Chapter 10. AFFECTIONS AND APPETITES

1. Valuation

2. The main valuations

3. Ethology

 

1. Valuation

Let us now look more closely at the main affections or appetites, which are among the major influences on volition. Our increased understanding of volition and influence can help us clarify concepts such as: liking and disliking (affections), desire and aversion (appetites), hope and despair, confidence and fear, certainty and doubt, and esthetic responses to beauty and ugliness. These can all be referred to as ‘values’ or ‘disvalues’, things one chooses to pursue or avoid. They are all causal concepts, in that they motivate and explain volitional action; they are ‘allied’ to volition.

Values are at least expressed through velleities, if not through full volitions.

Note first that each of these pairs of terms refers to opposite sides in a continuum, the middle point of which is labeled indifference. Thus, for instance, ‘desire’ refers to a range of positive responses, and ‘aversion’ (or desire-not) to the corresponding range of negative responses. Special terms may be used for the extremes. Thus, the more intense expressions of liking are called love; and those of disliking, hate. Indifference, as the word suggests, means ‘the object makes no difference to the subject’ – i.e. the latter is uninfluenced one way or the other by the former.

Note that sometimes pleasure and pain are mixed; i.e. the same object may arouse pleasure in some respects and pain in other respects. No contradiction is involved; it is a real possibility. Sometimes, too, we are not sure whether what we feel is pleasant or painful. This is different from mixed feelings or indifference, but refers to confusion; it is not an ontological position, but an epistemological one.

Although the term ‘affection’ refers primarily to likes and dislikes, and ‘appetite’ refers primarily to desires and aversions, they are also used more broadly for all valuations; presumably, because we are affected by them in our responses, and like hunger and thirst they involve some drive to certain actions by the agent concerned.

A drive may be said to have positive or negative polarity, or to be attractive or repulsive, according as its inclination is toward or away from the object; and the degree of the drive signifies its power to influence, how easy or hard it makes pursuit or avoidance of the object, how likely or unlikely it is for the agent to go that way. The same agent may at the same time have “contrary drives”, i.e. drives with incompatible objects.

One may at once desire X and desire notX; one may even also desire not to desire X and desire not to desire notX. That is all logically acceptable. But it remains true that if one desires X, one does not not-desire X: the law of non-contradiction applies if the presence and absence of one and the same drive is under discussion. Furthermore, one cannot hope to eventually realize both the incompatible objects at once: if the desire for X comes true, the desire for notX will not. Moreover, one is not forced to desire any one thing or its opposite: one may remain indifferent. That is, I do not desire X and do not desire notX may both be true.

What we value today, we may disvalue or be indifferent to tomorrow. New cognitions, volitions or valuations can change our values. Our values are therefore often hypothetical, rather than categorical. We have more or less conscious hierarchies of values. Some values take precedence over others, come what may; others do so conditionally. Some values are basic and broadly influential, informing many of our actions over the long-term; others are ad hoc short-term responses to current opportunities. A drive may be strong, until its object is shown up to be incompatible with the object of some more important drive; in that event, the initial drive is considerably deflated and may even disappear completely. One drive may therefore be consciously used to resist or overcome another. Our values are thus in a sort of dynamic equilibrium, rather than statically set.

Emotions, of course, suggest valuations. The simplest emotions are physical pleasures and pains, sensations caused directly by external physical stimuli (e.g. a caress or a flame) or purely by physiological processes (e.g. satiety or hunger). More complex are psychosomatic emotions (sentiments), which are physical feelings with ‘mental’ causes; they are visceral, yet we know them to be due to events in the mind or evaluations in the soul. Bodily emotions are often a mixed bag of sensations and sentiments. More subtle are mental emotions, which seem to occur in the mental matrix rather than in the physical domain. Possibly, all bodily emotions are mental projections; possibly, apparently mental emotions are really physical – it is hard to say for sure.

In any case, note well, such classifications of emotions (as pleasures, pains; and as sensations, sentiments, mental emotions) should not cloud the fact that they vary greatly in quality and intensity. For instance, a pinprick is hardly comparable to a pang of hunger.

