Aristotle, Akrasia, the “Practical Syllogism” and Procrastination

The proverbial procrastinators’ dictum runs something like: Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow? Many of us struggle in various ways and at various times with procrastination. Our reasons for procrastinating vary widely. Some of us dread doing a particular task. Others of us just prefer to do the pleasant thing we are engaged in now, rather than that which we should be doing or completing. The emotions and desires motivating procrastination run the gamut. Nor does it seem that knowing these motivations, and knowing that procrastination often creates further and greater difficulties, and even knowing the good one ought to do, actually helps with these motivations. Knowledge alone doesn’t seem enough to motivate to action.

There are a variety of ways that the current self-help or time management literature use to address the issue of procrastination, many of them focusing on psychological analyses and self-awareness, with others focusing on incremental behavioral changes. But reading these works only seem to exacerbate the problem: they add to our knowledge without changing our acts.

Aristotle provides resources for us on this matter, in his account of the virtuous life in the Nicomachean Ethics, and particularly in the seventh book which deals with the character flaw of lack of self restraint. What we are fundamentally dealing with, when it comes to procrastination is the tension between rational deliberation and choice (boule and proairesis respectively) and desire (epithumia, although in a critical passage in De Anima III.10-11, Aristotle translates orexis as “desire,” which is one aspect of motion in the soul). That is to say, the procrastinator knows the good he ought to do, but doesn’t do it. If we have a coherent account of the soul, how motion in the soul relates to actual behavior, we have a much better account by which to understand how the procrastinator knows the good but fails to do it, and to formulate responses to soulish vices and lack of self-restraint.
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Synodikon of Orthodoxy

From the introductory paragraph to the Synodikon of Orthodoxy:

The text of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy has been much altered over the centuries, chiefly by the addition of material and names that postdate the Restoration of the Icons in 843. This is the case with the text that is printed in the current Triodia. Some of the more zealous contemporary Orthodox even include condemnations of such things as the ‘pan-heresy of Ecumenism‘. It is probably impossible to reconstruct the original text exactly. However the British Library possesses a manuscript, (BL. Additional 28816) written in 1110 or 1111 by a monk Andrew of the monastery of Oleni in Moraea, which may give some idea of the scope and contents of the original. In the opinion of Jean Gouillard, the editor of the critical edition of the Synodikon, ‘the London manuscript is certainly one of the best witnesses to the primitive and purely Constantinopolitan form of the Synodikon’. The manuscript was unknown to him when he prepared his edition and has in consequence been generally neglected.

This text of the Synodikon is written at the end of a manuscript of the Acts, Epistles and Apocalypse, with the somewhat misleading title ‘Definition [Horos] of the 7th Holy Synod’. The text of the Synodikon is finely written in red and black and is provided throughout with ekphonetic notation. The text was, therefore, intended to be solemnly chanted, like the Apostle or Gospel, and not simply read. A number of names, in particular those of Symeon Stylites and Theodore the Studite, are given special prominence. The words ’God will give their kingdom peace. Heavenly King, protect those on earth!’ are, it seems, peculiar to this manuscript. The seven numbered paragraphs are so numbered in the margin of the manuscript.

What is normally prayed on the Sunday of Orthodoxy is the following paragraph:

As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers express in dogma, as the inhabited world understands together with them, as grace illumines, as the truth makes clear, as error has been banished, as wisdom makes bold to declare, as Christ has assured, so we think, so we speak, so we preach, honouring Christ our true God, and his Saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in icons, worshipping and revering the One as God and Lord, and honouring them because of their common Lord as those who are close to him and serve him, and making to them relative veneration.

This is the faith of the Apostles; this is the faith of the Fathers; this is the faith of the Orthodox; this faith makes fast the inhabited world.

But, revealing my perversity, the fun stuff is in the anathemas!

So, below the jump are selections of the anathemas.

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Plato’s Complete Works Online

The Hellenophilic site has a webpage devoted to Plato, from which you can access Plato’s Complete Works. They also have a bilingual anthology of portions of Plato’s works which is not only available online but is downloadable. One of the downloads is the entire Greek Timaeus (along with the LXX Genesis and patristic commentary, St. Gregory of Nyssa’s “The Making of Man”). According to the webpage of downloads, the complete works of Plato in Greek are forthcoming.

Aristotle on Knowledge of First Principles

Although I’m not as well versed in Aristotle’s Organon, and definitely feel more facility with his ethical and metaphysical works, I’ve got to say, I really appreciate the Posterior Analytics.

