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On Discipline

A note on the examined life

Discipline pertains to one’s commitment to reasonableness, where “reasonableness” consists of a set of principles that guide one’s life in accordance with reason. Discipline encapsulates the connatural virtues of honesty, courage, and tenacity, which we may here present as standalone, analytical constructs though in practice they form part of an otherwise singular experience.

  • Honesty concerns the truthfulness one must have with respect to their own principles. It is about not taking the easy way out, for to cheat is to primarily lie to oneself.

  • Courage is the disposition of daring to commit to the rigours implied by one’s values; it is the attitude of not finding excuses to introduce ad-hoc exceptions to the principles when those do not rectify a state of unreasonableness under particular circumstances; it is the driving force of forethought, of preparing oneself for experiences yet to be.

  • Tenacity describes the modal qualities of such a commitment; a mode of conduct that prefers the most appropriate course of action over a more convenient one in terms of first appearances, the right thing in the long term over what may be expedient at the moment.

To be disciplined is to conduct oneself with consistency: to commit to the task at all times within the scope of reasonableness. It is about setting realisable goals and proceeding to meticulously accomplish them.

Realisability follows from reason, as one must evaluate their condition on a basis that is equally devoid of self-deprecation and lofty expectations that are misaligned with one’s actuality and potential. Realisability involves fearlessness to treat oneself with neither pretences nor defeatism, and it also speaks of ambition as it targets not just one’s current state, with its given horizon of possibilities, but also the state at which one’s potentiality is believed to be fully reached.

Consistency thus performs a cathartic function of freeing oneself from falsehoods; falsehoods of who one thinks they are; falsehoods that come in the form of rationalisations that hamper or misdirect action. It further succeeds in setting in motion a sustainable cycle of propitious growth in capacities to achieve one’s objectives that follow from reason.

Discipline expects knowledge of oneself. Yet to know who one is requires an appreciation of the factors that inform the case they are immersed in, for one exists in a given milieu that involves other humans, the intersubjective magnitudes between them, such as language and culture at-large, and everything that is not considered part of the human world in an analytical sense though is inseparable from it in vivo. This poses the problem of qualifying object properties independent of environmental properties, which ultimately dissolve into interconnectedness. It also raises questions about the distinction between human nature and convention and the degree to which it applies. There is a level of abstraction, a given scope of application, where the analytical constructs can be held as separate, so that there can be instantiations of concepts even though those do not have a standalone presence once the constitution of the case is expanded beyond analytics.

[ Read: Notes on object and environment properties (2019-04-23), Notes on simplicity (2019-06-22), On the nature-convention divide (2020-08-10) ]

To know oneself introduces an element of approximation of one’s condition. Such is no perfect knowledge, for one cannot arrive at a strict objectivity of their subject through their subjectivity. The self is a factor of the case and so it exists in a cobweb of feedback loops with other factors, in that it is part of their grand interplay, which means that it is involved in cycles of events that influence, frame, or otherwise condition its state. As such, one can claim to know their self only as an idealisation, as that which is considered common in the multitude of phenomena. An “idealisation” here means an abstraction from the particularities but also denotes the simplification of the case’s constitution, where one either purposefully or through the impossibility of omniscience reduces the case to a subset of its factors, thus altering at the level of the thinkable its constitution and the findings that may be derived therefrom.

[ Read: Notes on Science and Scientism (2021-04-28) ]

Consequently, the reasonableness that discipline is committed to is grounded in practicality, which involves a degree of arbitrariness and proneness to error. Couched in those terms, to know oneself is to maintain an open-minded idea of who one is, remain dubitative and inquisitive about it, and be prepared to assess new phenomena and corresponding patterns of behaviour on their own merits. This suggests that the self—the conception of self—is dynamic and mutable, even when changes are marginal or gradual.

Such uncertainty imposes a constraint whose recognition hints at the sceptical mindset: the ability to withhold judgement without fearing the resulting uncertainty. Fear of the unknown is what compels humans to invent and then enforce answers where none truly exist as a short term remedy to their uneasiness. It is what feeds their propensity towards avoiding open-endedness, for the unknown disturbs the person who has not yet come to terms with the limitations of their nature, one of which is the impossibility of omniscience.

To tolerate uncertainty is to escape from the instinctive—sometimes detrimental, other times benign—fear of the unknown, in order to control one’s presence in a spirit of calmness and tranquillity. There is no angst left, only ataraxia: the recognition that one does not know nearly as much as they think they do or would like to and remains calm about it in a profound sense of living in calmness, neither preaching it nor pretending to be that way.

Sceptical thinking involves modesty, for one must operate in a manner that is consistent with open-endedness or, in other words, that does not introduce dogma: a false sense of certainty that conflates one’s opinion with the truth. To be modest is to exercise restraint in how one behaves and thinks, which means that one does not value continuity for its own sake, as in the sense of showing unbending devotion to the beliefs one had expressed in the past or the notion of dying for one’s ideas, for those likely assume a certainty that has not been truly attained.

