Miscellany: Enneagrammatic types as ratios and questions about ethics

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One further thought I had is that the Enneagrammatic types are likely more meaningful relative to other people. It seems like one person may create a “fulcrum” or point of reference that would help to assign one or another type to another person. By analogy to the diatonic musical octave, any frequency can serve as the tonic or the second, or the major third etc. and the real “essence” of tone is in the intervals and not the frequencies. I have made this observation in respect to the traditional temperaments (i.e. choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic) or the yogic doshas, for instance, and I imagine the Enneagram types would display a similar relative internal coherence. I recently came to the same conclusion about colours. It has been fashionable since Newton (and in spite of Goethe’s objections) to correlate colour with quantifiable physical parameters (Newton thought of it as “corpuscle size” or “degree of refrangeability” while modern physicists are inclined to conceptualize this value in terms of wavelength and surface-reflectance properties etc.). But this obviously fails to account for our ability to recognize colours in variable lighting like a sunrise, or on LED screens in which the tint has been modified, for instance. Obviously, in cases like this, any measurable physical parameters would have evidently been altered from whatever happens to be the (more-or-less arbitrary) “laboratory standard.” So I think the relative internal coherence of a musical octave also offers insight into the experience of colour: we establish a tonic and refer our sensations to it. The octave seems to be something like an “icon” or “image” of one of Plato’s Forms. 

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I will play the Devil’s advocate (the Devil can be made to serve us if we use the adversity he provides to strengthen our own capacities) and ask why you think ethics can’t simply be a question of how people can best get along in communities, and why it couldn’t be answered by appeal to Darwinian natural selection. In other words, individuals with certain social traits would be more likely to produce viable offspring than those with antisocial traits. Over time, this would instill a sort of ethical inclination in Homo sapiens and when people use words like “conscience” or “moral judgment,” they are just exalting a mystified survival instinct. What do you think of this?

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I was very interested in the point you brought up about how we learn what is good and bad. You described the rewards and punishments that we receive as a consequence of various things we do and you suggested that this establishes the foundations of our moral sense, or calibrates our “moral compasses,” as it were. It made me wonder: are certain things good because we get a reward for doing them, or do we get a reward for them because they are good? Put another way, is the positive outcome the definition of a good thing or the indication of a good thing? Do you see what I am getting at? 

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If I have understood you correctly, bad is distinguished from evil by evaluating the motives of the agent who is performing the action. Evil is bad done with malicious intent, while bad could feasibly follow as an unintended consequence from something done out of a perfectly amicable motive. Does this capture your view? It makes me wonder about situations in which people may simply avoid taking responsibility for things. Suppose that everyday I see the postman slip on the ice patch on my porch as he is coming to deliver the mail and one day he falls and hits his head on the mailbox and gets a concussion. I agree that it is hard to call it “evil” but I think the lack of intention is itself a form of intention. Does this seem correct to you?

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The Robin Hood case is a very interesting one because we are clearly not given to hear the Sheriff of Nottingham’s account of the events. As you suggested, this would provide an entirely different perspective on the situation and all but certainly affect our moral judgments of what is at stake. I once considered a similar principle in the context of Hesiod’s Theogony, and specifically the strife between Zeus and Chronos. “Perspective is everything,” you wrote, and I partly agree with you, though I also believe that, in principle at least, it is possible to achieve an insight into how two apparently antithetical perspectives hang together in a coherent way even if the two parties involved are not able to see this. This reminds me of a thought I have often had: that ethics cannot ultimately be divorced from wisdom/intelligence. What do you think of this? 

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I agree with you that ethics can appear complicated, especially at first sight, but I hope that through this class we can develop the ability to make sense of what first might seem somewhat chaotic. If you think about the experience of the process of understanding something, regardless of the subject, it always follows the same basic pattern: what seem like unintelligible and unrelated elements gradually reveal their inner logic. Imagine when you first learned to read: bit by bit, the apparently random series of letters began to shine with meaning. In some way, it has to do with connecting to the intention of the one who wrote those words. Similarly, if we devote ourselves to the study of ethics, we may begin to perceive the underlying principles of which our actions are an outward expression. Perhaps this class can serve to start us on this path of understanding in respect to ethics.

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