It is interesting to note that even physical pain may be variously experienced and influential, according to our perception and judgment of it. This is made evident in experiments using the ‘placebo effect’, where a patient’s pain is attenuated by fake pain reliever. Not only does the patient feel less pain, but also the fact is measurable through instruments attached to his brain.Note also the opposite, ‘nocebo effect’ – by which a misplaced belief gives rise to a physical, mental or emotional problem. Such ‘effects’ were cunningly used even in ancient times, by physicians and religious healers (to heal) and by witch doctors and the like (to heal or harm).

In any case, to repeat, all such concrete emotions are relatively superficial percepts and must not be confused with valuations, which occur and are intuited in the soul and are volitional acts. Their being willed does not mean such most inner values are artificial, affectations; quite the contrary, they come from the depths of self. Our knowledge of our valuations is self-knowledge. Concrete emotions and expressions of will give rise to various equivalent abstract notions of value, like good or bad. Valuations, note well, need not be verbal or even very conscious; indeed, they are usually wordlessly and subconsciously intended. We do not have to say, mentally or out loud, “this is good” or “this is bad” or “this is neutral”, to mean it.

Something valuated is called a value. Positive values (values) are pleasures or pleasant (if emotion generating), or beneficial to one’s self-interest, or good (using more abstract norms, eventually moral principles). Negative values (disvalues) are pains or painful, or harmful or bad. Indifferent things are neither valuable nor the opposite. ‘Self-interest’ here may be understood variously, as real or imaginary, probable or improbable, of interest to one’s soul, mind, body, loved ones, possessions, or more abstract concerns.

The terms ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are here intended indefinitely, to mean ‘valuable’ or ‘not valuable’; we use them because people do so. We acknowledge that people assign various contents to such general terms; we need not at this stage give them any objective status. Note that something may be neither good nor bad (indifferent); also, something may be good in some respects and bad in other respects (of mixed value). Therefore, though good and bad are ultimately meant as opposites, they are not logical contradictories.

 

2. The main valuations

There are many sorts of value concepts; below we try to define some of the more commonplace and so significant. Notice what they have in common: they essentially are or involve cognition (some belief or consideration), and for this reason are able to influence our volitions. Their repeated or constant influence on us explains our attachment to them, our immersion in pursuing or avoiding them. A value may be more or less long lasting. Our consistent valuations become our personal attitudes or dispositions.

One likes what one considers positive in some sense, in some way; one dislikes what one considers negative in some sense, in some way. One may like or dislike something without doing anything about it, although normally one makes some effort to go towards or away from it. Various terms distinguish varieties of likes and dislikes. For instance, love is a liking response of some high degree to people or animals (or even sometimes, though perhaps inappropriately, to inanimate objects like a house or a country); and hate is the opposite pole. Love and hate usually imply certain bundles of emotions and actions. Some people think they love someone, but are in fact only infatuated or sexually aroused. Hate, on the other hand, is rarely more superficial than it claims.

Desire signals an expectation of pleasure or some other benefit if some course is pursued; aversion, an expectation of pain or some other disservice if some course is pursued. The more feasible the required course to gain/keep or avoid/lose, the greater the impulse. If one realizes the object is unattainable, all the desire or aversion for it is lost. The desire or aversion for something usually includes the conation to have a certain kind of interrelation with it (e.g. desiring a woman, to make love to her or live with her).

Not all valuation is of the nature of desire or aversion, note well. What distinguishes them is that they usually lead to some sort of appropriate action or inaction, although they may on occasion be consciously ignored or resisted. Desire is expressed as grasping if we do not yet possess its object, and as clinging, if we already have it. An aversion is on the contrary a desire to steer clear of or get rid of the object.[1] If one succeeds in attaining the desired good, the desire is said to be fulfilled; if one fails, it is frustrated.

We of course often use specific terms for specific desires (or aversions), usually with reference to their object. Thus, for examples, thirst is desire for water or other liquids, hunger is for food (gluttony for excessive food), lust is for sexual gratification, greed for more wealth (money, possessions), vanity for admiration (including fame), power-lust for social dominance, curiosity for learning, and so forth. But many desires (or aversions) have not been given specific terms; we just say “the desire to …”.

