CURRENT READING –  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem – PART IV

(to my readers, unfortunately the site has been down for 3 days, so the current post and responses to comments were delayed)

An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers,  by  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem

“If anyone should suggest that scientific knowledge is provable by the help of reason, he must realize that the first principles are not to be proved…By faith alone is it possible to arrive at the principle of the universe.” – Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis

 

I ended my last post on the uses of pragmatism to confirm reason outside of itself, and presented both a scientific example and an approach regarding proofs of God’s existence. To be fair we should attempt a similar process to consider the possibility that the traditional concept of God might be untrue. The agnostic (or atheist) might counter that the traditional concept of God is proven erroneous using coherence (the presence of unnecessary evil in the universe and the illogic of omnipotence and its inconsistency with free will)), coherence (the physicist’s argument for the spontaneous appearance of the primordial singularity or the power of science to explain events previously thought to be supernatural), and pragmatically (the inconsistency of attempts of most persons to achieve mystical union and the failure of prayers to solve worldly problems).  In the end, reason and pragmatism are shown to leave the proof of God unsettled.

Fr. Sorem’s attack on foundationalism and coherentism is immensely old – the default position of the ancient skeptics. But he who lives by the sword may die by it – intellectually honest skepticism imposes doubt on faith and revelation as well. In fact it seems far more dubious to consider revelation (particularly the patchwork of the New and Old Testaments) as absolute truth over reason and science with their largely internal consistencies, accurate predictions (for example eclipses) and immense utility (such as the automobile, cell phone, or computer). I seek not to undermine faith here, only to challenge whether skeptic doubt is the correct format to champion faith.

Nonetheless, for me, the most powerful portion Sorem’s essay is his proof of God’s existence I extracted in Part II of this critique. This is possibly one of the most powerful arguments I have ever seen for the belief in deity. If reason and truth itself are instantiated in the divine, what in the West is called the logos, then Fr. Sorem’s formulation of what is essentially a metaphysical argument for God’s existence seems to be entirely different from the traditional ontological, teleological, and cosmological arguments. Its weakness is I suppose is the validity of the first premise  – “Truth and knowledge cannot be justified in the absence of God (i.e by unverifiable human reason alone).” Still, it is for me worthy of extended contemplation which must follow this critique.

My last comment is that even if we bracket the above comments, this paper seems to argue that reason cannot confirm faith, not that Christianity is true. Nothing within it disproves the truth of other faiths, each of which is held as tightly by others as Christianity is for the Orthodox practitioner. Perhaps that was never his focus of course.

All in all, I appreciate the reader’s recommendation to review Fr. Sorem’s article, and I enjoyed becoming more familiar with Orthodox theology through the links provided. I would also like to thank Fr. Sorem for making his essay available to all of us for study.

Next week we return to contentment and psychology.

CURRENT READING –  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem – PART III

An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers,  by  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem

“God is proven, not as the conclusion of rational or empirical theistic arguments, but as the very ground of argument itself.” – Russell Manion, The Contingency of Knowledge and Revelatory Theism.

 

In the last two posts I introduced this essay by Fr. Sorem and attempted an objective synopsis. Today I offer my impressions as requested by the reader who brought it to my attention. I begin with the following disclaimer: on this site, I have no intention of discouraging, disparaging, or attempting to undermine the sincere religious beliefs of anyone, and thus nothing which follows is intended to challenge such faith. Rather I believe the practical philosopher makes intellectually honest efforts to identify internally consistent truths in matters that inform the meaning of life, including of course the question of the existence and nature of the divine.

So let us start with natural theology. It seems to me that Fr. Sorem is being unduly harsh on Aquinas and other traditional Christian apologists. I suspect they too would assign the origin of human reason to God, but, like me, think it is apposite to demonstrate its internal consistency by inverting the two – the reason, logic, and order created by or emanating from God should comport with God’s existence and nature. I expect a theist would and should be alarmed if sound human reasoning demonstrates that God’s existence or characteristics are illogical or contradictory. In fact, the argument from evil or Stephen Law’s ‘evil God argument’ as well as many ad absurdum arguments (i.e. “Can an omnipotent God create a stone which he himself cannot lift?”) attempt to demonstrate this very inconsistency. Granted, if God is known by ‘faith,’ it is not necessary to prove His existence, but it seems  reassuring and reinforcing that the divine’s gift of human reason is confirmatory, not incongruous with religious beliefs.

