Chapter 2: You are what you do Key Terms Agent

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Chapter 2: You are what you do
Key Terms
Agent - A person who acts freely and knowingly, who chooses to do or not do something; a person who is accountable for his or her actions or omissions.
Conceptual Framework of Actions - You can not directly observe your capacity to make things happen. As a result, you can not directly describe it either (Paul Ricoeur). The human capacity can be explored to make things happen by asking: who? What? Why? How? With whom or against whom? Under what circumstances? With what outcome? Together these questions interact and allows us to indirectly understand and evaluate human actions. (see below for further explanation).
Determinism - A point of view that holds that human behaviour is a product, not of free will, but of a complex array of physical, social, cultural, psychological, and historical causes.
Free Will - The freedom humans have to make their own decisions without the constraint of necessity or fate.
Freedom - The human capacity to choose and to act. I am free because I have possibilities and capacities to act on these possibilities.
Intention - That which motivates me to act values. The reason for doing something that appears, at least to me, as good.
Logical Positivism - A form of positivism, developed by members of the Vienna Circle, that considers that the only meaningful philosophical problems are those that can be solved by logical analysis.
Motive - A reason for an action.
Naturalism - Understands the material universe as a unified system. In it, everything is shaped completely by physical, biological, psychological, social and environmental processes; cause and effect concept.
Predestination - The view that my behaviour is predetermined, whether by God or by other causes.

Providence - God providing protection or of nature as a spiritual power

Paul Ricoeur

  • Born in 1913, Valence France

  • went to school at the University of Rennes and studied philosophy

    • Completed his studies in Paris

    • Graduated in 1935

    • Taught in the equivalent to a Canadian High School (Lyceum)

  • was called to serve his country at the beginning of the Second World War

    • Was captured while serving in the french army and put into a camp with other prisoners

    • While in the camp he taught philosophy to the other prisoners

    • spent the duration of the war in the camp

  • The war convinced him to become a Pacifist, upon returning to France he decided to join a group of christians striving to model a christian socialist community

  • Frequently wrote about peace, violence & power, communism, human rights, and politics

    • known as The Prolific Writer of more than 1300 books and articles

  • Became a dean of philosophy at the University of Nantere in Paris

    • After an incident with one of the students he decided to resign

    • started teaching at multiple universities including Louvian, Montreal, and Chicago

  • Always a very public man being involved with the great issues of his time

  • His primary interest has always been human action

    • Other main interest is language and how it affects human existence and action

  • He received the Pope Paul VI International Prize from Pope John Paul II in 2003

    • “[Paul Ricoeur is] a philosopher, who is at the same a man of faith, committed to the defence of human and Christian values.” - Pope John Paul II

Sigmund Freud

  • born in 1856 in Czech Republic, then moved to Vienna when he was four

  • in 1973, he enrolled to the University of Vienna for medical school, however, he could not study that due to prejudice against Jewish people and decided to study neurology instead

  • he held that physical disorders such as body paralysis or visual impairment, were rather psychological than physiological causes

  • became a psychologist

  • became interested in the work of Joseph Breuer who studied psychotherapy

  • began to study hypnosis and sexual basis for problems of the human psyche

  • in order to cure a patient, they must experience a dark world of the human unconscious

  • began to study self-analysis: focused on dreams- which led to his work of The Interpretation of Dreams

  • initiated a discussion group on the topic of psychotherapy: other participants were Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and Otto Frank

  • these four researchers became known as the four pillars of psychology and formed the Vienna Psychological Society

  • unfortunately the discussions got heated and in the end, the four went separate ways and created their own theories

  • Freud continued to study psychotherapy and eventually fled Vienna due to the war

  • died in 1939

Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • Born in 1889 in Austria, and died in 1951 in England.

  • Wittgenstein’s primary interests were logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

  • In the 1920s a group of philosophers known as logical positivists originated the analytic philosophy: a method of approaching philosophical problems through analysis of the terms in which they are expressed.