Satisfaction or dissatisfaction refer to our reaction upon fulfillment, or admission of failure to fulfill, a given desire or aversion. Contentment or discontent refer to our no longer having any, or still having some, outstanding desires and aversions; or at least to not-attaching, or attaching, undue importance (degree of value) to them. Thus, these latter concepts concern not one object of desire, but one’s relation to desire more generally (in life as a whole), or at least in some broad domain (e.g. at work or at home).

Hope and despair also involve the thought that good or bad may come; but they are more passive than desire and aversion. Hope is the conviction of the possibility that something considered good will occur or something considered bad will not occur. The ‘possibility’ may be correctly or incorrectly assessed, with reference to solid data and tight reasoning, or as a mere consideration of ‘conceivability’ or ‘possibility in principle’, or as an act of faith or as a deliberate self-delusion. Despair is, strictly speaking, the lack of hope; though, in practice, the term is used more loosely, if there is almost no hope.

Despair may also be defined with reference to the possibility that bad occurs or that good not occur. If the good or bad event under consideration seems impossible, it gives rise to neither hope nor despair. In view of the ambiguity in the assessment of ‘possibility’, the proverbial cup may be considered half full or half empty. In hope, the good or not-bad seems probable; in despair, the bad or not-good seems probable. Even if one holds all the cards, one can only hope to fulfill one’s desires, since one can never be sure to be alive a minute from now. Despair is rarely fully justified, because the unexpected may well happen.

In any case, note, hope and despair relate to future possibilities or probabilities that may be actualized either by one’s own will or forbearance – or due to forces beyond one’s control. One awaits the object of hope, but one does not necessarily act to attain it or even have to consider that one can do something about it. Hope may be a wish rather than a will for some future good. People often hope in God, or in the promises of some politician or potential benefactor, or in next week’s lottery draw. They may feel some present pleasure at the thought that they may one day be blessed with this or that. Much fantasy is generated in this manner, keeping them entertained and superficially happy.

Trust and distrust are concepts in the same continuum as hope and despair. Whereas the latter concern the possibility of good or bad or their negations, the former concern moreover their probability. An event is not only considered, but moreover expected. Thus, trust is belief that good is likely to occur, or bad is unlikely to occur; while distrust is belief that bad will come or good not come. One may trust or distrust a person, oneself or someone else, with reference to future responses to events, usually basing the judgment on the evidence of past conduct.

Patience and impatience refer to our conduct relative to an expected event, according as one awaits it without worrying over it, or one wishes or tries to accelerate it. In the latter case, one not only desires or is averse to the object, but additionally concerned with its timing. The attitude of patience is based on the belief (right or wrong) that the external events or volitions concerned will play out in time and favorably, or at least in a manner one can adequately respond to, so one remains passive; whereas, in the case of impatience, one is doubtful of the outcome or timeliness and so one thinks interference is called for.

Confidence and fear both anticipate a more or less specific danger; they differ in the assessment of one’s ability to deal with the dangerous entity or event. Both, then, foresee the possibility of some negative event. But confidence suggests potential strength or efficacy, fear potential weakness or inefficacy, relative to the perceived or assumed threat.

The degree of confidence or fear varies, according to the size of the danger and of one’s expected strength or weakness. The assessments may be justified or not. The danger may be real or imagined, explicit or implied; the estimate of strength or weakness may be objectively accurate or not, admitted or not. Excessive confidence can be rash; excessive fear is timidity[2]. Such excesses respectively underestimate or overestimate the danger, and/or overestimate or underestimate one’s resources for dealing with it.

Confidence is sometimes due to foolishness and conceit, rather than to lucid assessments. The ego struts around, convinced of its adequacy on very superficial grounds. In some cases, this leads to success, because inner resistances are overcome or because other people are fooled by the show. But such egotism is ultimately brittle, and not true confidence. We may suspect secret fears to underlie it; these are best faced and dealt with, to secure genuine confidence.