Next let us consider Fr. Sorem’s explanation of epistemology which he reduces to foundationalism and coherentism. While these are the two dominant systems of the theory of knowledge described by Western philosophy and his descriptions are very learned, I would counter that this distillation is incomplete. In matters of metaphysics, the divine, and personal meaning, we seek truth, not mere knowledge, and must thus utilize the three classical theories of or avenues to truth – correspondence, coherence (convergence), and pragmatic. 1 Truth, it seems to me, is most certain and action most justified when assertions are confirmed by the application of all three.

Foundationalism relies most on correspondence, mainly through reason not experience and coherentism relies more on experience  and on coherence and convergence (truth  is approached by the converging of data points and learned opinions). However pragmatism often offers an additional and independent layer to validate the first two. Human reason and coherentism (for example science) then are not demonstrated through circular reason alone, but by pragmatic confirmation – empirical results and accurate predictions. So for example, we know that Einstein’s ‘theory’ of relativity is true not only because of correspondence (e.g. the mathematics and concordant astronomical observations), nor coherence (say interoperability with Newtonian physics), but by its accurate predictions (such as gravitational lensing) or its instrumentality (such as GPS satellites and the atomic bomb).

If we now apply this approach to the question of the existence of God, we might say God is proven by Natural Theology using correspondence (for example Anselm’s ontological argument, Aquinas’s ‘five ways,’ and mystical experience), coherence (the universe’s origin in creation suggested by the ‘big bang theory’ or by validated supernatural events or miracles) and pragmatically (for example by the answering of prayers). Whatever one’s individual thoughts on the factuality of these examples, this process averts the criticism of circular reasoning, and yet does not rely on revelation. The practical philosopher concludes that the validity of reason is not contingent on circular reasoning, or the existence of a divine creator, but on the congruous application of the three models of truth upon reality itself.

(completed next post)

———————————————————————–

1Also see Certainty – Definitions and Distinctions published on this site 5/20/20 and 5/22/20 where I define  (1) Correspondence – truth is what corresponds to reality or fact (the common idea of truth). (2) Coherence – truth is that which coheres with other truths or beliefs (including the theory of  convergence), and (3) Pragmatism – truth is that which can be used to guide behavior; that is ‘what works.’

CURRENT READING –  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem – PART II

An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers,  by  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem  

“When God was conversing with Moses, He did not say ‘I am the essence’, but ‘I am the One Who is.’ Thus it is not the One Who is who derives from the essence, but essence which derives from Him, for it is He who contains all being in Himself.” – St. Gregory Palamas, Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts.

Continuing now with a synopsis of Fr. Sorem’s essay, he begins with a critique of Natural Theology – defined as inquiry into the existence and attributes of God without appeal to divine revelation as exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas who pursued reason in justification of faith. Fr. Sorem disputes the rationale of this approach since reason cannot be validated except by reason itself – i.e.  circular arguments that beg the question of reason’s trustworthiness. In short, God’s ontology precedes and transcends any possible epistemology, and thus faith trumps reason.

The next portion of the essay distills down to a critique of the two basic approaches used by philosophers to determine truth, Foundationalism and Coherentism. In Fr. Sorem’s opinion, foundationalism – the basing of truth on a foundation of unquestionable assertions – invariably fails as all assertions are contingent, even presumably self-evident ones. For him, purportedly self-evident truths still depend on the use of reason to demonstrate they are self-evident, and reason can never be validated independent of reason itself. Meanwhile coherentism – the justification of knowledge based on a web of internally consistent data points and beliefs – fails in his opinion because of the unreliability of sensory data, contaminating theories, and its ultimate dependence on unverifiable foundational beliefs. Therefore neither foundationalism nor coherentism can be deployed in the proof of God’s existence or nature.5

Fr. Sorem offers the alternative of a transcendental argument of God’s existence. My oversimplified and restated version of his more complex proof follows6:

  1. Truth and knowledge cannot be justified in the absence of God (i.e by unverifiable human reason alone).
  2. Truth and knowledge (necessarily) exist.
  3. Therefore God (necessarily) exists.

