Slow Down to Be More Intentional in Life

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Note: This is a repost from Lola Wright’s blog, which originally appeared October 6, 2017, and can be found here.

We are wired for impact. We want to know that we make a difference. That our lives matter. It’s the existential orientation of our nature to seek problems and long for answers.

In today’s over-scheduled, highly connected world, we often feel like there’s never enough time, energy, or any number of other resources to accomplish what we want. We live by the motto: never enough.

Which is a load of shit.

There is an eternity of time. And when we are spinning on that merry-go-round, it’s time to jump off.

Because your wellbeing matters.

I am a devoted meditator. It has become a habit, much like brushing my teeth or showering. It doesn’t look like sitting in the lotus position with a perfectly erect spine. It doesn’t necessarily look like a solid 30 minutes. It doesn’t occur at 4 a.m., and it isn’t always noticeably sacred. That being said, it does always make a difference in my perspective on life.

Being still and slowing down can happen anytime. While you’re waiting in line to pick up your kids. While you’re in the shower. While you’re on a walk. While you’re in bed (before you jump up and immediately look at your phone). Close your eyes, take a few conscious breaths, and acknowledge the moment you’re in, not the one you’re jumping to get to.

Personal wellbeing is the foundation to a happy and healthy life. Slowing down enables you to work more effectively and creatively. Running on fumes does not produce great results—it creates a sense of lack and burnout.

Which is not reality. That’s manufactured drama.

As someone with a significant level of accountability in the world—mother to four kids, community organizer, oldest grandchild, board member, extrovert—I learned early on that solitude and personal reflection are a must.

The people you are in relationship with will always have needs. Your to-do list will never be complete. Your calendar will always continue to get filled. And likely none of the commitments or demands will recommend you take care of you before you address the concerns before you.

So here are some simple ways you can bring yourself to a center point of wellbeing in an instant:

  1. Start by closing your eyes: at work, in the kitchen, at your kid’s soccer game, etc.

  2. Soften your belly and relax your jaw.

  3. Breathe in through your nose.

  4. Notice your belly expand and your chest rise.

  5. Exhale slowly and completely, emptying your lungs and letting your body relax.

It’s that easy.

Taking ten conscious breaths before entering an appointment, walking in the door, or getting up in the morning is one of the loving and generous practices you can give to your central nervous system.

As you integrate conscious breathing and regular meditation into your daily life, it will become clear the importance and value of slowing down.

Very little that gets us worked up is worthy of the strain that stress causes on our body and mind.

We were never intended to go 100 miles per hour, 100 percent of the time. Slow down. Enjoy yourself. Play. Have fun.

“Learn to pause…or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you.”

— Doug King


Lola Wright is the Spiritual Director at Bodhi Spiritual Center, a preeminent mindfulness-based community organization in Chicago. She spoke with Candace Vogler for a Chicago Humanities Festival event last November.

Truth and Goodness and Rationality: Interview with Anselm Mueller

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We’re pleased to share this interview with Anselm Winfriend Mueller, our 2017-18 visiting scholar, who is a visiting professor this quarter at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. He spoke with Johann Gudmundsson, a doctoral student at the Universität Leipzig currently on a research stay at the University of Chicago, where he’s working on his dissertation on moral judgment and practical goodness.      

Johann Gudmundsson: For many years, you’ve been pursuing the thought that to act well is to act from practical reason. How are truth and goodness related to rationality? Do you think that there is a deep affinity between goodness and truth?

Anselm Winfried Mueller:  Can we reasonably ask whether what you ultimately aim at in acting, rather than just whatever happens to attract you, is really good? – I think we can. At least, we take it for granted that in principle the question has an answer. For, in a year’s time, you may think you were wrong to aim at what you aimed at (much as you may come to think false what you believed to be true a year before). Such a thought makes sense only if there is a standard of goodness by which to evaluate purposes objectively (much as beliefs are evaluated objectively by the standard of truth). So ascriptions of goodness will themselves be true or false.

What is the place of rationality in this context? – To manifest knowledge, a statement has, as a rule, to be based on adequate reasons. Theoretical rationality is to this extent the way we reach truth. But a statement can be true without manifesting knowledge. By contrast, the goodness that we achieve in acting well depends unrestrictedly on what reasons we respond, and don’t respond, to. To act justly, for instance, is: to be motivated by others’ rights; to act courageously is: not to be turned away from important pursuits by the threat of danger etc.