Fear is compatible with hope, though often allied with despair. One may, note well, fear the inevitable – for instance, one’s eventual death; or one may resign oneself to it. A fear may come and go, according to one’s lingering on its object or one’s estimates of the conditions and probabilities. Thus, one may for a moment fear the sudden approach of a black hole to our planet, and then forget all about it. Or one may fear an enemy, and then find him weaker or oneself stronger than previously assumed and regain confidence.

Fear tests one’s will. Courage is overcoming the negative influence of fear, i.e. retaining the ability to act more or less effectively despite a perceived threat; cowardice is the opposite attitude. Having courage does not mean making a macho spectacle of oneself; it consists in keeping a cool head, and making a fair assessment of the danger and one’s resources, then acting as conceived necessary, doing the best one can. Bravery implies not being shaken when taking risks, because one can handle victory or defeat with equanimity.

Fear may give rise to an urge to flight (avoid or evade the object feared) or one to fight (parry or strike back at it). In combat, the most efficient way to deal with a threat is sometimes simply to bypass it altogether; it is sometimes wiser take a defensive stand, rather than allow the threat to grow; in some cases, counter-offensive measures are called for, to neutralize an aggressor; and in others still, preemptive attack, to make sure one is not surprised. The choice of means depends on one’s assessment of the danger and one’s resources.

Fear in itself is not an emotion. But fear may in some cases produce an emotion of fright, involving a hollow feeling in one’s solar plexus or tightness in one’s throat, as well as other symptoms, mental ones like stress and physical ones like tense neck and shoulders, faster and louder heartbeat, or skin sensations and hair raising. The exact reaction depends on the degree of danger relative to one’s self-assessment. Fright may be a healthy reaction, or it may be neurotic. In the latter case, it gives rise to anxiety feelings, the object of which is not clearly known, i.e. only known at a subconscious level; false explanations may be proposed, so that the logic involved becomes tangled and confused.

Fear, especially in conjunction with fright, may also arouse anger, an impulse to incapacitate (violently harm or destroy) the dangerous person; anger also involves a vengeful motive, to punish the frightening person. ‘Cold’ anger is distinguished from ‘hot’, according to the degree of rational control outwardly maintained in performance. Hatred is an emotional response to a person or an animal that has hurt one in some way. If something feared has actualized, we may for that reason hate its assumed author. But one may also hate the latter for causing one fright or anger, insofar as these are also painful in themselves. Hatred may even turn on God, if He is regarded as the malicious controller of the events feared[3].

One may fear oneself. If for instance one has in the past repeatedly betrayed some promise one has made to oneself, displaying lack of will that has had disastrous effects on one’s life or on loved ones, one may consider oneself untrustworthy. This may give rise to strong negative emotions, some of which may be chronic.

Certainty and doubt are also important valuations – which have a more epistemological context, signaling the degree of reliability or unreliability, or the completeness or incompleteness, of certain relevant data, concepts, propositions or inferences. One may also have certainty or doubt regarding how oneself or another person will react in such or such a situation of interest to one. Such evaluations of data or people are of course often very significant to our actions, determining which way we will go, or influencing us in taking preemptive measures. Certainty can be encouraging and energizing, but it may occasionally give misleading confidence. Doubt can make one hesitate or be demoralizing, but it may also occasionally stimulate creativity.

There are many other possible value judgments, of course, but the above are probably the most influential in our lives. Some attitudes have rather personal relevance (e.g. self-respect, pride, shame, guilt feelings); others are more directed at other people (e.g. admiration and contempt), or more relational (e.g. kindness or cruelty); though all may be involved in motivation to some degree and have social implications. Some of these valuations have some rationale; but many can be absurd. For instance, envy of another’s external possessions (e.g. house or wife) is understandable although not commendable, but envy of another’s qualities (e.g. youth or courage) is logically incomprehensible though common.

The esthetic responses towards beauty and ugliness are also worth mentioning, though more difficult to define. These appreciations of course often relate to our emotions. For examples, some rock music or contemporary paintings arouse great irritation in me; whereas in some other concerts or museums, I have been moved to tears by the beauty offered. But hearing a beautiful piece of music or seeing a beautiful painting does not always arouse a discernible response. Even so, the work of art somehow seems ‘objectively’ beautiful. Yet, we cannot honestly claim absolute objectivity, since different people have different responses; and even the same person may vary in his or her response over time. So, this field has much mystery. Which is perhaps its attractiveness.