  • They claimed that anything with meaning needs some sort of sensory experience to support it.

  • Physics being the only real science (according to them) set the standard for scientific investigations, in terms of its methods, so analytic philosophy was required to reduce everything back to sensory experiences

  • These sensory experiences included anything one can see, smell, touch, measure, hear, etc.

  • Wittgenstein argued that the human will, especially free will,  is not something one decides for himself due to the fact that free will cannot be seen, heard, or touched.

  • He posed the question, “When ‘I raise my arm,’ my arm goes up. And the problem arises: what is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm.”

  • You can say “I raise my arm” but saying it is not the same as performing the intended action. It is only when you have performed the action that whatever you intended shows itself.

What is the nature of human action?

As humans, we have the capacity to act. We have the choice to pursue either good acts or bad ones. We all have something called an agent, which is the human capacity to act. The action theory takes effort and awareness to say “ I can do it”. Analytic philosophy is insight that has given into this human capacity to do something. It examines the language we use to communicate a meaningful action. Human actions on the other hand give us our identity. It is the most important building block of who we are and who we become. Freedom is different from human action due to human potential, capacity, and power to act. For every action, there is an agent and it is the heart of ethics. Conceptual framework of action is when you cannot directly observe your capacity to make things happen based on Paul Ricoeur’s theory.  


How does what you do shape who you become?

Your actions shape the person you become; different actions shape you in different ways.  Ethics (moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behaviour) is about reflecting on your own intended actions. We all have motives behind our actions but we still need to ask ourselves, are my actions moral?


How capable are you of making a difference?
    Everyone is capable of making a difference because freedom provides human potential.  When you are aware of your freedom you use it and things start to change. By changing a course of events you change the world around you; you're extremely capable of making a difference and will just by making decisions.  You are able to make things change and happen in your world, relationships and even within yourself because of ethics and human action.

Freedom: The amazing capacity to act

Action theory:
    Analytic philosophy (a method of approaching philosophical problems through analysis of the terms in which they are expressed) has given us an insight into the human capacity to do something. It examines how we communicate our actions and establishes what devises an action as meaningful.
Human actions:

Actions are what makes us human and are what give us our identity. Our identity is created by what we think, say, do, and by what we undergo. Actions are not to be understood because they are not single events standing on their own. Freedom is the human potential, the capacity, the power to act, and action is the realization of that power. Using your freedom to make improvements changes the course of events. The action theory is about who it is done by  not what is done because for every action there is an individual, an agent, performing that action.

Conceptual framework of action:

You are unable to directly examine your ability to make things happen and are therefore also unable to describe it.  You experience this capacity as a conviction a kind of “i can do this” feeling, but in order to understand human action you must first understand what Paul Ricoeur’s conceptual framework of action.

To explore this ability ask yourself these questions about the action:
who? (who is the agent? who is the person that makes things happen?)

  • An agent is the person that make things happen. They use free choice as both an exercise and a measure of freedom.

what? (what is the action? what is the agent doing/going to do?)

  • Everyone has the capacity to act - actions are the intentions of an individual and everyone is responsible for the actions they perform. They shape who you are as a person.

why? (what is the motive? what is the reason for the action?)

  • There are reasons behind every action that humans perform. A reason for an action is an explanation of why that action was carried out.

how? (how will the agent carry out this action? under what circumstances does the agent have to complete the action? with or against whom? what will be the outcome/will you be responsible for your actions?)

  • How an action is carried out affects the agent. The way conflict is dealt with says something about you.

  • Actions are impacted by the circumstances under which you do something.

  • When actions are justified by appealing to a motive, approval, or prevention of disapproval, is being sought out. One learns to evaluate their actions by evaluating the actions of others.

  • Everyone is responsible for their own actions, and the outcome of their actions affects the self for good or bad whether the actions were intended or not.

By asking yourself these questions you will be able to determine and understand the action indirectly.
Human Freedom

What it means to be free:

To be free means always having unrealized possibilities because you are not limited to the constraints of others.