Posterior Analytics I.1

All instruction given or received by way of argument proceeds from pre-existent knowledge. This becomes evident upon a survey of all the species of such instruction. The mathematical sciences and all other speculative disciplines are acquired in this way, and so are the two forms of dialectical reasoning, syllogistic and inductive; for each of these latter make use of old knowledge to impart new, the syllogism assuming an audience that accepts its premisses, induction exhibiting the universal as implicit in the clearly known particular. Again, the persuasion exerted by rhetorical arguments is in principle the same, since they use either example, a kind of induction, or enthymeme, a form of syllogism.

The pre-existent knowledge required is of two kinds. In some cases admission of the fact must be assumed, in others comprehension of the meaning of the term used, and sometimes both assumptions are essential. Thus, we assume that every predicate can be either truly affirmed or truly denied of any subject, and that ‘triangle’ means so and so; as regards ‘unit’ we have to make the double assumption of the meaning of the word and the existence of the thing. The reason is that these several objects are not equally obvious to us. Recognition of a truth may in some cases contain as factors both previous knowledge and also knowledge acquired simultaneously with that recognition-knowledge, this latter, of the particulars actually falling under the universal and therein already virtually known.

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Joe Sachs on Human Reflection on Experience

It is not the nature of human beings to let thing that interest us go unthought about. “What is it?” and “Why?” are not just modes of speaking and thinking: they are living ways of standing in and toward the world. In the face of our most powerful experiences, those questions may not get fully answered, but it is intolerable for them to go entirely unanswered either, and impossible for them to go unasked. For good or ill, to be greatly and noticeably affected by anything, and not to seek the cause, is no part of life as we live it. If that were not so, if we refrained from all reflection, important things could happen to us without becoming part of our experience at all. Life would pass through us without being lived by us.

–Joe Sachs, “Introduction,” Aristotle: Poetics (Focus 2006), p. 1

The above is from Sachs’ newest translation, and also illustrates why I think his translations are not only well done linguistically, but are the “thinking man’s” translation of Aristotle. He breaks, judiciously, with the Latinate technical tradition to focus on the Hellenic. But more than that, he himself clearly engages Aristotle on a deeply reflective level.

I use Sachs for my Aristotle translations I use in class, and am glad to see one more of Aristotle’s works from him. I still fervently wish he would translate something from the Organon, preferrably the Categories, though one of the Analytics or De Interpretatione would not be unwelcome, either.

So that others may share my own joy and enthusiasm, here are the Sachs translations of some of Aristotle’s major works:

Aristotle’s Physics: A Guided Study (Masterworks of Discovery)
Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Sachs’ introduction to his translation of the Metaphysics, is here.)
Aristotle’s On the Soul and On Memory and Recollection
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle: Poetics

Sachs also has a translation on one of Plato’s works:
Plato: Theaetetus

Ivan Kireyevsky on the Limitations of Philosophy

From Ivan Kireyevsky’s On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles in Philosophy (1856):

. . . [B]etween the time of Aristotle and the general submission of world culture to Christian teaching, many centuries elapsed, during which many different and contradictory philosophical systems nourished, consoled, and disturbed mans reason. Few of these systems, however, were characterised by extremes; in general, culture grew out of what was common to the extremes, out of middle ground. Between the Stoics virtuous pride and the Epicureans sensual philosophy, between the alluring heights of the lofty mental constructions of the Neoplatonic school and the unfeeling, implacable, all-uprooting plough of scepticism, stood Aristotles philosophy, to which mens minds constantly returned from extreme deviations, and which cast the logical snares of its impartial system into the most biased forms of thought. This is why it may be said that, whereas in the ancient pre-Christian world there were several different philosophies and several mutually contradictory sects, the vast majority of thinking humanity and all of cultures moral and intellectual power belonged to Aristotle. Precisely what influence did Aristotles philosophy have on culture and the moral dignity of man? The solution of the problem is important, and not only for past history.
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A Few Remarks about Studying for Logic

[Note: I will be passing this out to my logic class this week. Our logic class meets on Monday nights, and our textbooks are Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning, and the companion book of analytical readings by Hicks and Kelley.]

I had the benefit of a public school education that taught me how to learn and how to study. In sixth grade we were taught how to use the library for research, how to take notes, how to cite sources, and, ultimately, how to write a research paper. This was reinforced throughout my junior and senior high years. So, when I embarked on my undergraduate education, I was ready. I may not have always exercised the discipline I needed to learn and to study, but I knew how to do it. Given my personal experience, I have for some time assumed that students on coming to college either already know how to study or find out how to study by utilizing campus resources (such as the learning center or their academic advisor). But as I have taught more classes, I have found that that assumption is very rarely true.