Our various passions (desires, aversions, etc.) have hierarchies relative to each other. These hierarchies can in time become changed; so that, a value that was originally subsidiary to another, eventually becomes an end in itself, or at least a subsidiary of some other value. For example, a man may struggle to become a sports champion, or some other public figure, not primarily out of desire for fame or fortune, but as a way to attract the attentions of girls! Later, he may get to love his profession for quite different motives: for the spiritual lift it gives him, or because it keeps him healthy, say.

 

3. Ethology

The study of valuation may be called ethology. Ethology differs from ethics, in that it sets no standards, but merely studies the ways values arise, combine, conflict, and pass away in people, treating valuation as a neutral object of study.

Looking at the above descriptions, we see the many factors each concept of valuation involves. Memories, abstract beliefs, anticipations, imaginations, emotions, all come into play. Everything is weighed in the balance. Attitudes are formed; policies established. There are velleities, in the sense of volitions about to happen. Obstructions and helpful aspects have their impact. Then action may burst forth and grind on. A series of consequences may follow, some of which may boomerang on the actor.

Many other concepts we commonly use in psychological discourse can similarly be clarified. We can thus gradually build up a more or less structured lexicon of psychological terms, with reference to the basic concepts of cognition, volition and valuation. The importance of all three functions should be stressed; many writers clumsily ignore or conceal the one or the other. Flowcharts can be drawn, highlighting relationships.

Values of various kinds with various objects are often intertwined in a complex value system. Values are in principle changeable; but some, being parts of such a system, have deep and lasting influence on a broad range of volitional acts.

The value system may include a bundle of attitudes that one possesses since as far back as one can remember, so that one may be deeply attached to them as the very expression of one’s personal identity. Some values are pounded into us by parents or school. One may as a youth be influenced by the media (literature, movies) into thinking some attitude is valuable; and then discover when one meets certain people or faces certain challenges that the values transmitted to us were misrepresented. Some value systems, or parts of systems, are adopted by resolution, for ideological (ethical, religious, political) motives or to belong to some social group; these may remain firmly rooted once planted, or come and go. Many attitudes are acquired on the basis of life experience or personal reflection. Some people learn little from life; some evolve as they age.

The acquisition, maintenance or loss of values is rarely arbitrary, but usually modulated by life experience. One could draw an analogy between the induction of values (for volition) and the induction of truths (for cognition). In cognition, something may be supposed to be true, but if it makes false predictions, we come to doubt and reject it. Similarly, in volition, something may be supposed to have value, but if it makes false promises, we come to doubt and reject it. However, I am not sure this is always a reliable yardstick; people are willing to suffer a lot, before admitting disillusionment.

Let us not have an overly arithmetical or mercantile approach to values. In practice, I have found true the adage: “virtue is its own reward, vice its own punishment”. This may, of course, be considered as an ethical statement, a moral judgment, in view of the words virtue and vice. But on closer inspection, one sees that the words in question refer to certain behavior patterns, so that the principle does not set specific standards or criteria, but is axiologically neutral.

It is one commonly intended sense of what we call ‘the law of causality’ – a statement that, with regard to human volition, just as in the realm of causation, actions have consequences (more or less predictable ones, in the short or long term). If one behaves in psychologically or existentially destructive ways, one will indeed likely eventually be accordingly destroyed; and inversely, if one thinks, speaks and acts in a healthy manner, one will naturally have (gain, keep) self-confidence, self-respect, serenity and contentment, and similar marks of mental health and spiritual dignity. Generally, we reap what we sow.

The ways of ‘virtue’ or ‘vice’ are known by experience, i.e. they are forms of conduct so classified because they have been found by lucid people over time to be conducive or antithetical to life. I would express virtue summarily as dignity and decency – acting out of self-respect and respect of others, in the best senses of those terms. Vice is the opposite behavior, causing shame and guilt (even if one feigns indifference or pride) – to be avoided.