At his juncture he inserts tenets of the Orthodox religion that complement the logical arguments above. Since unaided human reason is incapable of determining its own legitimacy and the divine functions as the originating force of knowledge and truth, a bridge is needed between man and God. A quote from St. Justin Popovich fills this gap:

“[T]he power of Truth, from the other side, responds to the powerlessness of man on this side. Transcendent Truth crosses the gulf, arrives on our side of it and reveals Itself – Himself – in the person of Christ, the God-man. In Him transcendent Truth becomes immanent in man. The God-man reveals the truth in and through Himself. He reveals it not through thought or reason, but by the life that is His. He not only has the truth, He is Himself the Truth. In Him, Being and Truth are one…”7

In Fr. Sorem’s opinion, only the Eastern Orthodox Church (as opposed to Western Catholicism and Protestantism) has preserved the correct doctrine  that “God (the necessary condition) is rational, omniscient, transcendent, non-contingent (necessary), intentional in His creation (as opposed to creation being accidental) a personal and communal being … having divine uncreated energies distinct from the common essence, who becomes incarnate as the God-man (the only one that can bridge the epistemic gap) sends His Holy Spirit to illumine and solve man’s epistemic predicament, and reveals these truths to His Apostles…”8

His essay ends on a discussion of presuppositional apologetics, which rejects the usual apologist stance that one can deploy a neutral, autonomous epistemology or logic to prove the existence of God and justify faith. “God is the ultimate epistemological starting point…”9 He concludes that one needs the entire system of orthodox Christianity to validate knowledge and truth, and that man’s epistemic autonomy is ultimately “pretended.”

In the next post I will offer my critique of Fr. Sorem’s essay. Join me then.

——————————————————————–

5 Nor we presume the Five Ways of Aquinas. This is of course an extremely abbreviated explanation of Fr. Sorem’s very erudite composition and logic, but I believe it outlines fairly his attempt to demonstrate that Western philosophical reasoning is not a valid means to justify faith.

6I ask for leniency to those more familiar with advanced logic theory, and from Fr. Sorem for completely changing the format of his argument. It is possible I have misinterpreted his thinking, but I have attempted to remain faithful to the spirit of his logic.

7 Link https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/719360951752851519/720552166384730183/SOPHIA_Paper_2.pdf, page 15.

8Ibid., page 16.

9Ibid., page 17.

CURRENT READING –  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem – PART I

An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers,  by  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem

 “Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.” – Tertullian, On Prescription Against Heretics.

This week a reader asked me to critique this 19 page essay1 with the following prompt: “… at a fundamental level all religions of the world are a form of monism…and only orthodoxy has the essence – energy distinction model which allows epistemic flourishing and avoids the circular reasoning of monism. Please take a look at this paper which I think is a good representation of the way I see things as of now and let me know if you have any critique for the way the author presents his transcendental argument.”2

So before we begin I think it is necessary to understand what is meant by the term, essence-energy distinction model, which was new to me and not in any of my philosophical dictionaries or encyclopedias (even R.C. Zaehner’s  Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions, which does in fact have a section on Orthodox Christianity). Thus I will have to accept Wikipedia’s definition:

“In Palamite theology, there is a distinction between the essence (ousia) and the energies (energeia) of God … In layman’s terms, God’s essence is distinct from God’s energies in the same manner as the Sun’s essence and energies are distinct. The Sun’s essence is a ball of burning gas, while the Eastern Orthodox hold that God’s essence is incomprehensible. As the Sun’s essence is certainly unapproachable and unendurable, so the Eastern Orthodox hold of God’s essence As the sun’s energies on Earth, however, can be experienced and are evidenced by changes that they induce (ex. melting, hardening, growing, bleaching, etc.), the same is said of God’s energies—though perhaps in a more spiritual sense (ex. melting of hearts or strength, hardening of hearts, spiritual growth, bleaching to be “white as snow,” though more physical and psychological manifestations occur as well as in miracles, and inspiration, etc.). The important points being made are that while God is unknowable in His essence, He can be known (i.e. experienced) in His energies… Eastern Orthodox theologians generally regard this distinction as a real distinction, and not just a conceptual distinction. Historically,  Western Christian thought, since the time of the Great Schism, has tended to reject the essence–energies distinction as real in the case of God, characterizing the view as a heretical introduction of an unacceptable division in the Trinity and suggestive of polytheism…”3