Discipline thus consists in moderation. To exaggerate is to introduce an element of arbitrariness beyond that which is expected by the impression of the self and the case in the thinkable. There is a difference between (i) error that is graspable and rectifiable and (ii) the terminus to one’s faculties of sense and intellect. To overestimate one’s abilities is another way of misreading the constraints imposed upon them by the prevailing conditions: an instance of unreasonableness.

Moderation, like the conception of self, cannot be stipulated as static or immutable. It cannot be described independent of its contextuality. And so it too must be discerned through careful deliberation in a spirit of open-endedness and in accordance with practical reason. To find the mean is to remain zetetic and aporetic about the constitution of the case: it is to continue searching for the truth and be readily aware that whatever conclusion is an intermediate state between cycles of research that involve certainty and uncertainty, to the effect that the truth at any given moment is a reflection of that which is possible by the given state of knowledge and the way it is interpreted or implemented.

[ Read: The Dialectician’s Ethos (2020-09-30) ]

Searching for the mean in quotidian life, within the mindset of scepticism, has a potential direct effect on the particularities of one’s principles. For one’s impression of what is reasonable in scenario A may not be the same in scenario B due to alterations in the case’s constitution. If one were to mistake discipline for continuity or devotion to a preconceived, decontextualised cause they would be committing the error of applying the findings of case A to case B, thus disregarding the differences between the two and the variations in the possible phenomena that may emerge from them.

Discipline is commitment to reasonableness to the effect that it cannot be reduced to a mechanistic pattern or set of unexamined and unquestionable routines that operate as effective enemies of reason. Rather, through discipline one must be in a position to evaluate evolving states of affairs to continuously affirm the reasonableness that underpins their modus vivendi. It is the sign of wisdom to know when to break one’s rules and how and, conversely, unflinching faith to rules of conduct regardless of the prevailing conditions points at dogmatism, i.e. unreasonable behaviour

Wisdom rests on the understanding of human’s fallible nature. It recognises that there can be a once-unfathomable-now-revealed constitution of the case in which what stood to reason before it has since become alien to reason. More generally, it admits that reasonableness is a function of the constitution of the case; a case that encompasses the subjective magnitude of the agent who assesses the factors involved, and the objective dimension of those factors in their interplay, with the understanding that each of those factors can have an indeterminate behaviour of its own. Wisdom admits universal interconnectedness. To insist on a decontextualised brand of reasonableness, rules without the requisite environment for their benign applicability, is a form of recklessness or exaggeration that violates moderation and ultimately undermines discipline.

A disciplined life covers the totality of one’s patterns of behaviour which have all been subjected to the same rigours of being aligned with reason and remaining open to revaluation. In accordance with practicality, a life of that sort cannot be realised at once. The endeavour is impossible for the uninitiated. A gradual method is in order, just as how one must be able to jog for 5 minutes, then 10, 30, and so on, before they can think about competing at a Marathon run. Again, this is about finding the mean and avoiding excesses by knowing oneself in light of what is documented herein.

To believe that one may transition to a disciplined life in an instant constitutes a failure to recognise the demands imposed by conformance with reason. Such a feeble attitude hints at irresponsibility: a frivolous outlook of not trying in earnest to make an accurate estimate of the requirements and of who one is and, consequently, of not assigning appropriate value to an outright erroneous set of conclusions. Irresponsibility is, in this regard, a form of fallacious thinking.

Instead of trying and failing to commit to a disciplined life at once, one must develop discrete patterns that partake of the ethos of discipline. Those are self-contained habits or daily routines that initiate one into the process of forging the mentality of commitment to the cause of reason. They are to be called “rituals”: mundane exercises whose real purpose is to keep one on track.

Rituals must be understood as ancillary to the sceptical disposition of moderation, not as articles of faith. They are devices that are designed to be employed as means to a greater end. A clear sign of failure to act reasonably is to misconstrue observance of rituals with discipline as such, in the same way a statue of Demeter (Earth Mother), an otherwise poetic encapsulation of a rich narrative, is not Demeter.

[ Read: On role and actuality (2021-04-15) ]

Rituals are to be embedded in one’s life in accordance with an incrementalist method of practising them and becoming better at them over time. Incrementalism refers to the approach of performing one minute change at a time. Those changes have a compounding effect, as each increment builds on the previous one until the ritual becomes the new normal in one’s life.

Consider, for example, the act of walking and suppose that one wants to ritualise it, in the sense here considered, by starting from a state where a daily walk was not part of their schedule. Such a person must begin by trying 5 minute walks around their house, as in the case of walking down the street and then back home. This should be done once per day. When the person feels confident in their ability to push for a higher target, the duration can increase to 10 minutes, and then 20 or even 30. There can be no exact timetable for determining the precise timing of increasing the effort estimate. It depends on each person. Someone may be able to make progress within a few days, while another requires a few weeks. What matters with those rituals is to commit to the cause, not to compete with another person and certainly not to live by someone else’s standards, for competition is not an end in itself.