JG: In the mid-20th century, questions relating to ethical language were in vogue, and reflection on moral discourse and meaning was held to be crucial. For example, a central question was whether ethical statements, qua speech act, should be understood as full-blown assertions or not. Those questions have faded from spotlight in recent years. How do you estimate the significance of language for ethical thought?

AWM: Quite generally, the way we talk about things supplies significant hints at their correct understanding. This is so with talk about actions and their moral qualities as much as it is with talk about causes, numbers, social institutions, or whatever.

Now, in order to improve our grasp of the relevant concepts, attention has to be directed at the interaction between the ways we talk and the ways we act. What philosophy needs to get clear about is the different roles that different uses of words play in the wider context of human social life. So philosophers have rightly become critical of arguments based simply on “what we (don’t) say”.

But, as far as I can see, present day analytical philosophy suffers more from the opposite error: its practitioners are often insensitive or indifferent to the problematic character of formulations required or admitted by their theories, when by taking notice of it they might have discovered, e.g., that the phenomena they were hoping to cover by a unifying account were in fact more disparate than this account allowed.

JG: It seems that there are two kinds of good that pertain to human beings. On the one hand, there’s individual well-being or happiness. On the other hand, there’s moral perfection. Would you be happy to draw this distinction? If yes, how do you think individual happiness and moral perfection are related?

AWM: I can’t say that I would be happy to draw that distinction. Shouldn’t one feel honored to belong to a species noble enough to find their happiness guaranteed by adherence to reason realized in a life of virtue, as the Stoics taught?

Unfortunately, this doctrine is a sort of philosophical self-deception. It is indeed true, I think, that a person cannot be happy without attempting to lead a virtuous life. And also, that human happiness cannot but consist in the satisfying use of reason. But we just have to acknowledge that serious suffering tends to prevent the virtuous person from being happy.

Moreover, although the practice of virtue is typically a source of happiness, there are other things as well, such as family life or the successful pursuit of a worthwhile project, that may well be constitutive of the (limited) happiness a man is able to attain. I agree that it won’t make you happy to pursue such a project by evil means. But this does not mean that ethical virtue is the feature of your pursuit that secures your happiness.

So honesty requires us to answer your first question by acknowledging the distinction between happiness and moral perfection. The second question may be one of those that it is the task of philosophy to raise and keep alive although it cannot answer them. As Kant observed, we just cannot discard the idea that there “must” be a way in which the pursuit of virtue issues in happiness. This, too, honesty requires us to recognize. I suspect it is even part of virtue itself to think, with Socrates: It cannot, ultimately, be to my disadvantage to pursue it.

JG: You probably would agree that the aim of philosophical activity is to get clear on certain fundamental notions. The aim of practical philosophy then would be to clarify notions such as intention, reason, goodness and rationality. Do you think that practical philosophy can also be of practical guidance by providing answers to substantial moral questions? Or can such answers only be reached beyond philosophy, for example in public discourse, individual conscience or religious traditions?

AWM: It would be pleasant for practical philosophers to think of themselves as benefiting humanity by giving the kind of guidance you mention. But I think their ambitions have to be more modest.

I am not a skeptic about the possibility of showing that human life is in need of moral norms. But, first, such demonstrations remain theoretical: they explain moral requirements, and they give you reason to believe that doing this and avoiding that serves human flourishing; but they do not thereby already give you reason to do this and avoid that. And, second, nobody – philosopher or not – will adopt a moral norm such as: not to cheat, or: to take responsibility for one’s children, or: to refrain from cruelty, because of a philosophical demonstration; for one’s conviction of the need to comply with such norms will almost certainly be more certain than one’s confidence in any philosophical argument for them.

Nevertheless, philosophers need not despair of their public utility. On the one hand, people who already listen to the voice of virtue are in a position, and will be ready, also to learn, for their practice, from theoretical reflexion on what you call substantial moral questions – on how to carry on in view of considerations that may have escaped them. On the other hand, and possibly even more importantly, good philosophy is needed to refute the brand of bad philosophy that claims to show that morality is an illusion, or that what it enjoins is “authenticity” in the pursuit of your likings, or the like – the kind of claim that is sensational or shocking enough to make it into the media and is hailed by those already tempted to deceive themselves, or compromise, where moral requirements challenge their questionable inclinations.

