Sunday, September 30, 2007

The think and the do continued...

The following paragraph was a comment on last weeks post that I thought brought up some good questions worth consideration. If you have not read the Sep 19th post, I recomend you read it first as it will give better context to this thread.

here's a thought: can the rules of logic be applied to morality? do ethical claims not only express a value but are they also propositions? if ethical claims are in fact propositions (and as such either true or false) then why is it the case that ethical claims about what one ought to do in a given situation are not always obviously true in the same way that 2+2=4 is true? further, if ethical claims do in fact convey factual information, then how do we go about discovering these facts? where are they? or, do ethical claims simply express a certain emotion, disposition, attitude towards a given action? finally, is it possible to realize an ethical truth and not be motivated to abide by it?

Now that is indeed an interesting query. Morality (and I’ll use morality and ethical truth interchangeably.) is in many ways both indefinable and indefensible, but at the same time, unabandonable. (I don’t think that is a word but we’ll go with it.) We clearly do not live in an amoral world, nor would anyone want to; yet at the same time it would be hard to find two people that view morality as having the same weight, or by definition being the same thing. So 2+2 may only be 2 1/2 to some because 2 doesn't hold the value that some claim. Or perhaps there is agreement that it is 4, but that it's 1+3 that truly =4.

Because of the somewhat subjective nature of morals, it seams that morals, (in the logical or social since as apposed to the religious. Religious morals are by definition better expressed as rules, though these are not necessarily excluded.) Are not so much a map, but rather like gas station directions. (Sometimes they’re right.) Ask three people how to get to the closest Starbucks and you may get three different answers. In fact you’ll likely get three different opinions as to which Starbucks is the closest. I think at some point you have to make a somewhat educated guess as to whom is right, or rather, whom is more right. (I use the term “right” loosely here as it has not yet been defined in this thread.) On a side note, I would also like to propose that it is very important to ask others for directions in life. We ask others opinions on what movies to see, what restaurants are good, and where is a good place to camp. It seems that the “important” questions of life that truly do affect us should necessarily be asked.

Perhaps ethical truth is best described as ethical idea. If someone travels a certain road, and falls into a pit, will I too fall into the pit if I travel the same road? Not necessarily, but it seems reasonable that the person would warn others of the hazard, and that future travelers would take precautions to avoid the same folly. So to answer the question, “Do ethical claims simply express a certain emotion, disposition, attitude towards a given action?” Yes. I think…..

As to the final question, “Is it possible to realize an ethical truth and not be motivated to abide by it?” That truly is the question of ultimate importance, because if the answer is yes, which I believe it is, then the question “why” must be answered. Why do people, (myself included) disregard either there own perception of ethical truth, or the warnings of others? I attribute this to human nature, which is another subject all together, but one worth exploring and of great interest to me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Think and the Do

As the web address of this blog suggests, I am preoccupied with life. Not simply what is life’s meaning, (I say simply because what it "means" is not only unprovable, but also has little to do with day-to-day life), but how it should be viewed, how we should act and react to situations, be it physical, emotional, or psychological, that is the aspect of life that I am preoccupied with. I firmly believe that logic, (rational thought) can not only answer many of life’s questions but can also change the way we examine ideas and situations, therefore changing what we do. It is this, thinking and doing, that we as individuals engage that affect others and therefore ultimately effects "life".

Now the thoughts and actions of one person may be viewed by some as less then significant, however, that this blog is being read on a computer unknown miles from where it was written argues otherwise. The thoughts and actions of people like Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Adolf Hitler, changed the world (i.e., life). These people had the status and the influence to change the lives of many, but don’t disregard the importance of your own life. Consider the Christmas classic, "It's a Wonderful life." George Bailey was unaware of how much his life had affected others until he saw the result of his absence. This is of coarse a dramatization, but you get the point. Our life, albeit in sometimes unknown ways, does affect others. (If you have not seen this movie, you can Google it for the basic premise, though I highly recommend you see it. Not only is it a cultural classic and therefore relevant, it is also a great character study and analogous to many of life’s subjects.)

Now perhaps you are saying to yourself, "This concept of thinking and doing is redundant; it is our thoughts that lead us to our actions." I disagree. With just a brief analysis of our own lives, we can quickly debunk this idea. How often have you thought that you should go the speed limit, but chosen to set the cruise at ten over? Now I'm not making any moral judgments here, I use this as an example because I do it almost every time I drive. To fully understand this concept, you must separate thought from action. Or the, “think” from the, “do”.
There are two possible reasons one thinks one thing, and does another. The first is what I call the discard. The thought comes to mind, but is quickly discarded to prevent guilt, or the chance that we might talk ourselves out of the do. The second is rationalization. We evaluate the facts in our head to determine what we feel is truly the "right" action. However, this methodology is based on the facts as we see them, and are often tainted by our desired outcome. Rationalization can therefore be either our greatest tool for thought, or our greatest downfall.

My intention with this and the blogs to follow is not to challenge, (challenge is what people say when they think they have the answers and is a dare to be proven wrong), but rather to invite people to consider their thoughts and actions, and how they affect others. Some may see themselves not as George Bailey, but rather as Mr. Potter, (who took over the town in Bailey’s absence), having a negative effect on others. Or perhaps, worse yet, as one of the extras whose role was simply to walk down the street in the background of a scene, and whose absence would not even be noticed.

With regard to the Mr. Potters out there, this is either the result of lack of consideration, or choice. If it is the former, then that is what I want to address, and I believe can be corrected with relative ease. However, if it is the latter, then that will have to be the topic of another discussion. This discussion is based on the assumption that a person wants to do good. (Which I believe is generally the case.) With regard to the so called extra, I would submit that even our smallest encounters with others can have either a positive or negative effect. A simple smile or scowl to a casual passerby can bring joy or discomfort to someone we don’t even know. Consider that Benjamin Franklin the man, did not wake up one day as Benjamin Franklin the icon, pioneer, and influencer. He became that through his thoughts and actions. His think and his do. The potential in each person to do and be more is incomprehensible.

I will grant that not all of us will have the opportunity to influence as many lives as someone like Benjamin Franklin, but all of us have the opportunity to influence for the betterment, or the degradation every person we encounter.

These thoughts and countless others are the reason for my preoccupation with life, and it is my intention to influence for the betterment every person I encounter.