Comments on “Schematic overview: value”

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Is nobility a confused stance?

Rufus's picture

I’m not persuaded that nobility is a complete stance, because it has a useful opposite. Instead of saying we should develop our abilities in order to help others, Stoicism has the stance that developing our abilities is intrinsically meaningful, but we can only reach our full potential if we are altruistic. I often find the Stoic stance preferable for generating motivation when I’m working to develop skills in a way that doesn’t help others in the short term, though I prefer to use what you call nobility to regulate my time.
Am I missing something?

More on stoicism and nobility

Rufus's picture

To provide more information, the Stoics would admire anyone who reaches their full potential, regardless of what their potential happens to be. No matter how far one develops their abilities, however, they are not regarded as having reached their potential if they do not take advantage of opportunities to help others, because we are a social species.
I believe this is clearly a stance on personal value that neither denies shared humanity nor individual differences. I do believe, however, that it fixes the relationship between developing one’s abilities and altruism in the opposite way that nobility does; nobility insists that the value of developing your abilities comes from altruism while Stoicism insists the value of altruism stems from the value of applying yourself fully to life.
I believe that nobility denies the possibility that reaching your potential can be intrinsically valuable – especially if altruism were to become impossible. In a hypothetical situation where it is impossible to serve others, I still believe personal value can have meaning. Thus, I am not persuaded that it is a complete stance.
That said, I would be happy to hear from someone who disagrees with me.

My own version of a confused stance.

Bird Handorbush's picture

I’ve never really understood how or why so many Buddhist practices involve or begin with a dedication of the practice itself to the benefit of all beings. How could the activity, or inactivity, of someone sitting cross-legged in a room somewhere paying attention to their breath or repeating a mantra be of any help to anyone else?

It’s very unclear to me how an intention, and apparently nothing else, could be of benefit to anyone, no less all sentient beings everywhere. If anything, it feels more like a conceit designed by some people who thought that by calling themselves monks and making up these grand characters called bodhisattvas and saying that, like them, they would pray for the liberation of other people’s lives from the perpetual cycle of suffering they faced each day, they could justify withdrawing from the everyday concerns of whatever society they were embedded in - which were the real causes of the suffering they were talking about - in order to focus on themselves and their own self-centered aims.

After reading about Nobility on David’s Approaching Aro blog, I thought I understood things a little better, but now I’m not so sure. From that article:

Nobility is the aspiration to manifest glory for the benefit of others. Nobility is using whatever abilities we have in service of others. Nobility is seeking to fulfill our in-born human potential, and to develop all our in-born human qualities.

These all sound like really good things to keep in mind, but they don’t feel like sufficient justifications for doing the things I want that aren’t evidently useful to other people. I feel like if I made the intention to be noble, that that would just give me an excuse to neglect others in order to focus on personal fulfillment, since I could tell myself that my intention was to do so for other people’s benefit, even if it wasn’t directly obvious to them (or me) how that might be the case.

I think the problem is I feel guilty doing things for myself without having a good reason to do so. I mean, at any moment, there’s an infinite number of possible actions I could take, right? This may be a product of the culture I was raised in, but it’s definitely more valuable to sacrifice my time for the sake of others than to do things for myself, unless I have some reason that justifies holding off on that - ex. until I know more or I’m better prepared, like if I went to school to study something that I was interested in so I could get a job that would make me more useful to society and my family than if I went right away into doing something that didn’t require a similar amount of time spent on education.

I don’t want to feel guilty about doing things for myself, especially since my health and sanity seem to depend upon it, but at the same time I’m afraid that if I didn’t feel guilty, if I could justify ostensibly selfish behaviour through an intention for it to be of benefit to others, then I might just permanently delay making any kind of sacrifice in order to actually help anyone else. I thought the complete stance was supposed to be the set of reasons or justifications for my behaviour that would enable me to “be all I could be” in a way that would make me valuable in my own estimation, as well as that of those whose opinion I hold high. However, it seems to me like nobility makes it too easy to let myself off the hook for it to be the right idea.

Continuing Confusion

Bird Handorbush's picture

It occurs to me that maybe the real problem, and the reason I feel guilty, is that I want to be able to keep something for myself. Altruism is great and all but it’s the things I do for myself that I think make me ‘me’, which necessarily includes what I’ve done to arrive at a justification of and reasons for my own behaviour and existence. That’s what matters to me the most - not just because it’s how I distinguish myself from other people, but because I think that that’s what makes me admirable in the eyes of those who matter the most to me.

I feel like this is what David has in mind when he talks about specialness in the article I linked to above. I want it to be recognized and acknowledged by others that the things I do to fulfill those of my inherent qualities which I think set me apart from most people, including the ideas I’ve set upon for why I do so, are indeed worthwhile. Moreover, I’m reluctant to give up on or move past the ideas I’m currently committed to insofar as doing so seems like it would entail losing out on the esteem of people whose opinion I respect.

Does the absence of a cosmic plan also mean there isn’t anything like a theory or set of first principles with which to justify the actions I take? If so, what reason do I even have for acting altruistically other than - as Rufus pointed to - that it might be necessary in order to totally fulfill my potential, in which case, isn’t that just selfish behaviour that also happens to benefit other people and not true nobility?

@Bird Handourbrush

Jay's picture

I think there is a difference between being selfish and serving yourself. I think many of us have a natural tendency to be excessively hard on our selves but relatively easy on others. Take being late to an appointment for example:

What I say to myself if I am late: “How come you didn’t plan better! Now you’re making everyone wait, wasting their time and for what? Because YOU couldn’t get your act together!”

What I say if someone else is late: “Oh no trouble, it gave us extra time to prepare anyway and yeah the traffic and weather are nasty out today!”

This dual attititude is present in a lot of things we do. And both responses are actually fixating and denying parts of the situation (Responsability and circumstance). A synthesized response I can say to myself might be:

“Yes it sucks that I didn’t plan for traffic or the weather, I can take those into account next time. I can explain that I did the best I could and maybe we can get started right away to make up the time.”

This is an abstract example, but the idea is that we need to be gentle with ourselves as the bhuddist saying goes, and awknowledge that we are all human. We’ll be useless to anyone if we’re a bundle of nerves, resentment, and anger. To avoid those, proper self-care is needed.

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This page is in the section ⚒ Personal value,
      which is in Doing meaning better.

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This page’s topics are Ordinariness, Nobility, and Specialness.

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