There are five traditionally accepted branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, politics, aesthetics, and ethics. Each branch answers specific questions that have a profound impact on our lives. Because each branch is focused on answering particular types of questions, it is possible for different branches to give different solutions to the same problem. Consider the branches of aesthetics and ethics. Aesthetics is concerned with the questions of what is beauty, what is ugliness, and how can beauty improve our lives, while ethics concerns the questions of what is right, what is wrong, and how can we make the best decisions. It might seem strange to some that these two branches can be confused with each other, but consider the following scenario where a person uses aesthetics, the awareness of beauty, as their approach to solving a problem.
Henry adores his daughter Beth’s smile. Nothing pleases him more than to see Beth smiling beautifully; likewise, the sight of his daughter crying fills him with revulsion. One evening, Beth comes to Henry and asks if she could have some extra dessert. Henry asks what her mother has said about this. Beth breaks down into tears and says that her mother has told her she isn’t to have any more dessert tonight unless she cleans her room. Henry recoils from the sight of his lovely daughter’s face spoiled by tears and he wishes he could gaze upon her cheeky, beautiful smile again. So he tells her that of course she may go and have some extra dessert. Beth’s face lights up with joy and Henry feels happy to see his favourite smile in the whole world again. Continue reading →
Growing up I used to watch Star Trek. Both the original 1960s series and the 1980s Next Generation series feature main characters who supposedly have no emotions: Mr Spock and Mr Data. Spock considers emotions to be a weakness and actively suppresses them so as to be more logical; meanwhile Data has an apparent desire to fulfil his creator’s wish to build an android that is as human-like as possible, so Data seeks to have emotions. While as entertaining as these characters are, the series never actually explored emotions, what they are, why we have them, and what their meaning is in any depth. Rather, one gets the impression at times that the sole purpose of emotions, as far as the creators of Star Trek are concerned, is for personal amusement; they make life interesting but we don’t really need them. However, emotions are far more important than just mere novel reactions of our nervous systems to particular stimuli; they are what makes life alive beyond the organic/material level. Consider that each individual cell in your body is a living organism in its own right, additionally, the collective activity of the billions of cells that make up your entirely body is a secondary level of life, and finally the thoughts and feelings that make up what we call, for lack of a better term, “our mind” is a third tier of life built on top of the previous two tiers. But why do we have feelings at all? Continue reading →
There is a funny meme that one can look up by going to Google Image Search and typing in “what people think therapists do”. I can tell you that I do relate to a lot of these. The “what people think” meme is one of my favourites because it concerns my one of my favourite subjects: empathy. Agree or disagree with what some people put in these memes it nonetheless challenges one to think about how differently people see the same thing. I have worked as a therapist/mentor/behaviourist for several years now and I’ve picked up that few people understand what a therapist does and why these things are important. This list of three functions of a therapist is what I consider to be the most important things that I do as a therapist. Keep in mind that other therapists would possibly disagree and that maybe their approach suits their clients. This list is ordered by the importance I place on them; here are the three things I believe therapists should do:
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While one often comes across articulate and well-argued articles criticising anti-depressants from a medical or efficacy point of view, one seldom comes across the philosophical argument against anti-depressants. It was, in fact, the philosophical case against anti-depressants that convinced me as a teenager that I would never, ever take them for myself, a decision that has been beneficial to me ever since.
I am against their usage both on medical grounds and on philosophical grounds, but I accept that anti-depressants are likely here to stay. Indeed, I would argue we have always had anti-depressants, for what else should we call caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and opium but traditional remedies for our emotional ailments? People who are feeling low in motivation often indulge in coffee for the caffeine hit. People who lack courage often indulge in alcohol to shore up their nerves. People who are miserable will often indulge in excessive amounts of sugar to give themselves a rush. Everywhere, we have people self-medicating on different substances in attempts to battle their moods and unwanted feelings. Anti-depressants are not anything new, they’ve been with us all along.
In this piece, I am going to ignore all the medical and efficacy arguments, not because I do not think these discussions are not important, but because I believe the philosophical argument is the strongest of the three. For the sake of argument, I will assume that anti-depressants actually work precisely as intended: that they alleviate sadness, depression, grief, and malaise effectively and without significant side effects. I make this assumption not just for the sake of simplicity, but to better illustrate why we should be wary of them. I believe the better anti-depressants work, the stronger the philosophical case against them. Continue reading →
One of the most misleading and confusing distinctions people often make with emotions is to divide them into two groups: good feelings and bad feelings. Good feelings might include joy, pride, curiosity, warmth, confidence, concern, or trust and bad feelings might include anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, despair, grief, or hate. While certainly there is wisdom in distinguishing between the pleasant emotions and the unpleasant emotions, calling the unpleasant emotions “bad” is quite incorrect. All of our emotions, and the combinations of emotions that we can experience, have some survival benefit. This point is important: if any of our emotions were hazardous to our survival, then they would not be passed onto future generations.
The fact that so called bad or negative emotions such as pain, fear, grief, sadness, and guilt exist indicates that they are very important for facilitating human survival. There is a rare genetic disease where a person is born without the ability to feel any physical pain. The life expectancy of these people is typically only about 20 years. They often die from serious burns that become gangrenous, and because they don’t feel any pain, they do not realise they have even burned themselves until it is too late for treatment to save them. Here it becomes clear that having a painless life will in fact also be a short life. Likewise, a person who never feels guilt will quickly find themselves locked away in prison or hated and scorned by the community, while those who do not feel fear will end up a delicious meal for a bear or in a serious accident because they did not take proper precautions. There are clear survival benefits for having pain, fear, and guilt. However, for the emotions of sadness and grief, the link between these emotions and increased chances of survival is a bit more complicated to understand. Continue reading →
John was running late to work because the bus had broken down. When he arrived at his office he was worried that his boss would be angry at him. He informed her about the bus, but she just frowned and said you cannot control things like that. John felt huge relief and as though his boss cared about him. Mary was trying on clothes in a store and she overheard one of the staff comment on how fat she was. She peeked out the door of the change room and saw that the staff member who had said it was a thin, tall girl, like all the girls in the store. She immediately felt self-conscious about her body and ashamed.
The two little stories above are examples of events that many people have probably experienced at some point in their lives. What I find curious is the different answers I get from people when I ask them, “Who makes John and Mary feel the different emotions they experience?”
Some people will answer that John has no control over how he feels, it is his boss who decides if he will feel relieved or frightened about losing his job based on how she reacts to him being late. In the case of Mary, she is powerless to prevent herself from feeling self-conscious and ashamed when someone calls her fat. The skinny girl makes Mary feel bad about herself.
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