In any case, the author of this essay offers as his biography the following: “Fr. Deacon Ananias Sorem, PhD is CEO, Founder, and President of Patristic Faith. Father is an Orthodox apologist and Professor of Philosophy at Fullerton College and Carroll College. He has a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College, together with an MA (Honors) and PhD in Philosophy (Epistemology; Philosophy of Science; Philosophy of Mind) from University College Dublin. His current academic work focuses on philosophical theology, epistemology, and the philosophy of science. Father is the author of several articles and peer-reviewed papers, including: ‘Searle, Materialism, and the Mind-Body Problem,’ ‘Gnostic Scientism and Technocratic Totalitarianism,’ ‘An Orthodox Approach to the Dangers of Modernity and Technology,’ and ‘An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers.’ He is also known for his YouTube channel, the Norwegian Nous.”4

Following this introductory post, I will in the next post summarize Fr. Sorem’s thesis, and in the two following it, offer my critique. Be prepared for some quite difficult reading!

————————————————————-

1 https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/719360951752851519/720552166384730183/SOPHIA_Paper_2.pdf

2See comment dated 7/17/22 on this site (italics are mine).

3 Wikipedia, Essence-energies distinction.

4 https://www.patristicfaith.com/our-team/

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART V (continued)

Let’s look now at two perspectives on contentment within positive psychology. First William Pavot and Ed Diener present subjective well-being as incorporating four independent variables – high positive affect, low negative affect, life satisfaction, and domain satisfaction. This last item, domain satisfaction, refers to the discreet realms of life such as marriage, work, health, and so forth. Contentment in this model then is global in scope and integrates the subjective weight of each characteristic and domain for a specific individual. Pavot and Diener point out this global assessment can be (1) bottom-up referring to the aggregation of experiences, the more labile derivation, or (2) top-down referring to personality or individual disposition that views life experiences in a positive light, and thus is the more stable consruct.

Pavot and Diener argue that evidence suggests that an interplay of bottom-up and top-down factors determines overall subjective well-being, and yet that for many people the degree of subjective well-being remains relatively stable over time. They explain this by noting life experiences and changes, whether negative or positive, quickly dissipate tending to bring the individual back to a stable “set point” ultimately related to one’s core personality. They also note a confounding variable; social comparisons, particularly to those in one’s immediate proximity. Whatever the determining factors, Pavot and Diener observe that subjective well-being tends to increase with age (more so than with increasing wealth), and with marriage, good social relationships, and religiosity.

A second perspective of contentment within positive psychology is offered by Jane Henry, who explores   contentment as the quieting of the mind.5 She adapts thinking from the Eastern traditions in encouraging spiritual practices that result in low arousal states as a path to happiness, not the higher arousal states sought by Westerners. Spiritual psychologists advocate living ethically, stress interpersonal relationships, and seek inner equanimity. They encourage us to go within, root out failings and develop the capacity to attend to others kindly. Acceptance, detachment from desires, mindfulness, non-personal identification, desisting from criticizing oneself and others, and flow or contented absorption in the present are highlighted.

One tool Henry emphasizes is meditation. “Meditation teaches people to understand and calm the mind and see more clearly. It does this by training attention, balancing emotions and transforming consciousness. Four common approaches are concentrative meditation where one focuses on an object such as a mantra, the breath or the body, mindfulness where attention is open, and an attitude of attentiveness is encouraged to whatever is experienced, contemplation around a quality such as compassion and intuitive apprehension where the practitioner waits for an answer to emerge to a particular question.”6

Positive psychology’s development of subjective well-being and spiritual psychology appears to offer additional perspective and novel methods beyond psychoanalysis and cognitive therapy in the pursuit of contentment. Before we conclude, I would like to consider some self-directed techniques which I hope will complete a blueprint of contentment from the psychological vantage point.

——————————————————————————–

4 David, Susan A. et. al., The Oxford Handbook of Happiness. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-871462-0, pages  134-145.

5Ibid., pages  411-421.

6Ibid., pages  417 (my italics).

