Friday, January 30, 2009

Five Year Old Refutes Plato

Plato famously held that no one intentionally and knowingly acts wrongly. People do act wrongly, Plato knew, but such acts were always the result of ignorance of the good. If people knew what was good, they would act rightly. For Plato, there was no such thing as akrasia.

#1 is five years old. Like all five year olds, he is perfectly behaved... for a few minutes each day. After one bout of misbehavior involving pushing his younger brother we had a little chat.

PD: "Now was that the right thing to do?"
#1: "No."
PD: "Do you know what the right thing to do was?"
#1: "Yes I know. Not push him."
PD: "That's right. So if you knew what was the right thing to do, why did you push your brother?"
#1: Because I wanted to.

I suspect the Platonists are not convinced.

1 comment:

Taylor said...

Since I have been heavily influenced by Virginia Satir's work and also Parts work within Neuro-Linguistic Programming, I think this is best described as a conflict between parts.

Yes your five-year-old is aware of his better judgment, and he knows it is there, but where is his motivation to follow it? Plato's assertion is essentially that we are inherently motivated to follow a "good."

But what is a good, anyway? If we say that it is what we think we "should" do, there are plenty of legitimate reasons not to follow a "should."

Lets say for example that a person knows that they should not eat a famous cheesecake at a restaurant because it is packed with calories, and yet the option of eating the cheesecake will produce both culinary delight (time-limited feelings of pleasure) and also a new experience.

In deciding what to do, we have to weigh our "better good" against many other options, or parts of us with various distinct interests.

I think I could prove conclusively that "shoulds" can be installed and are to a large extent arbitrary depending on circumstances.

A woman might be morally against sleeping with a man or behaving a certain way as a strong moral "should," and at the same time that belief could hinder her ability to truly experience sexuality. In my mind its arbitrary and can be changed and adapted.

This belief, by the way, comes from an NLP presupposition that says that all behaviors are useful in some context. Even killing people is useful in the context of self-defense, or in the middle of a war.

In this instance the five-year-old has a part of himself that knows what the "right" thing to do is (or what you have installed as the right thing -- I make this distinction to have you carefully think about the motivation factors, roles, and authority figures). And yet, in this particular situation, he chooses another option.

Clearly that option was more compelling, or more persuasive at the moment at which he chose to execute the behavior.

This is one of the reasons I argue against simply teaching "logic" without some emotional relevancy. Yes he knows it's "wrong" but does he feel it? Does he really get it? At 5 years old my guess is that "moral super-ego" brain functionality hasn't been fully developed, or simply his priorities are in a different place.

Props to you for getting him to be honest about it. Where I would go with it personally would be to have him imagine stepping into his brother's body, and feeling X, Y, and Z (since this is hallucination which is a hypnotic process, you can make this part up). It would be physical feelings + thoughts with some sort of conclusion having to do with primal emotions that five year old's would understand.

If you think this is manipulative (in a negative sense) then realize that you are already installing similar belief structures when you are asking him those questions. That is, when you elicit, you also install (because of the presuppositions).

Hope that helps!