Saturday, January 17, 2004

Someone please help me edit this picture. It's way too big. :)

.:Oral Examinations And Other Horror Stories:.

Ever had horrible, horrible dreams the night before a crucial oral examinations you’re about to have? Unlike other exams, oral examinations seem to be the most intimidating of all because you simply have little to no way of determining how well you do until your professor gives you an explicit sign of how well you did. Ever looked under your blanket while trying to sleep, and then you find images (Exceedingly non-erotic images, I hope. It’s not that oral examination we’re talking about here, are we?) of your professor underneath, staring at you with glassy eyes, as though refusing to process anything you’re telling her?

Ah, yes. An oral exam can be rather intimidating, but I find that it’s actually my strongest suit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am more adept at public speaking than I am at writing, if only for the flavor it can add to what one can read.

If anything, what’s more intimidating to me is going across tons upon tons of incoherent text, i.e., legal text, merely to eke out a miniscule output that sums up everything you’ve read (Or attempted to read, at the very least.). Nonetheless, let’s not go there, and I’d rather talk about the fun time I had with my oral exams run for today with Mr. Bulaong. Yes, I know “fun” and “orals” don’t usually go together in an academic sense, but then, that explains why people do regard me as unorthodox almost all the time.

.:How Did I Do?:.

I felt extremely confident by the time I was done reviewing, if only for the fact that I knew all those Greek terminologies like arête (Virtue.), mesotes (The mean.), phronesis (Practical intelligence.), orthos logos (Right reasoning.) to logon echontos (To follow the logos.), eudaimonia (Being well, doing well, flourishing, happiness.), and to ariston agathon (The highest good.). Having been able to define these quirky terms, I then tasked myself to make heads and tails of the general sequence, which was thus:

The highest good is to flourish. For one to flourish, one must use his practical knowledge constantly, finding the mean in given particular things, guided by right reasoning, in order to attain virtue through habituation.

This general sequence will have long discussions on their own, even discussions on the difference between Platonic good (Which is universal and otherworldly.), and Aristotelian good (Which is found in particular instances.). I waited for Mich to finish her oral examinations first, as I let her go ahead of me because she claims I’m a “tough act to follow”. Flattering, but only goes to prove how overrated I am. While it does make me feel a bit good about my chances, I simply could not look past anything at this point.

I sat down as soon as Mich left the bench, although Jen thought she was next. Jen likewise wished me luck, and then I was face to face with Mr. Bulaong for the nth time. Getting the common courtesies aside, he quickly set his timer to ten minutes, lest we enjoy our conversation too much and take thirty minutes instead. It appeared that I was reading what he would more or less ask, because I really felt that whatever he would ask, I would find a way to squeeze in the important ideas I would’ve wanted to bring to the fore that I strongly suspected nobody else could.

Mr. Bulaong: Towards the end of our discussions, we talked about how one learns to be good. This was under the heading of “Habituation”. Would you care to elaborate mainly on this matter first before we talk about other areas?

Marcelle: When we talk about virtue or arête, we are talking about something that we do not possess from the start. It is not natural in this respect. Rather, we are talking about something that we do, and this is essentially how the Aristotelian notion of good comes about, in contrast to the “essence”-centered conception of the universal good in Plato. Aristotle believes that the good is not something otherworldly, but rather something that can be seen in the physical realm, in different shapes and forms. As such, this good cannot be learned without performing it, as it is something meant to be manifest. This process is what we call habituation.

When one habituates himself, he does so through the process of ethismos, that is, inculcating the necessary characteristics from the things and the people around him; the customs, norms, and traditions we know as the ethe, in order for him to be able to develop his character, his hexis. For him to be truly good, he must be aware of the good that he does, he is doing this good for its own sake, and he is doing it from a settled state of character. Thus, random acts of goodness does not make a man virtuous. Continued acts, such that while this virtue is not natural or inborn, it does in fact become second nature to us, as we are already so accustomed to doing the right that we no longer feel the pull of countervailing temptations, yet we are still aware of them.

Thus, one learns to be good through habituation. For him to be good, he must do good in the threefold Aristotelian criteria aforementioned. As an example that does not fully grasp this but will hopefully suffice, Michael Jordan was not born a great basketball player. He did not just enter the NBA and immediately become the world’s greatest basketball player. In fact, it took him about a half a decade in the league before people got over looking at him as just a flashy player with no substance to establishing the Chicago Bulls’ double three-peat dynasty in the 90’s. He had to get there by playing the game, not by thinking it over. In short, he habituated himself to become a basketball player. You don’t acquire the good without activating it first. You have a cellular phone? Big deal! Text with it! Call with it! What good is it if you don’t use it (What good is a heart? Marcelle digresses.)?