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART V

“Contentment is not a final resting point, but a positive self-appraisal; an acknowledgement that we are on the proper course, a savoring of the past seasoned with hope for the future, a satisfaction with the self we are creating.” – Raymond Angelo Belliotti, The Seduction of Happiness.

 

 

 

Before we proceed I would like to relocate us on our map of the meaningful life. I have stated that there are four components: virtue, purpose, contentment, and relationship with ultimate reality. Earlier posts charted the first two and we are now working through the third, with the fourth to follow. We have plotted contentment in the ancient Eastern and Western philosophical traditions and in the thinking of later philosophers, and are in the process of surveying psychological approaches. In this last regard we have examined contentment mostly through the lens of disordered mental states and the alleviation of negative affect, essentially the reversing of discontent. Today we examine the most recent development in this discipline germane to contentment – positive psychology.

Positive psychology is defined as “the scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive.”1 It was founded by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the late 20th century by the simple inversion of psychological study from the causes and treatment of mental disorders into a search for what makes people flourish. Objective measurements of happiness and contentment remain tenuous, but MRI studies have demonstrated that positive affect is processed in the left prefrontal cortex and amygdala and negative affect is processed in the right prefrontal cortex. Likewise studies suggest that mindfulness meditation produces changes in brain activation consistent with reduced negative affect and increased positive affect.2

While positive psychology considers several domains of happiness from hedonism to flourishing, the configuration most analogous to contentment seems to me to be subjective well-being. This is a multidimensional concept encompassing self-evaluation of how one feels, i.e. emotions and moods, and how one thinks especially regarding life satisfaction. In turn, life satisfaction  “refers to a discrepancy between the present situation and what is thought to be the ideal or deserved standard.”3 Psychological well-being extends further defining a more comprehensive state of happiness including self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth, but clearly entails a high level of contentment.

(continued next post)

——————————————————————————–

1David, Susan A. et. al., The Oxford Handbook of Happiness. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-871462-0, page 2.

2Ibid.

3Ibid., page 4.

 

 

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART IV (continued)

Last time we began looking at how the theory underpinning cognitive therapy – specifically thought as the mode of subjective interpretation of the world and our place in it – can be utilized as the means to achieve contentment. Today we delve deeper into the principles of this modality.  Cognitive therapy deploys techniques intended to deal with anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders, not contentment per se. The goal is behavioral modification through systematic change in the way a person thinks and feels. Techniques include disconfirmation (evidence against negative thoughts) and reconceptualization or developing an alternative belief system to explain one’s circumstances.

There are at least three recognized forms of cognitive therapy but for this post I have added four analogous humanistic therapies3:

  • Rational emotive therapy seeks to eliminate absolutes in one’s thinking which distort reality (such as “I can never achieve anything worthwhile.”) Therapy is directed at developing a rational view of the world and discouraging over-control of one’s circumstances. In effect, one learns to change that which one can change and accept what one cannot.
  • Paradoxical control therapy undermines the anxiety arising from anticipating unwanted thoughts or behaviors by a controlled approach to the feared thoughts and behaviors (in essence play-acting).
  • Thought stopping consists of associating irritations or negative events to the emergence of undesired thoughts and then suppressing them (even shouting “STOP!”). A guru named Rajneesh wrote extensively in 1975 about thought-stopping, claiming it is a useful tool for pursuing spiritual enlightenment.
  • Client-centered therapy consists of empathic listening to the struggling individual, feeding back their feelings and thoughts. Perhaps this is an under-recognized benefit of deep friendship.
  • Reality therapy accentuates accepting the consequences of one’s actions and the contemplation of desirable behavior.
  • Gestalt therapy emphasizes becoming aware of oneself and attaining insight through catharsis. It seeks to deal with the here and now and not focus on the past. The famous “empty chair” technique is a component of this approach.
  • Existential therapy emphasizes confronting issues of the human condition such as finding a meaning in life, risking relationships, quality of life experiences, and the fear of death. Its goal is to increase awareness and choice in all areas of life and the development of direct and authentic living.

Of course, psychologists intend these therapies to be guided by a trained therapist, but the practical philosopher may extract and adopt self-guided equivalents for the alleviation of his or her own uneasiness. One advantage of the do-it-yourself approach is that one can combine features from different approaches in establishing a course to contentment. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, insight, self-knowledge, and a sound understanding of reality underlie the psychological avenue to inner serenity.

