Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

107279-fullSo, last night Alayna and I watched the movie Inside Out, which is an excellent addition to the Pixar collection if you haven’t seen it. The movie had me thinking about emotions, and specifically the way the emotions impact our reasoning and moral outlook. One of the things that the movie showed well is that our emotions grow as we grow, and balancing them effectively can be very difficult. There have been various approaches to emotion ranging from some modern ethical outlooks that glorify emotion and set it over against reason, essentially arguing that man’s reason is cold, stilted, and draconian while his emotions bring light and life to an otherwise dark world. Contrast this with an Aristotelian outlook that essentially argues that the emotions are childish obstacles to achieving true fulfillment and satisfaction in life and you will have a fair sense of the range of views in modern moral thought. However, there have been several attempts in the history of moral thought to develop a more balanced understanding of the interplay between emotion and reason, and Thomism presents, in my opinion, one of the best of these. In the thought of Thomas Aquinas emotions are fundamental to life. They do form, in many ways, the core of who we are. The passions express our innate desires and aversions, likes and dislikes, fears, hopes, dreams, and ambitions. However, they are also generally wild, reckless, often at odds with one another, and always vying for control. On one reading Thomistic virtue ethics is simply a method for training the emotions to interact in a balanced and effective way: to get angry when one should and to the degree that one should, and the same with sorrow, desire, disgust, hope, etc. Aquinas pairs the emotions and show how they can stand at odds with one another, anger against fear, joy against sorrow, hope against despair, etc. Then he presents his virtues, each keyed to control one side of these paired emotions. For instance, Fortitude  is the virtue of the irascible part as it stands against depressive emotions, and thus Fortitude is rightly aligned to control fear, sorrow, despair, etc. On the other had, temperance is the virtue of that stands against the opposite side of these emotions with relation to our inner world, and thus keeps anger, hope, etc from overreaching their hand and leading the individual into destruction. Similarly, Justice balances the emotions in the social sphere, and Prudence is the virtue of knowing just how far is far enough in any given situation. So, here is your question for the day: what are the emotions and how do they interact with one another well and/or poorly? Pixar’s Inside Out is an example of one answer to this question that was turned into a two hour movie. So, give it some thought and share your answer with us.

Remember, you should answer this question in the form of a 1000 word story.

Scene Challenge of the Week

passions word cloudSo, as anyone who has been reading for any amount of time knows, I teach courses in ethics, world religions/philosophy of religion, and Christian theology at a few online colleges. Every now and then I get a class that is just problematic. Whether it is because the students in the class just can’t follow the material, or because they are arrogant and believe that anything they submit should be given an A, or because they simply don’t submit anything at all, some classes just push my buttons. If I’m honest with myself, one of the reasons that classes like this push my buttons is that I am very passionate both about these subjects (philosophy, theology, and biblical studies specifically) and about teaching in and of itself. I will spend hours talking a student through an issue that they truly don’t understand, whether that be an issue in the subject matter of the course (say Aristotelian virtue theory, Plato’s allegory of the cave, or the authentication and critical analysis of ancient manuscripts), or an issue of general academic scholarship (such as how to craft a meaningful argument, what a thesis statement is, or how to avoid the first person in their writing). You can Alayna about this, sometimes I spend too much time on the phone with students and it cuts into my time with her (though I think I’ve gotten better about this since we started dating–one time early in our relationship I literally left her hanging in the park for a little over an hour while I walked around on the phone explaining to a student what an argument is and how to make one–I really don’t deserve her). I point this out because today I want you to write about passions. So, you know the rules. Take your subject and run with it. Write me a story of 1000 words or less and stay on topic. As before, if it’s in any way applicable, you should use this to try to develop your world a little more :).

Your Challenge: Write me a story about passions. This could be a story that seeks to express what is feels like to be passionate about something, it could be a story about a particular passion that had a meaningful impact in your life, or it could be about how passions can sometimes lead to bad ends. You could focus on the a story that illustrates the importance of having passions, or you could try to show the power that a passion can have over someone, or why it is important to count the cost of your passions. In some way though, your story needs to have a strong focus on passions.