Mr. Bulaong: How would you link phronesis to habituation?

Marcelle: Phronesis is what we would term as “practical intelligence”…

Mr. Bulaong: Why not “practical wisdom”, as some other translations put it?

Marcelle: Wisdom is a Platonic term, and we avoid these Platonic terminologies to eschew from conveying a notion of pure universality. While indeed, phronesis does deal with the universal in that it encompasses all knowledge of human life put into practice, it also deals with particulars, as it must be put into action. A man of practical intelligence, a phronimos, cannot have practical intelligence and not use it, if only for the obvious operative word, practical. We use this practical intelligence as something by which we can deliberate over our actions, by considering the mean, the mean relative to us, which is the mesotes, and in doing such right action, we then use it as an arche, a jumping board, for further deliberation.

The tie comes when we realize that to habituate something, we must constantly be doing it. Phronesis is both that which allows us to employ our experiences in considering the right course of action, which renders us capable of performing further deliberation into right action. Thus, it becomes a chain of deliberation, correct action, deliberation, which is exactly how we arrive at habituation since we are constantly doing what is right. Therefore, phronesis is neatly tied in with habituation because phronesis becomes one of the ingredients by which the good can be habituated.

Mr. Bulaong: I would like to ask of you an example, Marcelle, wherein the mesotes that you speak of is not a numerical value, which is the common conception most people have. I was hoping you could provide a good example.

Marcelle: In the movie “Matrix Revolutions”, the ship that Neo and Trinity took to get to the Machine City was named the “Logos”. This ship, captained by Niobe, was given to Neo by the former in her belief that something can be done.

Mr. Bulaong: Do you know why the ship was called that?

Marcelle: That’s what we shall get to. We know that the Logos is reason, and right reason is Orthos Logos. It would be logical to say that this ship Neo and Trinity took to the Machine City was the Orthos Logos.

Mr. Bulaong: Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Marcelle: Of course. Nonetheless, the ship was what took Neo and Trinity to the Machine City, and this is the vessel that led them to strike the balance between man and machine. Therefore, since the mesotes is such a balance, the Logos was, to an effect, its guiding principle in this respect. (Mr. Bulaong smiles at this point, knowing where Marcelle was headed.) So when they got there, and after Trinity died, Neo took it upon himself to encounter the Deus Ex Machina (God in the machine.), and thereby find the mesotes between man and machine. While you are right in that the common connotation of the mesotes is that it is a numerical value, we don’t see Neo arguing with the Deus Ex Machina in numerical terms; how many men should survive? How many machines should be around? In fact, he asked for a simple thing: peace. And the war between man and machine ended then and there.

Mr. Bulaong: Of course, he had to fight Smith in the Matrix first…

Marcelle: Yes, but a ceasefire was declared even before Neo was jacked into the Matrix, where he encountered Smith for the last time, the One versus the Many. But that’s about Aletheia, and is not our concern at this point (Mr. Bulaong chuckles, knowing that Aletheia is Marcelle’s favorite topic.). And after that, with the mesotes finally found, we then are led to ask: couldn’t this still be numerical? Ironically, the master of calculations himself, the Architect, answered the question for us.

The Oracle was sitting on a bench in the park in the Matrix with what appears to be her child protégé, or at least someone who has some commensurate measure of power in the Matrix as well (She created the sunrise. Or sunset.). Architect walks up to the Oracle, and asks, “How long do you expect this peace to last?” He expected a numerical value to this peace. Something that can be measured. Oracle simply replies, “As long as it can.” She indicates that this precarious peace is a balance that is qualitative and not quantitative. Oracle does not indicate how long this peace will last, only that there is peace at this point and that is significant enough.

Therefore, in this respect, the mesotes is clearly not a numerical value.

Mr. Bulaong: Magaling (Good), Marcelle. Malapit ka na mag-graduate (You’re almost graduating.). (Apparently, Marcelle might get to teach Philosophy, after all. Maybe Patty’s encouragements do have some merit. After all, here go those hints again…) Good, Marcelle. As usual. See you soon.

Marcelle: Thank you sir.

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