POST 1.2: What is Character?

(the second in a several part series coming out on Tuesdays and Fridays. Regular programming continues.)

Start with PART 1 if interested:

What is character? What would you say dear reader? Human character refers not to the shape of the body but to the shape of the soul. I will freely speak poetically for a moment. I, joining Kant, treat the self (soul) as ultimately transcendental. It is something to be necessarily presupposed but not something that can be known in the way we know objects. It is something I cannot (and I mean that as strongly as possible) do without. But not something that I can positively characterize. This is why sayings about the soul must be poetic. What to say about the soul?

It is the center from which all human action is expressed. It is the finite prime mover. But imagine for a minute that we were to settle on looking at the non-object that is the soul and separating it into its parts. I would make a distinction between material (passive) causes of human action and free (active, spontaneous) causes of human action (I said I was going to be poetic).

Of the material causes some are what we might call vegetative: the want for nutrition and growth. Others are what we might call animal or sensitive: the felt want…for anything. It is feeling that defines the living animal soul.

Of the free causes of human action there is only one: rationality. When we are young any rationality (if we are lucky to be sheltered by it) is imposed from outside. The more we grow the more our own use of freedom through measurement, calculation, weighing, considering, choosing has a reciprocal effect on the shape of the material side of human action.

As the shape of the material soul becomes something other than merely the determined imprint of genetics but is formed by free choice (imposed from outside or spontaneously generate inside) we begin to develop character.

The shape of character is only inferrable indirectly. It is not observable directly. What is directly observable is body and change. In some cases it may be possible to learn about a person’s character from a single action, but given the importance of character in human relations, there is often much work to conceal parts of character and so for a full picture time and attention are necessary.

Maybe most important, from my perspective (you be the judge of how worthwhile. I must continue with my perspective regardless!) is that character is something at least relatively stable. Character is a something. So, despite its malleability it takes great effort to modify character. Will is something that can modify lickity-split. But not character. With character one is dealing with a built-up-past. Some of the past is related to the environment that my live body inhabits which includes other humans. Some of the past is related to my own repeated choices in a particular direction.

I do want to distinguish habit and character. They are similar, but in ordinary speak even habit is more modifiable than character. If they are to be associated, I would say that habit is the most modifiable part of character, or character the deepest and the least modifiable habit.

Now for the the argument: character can be beautiful or ugly. Will cannot be beautiful or ugly in the way I mean it but it can be good or evil. Character has shape. So, like any shape (even metaphorical shape) character can be attractive or repulsive. Since a part of character is shaped by choice (of others or of my own)a part of the beauty or ugliness of my character is within my control (though that control be indirect through action).

That beauty can be produced is its own justification. That something is beautiful is reason enough for its production (especially within the conditions in which we are working. The time is yours. The material is yours. The property rights to attention, effort are yours.).

In addition there is at least one person who is always required to live with what you have produced–you. I want to advocate on behalf of the self who must live with the self. A second reason it is worth the work that can be done on character is because it will be more pleasant for he who is always with you and cannot not be with you. Work for him.

Third, more practically, the human animal is social. There is deep need for support. The division of labor is a product of our neediness and the scarcity of capacity and skill. You want to attract others to you and you want to attract the best of others. My sense is that body beauty, while not to be ignored totally, is worth infinitely less than soul beauty. In the end it is souls that enliven bodies that we must live with more than mere bodies. It is living bodies that we must endure, contend with, share with, defend against, cooperate with. By working on character you work on that which enlivens the body.And that makes all the difference.

So, character is the most important material of my life art.

Character is the passive, material cause of my life activity.

Character is relatively stable and so hard to change.

Character, because it is connected with shape, is connected with beauty.

Because beauty is beauty, because I must live with myself, and because I must live with others, it will pay to make beautiful that which enlivens this body.

Next up. Every artist, every maker according to a method, needs an ideal. What is wanted is something to aim at such that as we shape the soul we can shape it according to an ideal. Oooh! I feel the threat from the “beauty (ideal) is in the eye of the beholder” camp already. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What kind of character do you wish to live around?

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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