Apr 162015

Here’s an interesting philosophical question, raised indirectly by philosopher Iskra Fileva on Facebook:

If a person refrains from doing a wrong act due to some wrong motive, does that person count as self-controlled (in Aristotle’s sense) or not?

For example, a married man wants to have an affair with a co-worker but he refrains — not because he’s pledged his fidelity to his wife, but due to fear of social disapproval if the affair is revealed because she’s black/Jewish/older/Catholic/wiccan/whatever.

I don’t think that this counts as self-control (a.k.a. continence) because the person is ignorant of and/or blind to the relevant moral considerations. On Aristotle’s descending moral scale from virtuous to self-controlled to un-self-controlled to vicious (explained briefly here), he’s in the vicious category, even though he happens not to have done the immoral act of cheating on his wife.

This is why — as I argue in my book on moral luck — we need to distinguish between judgments of actions, outcomes, and character. These judgments identify different facts and serve different purposes. A person can still be of vicious character, yet not perform any immoral acts. (At least, that can happen in the short term. Long-term, bad acts are pretty darn likely.) That’s only a puzzle if we’re not clear about the various purposes and bases of our various kinds of moral judgments.

Feb 202014

I really enjoyed this article on the upside and downside of perfectionism: Is Perfectionism Growth-Minded? Here’s a tidbit:

According to Dweck, the research says there might be two kinds of perfectionism, and those two ways of behaving have drastically different outcomes for people both in accomplishing their goals and in how they feel about themselves. One kind of perfectionist tends to agree with statements like: “People will think less of me if I make a mistake;” and, “A partial failure is as bad as a complete failure.” Another kind of perfectionist agrees with these statements: “I try to do my best in everything I do.” “I am driven to be excellent.” “I strive for high standards.” In these responses we can hear echoes of the person-focused vs. process-focused fixed and growth mindsets.

In the past, I’ve tended to think of perfectionism in purely negative terms — as just the “perfectionism monster.” However, in light of the horse training that I’m doing here in Aiken, I’ve been rethinking that view, along very similar lines to the article.

In my riding, my explicit goal is to achieve “best practice” most of the time, and that requires having very high standards and not accepting less. So if I shouldn’t transition to canter unless I have a damn good walk, and I shouldn’t approach that fence unless I have the kind of canter I need. I don’t ever want to just slop through what I’m doing: either I do it seriously and well or not at all. That’s the approach of the amazing coach we’ve been working with, Eric Horgan, and I can already see the huge benefits of his approach. Plus, he’s perfectionistic in that way without ever being unrealistic or belligerent. (He does threaten to kill us on a regular basis, but only in a very friendly way!)

That kind of growth-oriented perfectionism need not come with beating myself up for mistakes, seeking to show off for others, hating to admit ignorance, or any of the other problems of the fixed mindset. (I’m still doing the first, but I’m working on it. Eric has been very kindly discouraging that.) Instead, this growth-oriented perfectionism requires a heck of a lot of patience. The goal isn’t just to get it done, but to wait until you’re properly prepared to do it right. Oh, you’ll need endurance too, because you’ll still make mistakes left and right.

Basically, I’m thinking of “perfectionism” as more of a moral amplifier — with an upside and a downside, depending on how and when it’s deployed — rather than as a vice or failure mode. That’s not a fully settled view: I’ll be thinking more about this as this month in Aiken draws to a close and once I return home. Still, I thought that tidbit worth sharing now.

Proof That Persistence Is Not a Virtue

 Posted by on 22 November 2013 at 9:51 am  Personal, Virtue
Nov 222013

About ten minutes ago, I completed all 455 levels of Candy Crush Saga available in the iPhone and iPad apps. I never spent a dime. Yay me!

I have thereby proved that persistence is not a virtue. :-) In fact, I really enjoyed the constant challenge of the game — although I didn’t enjoy the half-dozen or so levels that took me weeks (!!) of daily play to complete.

I expect that more levels will be added soon, as the Facebook version already goes up to 500 levels. I’ll wait for those level to show up on my devices, as I can only work a certain number of hours each day on the computer before my carpal tunnel pain kicks in.

But now… oh what will I do for my water-cooler breaks during my day?!?

May 132013

As I mentioned in this post, I’ll be speaking on the concept of “Moral Amplifiers” at ATLOSCon in less than two weeks. (Yes, you can still register… and you should too!) Here, again, is the abstract of my talk:

Objectivism upholds seven major virtues as indispensable to our lives. Yet what of other qualities of character — such as ambition, courage, spontaneity, liveliness, discretion, patience, empathy, and friendliness? Are these virtues, personality traits, or something else? Diana Hsieh will argue that such qualities are best understood as “moral amplifiers,” because their moral worth wholly depends how they’re used. She will explain why people should cultivate such qualities and why they must be put into practice selectively.

When I introduce people to the concept of “moral amplifiers,” people often want examples thereof. (Yay!) My standard go-to examples are persistence and ambition. Everyone sees that these qualities are often beneficial, but they’re not always so. Plus, I love to use Lance Armstrong as an example of ambition gone wrong.

Interestingly, the list of moral amplifiers is really quite long — because most of the qualities that people think of as virtues are, in fact, moral amplifiers rather than virtues. Here’s the list of moral amplifiers that I created — based on lists of virtues such as this one — when preparing my proposal for ATLOSCon:

  • Ambition
  • Agreeability
  • Assertivenesss
  • Calmness
  • Charity
  • Charisma
  • Cautiousness
  • Charitablity
  • Choosiness
  • Compassion
  • Conscientiousness
  • Cooperativeness
  • Courage
  • Courteousness
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Decisiveness
  • Dependability
  • Determination
  • Diligence
  • Directness
  • Discernment
  • Discrimination
  • Discretion
  • Discipline
  • Easygoingness
  • Eloquence
  • Empathy
  • Endurance
  • Enthusiasm
  • Equanimity
  • Exactingness
  • Fairness
  • Fidelity
  • Flexibility
  • Forbearance
  • Fortitude
  • Friendliness
  • Frugality
  • Generosity
  • Gentleness
  • Helpfulness
  • Humorousness
  • Idealism
  • Inventiveness
  • Joviality
  • Kindness
  • Liberality
  • Lightheartedness
  • Liveliness
  • Loyalty
  • Magnaminity
  • Mindfulness
  • Neatness
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Orderliness
  • Passionateness
  • Patience
  • Perseverence
  • Persistence
  • Persuasiveness
  • Pessimism
  • Predictability
  • Prudence
  • Punctuality
  • Reliability
  • Resiliance
  • Respectfulness
  • Resourcefulness
  • Self-Confidence
  • Self-Control
  • Self-Directing
  • Sensitivity
  • Simplicity
  • Sincerity
  • Spontaneity
  • Steadiness
  • Tact
  • Temperance
  • Thrift
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Tolerance
  • Toughness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Zealousness

Clearly, I’m not going to run out of material in my talk! I plan to pick just a few of these to discuss, as I have some theory related to Aristotle’s and Ayn Rand’s differing conceptions of virtue that I wish to cover too. I’ll explain how Ayn Rand’s conception of virtue is really something quite distinct from traditional conceptions of virtue — and how those differences represent a major advance in thinking about ethics.


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