Of course, dignity and decency must be real and not pretended, and it takes effort and sensitivity to intuit them correctly. They are interactive, each affecting the other; so that both must be worked on to ensure their enhancement and stability. Virtue is not the means to some other goal and not the end of some other practice, but both the means and the end. The term “virtue” intends “it is the means” and the phrase “its own reward” intends “it is an end in itself”. Similarly, mutadis mutandis, for vice. These, then, are ways of being.

The virtuous stand straight; the vicious are twisted up inside. This is an ages-old ethological observation, which leaves the ethical choice to each one of us. It should be noted that it is only an approximation: it applies to the individual considered in abstraction from his social context. It refers to the inherent justice of our mental and spiritual makeup – but makes no claim to the existence of automatic social or natural justice, or of theodicy.

The reason why the principle applies to the human psyche, and not necessarily to human affairs, is due to the interaction of individuals in society. If everyone were virtuous, then virtue would perhaps be its own reward even in a social context. But since every society is a mix of virtuous and vicious elements, consistency requires the principle to break down in the larger context. The same consideration is applicable to the natural environment.

Thus, to take an extreme case, a wise and kindly person (indeed, an innocent babe) may well be harmed or killed by the likes of Hitler; and some such fools and criminals do observably end their days in material comfort and social immunity[4]. A natural disaster may sweep away nice and nasty people in the same wave. Similarly in more common situations – virtue does not guarantee material or social rewards, and vice does not guarantee material or social punishment. Social and natural forces and upheavals often pay little heed to the inner status of individuals.

Nevertheless, the virtuous person has spiritual or psychological riches that cannot be stolen or destroyed, and the vicious one has inner deficiencies that no external wealth or welfare can compensate. The former is a winner, the latter a loser, come what may on the outside. That fact provides consolation.

The Dhammapada, a 3rd Cent. BCE Buddhist text, puts it very nicely (v. 105)[5]:

…the greatest of victories is the victory over oneself; and neither the gods in heaven above nor the demons down below can turn into defeat the victory of such a man.

In practice, the condition of being at peace with oneself and having self-esteem depends on a number of factors. If any of these is lacking or insufficient, one is sooner or later bound to suffer proportionate degrees of inner conflict and self-contempt (or even, in extreme cases, self-hatred).

a. Self-esteem depends first on integrity or self-possession, i.e. doing what one values and abstaining from what one disvalues. This refers principally to one’s present behavior, but past behavior may impinge on one’s present self-evaluation (though such impact may diminish with time and appropriate efforts). Clearly, if one lacks self-control, if one’s actions are not in agreement with one’s thoughts, one is bound to feel one is failing or betraying oneself and develop inner tensions. For example: if one has a ‘bad’ habit, one should ‘logically’ give it up to ensure one has a ‘good’ conscience.

b. It follows that the stability of self-esteem depends on the reasonableness of the demands one makes on oneself. If one makes impossible demands, one is on a neurotic course that inevitably shatters inner peace. If one sets one’s standards too high, if one lacks composure and pressures oneself (e.g. through anger or whining) to act in unwise ways – one is behaving disrespectfully towards oneself. One can only realistically demand what is naturally possible and currently within reach of one’s actual capacities – no more. Of course, one can seek to surpass one’s current limits to some extent; what is possible or impossible in a given situation is open to some debate. For examples: it is reasonable (in most circumstances) to demand one go up to one’s boss and ask for a raise; it is unreasonable (for most people) to demand one have the courage to climb Mt. Everest.

c. Self-esteem is primarily a function of sincerely trying; it does not ultimately depend on success. So long as one has in truth made all appropriate efforts in the direction of one’s values, one is in reason free of blame for failure due to events beyond one’s control. Of course, how much is truly one’s best shot is open to debate. In the face of failure, one may try again, and again; perseverance is not excluded. But reality may still prevent ultimate success – and this should not in principle affect self-esteem. This is a corollary of the previous point. For example: a man tries to save someone from drowning and fails; if he tried his best, but the currents were too strong, his conscience is clear, and his self-esteem unaffected. If he feels dissatisfied with his performance, he may decide to train himself to swim better, for next time – but that is another story.

d. All the preceding points suggest that peace of mind and self-esteem are possible irrespective of the nature of one’s values. But that is unrealistic; it is too relativistic a position. Balance is not a product of mere conventions, be they individual or collective. It is not just a function of one’s belief system – it is also determined by objective circumstances. There is such a thing as ‘human nature’; people are not infinitely pliable and adaptable. The psychology of self-esteem also depends to a considerable extent on the constructiveness of one’s values – their healthiness, their life enhancing power.