Tom’s Not Here

Well, Tom would normally be posting today, but he’s traveling right now, and unfortunately the person who was supposed to be covering his spot had to bow out as well. Have you ever had one of those days when you just wanted to beat the living shit out of someone? I have. Actually, I used to have a lot of them (like… every day… I used to be a very angry person). Or one of those days when you just wanted to hide under the covers until the whole world went away? I’ve had a lot of those as well (amazingly enough, very angry people are often very frightened people as well). Let me tell you how to deal with them. It’s simple… …not easy, but simple (I’ve often found that those two don’t go together as often as you’d think).

  1. Acknowledge how you feel. Give it a name. The more you try to deny your anger, fear, envy, hate, etc the more control you give it. As long as it is something that you hide, cover up, or try to ignore the less you actually do to control it and the more it does to control you. At this point it can help to think of the feeling as a blackmailer trying to hold you hostage. You can pay up, repeatedly, or you can just come clean and take away the blackmailer’s power.
  2. Accept that this is who you are. Again, the more you deny it, the less you can actually do that will help it. You are an angry person, a cowardly person, a jealous person, a hateful person, etc. It’s a part of your character, and until you acknowledge that as well, your just going to keep being that angry, cowardly, jealous, hateful person because you can’t admit to yourself that something is wrong.
  3. Recognize that who you are is not who you should be. There’s a difference between being authentic and being good. I can be a very authentic douchebag and still be a douchebag. My authenticity doesn’t change that at all, though some people might think it will for a short time. So, while authenticity is important, you also need to recognize the need for change. I am not who I should be, nor am I who I want to be, and until I’m willing to recognize both who I am, and who I should/want to be, and see the difference between the two, I’m still stuck.
  4. Face your emotions and think about how you should feel in those situations. If you’re dealing with fear, think about a time that you’ve felt confident in a difficult situation, and then imagine that confidence bleeding over into the situation that you are afraid of. Something that also helps here is taking steps to alleviate actual reasons to feel a certain way. If you’re afraid of being mugged, start taking self-defense clashes. This isn’t going to simply solve the problem, but it will help you deal with the legitimate fear, and to recognize the difference between legitimate fear and illegitimate fear.
  5. Meditate on the way that you should feel. Take the time to not only reflect and identify how you should feel, but to repeatedly build in yourself a mental habit of feeling that way in the situations that would normally trigger your anger, fear, envy, etc. This is not a one time step. This is something to do on a regular basis, perhaps even a daily basis, and to spend time on (i.e. give this 20 or 30 minutes a day, not 2 or 3).
  6. Expose yourself to small, controlled aspects of the events that would normally trigger the emotions that you want to deal with. For instance, have someone you trust start a personal debate with you, or put you in a situation that would normally cause you to panic. Go slowly, separate your mind from the situation, try to look at yourself in the third person, and identify when the feeling begins. In that moment, practice the extension that you’ve been training at. Stop yourself, focus on a time when you did feel the way you should be feeling, and let that feeling bleed over into the current situation. Again, this is something that takes time and effort. It is not a one time or one day event.

This isn’t easy, but it can help overtime. Of course, other things can help as well. Consistent spiritual practices, a relationship with God, and close friends who are willing to point out areas in which you need to work are all huge benefits when dealing with these kinds of overwhelming emotions. That being said, don’t give up! There is hope.

Story Challenge of the Week

wallcoo.com_christmas_66-550x412Alright! Well, Alayna and I finished all the Star Wars movies :). I love this woman, she’s pretty awesome. You know… I think I might marry her… …in a couple of weeks. Seriously, it’s coming up pretty fast now, and the details are (mostly) out of the way, which makes it even more exciting! So, this is the topic of your story challenge today! No, not weddings… anticipation. So, you know the rules. Take your subject and run with it. Write me a story of 1000 words or less and stay on topic. As before, if it’s in any way applicable, you should use this to try to develop your world a little more :).

Your Challenge: Write me a story about anticipation. This could be a story that seeks to express the struggle of waiting, or it could be a story about something that you’re actually looking forward to, something that you did spend time anticipating, or about how anticipation can actually make things better in the long run. You could focus on the actual experience of anticipation, or you could try to explain what its like finally get the thing you’ve been longing for. In some way though, your story needs to have a strong focus on anticipation.