Next time we will look at the latest  psychological parallel to philosophical contentment, subjective well being.

—————————————————————-

3Meyer, Robert G. and Salmon, Paul, Abnormal Psychology. Allyn and Bacon, Inc., Boston, 1988. ISBN 0-205-11177-7, pages 136-142.

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART IV

“Do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”– Max Erhmann, Disiderata

 

In drawing on the science of psychology in our search for the elusive state of contentment, we come now face to face with the primary obstacle – thought itself. The human condition, since humans first appeared on this planet, entails unremitting stress – worry over the daily needs for survival, about complex social interactions, as to the ambiguous meaning of life, and at last regarding the inevitability of death. While stress manifests in other mammals – the deer’s ceaseless wariness, the predator’s anxious struggle for food, and the primate’s tenuous angling for position in the group – it seems only humans have the oversized brain that makes incessant thought, particularly about the self, the past, and the future the source of irreconcilable uneasiness.

Psychology and philosophy intersect at the point of negative thought’s effect on contentment. Laozi, Buddha, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca to name a few philosophers, recognize that peace of mind comes down to controlling or reversing troublesome thought patterns. However most often the philosopher simply asserts that one relinquish worry and redirect the mind in the direction of one’s societal role or towards tranquility without offering a specific program to succeed. Beyond meditation and Yoga practice, there are no philosophical practices for the management of stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction with oneself and one’s life. Presumably by merely recognizing the truth of things, one is expected to transcend continuing disquiet.

In dealing with anxious individuals, psychotherapists learned that the relief of stress and the cessation of negative thinking is in fact more difficult. While they offer several treatment options, the most germane for our purpose seems to be cognitive therapy (also cognitive-behavioral therapy). Robert G. Meyer and Paul Salmon define cognitive therapy as “a form of therapy that emphasizes challenging beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.”1 Richard Kasschau offers a slightly different nuance: “cognitive therapy is an approach in which thoughts are used to control emotions and behavior.”2 In either case the basic premise is that behavior and feelings are largely controlled by our thought processes.

Cognitive therapy is based on the theory that thought serves as the intermediary between external stimuli or circumstances and one’s emotions and behavior. Discontent is usually caused by problematic thinking – a series of mainly negative thoughts that ultimately have little to do with objective reality. Rain is seen as bad when one wishes to picnic, but good when wishes for a green lawn or a cloudy day is depressing while a sunny day is uplifting – none of this is instantiated in reality . Similarly the philosopher might point out that dissatisfaction with life for most of us is purely subjective or thought-created. Changing and re-directing thought then is the quintessential means to psychological and philosophical contentment.

(continued next post)

—————————————————————-

1Meyer, Robert G. and Salmon, Paul, Abnormal Psychology. Allyn and Bacon, Inc., Boston, 1988. ISBN 0-205-11177-7, page G4.

2Kasschau, Richard A., Understanding Psychology. Glencoe McGraw Hill, New York, NY, 2001. ISBN 0-07-820338-4, page 632.

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART III (finish)

To a large extent, the other psychoanalysts corroborate Adler’s advice. Erich Fromm in his essay, Selfishness, Self-Love, and Self-Interest, distinguishes “selfishness” from “true self-interest,” noting the selfish and the unselfish person loves neither himself nor others, whereas healthy self-interest entails developing fully one’s potential as a human being. The latter is only possible when one comes to truly know oneself, abandons greed, and overcomes the dissatisfaction and inner disillusionment arising from society’s crumbling “religion of success.” Change occurs when this rational insight occurs and when we embrace the biblical commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Michael Balint, in his essay, The Final Goal of Psycho-Analytic Treatment, describes a process beginning with Freud’s “making conscious the unconscious,…or the overcoming of resistances.”10  and V. Kovac’s step of “the unwinding of the repetition factor.”11 But he feels these are insufficient ground to break the cycle of anxiety resulting from prior unsatisfied needs. He has observed that in the final phase of treatment, individuals begin to

“give expression to long-forgotten, infantile, instinctual wishes, and to demand their gratification from the environment. These wishes are, at first, only faintly indicated, and their appearance often causes resistance, even extreme anxiety. It is only after many difficulties have been overcome and by very slow degrees that they are openly admitted, and it is not until even later that their gratification is experienced as pleasure. I have called this phenomenon the ‘New Beginning’ and I believe I have established the fact that it occurs just before the end, in all sufficiently profound analyses, and that it even constitutes an essential mechanism of the process of cure.”12

In Balint’s opinion this process of a ‘New Beginning’ may be relatively straight-forward for mild anxiety while in others, especially if they suffered severe limitations on gratifications, they may need to learn to “love anew.”

