I found Aristotle’s readings on happiness and virtue very interesting and confusing at the same time. The language in which he communicates his thoughts I found were often times difficult to completely interpret. In book 1, I found it very riveting that Aristotle believed that a person who has happiness does not only have happiness because they are happy but also because they are enjoying life by living what he determined to be successfully. The supreme good is happiness and people should focus on how to be good. I really enjoyed Aristotle’s comparison of happiness to performing ones function well. The example he used was someone playing the flute achieves happiness because they are able to perform their function of playing the flute very well. This ideology implies that happiness is not a feeling which we refer to in todays society, but instead a way of living the right and successful way. I found it very confusing that happiness was thought of as a variable that was dependent upon a persons position within a city or state and closely tied to their reputation and how they went about living their life instead of how they were feeling. In a way, Aristotle looked at happiness as an activity that consists of a certain way of life. It is crazy to think about our current social view on happiness in which happiness can mean different things to different people. For example, people now may confuse happiness with money and fame, whereas Aristotle considered happiness as an activity of living well and successfully. In regards to virtue, I found it interesting that Aristotle implies that possessing al of the right virtues disposes a person to live well and to function well. The two ideas of happiness and virtue are closely related and one cannot exist without the other. This is especially apparent in the quote, “The good for man is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect kind.”
In his second book, Aristotle digs more into the idea of virtue. And similarly to happiness being closely related to virtue in the first book, Aristotle links virtue to human excellence and success. A persons excellence rests in living according to the various moral and intellectual virtues. He describes virtue as a character, instead of a feeling or activity. In contrast to happiness, which he described as an activity and a way of living, virtue is thought of as a correct state of being. Virtue is what compels a virtuous person to act in a specific way which then leads the virtuous person to live happily. I found this concept to be quite confusing since when I think of happiness I think of how I feel, not how I act.
Another interesting aspect of this reading was that virtue is thought of as something that can be learned through repetition and habit rather than by being taught reasons as to why something is thought of as virtuous. Aristotle believed that learning all the reasons why one should be virtuous does not make a person act out of virtue, nor does it make someone achieve happiness. One cannot learn to be happy by being told all the reasons why being happy is beneficial and more favorable than being unhappy.
After going through the readings, what I found to be very intriguing was that many of our complex actions are actually based off o basic instincts, and that almost all of what we do and the way we act is based off of our inherent animalistic instincts. Even looking around the room I am in right now and being able to use technology such as this computer to share information and thoughts was something that can be traced back to the instincts that we were all born with. Instincts are so simple and something that we are born with and innate and it is just crazy to think that our conscious is being driven by something so simple that we pay no direct attention to. I found it very interesting that simple instincts are at the root of things that can then become more complex over evolutionary time and cultural time. I also find it fascinating that culture and language can speed up the evolution process so that it is not just in our genes anymore, these are all concepts that I had never previously even thought about. Organisms find out about the world before we are able to make reason about it. It is baffling that there is some really basic thing that started very early out of which evolution occurs and we develop other traits such as the ability to look forward and to look back into the past and connect the experiences and make predictions about them. The idea of curiosity as an instinct and curiosity as a value. Discovery and finding out about the world is a deep instinct that we have which has now been elaborated and systematized, however, the root of it is very basic biology. I really enjoyed this reading because all of this information about evolutionary development and our instincts is one that I had never previously learned about or even paid much attention to.
In the Electrical Kite written to Peter Collinson, I noticed that Franklin is writing to Peter in a very scientific and specific way outlining how to recreate the experiment that he had previously performed. In this article I found it interesting that Franklin was able to innovate and find a more practical and easier way to recreate the experiment that was successful in Philadelphia.
What I found most interesting in the Way to Wealth section was that Franklin was giving advise on how to be most productive and successful, and that he learned many of these things from his own past experiences, many of which we discussed in class on Monday. He advises to be careful about how much leisure time one allows themselves to have since while one is enjoying leisure time, you are also not being productive.
Franklins article about the whistle was my favorite passage in the appendix because I believe that this article was most relatable. I found this interesting because this is a life lesson that everyone could learn a great deal from. The way our society glamorizes material things such as fine clothing, popularity, and image it is very hard for many of us to not fall into temptation and pay too much for our whistles. I agreed with Franklins message that most of the problems and unhappiness that we surround ourselves in are inevitably caused by our previous actions that we made thinking that we would in turn achieve some sort of false sense of security or acceptance.
