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Jordan Peterson - The pursuit of meaning and related ethical axioms

Jordan Peterson - The pursuit of meaning and related ethical axioms

I have only recently become aware of the work of Jordan Peterson. Because I am finding it so interesting, I hope that the following small collection of excerpts from some of his writings and speeches might entice any fellow latecomers to find out more about his work. See below for my own summary of some of the subjects touched upon in these slides.

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Philip Schwarz

June 19, 2022

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  1. Jordan Peterson • The good is whatever stops evil, the

    conscious and voluntary and vengeful source of the worse suffering • Fundamental ethical axiom (imbuing life with meaning): confronting potential with truth and courage produces what is good • The human purpose: the pursuit of meaning • Meaning as the Higher Good • Axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering I have only recently become aware of the work of Jordan Peterson. Because I am finding it so interesting, I hope that the following small collection of excerpts from some of his writings and speeches might entice any fellow latecomers to find out more about his work. See below for my own summary of some of the subjects touched upon in these slides. @philip_schwarz Dr Jordan B Peterson @jordanbpeterson
  2. Anything you practice is habit. So you are deterministic at

    the habit level. You are not deterministic at the level of consciousness. Because consciousness comes into play when you are doing something that you have not done before. And that’s interesting, because the conscious you is dealing with the world that isn’t determined yet. And I would say it is actually dealing with the world of possibility, the world of potential, and it is a world we believe in. You say to people, “you are not living up to your potential”. And you say that to yourself too, you know, when you wake up at night and you are guilty. I am not living up to my potential. And you don’t feel good about that and you think there is potential around you that you are not exploiting, and you feel bad about that too, and you should. It is a good source of guilt and shame. Not enough to crush you maybe, but enough to wake you up, and it is certainly not something you hope for, for the people you love, “ah, it’s ok, you are wasting your potential, it doesn’t matter”. No one says that. And so we are contending with potential and we know that, because we wake up in the morning and we are awake, the sun has risen, again, we are awake, and we confront the world and what do we confront? We confront the possibilities, the potential and the horror of the day. Here are the things we could do. Here are the things that could go bad. Here is how we could make things go better. And you know what that is. It is usually, ah, there are three or four things that I need to do today that I’d rather avoid but I better do them because if I don’t do them the world will be a worse place by six ‘o clock tonight. Dr Jordan B Peterson @jordanbpeterson 12 Rules for Life Tour - Sydney, Australia.
  3. Dr Jordan B Peterson @jordanbpeterson And that’s a funny thing

    because the world isn’t like that yet, it isn’t made like that yet, it won’t be made like that until you make it. And you might think, well here are some things that I could do that would be good, that would actually make the world a better place by six ‘o clock tonight. It would take some effort, and the willingness, and some aim, but you could do that. You can make it slightly better than it was, and certainly slightly less worse than it could be, and you know that, and you know that it weighs on you, I would say, as soon as you wake up. It might be a moral burden or it might be excitement, or it might be some combination of both, but that is certainly how you view yourself: a conscious agent confronting what has not yet been brought into being, confronting potential, and determining the course that the world is going to take. Maybe just in your small area, but who knows how big your area is, and how much what you do echoes around you. We have an idea in our culture that each of us is the center of the world. That’s why you are part of the sovereign state. That’s why you vote. That’s why the future of the state is dependent on your decision. Because we have decided, over a 10,000 year period that you are king. You, for whatever reasons, it is on you, your conscious ability to be awake, and to be articulate, and to be clued in, and to keep nature at bay, and culture straight, and you own malevolence under check, and to combat the unknown, and to transform it into something that is good. 12 Rules for Life Tour - Sydney, Australia.
  4. That’s what you are. And you see this reflected in

