Social Justice, Libertarianism

Critical Reasoning & Eudaimonia (Responses to my 3/15 post, Part I)

 My post of 3/15 (Some Values Matter More Than Others And Are Ignored Anyway) elicited quite a few comments.  I’ve been slow about it, but my response will take the form of 4 new posts, this being the first.  The rest will appear over the next few days.

First, about critical reasoning and eudaimonia.  Several people (Andrew L., Dan K., Gerald S.) thought by comment that if Jill was a better thinker, she would have chosen differently was too glib.  Perhaps its glib, but I don’t think its wrong.  People are incredibly bad about making big decisions, especially about life partners.  In any case, I didn’t mean to imply that her cancer, cheating spouse, or kid’s addictions were Jill’s fault.  I don’t believe that.  I do think, though, that for things to have gotten to the point I described, she must have been engaging in some poor reasoning and/or self-deceptive behavior.  In any case, I only used the case for its severity.  The point is perfectly general: people often think they are happy when they are leading bad lives and very often such people do not realize they are leading bad lives.  That is the important point here.  Once that is recognized, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask what would help them lead better lives and it seems perfectly reasonable to think one answer is better reasoning skills. 

So John is right that I think practical wisdom is needed for eudaimonia and that I think critical reasoning is needed for that.  (None of this means, by the way, that one can’t have real experiences—even real valuable experiences—when one isn’t leading a good life, as John worried.) But really, can anyone not think that her utter misunderstanding of her position at work has nothing to do with poor reasoning?  She thinks she is doing well at work and she is not; I guess I imagined the case to be one wherein she did badly at work because she was a bad reasoner and wherein her bad reasoning skills allowed her to think she was doing well at work (misunderstanding all of the hints that others provide, for example).

And to be clear (primarily addressing Aaron), I most definitely do think the Good Life is objectively determinable (I am not at all sure what it would mean to measure it, though).  I didn’t provide a complete standard, though I gestured at parts of it.  Perhaps I will do a longer post on the topic at another time.  The best I can do at the moment is to suggest that those interested read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics or perhaps, for a great contemporary text on the topic, Julia Annas’s The Morality of Happiness

Logan B reminded us of the useful distinction between knowing-how and knowing-that.  I’d prefer to think of it in terms of practical reason and theoretical reason.  While these are conceptually distinct, they often work together.  If one does not understanding how the world works (that it works in this way and not that way—this is theoretical reason), one will have a harder time in life (one’s practical reason will face limits).  In any case, I hope I didn’t conflate them in my original post.



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