To bullshit or not to bullshit, learn it properly

Posted on Tue 12 May 2015 @ 3.17am HKT


Is it obvious that the person who wrote the following about Aristotle’s definition of justice was totally bullshitting? And is it written terribly?

Badly, you mean.

If philosophy is hard to read, at least do us a favour by not making things worse when retelling it.


The original


It all sounds so pregnant with profoundness and possibilities:—

The function of a human being is not clear cut, nor is it evident as to whether a so-called function is even present to begin with. Luckily, being human entails being distracted by the many questions that continuously emerge among man, questions that obscure existential crises everywhere in the form of the specific, befuddling conundrums they present. One of the most prevalent and befuddling of them all has been found to be the question of What is justice. When tackled by one of the greatest philosophers known to mankind, Aristotle, this question develops into an entirely new distraction, one that leads to a myriad of questions, all of which Aristotle discusses in his series of books entitled Nicomachean Ethics. From these book, a moral theory emerges, one which has shaped and continues to shape the entire study of ethics.

When it comes to justice, Aristotle has only one thing to say, and this “thing” is essentially just a categorization. Justice, as defined by aristotle, is a virtue. It is from this concept of a “virtue,” the category into which Aristotle places justice, where the most questions have sprung; for what is the essence of the quality of virtue, and whom or what could be receptive to possibly being described as virtuous? Thus, in Nichomachean Ethics, particularly in the first two books, Aristotle states what he sees is the nature of virtue, and while doing so, also delves into discussion about the different kinds of virtues that exist, as well as how they are respectively acquired. It is only after one defines virtue and its wide range of characteristics — what it really is, how it is acquired, and the scope of things to which it may be applied — that the true definition of justice can be arrived at.

Virtue, as defined by Aristotle, is a state of character. Over their lifetime, every person develops their character in two ways: with time through experiences, and by acquiring habits. The former is what Aristotle puts under the term “intellectual virtue,” it being a virtue that “owes both its birth and its growth to teaching.” Habits, on the other hand, are moral virtues, and are acquired through repeated actions. The more an action is done, the more ingrained into a person it becomes, until eventually, that action is a part of the person, a part of who they are (Aristotle Book 2). Therefore, it can be said that what one repeatedly does becomes infused with their character, an idea that can thus encompass the notion that to acquire virtue is to develop a “goodness of character” through what is purely habit. “We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” Ergo, one who gets used to doing just things by being just becomes a just character as a result of such.

It is important to acknowledge that Aristotle does make clear that the study of ethics — a study where the discussion of virtue and justice often lies — is neither an exact philosophy, nor is it one that will ever be apt to a purely objective stance. The renowned philosopher latches onto the fact that humans seem to have an innate ability to discern what is just; what is not necessarily evident though, is why we are able to so. With Nichomachean ethics, the question of how we categorize justice is dissolved with this idea that justice is acquired merely according to the extent in which we pursue and achieve virtue. Evidently then, justice is a state of character achieved by the means with which we pursue moral virtue in particular— by simply practicing justice and thus developing a penchant for incorporating it into everyday doings. While it is less a definition more a set of instructions, Aristotle’s take on justice has undoubtedly taken on a significant role in the philosophy that we study today, however vague.

All in all, while his word is not necessarily set in stone, Aristotle’s philosophy does hold a very important, very influential place in the world, and thus is practically set in, if not stone, a heavy steel or something of the sort. It was a significant day, the day the philosopher sat down and began to document the doctrine of ethics we now know as Nicomachean Ethics. His definition of justice as something one can essentially only acquire through habit is groundbreaking and truly eye-opening; for what are we all still doing in our seats, on our phones, in our beds, when we could be out there practicing whatever we see as justice until it becomes a part of the essence of our character?

(774 words)

— Anonymous (source withheld to protect OUR sanity if not yours)

This is the dead-fish kind of driving-around-in-circles prose that’s very common in academic writing from native English speakers at the upper secondary and college level.


delete c4c

Scrap the whole thing and restart.

If this is impossible, the whole thing could’ve been streamlined into a better class of bullshitting through rewriting or even basic editing.

The first rule of writing (bullshit or not) is this:—

Get the main point up front and early!
Nobody likes to read.

True fact, in my opinion

The second rule is this:—

Avoid stupidly long paragraphs.
That’s just trying to be meaninglessly clever.

Here’s what the problems are:—

wrecking ballThe copy is driving around in circles. It’s a mishmash of the formal style and the informal. It’s not palpably bad, but it doesn’t get the point across.

