Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

an introduction to Aristotle’s Ethics

October 18, 2009

How close to a self-help book is Aristotle’s Ethics? Imagine Aristotle as the Oprah of his day… Yesterday I picked up a book from the Thrift Shop on Main to pass the time in a coffee shop while my son was at a nearby birthday party. Bradshaw On: The Family, a 1988 self help book, a follow-up of a PBS television series, a preface by Carol Burnett, starts with the thesis that the family is dysfunctional, and well, here are the ways to get it functional. Hitler came from a family. I’m not just making this up. This is just one of the pieces of evidence Bradshaw holds up against the family. I read the first chapter, and a difference between the common self help book and Aristotle’s Ethics, is that Aristotle waits until the last chapter/book before he lets his contemporary society have it. The Ethics was apparently written because pretty much everyone living in A.s time was an asshole. Bradshaw goes on about how shit everything is upfront.

In the introduction to the Penguin edition Barnes gives the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach as A.’s purpose. “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Today still, issues surround the family. Just today I watched Where the wild things are. That Eggers, who came to fame with his autobiography, and collective fantasy, (that’s cold, but consider Atwood’s Handmaid silently inseminated by the husband of her female master while held tight to her masters body, we live in a messed up world of rape fantasies and idealized family relations after death – recall the funeral scene from Heathers when the father cries, “I love my dead gay son.”) of our parents dying in quick succession, has this time, put out the saddest fantasy of collective loneliness I’ve seen since Mister Lonely.

Aristotle’s ethics proposes friendship as the way to a happy life. Friend, is sometimes used as a quality, as in: “He has no friend.” where friend is used in the same sense as say pride, as in: “He has no pride.” I’m mentioning this, because the friendship, the friend that you present to others must be of a certain quality to lead to a happy life. A man must act with virtue. These virtues are fully explained by Aristotle.  He later informs us that these virtues are rare qualities. So while the point of the Ethics, and philosophy for that matter is to change the world, seems the world is resisting.

Aristotle sets us up for an incredible amount of work. This might be the main difference between the ethics and a self-help book. The Ethics, while written more than 2000 years ago, includes in its pages, an opening for the entirety of human knowledge. We, according to Aristotle, are to learn absolutely everything, and then through deliberation, a kind of good and right thinking, act virtuously in accordance with a kind of harmony with this good and right thinking.

The opening, the space left for the sphere of deliberation, the future of knowledge, the openness of the Ethics, might be the key to its longevity. Look at Bradshaws book. Close down the new knowledge, fix it, then fix it. If you believe that we know, then you can believe that you know and feel better about yourself. Aristotle proposed a kind of experimental life, the good life as the experiment of the good man. There are a lot of unknowns in that proposition.

critical thinking

August 24, 2008

In his introduction to Chomsky on miseducation, Donaldo Macedo writes, “As our society allows the corporate cultures to reduce the priorities of education to the pragmatic requirements of the market, whereby students are trained to become “compliant workers, spectorial consumers, and passive citizens,” it necessarily has to create educational structures that anesthetize students’ critical abilities, in order to domesticate social order for its self-preservation.” (Chomsky, 2000, p.4)

This is hard stuff for teachers to swallow, but Macedo goes on to say that teachers “are technicians who, by virtue of the domesticating education they receive in an assembly line of ideas and aided by the mystification of this transferred knowledge, seldom reach the critical capacity to develop a coherent comprehension of the world.” (p.10) I don’t think teachers can swallow this. They may “know it” in the sense that they know there was once an emperor who pranced about in the finest robes until a child saw that he was naked. We “know” this story, but do we experience it in the world? Can we experience it in the world and continue to function in the world of transferred knowledge, can we continue to consciously live “life within a lie.” (p.6)

This is dangerous business, to allow our critical capacity to develop a coherent comprehension of the world. The tradition of Critical Theory is peopled by the unemployed (fired and quit), silent, suicidal, assassinated and insane. It’s easy for Macedo to write that “We must first read the world — the cultural, social, and political practices that constitute it — before we can make sense of the word-level description of reality.” (p.11) When Macedo writes that Chomsky “energetically stresses, teachers need to sever their complicity with a technocratic training that de-intellectualizes them so they “work primarily to reproduce, legitimate and maintain the dominant social order from which they reap benefits.””(p.12) can he not see that this voluntary severing from the dominant social order will also sever them from that benefit?

Who has a coherent comprehension of the world? Even if teachers, or anyone who is part of an established social organization, were to sever themselves from the functioning word-level world, the world-level meaning does not become immediately available. Most thinking people have glimpsed the horror of the world, but few can sustain the necessary study of that horror to communicate any meaning. The task is dangerous, but necessary if we are to meet Feire’s challenge to educators, “to discover what historically is possible in the sense of contributing toward the transformation of the world.” (p.13)

More on Catching The Wave

August 17, 2007

It looks like I might have to read and write about Marx. It’s got to be best to avoid mentioning the name, but if I want to use the concept of alienation, even if I want to transform it a little, I should have some idea of how the concept was originally used. I thought for a moment deterritorialization might work, but that’s even more academic and not really synonymous, either way, alienation has a common meaning that circulates outside the academic world.

The wave we’re after, or on depending on your place in the spectrum of alienation, is capitalism’s third. Again back in Harris’ Ontario I saw the effects of policy geared toward business interests on community. The funding for Ontario’s arts organizations was threatened. And these once community based and minded organizations began appealing for funds with business and economic based arguments. The shift in thinking swept these once autonomous community groups up with the wave of capitalism.

Something very similar is happening with this call to catch the knowledge wave, if we understand it as knowledge wave capitalism. Much has been written about the commercialization of our schools and the resulting uncritical acceptance of product placement. But I’ve also read somewhere that capitalism is illiterate, I could look into this and its effect on literacy.

If literacy is seen as being in harmony with a culture’s body of knowledge, then alienation and illiteracy are connected. Developing a method to bring each child individually into harmony with our cultural body of knowledge would be a “micropolitical means of subversion.”