We are instrumental in steering the course of our own lives. Although constrained by practical circumstances and historic contingency, to a degree we remain free agents.
An examined life is inextricable from the notion of a narrative self. From this perspective we are both writers and readers of our revisable autobiographies.
Andrew Brown (2005) Figure. Oil pastel, ink and charcoal on paper.
The quest for a ‘good life’ is the best defense against an unexamined or a wasted life. The attempt is all. Fallible as we are, over the course of a lifetime, the deliberate cultivation of the capacity to learn as we go, in service of acting in accordance with wisdom and compassion, seems the best wager for the full development, and ‘good life,’ of the individual.
Are we the summation of the choices we have made? How much freedom of choice do we really have? Whether or not there is moral order in the universe, what is the role of contingency or “fate” in the choices that lie in front of us?
Can we lead a good life without religion? Are cathartic notions, normally associated with certain religions, like epiphany, atonement, repentance, redemption and enlightenment relevant to laying out the plot of our virtual autobiographies?
Why do we need others to talk things through?
Andrew Brown (2005) Figure. Oil pastel, ink and charcoal on paper.
Scottish moral philosopher [1927- ]
The Greek word hexis was originally used by Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics: II, 5. Hexis refers to a durable, acquired, overall disposition that is developed over the course of a lifetime. Our raw personality tendencies are not immutable. According to Aristotle, We are not slaves to our immediate inclinations. We can override them by consciously performing just acts. During the course of a lifetime everyday habits may become acquired character dispositions. Such dispositions become habitual for the individual but they are examined and reflective rather than merely conditioned.
MORE SOURCES FOR HEXIS—THE GOOD LIFE
In tragic fiction—as in real life, we are thrown into an inescapable and, in Ricoeur’s words (1992: 242), “unanalyzable mixture of constraints of fate and deliberate choices.”
Ricoeur asserts that we are both the readers and the writers of own lives. He (1988: 246-248) asserts that, dwelling in the vicissitudes of our real lives, we are “a cloth woven of stories told.” Furthermore—and this has huge implications for learning over the course of a lifetime of learning—our narrative identity is “not a stable and seamless identity... it is always possible to weave different, even opposed, plots about our lives.” Ricoeur (1992: 171) picks up the Kuhnian aspect of this theme in Oneself as Another. There is enormous difficulty in modifying the ingrained habits or modus operandi of persons in the midst of life. Only a higher ergon (an overarching function or calling) which serves the good life in its entirety may precipitate a gestalt shift in global projects like career, marriage, leisure activities and close friendships. Ricoeur observes that:
the doctor is already a doctor; he does not ask whether he wishes to remain one; his choices are strictly of an instrumental nature: medication or surgery, purge or operate. But what of the choice of the vocation of medicine?
In similar vein, Zehr (1990: 87) offers a cautionary note for quixotic individuals who are unable to reexamine their most precious, crumbling paradigms:
A warrior wears armor, a lover flowers. They are equipped according to expectations of what is to happen, and their equipment increases chances that their expectations will prove right.
Ricoeur, Paul (1988) Time and Narrative, Volume 3. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. The University of Chicago Press.
Ricoeur, Paul (1992) Oneself as Another. Translated by Kathleen Blamey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Zehr, H. (1990) Justice as Paradigm. In Changing Lenses. Scottsdale, Pensylvania: Herald Press.
French Philosopher [1915-2005 ]
Alisdair Macintyre (1984: 103) is concerned with the particular and peculiar ways in which predictability and unpredictability interlock in human social life
It is the degree of predictability which our social structures possess which enables us to plan and engage in long-term projects; and the ability to plan and to engage in long-term projects is a necessary condition of being able to find life meaningful. A life lived from moment to moment, from episode to episode, unconnected by threads of large-scale intention, would lack the basis for many characteristically human institutions: marriage, war, the remembrance of the lives of the dead, the carrying on of families, cities and services through generations and so on. But the pervasive unpredictability in human life also renders all our plans and projects permanently vulnerable and fragile.
Macintyre (1984: 219) arrives at a “provisional conclusion” about the good life for man. His self-referential and spiraling assertion is (italics added):
[T]hegood life for man is the life spent in seeking for the good life for man, and the virtues necessary for the seeking are those which will enable us to understand what more and what else the good life for man is.
Macintyre (1984: 216) posits that “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’ Macintyre (1984: 219) views the human predicament as the fragile unity of a narrative quest: Quests sometimes fail, are frustrated, abandoned or dissipated into distractions; and human lives may in all these ways also fail.
Macintyre (1984: 33-34) views the human predicament as finding “oneself placed at a certain point on a journey with set goals.” His perspective is that to move through life is to make progress—or fail to make progress—towards a given end. Thus a completed and fulfilled life is an achievement and death is the point at which someone can be judged happy or unhappy. Hence the ancient Greek proverb:
‘Call no man happy until he is dead.’
Macintyre, Alisdair (1984) After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Second Edition. Notre Dame, Indiana. University of Notre Dame Press.
Tillich (1952: 104) celebrates the “active wrestling with fate” rather than passive acceptance of commitments and constraints. He describes an archetypal motif in Renaissance art that represents a vulnerable, but not powerless, individual grappling with fate:
The wind blowing on the sails of a vessel, while man stands at the steering wheel and determines the direction as much as it can be determined under the given conditions.
Tillich, Paul (1952) The Courage To Be. New Haven: Yale University Press.
German-American Theologian and Existentialist [1886-1965]