Finally Otto Rank in his essay, The Basis of a Will Therapy, offers an alternative perspective on breaking the cycle of anxiety. For him it is caused by the historical experience of repressing one’s will (in essence Freud’s id), and thus is relieved by learning to will freely without feelings of guilt. This entails confronting the ‘will problem’ in order to strengthen it in a positive direction, in effect, replacement with a “will-to-health.’ While Rank clearly is committed to the guidance of a therapist, I think we can repurpose his theory for self-directed contentment using his concluding words – our goal for defeating anxieties should not be “the overcoming of resistance, but the transformation of the negative will expression (counter-will) underlying them into positive and eventually creative expression.”13

To summarize, mid-20th century psychoanalysis offers much in eliminating psychological obstacles to discontent. First these thinkers identify the subtle causes of anxiety which we can draw on for insight into our own discontents. Second they suggest steps we can deploy to break the cycle of anxiety and achieve not only contentment but enhanced capacity to achieve our full humanity.

Next time we will look at the emphasis of later psychology on cognitive therapy.

——————————————————————

10Thompson, Clara (Editor), An Outline of Psychoanalysis. The Modern Library, New York, 1955. Page 425 (his italics).

11Ibid.,page 426 (his italics).

12Ibid.,page 427.

13Ibid.,page 468.

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART III (continued)

Having examined some classic theories on the origins of anxiety – the greatest psychological obstacle to lasting contentment – we now consider the solutions offered by the early psychoanalysts. Let’s start with Fromm-Reichmann who is careful to point out that anxiety has not only “negative, disintegrative facets but also some positive, construction ones.”7 We need only be concerned when anxiety takes the form of “an unpleasant interference with thinking processes and concentration, as a diffuse, vague and frequently objectless feeling of apprehension or as a discomforting feeling of uncertainty and helplessness.”8 It is as if Fromm-Reichmann is in effect defining anxiety as the opposite of contentment.  Her solution to this mode of discontent is of course psychotherapy, but here I think we must begin to diverge from the psychoanalysts and rework the components they impute to a successful program into a self-guided option.

The first step is to uncover the causes of one’s particular anxiety – especially developmental or childhood issues, frustrated or suppressed hopes and drives, feelings of insecurity, failure, or guilt, and fear of death or the unpredictable. I might add to these stress from excessive responsibilities, overstimulation, and possibly indolence. In any case, identifying the causes of one’s individual anxiety helps shrink it down to manageable size.

Next it is essential to come to appreciate that some level of anxiety is universal and that we must learn to deal with it.  Rigid resistance to anxiety is itself anxiety-causing. I find personal consolation in Freud’s insight that baseline anxiety is a manifestation of the survival instinct making it seem benignly natural. Alternatively recognizing that anxiety is universal bonds each of us to the rest of humanity. Relaxation techniques which will be discussed in a later post offer some help as well.

The third step is to break the cycle of anxiety which manifests two ways: (1) the propensity to feel helpless in the face of anxiety further exacerbates it, and (2) dwelling on the specific sources of anxiety reinforces it. The cycle is broken by recognizing and eliminating these patterns and adopting healthy alternatives. For example, Alfred Adler, in his essay Individual Psychology, Its Assumptions and Its Results, suggests the following for overcoming this cycle (referring to one arising from the unfounded feelings of one’s superiority over others): “…gain a reinforced sense of reality, development of a feeling of responsibility and a substitution for latent hatred of a feeling of mutual goodwill, all of which can be gained only by a conscious evolution of a feeling for the common weal and the conscious destruction of the will-to-power.”9

(final continuation next post)

——————————————————————

7Thompson, Clara (Editor), An Outline of Psychoanalysis. The Modern Library, New York, 1955. Page 114.

8Ibid.

9Ibid.,page 297 (his italics).