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The Scipionic Circle 92: The Power of Purpose, Challenging the Status Quo, and The Essence of Virtue
"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." — Anaïs Nin
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle — I hope you find something of value.
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Food for Thought
I. The Power of Purpose: A Force Multiplier in Life
"In military history, we can identify two types of armies—those that fight for a cause or an idea, and those that fight largely for money, as part of a job. Those that go to war for a cause fight with greater intensity. They tie their individual fate to that of the cause and the nation. They are more willing to die in battle for the cause. Those in the army who are less enthusiastic get swept up in the group spirit. The general can ask more of his soldiers. The battalions are more unified, and the various battalion leaders are more creative. Fighting for a cause is known as a force multiplier—the greater the connection to the cause, the higher the morale, which translates into greater force. Such an army can often defeat one that is much larger but less motivated. We can say something similar about your life: operating with a high sense of purpose is a force multiplier. All of your decisions and actions have greater power behind them because they are guided by a central idea and purpose. The many sides to your character are channeled into this purpose, giving you more sustained energy. Your focus and your ability to bounce back from adversity give you ineluctable momentum. You can ask more of yourself.
"Daily Law: In a world where so many people are meandering, those with a sense of purpose spring past the rest with ease and attract attention for this. Find yours and elevate it by making the connection as deep as possible." — From The Daily Laws: 366 Meditations on Power, Seduction, Mastery, Strategy and Human Nature by Robert Greene.
II. Challenging the Status Quo: The Power of Thought Experiments
"A friend of mine named David was living in his hometown with his college friends. He had a dream job opportunity in Silicon Valley, but he was torn about whether to take it. After all, he got along great with his college friends, most of whom lived nearby. Was it really worth giving that up for a better job? So he tried a thought experiment: 'Suppose I was already living in San Francisco, working at an exciting and well-paying job. Would I be tempted to quit and move back home to be closer to my college friends? No, I wouldn’t,' he realized. David’s thought experiment revealed that his attitude toward his options was likely being influenced by the 'status quo bias,' a motivation to defend whatever situation happens to be the status quo. A leading theory for why we’re biased in favor of the status quo is that we’re loss averse: the pain we feel from a loss outweighs the pleasure we feel from a similar-size gain. That makes us reluctant to change our situation, because even if the change would make us better off overall, we fixate more on what we’ll be losing than what we’ll be gaining. I call David’s thought experiment the status quo bias test: Imagine your current situation was no longer the status quo. Would you then actively choose it? If not, that’s a sign that your preference for your situation is less about its particular merits and more about a preference for the status quo.
"Whenever you reject some proposed change to society, that’s an opportunity to test yourself for status bias. Consider life extension research. If scientists could figure out how to double the human life span, from roughly 85 years to 170 years, would that be a good thing? Not according to many people I’ve discussed this with. 'If humans lived that long, progress would slow to a crawl,' they argue. 'We need older generations to die off and make room for younger generations with new ideas.' To do a status quo bias test, imagine the human life span was naturally 170 years. Now suppose that a genetic mutation reduced the human life span to 85 years. Would you be pleased? If not, then maybe you don’t really think that shorter life spans are worth faster societal change." — From The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't by Julia Galef.
III. The Essence of Virtue: Aristotle's Wisdom on Human Excellence
"What is ‘the function of human beings’? Aristotle approaches an answer to this question by analogies. What makes a good flute-player? Skill at playing the flute. A good carpenter? One good at making things from wood. Each is ‘good’ because he performs his particular function, his work (ergon), well. To do his work well is the virtue or excellence (arete) of a flute-player qua flute-player or carpenter qua carpenter. What is the arete of a human being qua human being? It is to do the ‘work’ of being human well. And what is the ‘work’ of a human being? It is to live up to that thing which is distinctive and defining of humanity, namely, the possession of reason. A good person is therefore a person who lives and acts rationally in accordance with virtue. ‘The human good’, says Aristotle, is ‘activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there is more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete’.
"So now we must understand the nature of virtue. There are two kinds of virtue, says Aristotle: those of mind, and those of character. The virtues of mind further subdivide into ‘practical wisdom’ and ‘theoretical wisdom’. Virtues of character include courage, temperance and justice. Everyone is born with the capacity to develop the virtues, but they have to do so by acquiring good habits in childhood and eventually, as we attain maturity, practical wisdom (phronesis). By ‘good habits’ Aristotle means a settled disposition to feel and act appropriately, an important point for him because he disagrees with Socrates and Plato that virtue is knowledge, a doctrine that makes no sense of the phenomenon of weakness of will (akrasia); this latter exists, he says, and is caused by ungoverned emotions; therefore acquiring the habit of strength of will is important. On the basis of these thoughts he offers a definition of virtue itself.
"A virtue is the middle path between opposing vices, one of deficiency and the other of excess. Thus courage is the middle path or ‘mean’ between cowardice (deficiency) and rashness (excess); generosity is the mean between meanness (deficiency) and profligacy (excess). The flute-player and the carpenter know how to steer a middle course between the excesses and deficiencies that spoil their work; so too a human being can acquire something analogous to a technical skill in knowing how to navigate between the vicious extremes between which the mean is the associated virtue. Is there a general, invariant rule about the mean in all cases? No; the individual nature of a situation matters in determining what the mean is in that case. For example, one might think that the virtue of gentleness implies that one should never be angry, for remaining calm when faced with (say) an injustice is what lies between indifference and fury in reaction to it. But Aristotle says that the nature of the case might justify being angry; to be angry ‘in the right way, to the right degree, for the right reason’ is virtuous. But not to such a degree that it undermines reason. ‘Virtue makes the goal right, practical wisdom teaches how to reach it,’ Aristotle says, and habits formed in developing character will help to identify the right goals. If we do not have, or do not yet have, the practical wisdom to work out how to reach those goals, we must imitate those who do have such wisdom. And Aristotle concedes that ‘moral luck’ plays its part; those in fortunate circumstances find it easier to attain eudaimonia than those for whom life is a struggle." — From The History of Philosophy: Three Millennia of Thought from the West and Beyond by A. C. Grayling.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Hafez on embracing lifes joys:
"Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive."
II. Anaïs Nin on the courage to flourish:
"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
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Thank you for reading,