One has to choose one’s values intelligently. If one’s values are contrary to human nature, they will sooner or later have a negative impact on one’s inner harmony and self-esteem. Because the harmful effects of unnatural values may take time to come to fruition, one may in the short term be lulled into a false sense of serenity and efficacy, but later on – sometimes suddenly and with a vengeance – one will discover the full force of one’s errors. Examples of this abound, and are worth reflecting on.

Someone living in a society where certain beliefs and practices intentionally causing harm to other people are common might on the surface seem perfectly at ease within this framework (e.g. black magic or racism). Nevertheless, such behavior may well affect his or her psyche adversely, and in the long term cause deep doubts and insecurities. The mere fact of acceptance of the framework does not necessarily exempt a person from eventual objective effects. Moreover, the person experiencing consequent disturbances may remain unable to identify their cause.

The same is true of certain beliefs and practices not thought by their proponents to cause psychological or social harm (e.g. homosexuality or masturbation). Psychological health and wellbeing is not merely an issue of adjustment to arbitrary personal or social standards. If this were the case, as some propose, standards could be varied at will and be as weird as we choose, and there would never be untoward consequences. But, to repeat, humans have a specific nature. No one is immune to reality check. Beliefs can be incorrect and values objectively destructive.

So much with regard to the virtue of ‘dignity’ – it is being worthy of self-respect and respect by others, through healthy-minded behavior. As for the virtue of ‘decency’ – it consists in treating other people and living beings with due respect (at least). These are related conditions. Self-respecting people generally behave respectfully towards others, acknowledging their dignity, thus revealing and reinforcing their own worth. (Respect does not of course mean condoning or honoring vice; it is rather a matter of poise: remaining noble even in the presence of ugliness, not stooping down to its level.) People without self-respect tend to exhibit disrespect towards others, thus revealing and reinforcing their own deficiency. Decency may range from a courteous hello or smile, to giving charity or saving a life; indecency may range from behavioral or verbal insult, to rape or torture.



[1] Some of these observations are gleaned from Buddhist psychology (see the twelve “nidanas”), which offers a very detailed dissection of desire or aversion: they begin with a sensory stimulus (“contact”); this gives rise to pleasure or pain (an experience or evaluation); we tend to adhere to the pleasant or to be repelled by the unpleasant (“grasping”); this in turn impels us to act accordingly i.e. do what is necessary to gain and/or keep or to avoid and/or lose that which gave rise to the initial sensation (“clinging”). I have personally found this analysis of great practical utility to tame unwanted passions. The series can be interrupted at any stage: one can preempt the initial contact; or stoically ignore the pleasure or pain; or dismiss the tendencies to grasp and cling. If one opportunity is lost, the next one can still be used.

[2] Paranoia occurs when one unjustifiably regards oneself as personally persecuted, i.e. when one largely imagines that other volitional agents intend to obstruct or hurt one, and one feels inadequate to deal with such a threat.

[3] Needless to say, I am not suggesting or approving of such an attitude, but merely noting that it can and does occur. Fear of God need not make one rebellious, but may instead make one submissive. In Judaism, fear of God, in the sense of submissiveness and obedience, is regarded as the foundation of virtue.

[4] To prevent which we have a judicial system.

[5] I do not know who is historically the earliest proponent of this truism. However, I personally finally become convinced of it when reading the aphorisms of Marcus Aurelius (121-80 CE – Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher), and I remember that it greatly affected my behavior thereafter.

You can purchase a paper copy of this book Books by Avi Sion in The Logician Bookstore at The Logician’s secure online Bookshop.