February 11th, 2021

I've started this graph for my philosophy work.

Since I've been using Roam for some time, I already had a bunch of pages in my private graph, so I imported a bunch of them that seemed potentially relevant here—mostly so I can reference them later.

I chose two books to have somewhere to start, and they're kind of two entry points into a field I'm interested in:

📙 After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre.

📙 Experiences of Depression by Matthew Ratcliffe.

I imagine them as symbolizing a duality, actually even a 2x2:


Good & Private Phenomenology of happiness 📙 All Things Shining

Good & Social Virtuous polity, peace, common good 📙 After Virtue

Bad & Private Phenomenology of depression 📙 Experiences of Depression

Bad & Social Dysfunctional polity, war, privatization 📙 The Body in Pain

I spontaneously put 📙 All Things Shining in the "Good & Private" cell, because it's about first-person experience at its best, but actually that book emphasizes the shared & social nature of such experience.

Quotes about this non-inwardness:

Another choice would be a book about blissful meditation, or something like that, which retreats from the complicated social world.

MacIntyre describes Stoicism as a pattern of retreat that comes into play when there's disorder in the polity; I've been wondering how this relates to contemporary meditation trends.

It seems interesting to consider the relationship between Depression and meditation from this perspective, the way they can both be internalizing, "alienating" in a sense, detaching.

Actually this book has a take on Depression that I found fascinating, because it's formulated as a sympathetic critique of David Foster Wallace's philosophy, as expressed most clearly in his commencement speech This Is Water.

I loved DFW very much since I was in high school. Then in university, while I myself knew struggles with Depression, I read his short story The Depressed Person which is remarkably bleak and honest, especially about how the depressed person can know that they are burdening their friends, that they are in some way being very selfish, and how this deepens the Depression even further: this recursion of dark self-centered alienation.

Then DFW develops a kind of philosophy of becoming happy by deciding to see everything as sacred, in a way... which didn't help against his own clinical Depression. And Dreyfus sees this philosophy as fatally flawed, for basically phenomenological reasons related to the perception of salience.

Some quotes:

his suicide is much more than the loss of a single, talented individual. It is a warning that requires our most serious attention. It is, indeed, the proverbial canary in the coal mine of modern existence. (Location 458)

The freedom to gaze at the eternal chaos of the universe and impose an arbitrary meaning upon it, to live eternally upon this open sea, that is the freedom of a god, a freedom no mortal life can sustain. (Location 844)

At the center of Homer’s world, then, is the sense that what matters is already given to us, and that the best life is the one that manages to get in sync with it. (Location 975)

The modern view that we are entirely responsible for our existence stands in radical contrast with the Homeric idea that we act at our best when we open ourselves to the world, allowing ourselves to be drawn from without. Indeed, once we see the force of this contrast it becomes obvious why the central Homeric phenomena are hard to find in our modern world. What Homer considers to be the paradigm of excellence seems to us hardly to count as human action at all. (Location 1253)

Perhaps this is a lesson about the sacred that we are now in a position to appreciate: when things are going at their best, when we are the most excellent version of ourselves that we can be, when we are, for instance, working together with others as one, then our activity seems to be drawn out of us by an External force. These are shining moments in life, wondrous moments that require our gratitude. In those episodes of excellence, no matter the domain, Odysseus’s voice should ring through our heads: “Be silent; curb your thoughts; do not ask questions. This is the work of the Olympians.” (Location 1284)

In a creation that draws us toward what is fulfilling, the attempt to set up one’s own values and assign one’s own meaning to things rather than cultivate their latent meaning can lead to a sad sort of nihilism in which there is no meaning and nothing moves us at all. (Location 1961)

PERHAPS THE SADDEST PART of Wallace’s story is that the human qualities he aspired to, the capacities of spirit that he revered and coveted, are a mirage. Indeed the entire mode of existence that he castigated himself for not being strong enough to achieve, far from being the saving possibility for our culture, is in fact a human impossibility. Wallace’s inability to achieve it was not a weakness, but the deep and abiding humanness in his spirit. (Location 706)

Hmm, it's been a while since I looked at 📙 All Things Shining but now that I've gotten familiar with 📙 The Second-Person Perspective in Aquinas’s Ethics, I find a much greater appreciation for it, actually.

Dreyfus writes:

And in the Aquinas book:

Both 📙 All Things Shining and 📙 The Second-Person Perspective in Aquinas’s Ethics make significant reference to Dante's vision of hell.

The Aquinas book mentions how Aristotle for Dante is in limbo, being perfectly virtuous but lacking the personal joint attention with God that Aquinas points at with the "gifts."

I should formulate questions around this.

There's something about virtue, perception, effort and effortlessness... Like, there's the virtue I can muster up by myself with training, and there's also another "realm" of "gifts" which is less about effortful training and more about how the world appears to me, how it looks and feels and smells, attunement to affordances, etc...