March 3rd, 2021

📝 The Teleological Archeology of 📰 Body Pleasure

Can we brush off dust to uncover the structure of what to do in life?

Perhaps it is true as Alasdair MacIntyre says that to be a person today is to be somehow adrift. There are definitely areas of life and ethical questions where the available cultural wisdom seems inadequately coherent, so that young people tasked with creating their adult lives find themselves confused.

In what David Chapman calls the Choiceless mode, decisions like whether to have a child or whether to attend a church were not agonizing self-created projects of lifestyle design, but, well, choiceless. One just did what one does.

Now, since whenever this damned Modernity began, we are, as MacIntyre writes, "almost intolerably conscious of rival moral alternatives." The cultures we grow up in have tendencies towards non-culture. From 📙 Reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue:

He finds the people of late Modernity shifting toward a non-culture—a collection of competing individuals, who lack any shared conception of their goals as human beings. *

You can think of it as freedom or structurelessness, but for example the question of whether to give birth to a child is like a magmatic singularity of confusion if you think about it in the ethical terms that are floating around like debris in our culture.

In 📙 All Things Shining, this kind of structureless choice is part of the Phenomenology of Modernity.

The burden of Choice is a peculiarly modern phenomenon. It proliferates in a world that no longer has any God or gods, nor even any sense of what is sacred and inviolable, to focus our understanding of what we are. *

One way to navigate this ocean of confusion is to engage in Teleological Archeology, trying to brush off and uncover some stable structure hidden beneath the arid sand dunes of non-culture.

It's a similar sense of Archeology as in Michael Ashcroft's video on finding your place as a contributor in a scene by assuming there's a big dinosaur skeleton of purpose that you can disclose.

The domain of Ashcroft's archeology is something like the social graph of collaboration and communication. It's teleological because there is a positive direction to the disclosing. The structure we're looking for is something like the Good for ourselves as part of a Common Good, or in a word, Eudaimonia.

Another great piece of teleological archeology is Sarah Perry's 📰 Body Pleasure. It's devoted to disclosing the sustainable flourishing of the body's pleasure. Isn't this the most fundamental teleology, what we are essentially meant to pursue, even in religious worldviews?

Perry's essay anticipates a charge of selfish hedonism by showing one's own pursuit of sustainable pleasure to be a core practice of the Common Good. If you neglect your own body's pleasure, you've checked out of the common pursuit of well-being:

Any person who accepts a life of low bodily pleasure and poor affect, even if he does so for beneficent reasons, is failing to contribute to group learning about pleasure, and failing to contribute to a cartel in which humans demand a floor level of bodily well-being—in a sense, scabbing against humanity. *

This is a fundamental project of teleological architecture because of course my own Body is my core domain, my most essential property and Home.

What does it mean to be Embodied? I suppose it implies being in tune with the body as a "ground of being," to live by the kind of wisdom that Eugene Gendlin attributes to the body:

Your body knows the direction of healing and life. *

So in 📰 Body Pleasure, we see a methodical and intelligent approach to taking bodily pleasure as a primary domain of inquiry and pursuit—a kind of "selfish" project that's been repressed for centuries.

What are the best strategies for people who want to maximize pleasure in the long term? What is the best that human life can offer, at a very concrete and foundational level? These questions are little considered, in part because of Puritanical cultural norms, and in part because nobody thinks they are important. *

The wise practicality of 📰 Body Pleasure seems to make it a candidate for a kind of root source of Virtue Ethics, a sketch for a basic curriculum in Flourishing. Why does this seem outrageous? Because Aristotle is dead, and we killed him.

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