Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Developing mental and emotional skills

Aristotle next says that we develop mental skills through instruction. The point, I take it, is that in order to become skilled at processing information, we need to be taught how to do so. Anybody can learn the basic theorems of arithmetic, but that doesn't mean they can work through an arithmetic problem very quickly. It takes someone like me a very long time to work through even basic addition and subtraction, so I am not skilled at arithmetic. But someone could probably teach me how to do that better. That would involve lots of practice of course, but it would still require some sort of instruction. And obviously, developing such mental skills takes experience and time, just like learning any other skill.

As for emotional skills, Aristotle says we develop them by developing habits. A habit is a tendency to act in a certain way rather than another way. For instance, I have developed the habit of never putting my wallet down. It goes in my pocket, or it stays in my hand, and nothing else. At first, this required conscious thought. But after doing this for a period of time, it became a habit, and now I just do it without even thinking about it. That's a habit. Emotional skills are like this, thinks Aristotle. We start our training early, in childhood, but we develop habits to feel certain things (anger, etc.) and hence to act accordingly in certain situations.

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