Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Existential Power

January 9th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology

In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed or energy is converted: power equals work divided by time. Personal power is similar, in that it is a conversion of personal energy over time.

Personal power is the ability of an individual to affect and influence his or her environment, to make something happen within himself, in another individual, in a group, or in society at large. This implies that every individual has power, just by the nature of being human. All people are power.

I have been completing an overview paper on personal power for my masters’ work at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential. One of the first things that’s apparent in the personal power area of competence is that power is mostly written about directly in terms of political and economic power, where power concerns the degree of control on person exercises over another, not personal power, where power is inherent in an individual for that individual to use, or not, for personal growth and development.

Yet the concept of a person having, even being, power is inherent in philosophy. Here’s the portion of my paper that covers personal power from an existentialist point of view:

Existential psychologists focus on experience in contrast to behavior. In philosophical terms, existentialists believe that existence precedes essence. Humans experience life (existence) and make their own meaning (essence) through the choices they make. They do not come into the world with a predefined essence and a predetermined course of life but with the free will and ability to choose.

Choice itself is the essence of existence, and a person’s life is the sum total of the choices that he made. The past is the sum of choices, and the future does not exist until a choice is made, at which point it’s the past. Given that people can exercise choice, they are, by nature, powerful, for choice entails the ability to act, to channel energy in a way that has an effect on the world, either internal or external.

Personal power from an existentialist point of view, then, lies in the individual’s free will and ability to choose. Individuals chose their lives and the experiences that make up their lives. As a result, individuals have the power to make their lives as they will, which means that they can change the course of their lives by making different choices.

In psychotherapy, existential influences include the emphasis on individuals’ freedom and responsibility for their own existence, the process of becoming an individual, the challenge to authenticity in existence, and the positive role of anxiety as a medium for change and growth. In terms of methodology, existential psychotherapy requires, Donald Moss wrote in
Existential-Phenomenological Alternatives for Psychology‎, an “authentic encounter in the present moment between two existing individuals.”

German existentialist and phenomenological philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote that one of the essential characteristics of human existence is that they are “thrown” into the world. They exist in a network of circumstances, relationships, and history that they have not chosen. “(Existential) psychotherapy challenges the individual to take this “thrownness” and make it in some way “my own,” to take the facts and particularities and create of them a new life that is uniquely an expression of oneself,” Moss wrote.

Personal power, again, lies in individuals choosing to take responsibility for their life situation and the choices they make. Existential psychologists working in clinical practice challenge the individual to “own” their choices and take responsibility for them, to see how they have used their personal power of choice to make their own meaning or life and to further use their power to make life anew.

As a result of that personal power, people make a project of their lives, either consciously or unconsciously, in the view of existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sarte. Sartre conceived of the individual’s life project as a “fundamental project of being.” Key elements of the project of being are a spirit of playfulness, as opposed to seriousness, and a quality of full engagement in living. As Dr. Robert Wright wrote in an unpublished paper:

This includes responsibility for his life in all the aforementioned positions; a quality of commitment to principle and a sense of purpose as with Kierkegaard and Heidegger; a willingness to tell the truth fully as Nietzsche defined; and a quality of playful engagement in living as seen in Nietzsche and Sartre. There appears to be a consensus among the existentialists regarding these essentials of the individual’s life project.

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Family Intimacy

January 2nd, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in History, Philosophy, Psychology

I stayed away from anything related to the Tiger Woods drama. Well, for the most part. When my wife and I first heard the reports as a strange story, we knew basically what it was about: a family fight and affair. My manner of gossip related mostly to media reporting of the affair and how much play the story got and how typical that is in our celebrity-obsessed culture.

In looking today for news reporting family and intimacy, I came across “Wood’s story shows our priorities awry,” on from Knoxville, TN. Monty Walton, the writer, asked, “But have we stopped to ask what this story tells us about ourselves? . . . Aren’t we teaching an entire generation of young people that relationships are built on physical intimacy rather than emotional and spiritual intimacy?”

Aren’t we indeed. The the writer answers from a religious and somewhat moralistic point of view. Yet the questions and answers have created a tension since the beginnings of Western philosophy and thought, and intimacy, even in marriage, has been defined largely in physical terms and then decried on moral grounds.

Not for the better, either. “Intimacy fought for in the 1960s and 1970s lost out to morality in the 1980s and 1990s,” I write in “Historical Perspectives on the Family and the Development of Intimacy,” a paper written for my master’s degree at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential. In the paper, I trace questions of family and intimacy to a long-standing tension between Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical views.

It’s a tension reflected in questions such as the state support and individual choice that continue today, and it’s a tension that goes beyond the political and moral rhetoric that has become a staple of our political and cultural discourse. The Tiger Woods drama does indeed show that our priorities are awry, but neither making him a public spectacle, as the public and the media have tended to do since Victorian times, nor shunning him in the form of lost corporate endorsements will straighten out priorities.

I suggest we ponder Walton’s first question, “But have we stopped to ask what this story tells us about ourselves?” Download the full paper to tead my initial observations on the historical tensions in family and intimacy.

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January 1st, 2010 by Collin Canright | 1 Comment | Filed in Philosophy, Technology

A number of people have pointed out that today is a binary date, and we’ll have another couple, on the tenth of this month and on the first and tenth of October, when we’ll have 10-10-10. I read in Seth’s blog his predication that it will be a decade of frustration and change. Change because the first internet generation is old enough to spend money and start companies and will change things. Frustration because baby Boomers are aging; dreams and health are failing. They don’t have the savings and resources they once did–and they will whine about it publicly.

I read a link in the comments to a post from marketer Shafeen Charania, who suggested it will be a decade of clarity, a binary clarity (he’s one who commented on the date). This quote from the article struck me: “. . . I was reading The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card and was so struck by the power of I was what I did; I am what I will do . . .”

It struck me because of its existential character, and I have come, during this past year as a graduate student, to appreciate the insight of the existentialists: that the basic power of potential that resides in being human is the ability–the inescapable necessity–to make choices–good, bad, and neutral–while living through time. I have come to respect the responsibility of that power and to use it as consciously and intentionally as possible.

And for someone who bemoaned objectivity in journalism and its lack of responsibility for so long in my papers as a student, I have also come to appreciate the power of seeing things as they are, objectively. Unvarnished facts in some cases and unvarnished truths in others.

The fact of choice through time is just that sort of unvarnished truth. It certainly will be a decade of change, and of frustration, and undoubtedly some level of clarity. Yet today it’s also the time of year to look at our past choices, some with remorse and regret, and use the lessons of those choices to make better ones in this digital year that ends our first “digital decade”* and look forward to the next, with ever increasing choices, especially online, and the frustrations and changes choice entails.

* I came across the term in an otherwise lackluster review of the major online events of the past 10 years. In searching the phrase on Google, I find that the first result is an essay Bill Gates wrote in 2001, “Moving into the Digital Decade.” He almost got it right with this phrase, except the digital decade he’s talking about will take place on the mobile handset, and during the decade that’s upon us:

“In the Digital Decade, you’ll no longer think of the PC as a tool you use only to carry out specific tasks it will become something you come to rely on all the time. The power of the PC will be as ubiquitous and reliable as electricity, and vastly more useful than any single device we use today.”