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Jason Merchey the writer, philosophical thinker, and Master’s-level psychologist shares his perspectives on classical and modern applications of values, wisdom, ethics, and personal growth. The goal is to provide insight into what “a life of value” is and how one can live it. Quotations, proverbs, idioms, and historical facts often provide grist for the mill. Occasional guest blogs are featured as well.

Aristotle’s View of Humanity’s Highest Aspirations

humanity's highest aspirations September 15th, 2018

Aristotle is the grandfather of ethics and human flourishing; his book The Nicomachean Ethics has been a classic read in philosophy and ethics courses at universities since about 340 B.C.E. He studied with Plato and is largely credited with inventing logic and natural science. In this blog, I will share a brief outline of Aristotle’s first section entitled “The Human Good”, including a few quotations about humanity’s highest virtues.

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Success According to Philosopher Tom Morris

success September 13th, 2018

Success is often talked and written about, but what exactly does it mean? Is it just another word for fame? Is it really about dominating the workplace? Driving the coolest car, having the most children? And who is one’s comparison group: peers, oneself, one’s superiors, one’s community? How about money: is the accumulation of it synonymous with success? Being a good person, and leaving the world better than one found it? I recently finished the older but still relevant book True Success, by the philosopher, one-time Notre Dame professor, person of faith, and values guru, Tom V. Morris. I will share some of the quotes from his book in this blog, this being the first: “To the extent that we want to have goals that are right for us and that will help make the contribution we are put in this life to make, we can be said to have as a goal true success.

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America’s Oligarchy Is Repugnant

oligarchy is repugnant September 12th, 2018

I am now preparing for Hurricane Florence to pummel the crap out of my family and me. It is astonishing, angering, and outrageous to hear a tape of Donald Trump touting the great job he and his team did with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. He is just such an appallingly poor excuse for a president I can hardly describe it without throwing my computer monitor out of the window. It’s that bad in my opinion. I thought G.W. Bush was bad, but now when I hear him talk, I long for those days! It’s just topsy-turvy in the extreme. My point in this blog is that I hope Hillary Clinton, Bill, Chuck Schumer, the DNC, and especially Debbie Wasserman-Schultz wake up every day and lament their actions in the 2016 Democratic Primary. The Ancient Athenian historian and general Thucydides pointed out that “Ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows. For on public matters no one can hear and decide so well as the many”; he was speaking against oligarchy in favor of democracy. Though democracy has never been perfect, and our founders feared granting power to anyone but aristocratic white men, it seems abundantly clear that America’s oligarchy is repugnant. 

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Quotes That Clarify the Cardinal Virtues

cardinal virtues September 11th, 2018

Have you heard the phrase the cardinal virtues? This is how Wikipedia describes their early beginning: “Plato identified the four cardinal virtues with the classes of the city described in The Republic, and with the faculties of man. Plato narrates a discussion of the character of a good city where the following is agreed upon. “Clearly, then, it will be wise, brave, temperate [literally: healthy-minded], and just.” (427e; see also 435b) Temperance was common to all classes, but primarily associated with the producing classes, the farmers and craftsmen, and with the animal appetites, to whom no special virtue was assigned; fortitude was assigned to the warrior class and to the spirited element in man; prudence to the rulers and to reason. Justice stands outside the class system and divisions of man, and rules the proper relationship among the three of them.” This blog examines the cardinal virtues from a transcultural and temporally-unlimited perspective.

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Reason and Emotion: Integrating Passion and Intellect

reason and emotion September 9th, 2018

There is an interesting metaphor for living in the world: that we ride atop an elephant (our emotion, our instincts, and our desires) and that our rational mind is like the human who attempts to direct the elephant where one wants this beast to go. This blog is about the ability to integrate reason and emotion, and the positive effects it can have on creativity, habit formation (and habit-breaking), and living a fulfilling and happy life. And what does one need to cultivate in order to ensure that rational thinking enjoys the benefit of passion and emotions? As usual, the answer is: wisdom. The bulk of the following is really quotations about reason and emotion, as exemplified by this quote by the distinguished scientist, evolutionary biologist, and author, Edward O. Wilson: “Brain scientists have vindicated the evolutionary view of mind. They have established that passion is inseverably linked to reason. Emotion is not just a perturbation of reason but a vital part of it.”