But is there freedom?:

The way the human ability to initiate an action is explained varies between philosophers. Wittgenstein states that human will does not exist at all, for it is not a sensory experience. Other philosophers say that human will does not have to be a sensory experience because other factors prove that there are intentions behind your actions (such as those seen in the neural and chemical changes in the brain). These philosophers persist that freedom is nonexistent because as much as we want to think that we have free will, it cannot be scientifically proven. Humans are part of a physical, material universe where nothing in them reaches a spiritual level. Everything is explained through physical and biological processes, and everything has a physical cause (Naturalism).

Naturalism was first coined in 1903 and is the one, if not the most, widely held philosophy today.  It sees the material universe as a unified system and believes everything in it is shaped by physical, biological, psychological, social and environmental processes.  You can think of it like a chain; everything is just a link in the chain, including humans.  Everything in this chain is connected by cause and effect.  In this way of understanding the world, sciences reigns over all and everything must be explained through scientific experimentation.  According to naturalism, if you want to prove something to be true you must have concrete evidence; all other means of reasoning are illegitimate.

“It’s all in the genes,” to naturalists, the Genome Project is the “blueprint of humanity.”  The Genome Project shows that humans are pre-programmed organisms that have no spirit or culture but are on an agenda that is the self-replication of genes; the human species are only a mere vehicle to encourage the reproduction of genes.  

Human freedom no longer exists if DNA controls who you are, your genes determine who you are and what you can be.  Motives, feelings, intentions, friendships are all just a delusion created by predisposition.  Naturalism erases the possibility of morality and ethics.  Since you are restricted to the confines of your genetic makeup how could you be held responsible for things that are due to a genetic process you have no control over? The Genome Project establishes a clear connection between a person’s neural network and their actions.  The human brain has more than 100 billion neurons all connecting and creating different pathways.  Can the neurons found in your brain explain human action or consciousness?  If this is so, which naturalists believe it is, than naturalism would allow us to establish a scientific basis for ethics; becoming a natural science.

No one can deny that there is a connection between genetic coding and human behavior but naturalism cannot account for human freedom or moral drive.  The evidence is coming together for this theory but at the current time it is far from being solidified and convincing.

Artificial intelligence
People have been trying to create artificial intelligence since the 1940s, but how do you create a machine that is intelligent?  The first person to bring the possibility to the table was Alan Turing.  He created a test where a person would have a conversation through a keyboard with a person and a machine, if they could not tell the difference than the machine was considered intelligent.  This test was called the Turing Test.  Before 1956 this project when by something else, only in 1956 did computer scientist, John McCarthy, name this project Artificial Intelligence (or AI for short).  He thought that since intelligence can be so precisely described that a machine could be made to simulate it.  Unfortunately, he soon discovered that it was more complicated than that and that they could program computer systems to replicate the brains neural networks but that replication isn't really intelligence. Another group of researches believe in “Strong AI” which says that technology will at some point, be able to think at an equal level to humans. Others ascribe to “Weak AI”, these researchers believe that they can create technology to emulate thinking-like features.  SIRI is an example of weak AI and a software that has speech-recognition.

Who, then, is the self?

When someone asks you “who are you?” your natural response is to explain your past and things like family, friends, things you like to do etc.  You are more than any of these things but they provide the framework of your life and help to give people insight into who you are.  You are more than what you’ve done and at any point you’re able to change who you are by doing things like making promises or future commitments.  These things project you into the future and based on the things you plan to do and achieve in the future you are able to change who you are.  Although you can’t change the past you do control your future.  

The mind-brain distinction

    Early philosophers had an understanding of human intelligence but did not make the connection between this intelligence and the human brain. René Descartes, a mathematician and philosopher, was the first to make the distinction. He began a systematic exploration of everything he knew and put them to the test. There he realized that he can doubt everything, including physical substances because appearances are deceiving. His conclusion stated: I think, therefore I am. He created a split between matter and thinking, and was left with a thinking mind with no link the brain.