You have to plough though a minefield of comma-separated clauses — that’s just plain inconsiderate. All great for bullshitting — but not high-class bullshitting, we don’t think.

The red flags are already up in the first paragraph — hardly a sign that inspires confidence. The “function of a human being” has no logical connection with “distractions by the many questions that…,” and “Luckily” is also completely out of whack here.

Other than that, the copy isn’t entirely bullshit about Aristoddler. The writer seems to have read Aristumble (like we have) but didn’t really understand it (us too). We can’t blame people for not understanding (or even misunderstanding) things, but at least try to write like a normal, breathing human being — not like a social cripple.

A quick edit to highlight

red blue pencils 5 rings

Let’s show what could be done for the first paragraphs (pointless to do this for the rest):—

The function of a human being is not clear cut, nor is it evident as to whether a so-called if such a function is even present exists to begin with. Luckily, Being human entails being distracted by the many questions that continuously emerge among man, questions that obscure existential crises everywhere in the form of the present specific, befuddling conundrums they present that obscure the existential crises everywhere. One of the most prevalent of such and befuddling of them all has been found to be the questions of is What is justice? When tackled by a one of the greatest great philosophers known to mankind, such as Aristotle, this question develops into an entirely new distraction,. one that It leads to a myriad of questions, all of which Aristotle discusses in his series of books entitled Nicomachean Ethics. From these book him, a moral theory emerges, one which has shaped and continues to shape the entire study of ethics even today.

(Original 139 words vs. amended 105 words)

Insofar as the editorial and typesetting fields are concerned, the amendments would be considered ‘medium-heavy.’ This then is not a cost-effective standard of copy for editorial purposes.

Like a virgin

old to new 4chan

The whole shebang could have been more agreeably recast like this:—

jobless men keep goingAristotle’s concept of ‘justice’ provides an interesting philosophical exploration into the essential foundations and functions of human existence.

What is justice?

Aristotle’s position was that justice is just a categorization. In Book 2 of his Nicomachean Ethics series, he defined justice as a virtue and virtue a state of character (a “goodness of character” in his words). Therefore justice is a state or goodness of character.

From those two positions, Aristotle went on to explore the essential nature of virtue, its different types, what being virtuous means, and how different kinds of virtues could be acquired.

In the Aristotelian model, character develops from experiences or acquired by habit, or both. Experiences are intellectual virtues and “owes both its birth and its growth to teaching.” This contrasts with habits, which are moral virtues and acquirable through repetition of virtuous acts.

From that model emerges a moral theory of justice. If moral virtue like justice is a habit, then the Aristotelian model is very interesting indeed. The implication is galling: virtue is just a habit, and repetition of virtuous acts increasingly ingrains those acts into us until the virtues represented by those acts become our very character.

If true, then all other moral virtues are equally acquirable by practicing and incorporating their virtuous acts in everyday life — we can become temperate or brave simply by repeating temperate or brave acts until ingrained.

The Aristotelian model then appears less a definition of virtues (or character or even justice) and more a set of moral instruction. After all, what are we in life, if not practice what we see as justice until it becomes part of us?

The model rests on after having defined virtue first, however. So Aristotle’s explorations into the nature of virtue, how it is acquired, the scope of its application — and therefore the definition of justice itself — rested on his predefined parameters.

On other points Aristotle was unclear too. He held the idea that human beings can be observed to have an innate ability to discern what is just and what is not, but was unable to demonstrate why we are able to do so.

However vague Aristotle may have been on virtue and justice, his moral theory continues to drive and shape philosophy today. He was clear to state that the study of ethics — an area where the concepts of virtue and justice often crop up — is not an exact science and not one amenable to pure objectivity.

Aristotle’s true legacy was in leaving us with a structured doctrine of ethics in the form of Nicomachean Ethics. In this, the Aristotelian model as related to justice as a moral virtue was groundbreaking.

(443 words: 43% less to read)

gif ricky gervais giggling T5hhoXG

Isn’t that a much better-sounding class of bullshit?

Remember, the effectiveness of any bullshit is that it should be readily understandable. If not, then the bullshit is failing its mission.

So there.


Images: Aristotle (featured image) via Associate’s Mind | It’s all Greek to me via Keilo Associates | Delete via c4c | Wrecking ball via BioFuelsChat | Red-blue pencils via Rongcheng Great Stationery | Old to New via 4chan | Jobless men keep going via Global Research | Ricky Gervais via Imgur

© Learn English or Starve, 2015. (B15127)