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The Nature of Values According to Socrates

the nature of values according to Socrates September 8th, 2018

In 399 B.C.E., the year Socrates was put on trial in ancient Athens, he met a prosecutor (for lack of a better word) on the steps of the Court of Archon. His name was Euthyphro, and, astonishingly, he was prosecuting his very own father for murder. He felt it would be “pollution” to allow his father to go unpunished; a stain upon his good name. They get to talking, and soon Socrates has the arrogant man in his grasp. This blog is about the nature of values according to Socrates, which is essentially Socratic dialogue. The question being explored, specifically, is whether goodness is goodness because the Ancient Greek gods want it to be so, or do they see goodness when they look upward, just like we humans do?

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Wisdom Is Ever-Ready to Guide Us From Here

Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us September 5th, 2018

For the moment, envision the high values and virtues – wisdom, truth, justice, beauty, passion, love, honor, strength, courage, etc. – as upon high; imagine they are personified, represented by gods and goddesses. Athena of course would symbolize wisdom; courage might be Apollo; Woden is strength, and so on. This idea was exemplified to great effect by Ancius Boethius. What he was thinking popped into my head when I looked at a picture of the anti-Christ, Donald Trump. Let me tell you about philosophy and Boethius. In his  The Consolation of Philosophy he spoke reverently of the word, and use the pronoun she to refer to wisdom and philosophy. He believed she watched over him, guided him, and could save him from his fate as a prisoner. I have hope that Wisdom is ever-ready to guide us from here to where we as individuals, communities and especially as a nation, we need to be.

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Evidence for A Certain Set of Values

evidence for a certain set of values September 4th, 2018

Philosopher James Rachels asserted “Philosophy, like morality itself, is first and last an exercise in reason – the ideas that should come out on top are the ones that have the best reasons on their sides.” In this blog, I wish to extol the virtue of certain values. This is not new; truth and justice and wisdom have been enshrined and touted and defended since before Socrates and Confucius and the Code of Hammurabi. The thousands of hours and thousands of dollars expended on reading, thinking, recording, codifying, transcribing, and communicating about ideas is philosophy in action; the quotations and the organization Values of the Wise offers is really evidence for a certain set of values.

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Is American Patriotism Getting Out of Control?

patriotism September 3rd, 2018

It’s been called the last refuge of scoundrels. It is undeniably linked to “us-against-them” tribal impulses, rooted in emotion and often impervious to reason. It feeds nationalism and militarism, making it a potentially dangerous phenomenon in a world of modern weaponry. Yet patriotism — outward, vocal, and enthusiastic patriotism — is still considered a vital element in American politics, an aspect of our culture that we not only tolerate but encourage. To many humanists, this is worth rethinking.

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The Values and Virtues America Desperately Needs

the values and virtues America desperately needs September 2nd, 2018

America, if it were a person, would be experiencing anxiety, self-doubt, egocentrism, confusion, self-loathing, and narcissism. Life has never been easy or uniformly positive for all but the wealthy, and even then, the rich aren’t any happier than the other social classes. It’s true, there was what some consider to be a “golden era” as we came out of World War II. The wealthy and corporations paid a large share of the tax burden, had more in common with the other social classes (e.g., “the Commons” were more robust then), and jobs were well-paying and fairly secure. Despite the racial, gender and sexual orientation problems that plagued America then, it was a time of general prosperity, social mobility, and optimism. Something has gone awry to an increasingly dire degree; if America were a person it would be spending a lot of time in bars, occasionally getting into a fight while intoxicated, and dealing with a persistent cough. The values and virtues America desperately needs are the subjects of this blog. It entails social criticism, but I think America can look to its “better angels”, as Lincoln put it. We have to do it. 

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