So, I have decided to provide a general methodology of study for this class (but which can be slightly adapted as needed and applied to any class). But be forewarned: there is no such thing as easy learning. Anyone selling you on that is simply not mentally sound or is out to take your money. Learning and study are hard work. Even those who are gifted for academic study have to work to study and to learn. If you think that you can simply read the chapter once, before class, and copy the answers to the practice quizzes, and just write down some quick answers to any Hicks and Kelley question AND get an A, or even a B, in the class, you are chasing an illusion. Even if you have some basic familiarity with critical reasoning, unless you’ve done some work in logic before, you will have to work hard in this class to get an above average grade of B or an excellent grade of A. If you are not prepared to invest one to two hours per class hour a week outside of class in study and reading, then you should not expect a grade higher than a C.

My suggestion for study is generally as follows:

Give yourself a break on Tuesday, the day after class, and don’t do any logic homework. If you’ve been following my study suggestions, your mind needs a break from logic. Use Tuesday to work on other classes or to read other matters that interest you, or to go to a movie, take a walk in the park, or engage in spirited recreation. Enjoy time with your family and friends.

On Wednesday read through the chapter twice, underlining/highlighting passages that are main points of the chapter or are unclear to you–but don’t take any extensive notes at this point. Just read through the chapter twice and make some marks to call your attention to important or unclear passages. Also, don’t do any of the practice quizzes yet. This should take you perhaps about an hour. (1 hour)

On Thursday, go through the text again, this time going slowly and taking as extensive notes as you need to understand the text. Once again highlight anything that is unclear to you. I would suggest that an hour of doing this, perhaps an hour and a half, would be sufficient. Once again, do not do the practice quizzes. Anything that is still unclear to you, send me an email about and I’ll try to clarify it. (1 to 1 hours)

On Friday take up the textbook again and this time work through the practice quizzes. Go through each quiz one at a time, checking your answers against the key in the back. Note each incorrect answer, but don’t spend any time on trying to understand your error yet. After you’ve worked through all the practice quizzes, go back through and note where you have incorrect answers. If you understand your error, you very likely don’t need to do much more study on that particular item, since it may have simply been a misunderstanding of the question or just a simple forgetting or a simple mistake. Nonetheless, if you understand your error, it was still an error and so you will want to do some light review of that item to make sure you understand it. For those errors that you do not understand why they are errors, go back through the text and see if you can get a better understanding of why you made the mistake you did. If you are still unclear, email me. This process on Friday should take about an hour. (1 hour)

On Saturday, then, read through the text again, focusing on the areas in which you made mistakes on the practice quiz or about which you are still unclear. If I haven’t clarified those issues in an email, make a special note to bring the matter up in class. This should take maybe a half hour or an hour. ( to 1 hour)

On Sunday, if there are no Hicks and Kelley readings assigned, don’t do anything with regard to logic. Let the study you have been doing over the previous few days simmer in your subconscious. If you do have Hicks and Kelley readings, read over the text once, work through the questions by referring back to the text. This is to be light work, a way to reinforce the chapter you’ve studied. It should take only about an hour. Especially if you do not have any Hicks and Kelley questions, make sure to enjoy the day free of studying for this class. Read inspiring texts. Listen to classical music. Spend some time enjoying whatever weather the day brings. Always make the effort to spend large and generous amounts of time with your loved ones. If you have to work, work diligently and be respectful of your co-workers and customers. Listen to conversations carefully. Classroom study is not a separate part of your life, and what happens in your life outside of class impacts your classroom life. Be at peace outside of class and your class time and study time will improve. (If Hicks and Kelley are assigned: 1 hour)

On Monday, the day of class, do a light review. Skim through the chapter headings, the portions of the chapter you underlined. Review items you’ve memorized. Go over your practice quizzes lightly. Don’t take much more than a half-hour doing this. Reserve all questions about matters that are unclear for class time. ( hour)

All told, you are looking at about five or six hours of study outside class. I’ve seen various guidelines about how much time to study per class hour, but my own experience and the experience of students I have spoken with is that you should invest one to two hours per class time outside of class, or, in our case, 3-6 hours of study.

I recognize that many in the class, perhaps yourself included, have full-time jobs, families, are taking other classes, and so on, and the expectation that one take 3-6 hours of study time outside of class seems impossible, or at least impractical. Here each situation will differ, but clear, open and honest communications with family members and house mates about your school obligations, if possible talking with your employer/supervisor, and just the hard work of personal time management–all these will help in carving out those hours.

If I can be of further assistance, let me know.