What network of habits permeates our actions?


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What network of habits permeates our actions?

I think that we are in a period that might be called a “fork in the road”. If we do not find a better path into the future there very well may not be a future for humanity.

I think we have the capacity, i.e. brain power, but we lack the character, sophistication, and will to do the things that will lead to a revolutionary adjustment. This is, I think, a time when young people either get off their ‘intellectual couch’ ditch their intellectual ‘Twinkies and chips’ and get an intellectual life or their children my not have an opportunity.

I say that an ‘intellectual life’ is necessary but not sufficient for their future. I say that the day when the ‘happy mean’ is sufficient is dead and gone.

What is character? Character is the network of habits that permeate all the intentional acts of an individual.

Character is an important component for an ideal intellectual. I would say that an ideal intellectual would have the same kind of character as does an ideal journalist.

One significant advantage engineering, physics and much of the natural sciences has is that they speak in mathematical terms. The individuals often speak in formulas or mathematical verbiage that is clear and concise and understandable by all the members. The use of every day words like habit can be confusing because of a lack of clarity. One might also think of attitude as a proper way to describe what I call habit.

What is character? Character is the network of habits that permeate all the intentional acts of an individual.

I am not using the word habit in the way we often do, as a technical ability existing apart from our wishes. These habits are an intimate and fundamental part of our selves. They are representations of our will. They rule our will, working in a coordinated way they dominate our way of acting. These habits are the results of repeated, intelligently controlled, actions.

Habits also control the formation of ideas as well as physical actions. We cannot perform a correct action or a correct idea without having already formed correct habits. “Reason pure of all influence from prior habit is a fiction.” “The medium of habit filters all material that reaches our perception and thought.” “Immediate, seemingly instinctive, feeling of the direction and end of various lines of behavior is in reality the feeling of habits working below direct consciousness.” “Habit means special sensitiveness or accessibility to certain classes of stimuli, standing predilections and aversions, rather than bare recurrence of specific acts. It means will.”

Because each job requires a different type of character a journalist would make a lousy military officer and vice versa.

What might be the ideal character traits of these two professions? It seems that the military officer should be smart, well trained, obedient and brave. The journalist should be smart, well trained, critical and intellectually honest. The journalist must have well-developed intellectual character traits and be skillful in critical thinking. The military officer should be trained to act according to a distinct program in critical circumstances.

The role of the journalist in wartime has evolved dramatically in the last 50 years. During WWII the journalist acted as cheerleader and propagandist. During the Vietnam War the journalist often played the role of critical analyst. While one can see some positive reasons for the cheerleader and propagandist I will assume that overall this is not a proper role for the journalist in a democracy. The ideal journalist must always be a critical analyst and communicate honestly to the reader the results of her investigation.

Since most people unconsciously seek opinion fortification rather than truth they become very agitated when they find news which does not fortify their opinion. Thus, most people have low opinions of journalists. Nevertheless, it is no doubt the ideal journalist who presents the facts fairly, accurately and in a balanced manner. The ability ‘to connect the dots’ in each situation is of primary importance for the ideal journalist. Knowledge is important but understanding and critical thinking is more important.

Quotes from John Dewey Habits and Will

Fairmindedness is an example of a habit that becomes character.

To be fair-minded one must be vigilant (consciousness plus intention) of the need to treat all viewpoints alike. This demands that we adhere to intellectual standards such as accuracy and sound reasoning, which are unaffected by self-interest.

A contrast with fair-mindedness is intellectual self-centeredness.

Fair-mindedness is a challenging task that demands a family of character traits: intellectual humility, courage, empathy, honesty, perseverance, and a confidence in the value of reason.

Our culture places maximum value not on fair-mindedness but upon self-interest, and maximizing production, and consumption.

Intellectual humility begins with the recognition that absolute certainty regarding any matter of fact is beyond human capacity. There exists no mind-independent reality that we have the capacity to know. We can know only that which is “colored” by our experiences and historical perspective.

Our common sense views, coupled with philosophical tradition and religious dogma, all teach us that such is not the case, that we can find absolute certainty. This cultural tradition works aggressively against our goal of intellectual humility thus demanding that we must become more intellectually sophisticated in order to gain the level of intellectual humility required.

Intellectual courage is a difficult assignment. We all tend to place great value on our own opinion, which is more often than not just something that we grabbed as it flew by. But this is even more of a problem when we are “wedded” to something that we have a strong commitment to, for what ever reason. Our political affiliation is one example.

Intellectual courage is especially difficult, and even dangerous to our well being when we hold ideas that society considers them to be dangerous; even though we are confident that they are rationally grounded. Society often punishes severely all forms of nonconformity; the execution of Socrates by the citizens of Athens might serve as a good example.

By developing this character trait of intellectual courage we will often be ostracized from a group or even a large community. Such an experience will give us incentive to recognize that most people live their lives in such a manner as to be secure in the middle of the approval of those about us.

Intellectual courage ain’t for sissies!

Intellectual empathy is a consciousness that one must engage the imagination in an effort to intellectually place your self into the shoes of another so as to comprehend that other person as well as possible. To accomplish this transaction we must try to learn as much as possible about the other person’s situation so as to reconstruct that person’s assumptions, premises, and ideas.

Many of these ideas were gleaned from the book Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life by Richard Paul and Linda Elder

To maintain one's intellectual courage, one must also cultivate self-sufficiency.
Being shunned for marching to a different drummer is no tea party.
But it has its own rewards.