    the oldest stories, that’s the dragon’s myth, you know, you go out into the terrible unknown, beyond what we understand, into the unknwon itself, and you confront the terrible thing that rests there, the terrible eternal predatory monster, and you can do that because that’s what you are like, you are not cowering at home, not frozen into submission, you are out there active, and you can take it on, and as a consequence you can attain something of substantive value, right, and that’s you, the transformation of you, because now you are braver because you have done it, but it is also something now that you have garnered from the potential, and you can bring that back, and you can distribute that into the community. That’s the story of humanity, it is the oldest story we have, and it is correct. There is this idea in Genesis that at the beginning of time there was potential, there was nothing, like the nothing that is there when you wake up in the morning, that’s just the potential of the day, there are all sorts of things that could be, but nothing that is, and then there is a structure, that confronts it. Well that’s you, there you are, the structure that confronts potential. And then there is the personality that you use to confront it. So, in Genesis, the personality is Logos, and it is something like thruthful courage, and communicative ability, all amalgamated, it is something like that. So it is a lesson, it is like, OK, there is the potential, what are you supposed to do with it? Well there you are, ready to confront it. How do you confront it? With truth and courage. And then you transform it into what exists. You take the potential and you transform it into being itself. That’s your job. Dr Jordan B Peterson @jordanbpeterson 12 Rules for Life Tour - Sydney, Australia.
  5. Dr Jordan B Peterson @jordanbpeterson In Genesis, when God does

    this repeatedly, he says something repeatedly. He says, after each day of doing it, “and it was good”. And it is repeated. So it’s like it means something. It is repeated. But what does it mean? If you confront potential with truth and courage then what you produce is good. So that’s a good thing to know, if you want to produce what’s good. Confront the potential with truth and courage and what you produce is good. Great, so that’s a nice thing to know, it is a fundamental ethical axiom, and it is sort of predicated on faith. It is not easy to be courageous, and it is not easy to tell the truth, but the theory is, if you manage both of those in the face of potential, then what you do is you produce out of potential what is good. That’s a theory worth investigating, perhaps for the rest of your life. And then there is a corollary to the story. And the story is, at the end of God’s creation, describing how order emerges from chaos, or being from potential, there is this strange line, which is probably the most important line that’s ever been written in our culture, at the basis of our culture: and that is that men and women are made in the image of god. And what does that mean? Well. If God is that which confronts potential with truth and courage, and makes what is good out of potential, that seems to indicate that we have the same faculty. On a smaller scale perhaps. We are not omniscient, but we are not bloody well nothing. Our conscience is integrally tied into the structure of being in some manner we don’t understand, and it certainly is the case that we take what isn’t and turn it into what is. That’s something. That’s quite the trick we have been able to manage. 12 Rules for Life Tour - Sydney, Australia.
  6. 12 Rules for Life Tour - Sydney, Australia. Dr Jordan

    B Peterson @jordanbpeterson And so we are made in that image. And so what are we supposed to do? Well that’s what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to type our letters, and make our phrases, and construct our sentences, and build our paragraphs, and put our chapters together, and make our books, and communicate to people, and straighten out the damn culture, and constrain the malevolence and ignorance that besets each of us, and push nature back, and extend ourselves out into the unknown and confront the potential that is there in illimitable quantities, and make the world better than it could be otherwise. To move it away from hell, which it can certainly become that, and towards heaven to the degree that we can manage that. And that is a good enough goal. That’s the thing. You need something, because you know, life is though, it’s hard, you need something to get out of bed for and fight for, and that’s something, right? To fight, let’s say, against hell and for heaven. That’s something to fight for. And you know, if you want to be convinced about this, read a little bit about hell, read the Gulag Archipelago, or read Ordinary Men, or read The Rape of Nanking, or read about what happened in Nazi Germany during Auschwitz, and all the catastrophes of the twentieth century, and see if you believe in hell, and see if you think maybe not having that happen any more would be a good idea, and then think about maybe that’s something you could contribute to, and then that wouldn’t have to happen any more, and that would be a good thing. And God only knows what great things we could manage under such conditions because we are becoming incredibly technologically powerful, and what would it be like if we became equally wise? Well that would really be something. God only knows what we could manage in the next 20 years or the next 100 years. We are running at 40%, most of us, because we are half in and half out. And it is not surprising, because life is difficult. What if you were 90% in, or 95% in. Or all in? Because you are all in anyways, right? It is a life and death game. No one gets out of this. Everyone dies. You might as well commit yourself, and you might as well commit yourself to the highest good that you can attain, because why not?
  7. 12 Rules for Life Tour - Sydney, Australia. Dr Jordan