In a letter to Samuel Mather, I found Franklins message to be very interesting, as it is another piece of advice that can be applied to most everyones daily lives. It is an important part of character and individual development to refrain from getting a big head and to be cocky about certain things while one goes about their lives. I agree with Franklin that no egotistic person ever made it very far before getting a good hard thump in the head in one way or another.
Franklin referred to himself as a natural philosopher instead of a scientist, it is crazy to think about how religious society was at this time compared to now and during the scientific revolution. Through observation and experimenting, Franklin and other natural philosophers at the time were able to reveal that nothing is unknowable and that forces that were once thought of as being controlled by the gods were actually something that is testable and empirical.
What stood out to me the most in this weeks reading was Franklins ability to change and evolve specific aspects of his thinking and the way he communicated with others in order to make him more favorable to be around. Originally, Franklin would have many debates and disputations with others because of what he learned from his fathers dispute books about religion. What is truly fascinating about Franklins personal development when it comes to communication is that he was able to recognize that his method of debating with others was not necessarily an effective way of communicating because it made him unfavorable to be around and sometimes made enemies of those who could have been a friend. So by recognizing this personal struggle he was then able to model himself off of the socratic method in which he would rather than contradict others, pose a series of questions that would lead the person to change perspective in favor of Franklins, thus allowing him to be more effective at persuasion. Franklin became a humble inquirer and doubter allowing him to still win his arguments while still being considered humble.
In a similar fashion to Franklin’s evolution of communication was his development of religious views. He grew up in a Presbyterian family which at the time was looked down upon, however, Franklin did not believe that you needed a middle man to speak to God and often referred to catholicism as “popery”. However, around the time Franklin learns of ways in which to become a more effective communicator, he begins to undergo a revelation change and starts to question everything including his religion. He moves from being a Presbyterian, to a theist Protestant, to a deist, to a secular agnostic “free thinker” and in turn undergoes a series of change in his values. Whats truly fascinating about Franklins ability to mold his own values and perspectives is his ability to advance and benefit because he was non bias and didn't have any particular doctrinal view. I cannot even begin to imagine how one would go about changing the values in which you were raised, especially at such a young age and for a child who had no formal education.
Another interesting character evolution Franklin endured was his method of virtue development in which he devised a small list of 13 principals in which he and others could obtain moral perfection. One thing that I found quite funny about this list is that he allowed himself only 1 week to master each virtue.
Again, the most captivating aspect of Franklins reflections are that he applies his scientific outlook and perspective on almost all aspects of his life. For attaining moral perfection he collected quantitative data on his moral development as a means of measuring his improvement. Rather than making ethics a humanity thing he makes it scientific. A characteristic that I find very admirable.
While I was going through the reading, I couldn't help but think that many of the ideals and principals that Benjamin Franklin held at the young age of 17 reminded me of the classic American Dream. Benjamin Franklin had the belief that regardless of his financial situation and his family’s reputation, these things wouldn't limit his success so long as he worked hard to achieve his goals. While reading about all of the ideals that Benjamin Franklin held at such a young age, I kept thinking about the discussion that we had on the first day of class where we were discussing what characteristics make a successful and prosperous scientist. I couldn't help but think that many of the character traits Franklin had, other successful scientists must share as well. Throughout this first part of his autobiography, Franklin really stresses the value of industry, because he believed that hard work always led to wealth and success. I also found it intriguing that Franklin had a very scientific mindset when reflecting on events in his life. He is specifically thinking about how his son might imitate his own method to his benefit, Franklin realized that he was not as successful because of luck, but instead because of what he did. He had a method to his success. He went from poverty to wealth by following his method, something that he hopes his son could choose to follow or to educate himself in the same way in which he did.
Another interesting topic that really stood out to me in the reading was Franklins intellectual club, Junto or the Leather Apron Club. Consisting of ten of Franklin’s most intelligent and intellectual friends, this club was formed for mutual improvement, where each member was required to lead a discussion on morals, politics, or natural philosophy. This reminded me of our own personal presentations and projects that we will be presenting in this class. Another similarity I found between this exclusive club and our class discussions and presentations was that the club had strict rules against contradicting one another in order to “prevent warmth” - an important guideline that I believe is essential for successful criticism and collaboration. The idea behind this was to mediate conversations for the pursuit of information and the truth rather than the victory of arguments, “the sincere sprit of inquiry after truth.” I believe that this is an incredibly similar model to our discussion guidelines posted on the course website.