The setting: he who has poverty of spirit desires to be more. He desires to develop. What is he? He is rational (potentially) animal (actually). But what has he found? The animality is actual and the rationality is potential. At least, that is how things look from down here. He knows what Aristotle would say. Aristotle would say that the being is in the form and unless the form is instantiated there is mere matter (potential) and not being (act). Reflecting on this he knows that he is living, panting, desiring, changing, needing, frustrated animality. In addition, he knows that he demands more. He is really impoverished in spirit. He can feel it. He has seen enough. This track of reflection is NOT for he who is confidently on a way. It is for he who has become suspicious of his confidence. It is for he who has begun to distrust himself but cannot get away from himself and so has set out to seek a solution. Can he who is in a bad state make better?
The movement needed (demanded) for self-production is from worse to better. He who sets out thinks all of the sages, the philosophers, the practically wise–though they are less obvious NOW and more discoverable in the books–for their pointing and urging. But here he is. He wants virtue.
Here is what he has found. He is a thinker and a feeler. And the two are not distinguishable. What he takes to be his feeling is to a significant degree out of his control though he no longer asserts entirely out of his control having seen that he has hated kale and come to love kale, loved porn and come to hate porn. He has experienced the changing of feeling over time. AND, he has taken note that he has been the primary cause of the change insofar as the primary cause is discoverable.
Maybe what is more difficult is what he calls his thinking. His thinking is largely the willed assertion of propositional content often infused with imagination that draws largely on his store of memory and experience. It is thinking in one sense–the sense in which it is volitional assertion. But that it is thinking in the achievement sense, in the sense of success, in the sense of instantiating logos , he is no longer confident. Too many times he looks back on what he thought was thinking but it turned out to be not.
Finally, and maybe most problematically, his seeing and hearing, terms for the basic collection of data about either internal or external reality (soul or world) seems to be mixed irrepairably with this thinking and feeling. A couple of examples that could be multiplied ad infinitum. When he sees a free moment when no one is looking he sees a moment that can be filled with the less good. This is the product of his thinking about what the moment can be used for and his desires. But the way he experiences it phenomenologically is as a moment for the filling with what he sees. He instantiates what is the trajectory of his thinking and feeling. His feeling and thinking become a part of moment such that what is subjectively in the moment and what appears objectively there are indistinguishable.
An example? Think how the addict and non-addicted see the same thing entirely differently. One sees what is to be walked toward along with implications for what else is to be disregarded. The other sees what is to be avoided in the protection of what the other disregards. There is a sense in which they are surrounded by different objects phenomenologically.
So, he says, “I now want virtue”. He needs prudence in order to see clearly the pleasures and dangers that he is walking toward so that he can act temperately and courageously so as to eventually produce the temperance and courage that will make such action natural. But, given his raging feelings of desire and fear he mis-sees what is good and evil all the time and thus exerts choice and action so as to further instantiate wrongful action which further insantiates and solidifies the vice he would seek to avoid.
In sum, bad feeling skews view and so limits the possibility of clear sight and judgement or prudence. Unclear sight limits the possibility of training feeling so as to develop temperance and courage. One cannot develop courage by fighting hard to achieve what is bad for one. Nope. One cannot develop temperance by restraining oneself as much as an addict would restrain himself in the pursuit of a good.
Again, from the position of being worse he cannot see well how to be better. The idea that he, in his worse state, sees clearly how to be better, is a wives’ tale. It is deeply problematic. It involves the following problem: I know but am unwilling. Response? No. That you find yourself unwilling is evidence that you do not really know. It is only in abstraction that we can separate knowing and willing. In the rational animal that is actual these states are one. But, how from not-that to become that involves the insertion of a necessary cause that is missing.
There are religious winds that blow that say “Don’t worry, it will be done for you.” Fine. Show me. What I have found is that there are many who assert this, but they are not instantiating self-development. They are, on average, as broken as other communities such that what appears to be the case is that they identify themselves with snake-oil that alleviates work but does not produce anything. Is it surprising that there is no production where there is no work? It is not productive to tell the undeveloped and impoverished in spirit to relax. Woe to you who speak this way about development. Has the priest, rabbi, imam, pastor forgotten that he is talking to animal?
That a part of the universe gets worse, deteriorates, comes apart is easy to find. That a part of the universe adapts by the luck of the rolling of genetic dice is, to some extent, intelligible. BUT, that an aiming being can from his worse state aim at being better and produce better from worse is not intelligible.
What does the less-developed have to work with? There is plenty of material. But the worker is the problem. He is worse. How does he make better?
I do not assert the paradox of self-production to produce despair, hopelessness or giving up. But, neither will I set up the lure of clear plan where there is not. It is the latter which sets people up for disappointment. It is he who mis-expects that leaves the way even while he is on it.
Here is my recommendation to you (and to me dear reader). You (and I) should set out without expectation. We should pursue what is good from the reality of the position from which we pursue it. And, as I have shown, looking forward, it looks bleak. And this is how it should look.
Lao Tzu says that the way that can be named is not the way.
Buddha tells the being that is defined by craving that he will be best if he ignores his craving.
Socrates says that he who ascends out of the cave will experience nothing but disorientation and trouble.
Jesus says that he who takes the way should take up his cross.
Each sage suggests that the way forward is the way of difficulty, nonsense, contrariness, and what appears to be anti-life. So, there is something right and sensible about the paradox of self-development. It is as it should be. Could it be cause for hope that the way of life looks like death? It is just as sensible as the way of death looking like life to the one not pursuing development.
The paradox of self-production is an achievement. I will not be dissuaded from the pursuit of self-development. In fact, I am heartened by the fact that I see paradox. Were everything to look reasonable and clear from my less developed position would be most problematic. That it does not is cause for hope.
Next, a new virtue that serves he who pursues the cardinal virtues.