    B Peterson @jordanbpeterson It will imbue your life with meaning. It is hard, the responsibility is there, but all the meaning is in the responsibility, and that will make your life better, and it will make your family’s life better, and it should make your culture better. Maybe it will make the world better. That will justify your damn miserable existence at three ‘o clock in the morning when you are wondering what the hell you are doing here. And that’s a good thing, because there are going to be days when you are aching, and tired and sore, and there are people in your family that are sick, and you are cynical and bitter, and you need a reason to get up and you think, yes, well, a little more heaven and little less hell, maybe I can pull that off today and tomorrow and next week. And that’s worth struggling forward for. And so that is how it looks to me.
  8. Death, Toil and Evil The tragedy of self-conscious Being produces

    suffering, inevitable suffering. That suffering in turn motivates the desire for selfish, immediate gratification – for expediency. But sacrifice – and work – serves far more effectively than short term impulsive pleasure at keeping suffering at bay. However, tragedy itself (conceived of as the arbitrary harshness of society and nature, set against the vulnerability of the individual) is not the only – and perhaps not even the primary – source of suffering. There is also the problem of evil to consider. The world is set hard against us, of a certainty, but man’s inhumanity to man is something even worse. Thus, the problem of sacrifice is compounded in its complexity: it is not only privation and mortal limitation that must be addressed by work – by the willingness to offer, and to give up. It is the problem of evil as well. … Humans work, as we have seen. We work because we have awakened to the truth of our own vulnerability, our subjugation to disease and death, and wish to protect ourselves for as long as possible. Once we can see the future, we must prepare for it, or live in denial and terror. We therefore sacrifice the pleasures of today for the sake of a better tomorrow. But the realization of mortality and the necessity of work is not the only revelation to Adam and Eve when they eat the forbidden Fruit, wake up, and open their eyes. They were also granted (or cursed by) the knowledge of Good and Evil. … It took me decades to understand what that means (to understand even part of what that means). It’s this: once you become consciously aware that you, yourself, are vulnerable, you understand the nature of human vulnerability, in general. You understand that what it is like to be fearful, and angry, and resentful, and bitter. You understand what pain means. And once you truly understand such feelings in yourself, and how they are produced, you understand how to produce them in others. It is in this manner that the self-conscious beings that we are become voluntarily and exquisitely capable of tormenting ohers (and ourselves of course…). … Life is indeed “nasty, brutish and short”, as the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes so memorably remarked. But man’s capacity for evil makes it worse. This means that the central problem of life – the dealing with its brute facts – is not merely what and how to sacrifice to diminish suffering, but what and how to sacrifice to diminish suffering and evil – the conscious and voluntary and vengeful source of the worse suffering. Dr Jordan B Peterson @jordanbpeterson
  9. … What can I not doubt? The reality of suffering.

    It brooks no argument. Nihilists cannot undermine it with skepticism. Totalitarians cannot banish it. Cynics cannot escape from its reality. Suffering is real, and the artful infliction of suffering on another, for its own sake, is wrong. That became the cornerstone of my belief. … Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands a priori, not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced – then good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening. Meaning as the Higher Good It was from this that I drew my fundamental moral conclusions. Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death. Become aware of your own insufficiency – your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred. Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. Maybe it is not the world that is at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark. You’ve missed the target. You’ve fallen short of the glory of God. You’ve sinned. And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world. And above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the death of millions of people. Consider that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is good. Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering. You have now placed at the pinnacle of your moral hierarchy a set of presuppositions and actions aimed at the betterment of Being. Why? Because we know the alternative. The alternative was so close to Hell that the difference is not worth discussing. And the opposite of Hell is Heaven. To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of values is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. That’s a state, and a state of mind, at the same mind. Dr Jordan B Peterson @jordanbpeterson