and the reasoning behind them are the best we can do at any given moment, and not much more.

  2. everydaythomist on

    Charles,
    What you have described in this final paragraph is so true, and the reason I think that ethics tends toward theology. Aquinas believed (along with Aristotle) that human virtue was possible, but rare. We can agree with this conclusion based on our own experiences. It is hard to be virtuous and almost everybody falls short. We need grace to elevate our ordinary human efforts, transform those efforts, and orient them towards a new goal, which is the love of God.

    I am writing a chapter of my dissertation right now on the development of virtue, specifically a disciplining of the eyes and the power of vision (i.e. curiositas vs. studiositas), in reference to women who expose themselves to thin-ideal images of beauty found in popular women magazines. There is very clear empirical evidence that exposure to such images leads women, even subconsciously, to become less satisfied with their body and more likely to develop pathological eating habits. The first step in the development of virtue is mindfulness–an awareness of what Aquinas calls the “corporeal transmutations” that accompany viewing these images. Perhaps a feeling of fatigue, a sinking of one’s stomach, etc. These corporeal transmutations accompany every movement of the emotions and allow us to be aware of our emotional state so that our higher intellectual powers can evaluate the suitability of such transmutations and our will can either consent or not consent.

    My problem in the chapter is that the awareness, both sensory and cognitive, that viewing these images is not conducive to flourishing does not translate into appetite, that is, a desire to stop viewing the images. So many women say, “I know these images are manipulative and unrealistic and I know they make me feel bad about myself” but then they still pick up Glamour, or Vogue, or Self when they have the option, flipping through it at the gym on the elliptical, surrounded by other women doing the same thing. How do you translate awareness into appetite? How does knowledge that something is wrong become appetite that something is not desirable? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Charles on

    I remember reading that one of Sigmund Freud’s greatest disappointments was his realization that helping his patients become aware of their self-destructive behaviors did not compel them to change those behaviors. It sounds as if you share a common puzzlement.

    It seems to me there are two parts to the growth process. The first part is becoming aware – in your thesis, becoming aware “these images are manipulative and unrealistic and I know they make me feel bad about myself.”

    The second part is learning to make a different choice – again, in your thesis, it could be not picking up that certain kind of magazine.

    The second part is probably the more difficult. It means developing the habit of “mindfulness” so that one recognizes when one is moving toward the old, habitual behavior. You described this process in your initial post: “rationally becoming aware of the inconsistencies of one’s actions with one’s desires, beliefs, and goals.”

    Further, it means determining an option (a different behavior), and a strategy for implementing it once one becomes aware one is tending toward the old behavior.

    Finally, it necessarily involves what I think are two essential components of your “virtuous character”: will and discipline. Again, using your thesis, willing not to pick up that magazine, and having the discipline to do as you will.

    I know something about this process first hand (and retrospectively) from having given up smoking.

    But I also believe there are more unknown explanations than known that comprise the full explanation of how I quit smoking. To repeat: I believe life is far too complex for us to completely understand it or ourselves. We do the best we can with what we’ve been given (our gifts and our opportunities). We have always had remarkable models for understanding reality. We have not always had remarkable humility about the finitude of those models.

    Thank you for this opportunity to think about these things and to discuss them.

  4. Vanessa on

    Interesting and provokative post! I was wondering, what do you think of Kamtekar, Anna, and Sreenivasan’s viewpoints on situationist theories?


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