    In the 19th century further progress was made in understanding the physiology of the brain and how it works. This helped to understand human behaviour. Thomas Huxley argued that the brain was a machine, as is everything else in nature, and the mind is a reflection of the brain’s activity.

    Even though we now have a better understanding of the brain, modern science has still not shown a definitive connection between the mind and brain function, even though it is evident that there is a connection. For example, the development of children is linked to the development of the brain.

Religious determinism:

    Naturalism advocates that freedom is an illusion because our actions are no more than the results of brain processes. Determinism is an attractive philosophy because it is difficult to come up with a theory to explain freedom. Freedom is not explained using science, it is instead a practical issue and should be explained practically.

    Some Christian churches have denied human freedom based on a belief that God has predetermined the actions of every individual. Providence, God’s influence upon events and actions, is a belief of most Christians. Freedom and ethics have no place in the doctrine of predestination according to John Calvin, a French Protestant reformer and theologian. Since Catholic teaching maintains that human freedom and God’s providence do not conflict, the Catholic position disagrees with Calvin. The Puritan tradition strongly believes that humans deserve eternal damnation because sin has depraved them. They have no chance of saving themselves because they are completely cut off from God. According to the Puritan tradition God does not want all people to be saved, instead he loves some and rejects others and there is no way to change his mind. Puritans don’t know why God chooses to save a small number of them and damn the rest. The Catholic tradition has also struggled to support the idea that humans are free precisely because of God’s providence, they have always sustained the idea of human freedom.
Free will:

    St. Augustine, a theologian, connected free will with grace. In his time, some denied the free will and some gave the free will too much power. St. Augustine stated: “It is certain that we will when we will; but He [God] brings it about that we act, but that without His help we neither will anything good nor do it.”

Social determinism:

    Social determinism is like naturalism. Your behaviour is determined by the influence of others upon you instead of your physical state. Your actions can be explained by what others have put you through which is why you are unable to be free. Your behaviour is explained by social factors, not your own decisions. To a social determinist, your past determined who you are today. This concept is based on the work of Sigmund Freud and his theory of the unconscious and conscious mind. The unconscious mind works according to you’re negative thoughts - it responds as a devil-figure.

Freud’s theory of the unconscious:

    Discovering the  concept of the unconscious mind was one of Freud’s most important contributions to the understanding of the human person. He stated that human behaviour is driven by unconscious impulses based on memories and desires most likely repressed because they were too painful. Therefore, the conscious mind will not have to deal with it directly. These memories do not go away, therefore there is a constant pressure on your conscious mind which plays an indirect role in shaping your perceptions and decisions. When you act out of your unconscious, your behaviour patterns are what Freud would call, “neurotic” In other words, for Freud, your dreams and neurotic behaviour patterns are resurfacing memories and desires. This becomes deterministic. Unless you reconnect with the repression and what gave rise to it, then your actions are not free and you cannot be responsible for them.

The life and death instinct:

Sexual Instinct (another aspect of Freud’s theory) - Freud maintained something that exerts pressure on the mind causing humans to act to reduce the tension. There are two instincts: one being eros (love or life) and the other he called thanatos (death). The life instinct is frequently identified with Freud’s notion of Eros or the sexual instinct. The desire for life instinct conflicts with another desire for death. An example would be the first world war which aggressive-destructive tendencies manifested by this horrendous war. He was highly critical of morality in which he saw as self-aggression. Morality consists of precepts and sanctions imposed upon people from the outside, most often against their will. Morality is built on coercion. It demands renunciation of one's instincts. This eventually leads to the concept of the superego. This is brought upon parents who raise their child at infancy where their morals are internalized. The superego acts as a referee between the id and the ego and balances out the situation. However, it is the internal taskmaker where it imposes feelings of guilt and shame if you do not follow the rules imposed upon you by parents and society. The shames are powerful enough that these precepts will go against your own will. This is amounted as self-aggression according to Freud.
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