January 10, 2014

Our values and preference-schedules keep changing

 Love, Life and Death by D. P. Chattopadhyaya (September 11, 2012) 
 ‘Do all people write, hoping always, that they will be able to write something radically new? Or, do they write primarily to express themselves to others, those living presently or yet to be born?’
I often wonder whether one of the main purposes of self-expression is not to share one’s ideas with others. One may raise the question: What can we possibly gain by sharing our experiences, expectations, bits of information, views and values with others? One of the many answers returned to these questions has been that by sharing our information, views and values with others, we can, in some cases, perhaps, help them and in others, harm them, influence them to our benefit, to that of society and maybe, to the benefit of the human race itself.
If we decide after deep and careful reflection that we should enlarge, or at least try to enlarge, a positive state of peace and happiness for others, and ourselves; the dissemination of our views and values then, may be welcome. On the other hand, if we think that we are veritably placed in a situation of conflict or struggle and should try to weaken opposing views and values, we will perhaps find ourselves called upon to fight our opponents, weaken their cause and intention... 
The physical ability, mental capacities and the aesthetic sensibility, which are necessary for having repeatedly or at least at pleasing intervals, this kind of welcome experience are not available to most of us. The objects of human desire change enormously and often unpredictably with the passage of years. At different phases of life, as we see, our values and preference-schedules keep changing.

As Martha Nussbaum has said, a philosophy that aims at therapy for the soul ‘will often need to search for techniques that are more complicated and indirect, more psychologically engaging, than those of conventional deductive and dialectical argument. It must find ways to delve into the pupil’s inner world’. In particular, the tropes of reluctance and secrecy in the Upanishads, and likewise the use of metaphors and parables in the Nikāya, encourage the reader to rework their understanding of self, a reworking that takes the form of an uncovering of what is already there rather than the creation of something altogether new. One theorist will claim, perhaps ambitiously, that this is even the hidden purpose of the epic Mahābhārata, whose author, Vyāsa, ‘shows that the primary aim of his work has been to produce a disenchantment with the world and that he has intended his primary subject to be liberation and the rasa of peace’. How texts like these can guide their readers to such a goal—not least through their depictions of the figures of the Buddha, the Upanisadic sage, and the epic hero—is my topic in Part I, and I won’t forget Nietzsche’s warning about soul doctors of every sort: ‘All preachers of morality, as also all theologians, have a bad habit in common: all of them try to persuade man that he is very ill, and that a severe, final, radical cure is necessary.’ [...]
The recalcitrant sages of the Upanisads are coy but not covert. They do not, in general, conceal their true beliefs with false words; they are not insincere. Tardiness not trickery is their leading trait, an immense reluctance to ‘spill the beans’, a coyness rooted not so much in a self-serving secretiveness or a disinclination to share the knowledge that gives them power, but which exists rather as a response to a deep respect for the power of that knowledge, and a recognition of the need not to be frivolous either with the knowledge itself or with its potential recipients. 

Writing the Self: Diaries, Memoirs, and the History of the Self by Peter Heehs (Feb 14, 2013)

Montaigne, Locke, and Nietzsche were aware of their predecessors’ beliefs, incorporating them into their own or reacting against them. Yet the process was not linear, a predictable movement in a single direction. [...]

George Orwell wrote: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful." By this standard, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, the prototypical modern memoir, ought to be regarded as trustworthy, since it contains many things that eighteenth-century readers found scandalous. But historians agree that much of what Rousseau wrote was untrue. More recently, memoirists of the “misery lit” subgenre have vied in their efforts to reveal the most humiliating details of their lives, but the result has not been trustworthy memoirs. Many such books have fictional scenes; others are complete fabrications.

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