A ritual is an exercise in preparation of the real goal of conforming with reason. If one can commit to walking for, say, an hour a day, and of doing the same with other rituals, then they can apply that rigour to thinking things through, avoiding exaggerations and dogma, and generally living in accordance with reason, always without prejudice to each person’s abilities.

The incrementalism by which rituals are to be introduced and observed in daily life helps keep one’s expectations in check. The single most important aspect in any given routine is how one perceives themselves making progress in it. When the expectations are too high, and thus unrealistic, the resulting feelings are those of disempowerment and disappointment, which may turn into rationalisations that seek to render void the significance of discipline, as in the form of “I never wanted it, anyway”. Exorbitant expectations, which entail unreasonableness, may also inwardly corrupt the person’s frame of mind by tempting them to cheat, to seek an easy way out, which would result in a failure to pass the test of honesty.

Incrementalism ensures that one comes to terms with their potential through their own trials and errors. It is essential to understand one’s limits and to work within them. Discipline is not about becoming an elite performer relative to one’s peers, but only to commit to the reasonableness that is to govern one’s life, which necessarily means that the principles derived therefrom are aligned with one’s actuality, else they would not be reasonable. This, too, is about managing expectations: to be true to oneself is to be at peace with who one is. Conversely, to be untrue to oneself is to be at odds with who one is; a tension that prevents ataraxia and may well manifest as illness of some sort.

To manage expectations is to gradually yet steadily refute the lies that one has accumulated about their conception of self. The undisciplined person has no accurate sense of self, but only a false idol that is an amalgamation of misunderstandings and role-playing or mimetic patterns of behaviour. Those are inherently intersubjective in that they pertain to the formation of one’s passive perception of self within their social-cultural milieu.

To assume a role through sheer inertia is to be aligned with the expectations of one’s peers. Perhaps this is best understood through gender stereotypes like “real men don’t cry and are fearless”, to the effect that one who is assigned to a gender of those involved must behave in accordance with the bundle of meanings inherent in the relevant prejudices in order to verify their gender—and, by extension, their place among their peers—on a continuous basis. The same for all socially-sanctioned exhortations. The role-playing agent is an avatar of normativities, whose two-fold function is to validate and amplify them.

To assume a role in the social milieu is a form of acting, though not the didactic kind that has cultural value, as in theatre and cinema, but of being hypocritical by default through maintaining lies and delusions about who one is. Hypocrisy runs contrary to the virtue of honesty and so the person whose disposition is characterised by role-playing cannot commit to reason, for doing so entails truthfulness to oneself in light of a sceptical mindset that does, among others, question the adequacy and truthfulness of such normativities.

A sense of perspective, else moderation, is key to avoiding pernicious falsehoods: an incrementalist method is required to treat roles as layered constructs that must be carefully peeled off over time by observing rituals of discipline. One cannot just forgo their roles all at once, for one cannot know in advance who one is about to become. Recall the open-endedness of the endeavour: to outright suspend roles is an act of substituting the passively constructed self with a conception that was formulated prior to exposure to the rigours of practical reason.

The self cannot ever be fully detached from their milieu, be it the cultural or the natural, for one cannot have a standalone presence that derives from nothing. Subjectivity always remains a factor in the case’s constitution, while one is formed, at least in part, through exposure to intersubjective magnitudes. As wisdom admits universal interconnectedness, it follows that one must be prepared to recognise that not all roles can be deconstructed, as the micro level of the person alone cannot affect the emergent phenomena at the macro scale of their environment, else the structure in which their agency is made manifest.

Practical reasonableness cannot force one to become absolutely egoistic, for such is not the human condition. One cannot know oneself in isolation, for there is no private, standalone, decontextualised self. The ego is always contextualised, developed through intersubjectivity as the sense of self is a function of the case which involves other human beings and their outright intersubjective phenomena like language and culture. Consequently, the connatural virtues of honesty, courage, and tenacity are not limited to the impression of individuality but are instead equally applicable intra- and inter- personally.

[ Read: On individuality and partiality (2021-03-14) ]

Discipline is about reasonableness in general. To recognise the truth in someone else’s conduct is to tacitly admit to a standard or set thereof by which all relevant actions are measured. It is the realisation that one is not the epicentre of the world and that through shared experiences one learns both about oneself, about their place and the space in general.

The genuine Olympic Games, not the decadent industry of present day, were a religious event, else a ritual, in the sense here considered, whose true intent was to engender this sense of awareness among the people. The sports were not about records per se: who is the fastest or strongest. Rather, through sportspersonship one would recognise a certain truth in the other person’s performance, while simultaneously understanding their abilities in relation to that.

To know oneself is to discover the others. It is only in light of the whole that the part may develop a sense of place. And so discipline, a mode of conduct that involves personal agency, can only ever be rendered most true when one’s milieu is itself characterised by practical reasonableness, to the effect that the “I” is filtered through the “We”, the latter is understood as emergent from the interplay of all the “I” and of every factor that informs or has informed them, and all are treated as inseparable in vivo though they may always be analytically deconstructed in vitro.