Sunday, January 08, 2006

So what's with this "excellence" thing?

Book list for today:
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - Robert M Pirsig
"Gates of Fire" - Steven Pressfield
"The Socratic Dialogues" - Plato

As a mathematics obsessive, I've always had a very analytical view of the world. I'm extremely good at breaking it up into chunks and finding out how it works. I'm very good at debating, at science, at figuring out what lies behind the curtain. All useful skills, but lately I've come to see that there's something missing.

That something is the "should" that drives life. A lot of people, particularly religious folk, get this handed to them on a platter. But I've never felt like I had a strong driving force, and to some extent that's resulted in a life of drifting. Fairly successful drifting, but drifting all the same.

I know how things work, but I don't know what I should be making them do next. I can see the various ways that my life could go in the future, but I barely have the motivation to choose. And that's having damaging effects, not least being the need to unburden myself and think stuff through on a blog :P

There is, however, a philosophy of life that provides the "should". It fits in very well with my current view of the world. Even if it turns out to be inaccurate, it will ensure that the time I spend following it isn't wasted. That philosophy is called areté, and it originates, as most of philosophy seems to, with the ancient Greeks.

My knowledge of philosophical history is extremely dodgy, so I'll skip the detail and just say that Socrates had some cool ideas. One of his key ones was a concept of Quality as being fundamental to an effective life. Quality is intrinsically a bugger to define cos it's goal-oriented. Quality is, at some level, "what you like". It's an attribute of one's interaction with surroundings that indicates that things are going well.

Slightly surprisingly, this can in fact be expanded into a full philosophy of life that's not in the slightest bit hedonistic (what a shame :P). The expanded version basically states that you should work at increasing this quality of interaction with the world around you. Attempting to structure my worldview around this idea has had some... interesting consequences.

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