A very brief tutorial on drawing material inferences


When P does or embodies X (where X is a good thing), I do or say or emote-think what is appropriate, accurate, needful, beautiful, or good.

And now here’s my good friend P.


When P asks a question, I reply with a suitable answer.

When P is holding a large package, I hold open the door for P.

When P’s hat flies off and rolls down along the street, I chase after the hat with mad ardor.

When P embodies the virtue of kindness, I say, “How kind of you.”

When P is especially generous, I receive P’s generosity with open arms.

When P is my guest, I try to be a good host to P.

When P pays for dinner, I say at the right moment, not too early or too late, possibly with a touch of the hand on the shoulder: “Dinner was lovely. Thank you.”

When P is cold, I offer P my coat or blanket or afghan.

When P does something praiseworthy, I sing P’s praises to the moon.

When P tells a joke, I smile or laugh or smirk. (And I resist the urge to tell one myself unless it’s appropriate–see final word.)

When P feels ill at ease, I tell a long-winded story that has no point apart from making P feel more at home.

When P is young, I read P a story.

When Joan says, “I can’t abide it,” I smile because she said, “I can’t abide it.”

When P is crying, I hold P or put a hand on P’s shoulder or cry along with P.

When P is scared, I assure P but in an all too human way. (Not in a pat pat “things will get better with time” pat pat way.)

When P is moving heavy boxes into a new place located on the top floor overlooking the Hudson, I offer to help P schlepp those heavy boxes across the Hudson and up to the top floor. (And then nurse a sore back the next day.)

When P asks for directions and the place is close at hand, I walk P to the place and then say good-bye.

When P does something hard, I encourage P, saying: “I’m proud of you,” or: “Good for you,” or: “Won’t you give yourself a gift?”

When P is likable, I say so.

When P is looking at the picture sideways, I turn the picture frontways. (Unless P is trying to make a point. Then I follow P’s finger and look at the picture sideways and possibly pretend that it’s actually frontways.)

Further Reading

I write a fair bit more about moral perception and in situ moral inference drawing in “Austen’s Ethical Vision of Wholehearted Love,” The World and I.

If you care, you can find out, e.g., why I’m so keen on manners here.

How’d we get here? You can imagine what might be required to get a social creature to this point of excellence in my thing on Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 rule.

And you can read reams more about the destruction of ethical life and the loss of material inference in J.M. Bernstein’s cheery book, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics.

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