I am not myself enough of a columnist to take on the task of facing popular versions of misguided philosophical claims. The job that your question well describes as clarifying “notions such as intention, reason, goodness and rationality” is (I hope!) more congenial to my temperament and talent. So I cheerfully resign myself to peaceful exchange with those enviable colleagues who engage in both “philosophizing for philosophers” and “philosophizing for the world”.

 


Johann Gudmundsson got his Magister Artium degree in Philosophy and German studies from the Universität Leipzig after having studied there and at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. He then worked as a research assistant at the Universität Leipzig and as a coordinator of a project funded by the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina on institutional and quality problems of the German doctorate, and now a doctoral student at the Universität Leipzig currently on a research stay at the University of Chicago, where he’s working on his dissertation on moral judgment and practical goodness.      

The Role of Epistemic Virtue in the Realization of Basic Goods

Preston Bradley Hall (Chicago). Photo by Chris Smith.



Note: Anne Baril was a participant in the Virtue, Happiness, & Meaning of Life 2016 Summer Seminar. This post is an excerpt of a piece originally published June 6, 2017, on the blog Imperfect Cognitions, where Baril summarizes a paper she recently published in Episteme.

Click the above link to Imperfect Cognitions for the full post.

Getting clear about the nature of epistemic virtue is an important first step not only for empirical investigations, but for philosophical investigations as well. Is there some more-than- 
merely-instrumental relationship between epistemic virtue and well-being, or between epistemic virtue and some contributor to well-being, that can be uncovered through philosophical, rather than empirical, investigation?

This is one of the questions I seek to answer in my work. What I have found is that epistemic virtue–on at least one plausible interpretation–is importantly implicated in the realization of some of the goods that are widely believed to be instrumental to, or even constitutive of, well-being: goods such friendship, autonomy, and aesthetic experience. There is (what I call) a constitutive overlap between epistemic virtue and many such goods.

Take, for example, aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience, understood as a general type of good, is realized in token instances – for example, in viewing Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, or reading George Eliot’s Silas Marner. It is not a passive experience that just ‘washes over one’; it consists in a certain kind 
of active engagement. It consists in charitably interpreting the work; transcending one’s 
familiar or default cognitive standpoint to open-mindedly engage with it (Baehr 2011: 
103); honestly assessing it; confronting the darker parts of human nature; not being overly 
influenced by others’ opinions about the work. What one is doing, in part, in the active experience that is aesthetic experience, is exercising epistemic virtue – for example, intellectual charity, open-mindedness, intellectual honesty, intellectual courage, and intellectual autonomy. In this sense there is constitutive overlap between epistemic virtue and aesthetic experience.

What exactly the upshot of this is for well-being depends on one’s account of well-being. But finding extensive overlap between epistemic virtue and goods like aesthetic experience supports the view that that epistemic virtue is an integral part of the kind of personality that is well-suited to realize the most important goods in one’s life. And this, in turn, goes a long way towards showing that–despite the anecdotal and empirical evidence cited at the beginning of this entry–epistemic virtue’s net contribution to a person’s well-being is a positive one. Epistemic virtue makes us better off.


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Anne Baril is a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis.  She has research interests in ethics, epistemology, social and political philosophy, and their intersection.  In her current central research project, she argues that epistemic virtue is both integral to the development of moral character and a constitutive contributor to well-being. 

Why the Science of Well-Being Needs the Philosophy of Well-Being – and Vice Versa

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We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars presented and discussed at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.

Erik Angner is Associate Professor of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University.

I argue that the relationship between science and philosophy is symbiotic and surprisingly symmetrical: while science depends on philosophy in such a way that attention to the latter can help us improve the former, the inverse is true too. I make the case by reviewing a number of ways in which philosophy is relevant to science, and science to philosophy. My illustrations are drawn from a real example, viz., the science and philosophy of well-being. Although the two disciplines are pursued largely independently, I will argue that they exhibit a deep mutual dependence and could both benefit from increased engagement with the other. At the end of the day, I paint a picture in which science and philosophy are involved in in a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas for the advancement of the general knowledge.