Originally posted by bbarr
Among the detritus of a recent thread I found a gem by the estimable Vistesd, which I think calls for sustained discussion. His questions are in bold, my responses are interstitial:
[b]I suspect that people do things for a lot of reasons. If I do something “good” (generous, compassionate, whatever) for someone because I want to, is that by definition selfi ind unpalatable the thought that she was loved because God commanded her husband to do so.
It certainly does matter whether our motivations are selfish. It indicates a real character defect if one all and only is motivated selfishly. Further, such egoism is incompatible with flourishing. One cannot have meaningful intimate relationships unless one is disposed to be directly concerned for the welfare of others. It should be clear that when, in the context of a relationship, one begins to wonder "What am I getting out of this?", the relationship is already in deep trouble.
I agree with all of this, and I suspect it would surprise you if I didn’t. I, however, did not attempt in any of my questions to define “selfish.” Some people would undoubtedly find the goal of living a flourishing life innately “selfish,” rather than seeing flourishing as a good and such a life as virtuous. But I have really lost all interest in defending myself against the charge, or, as I said, even feeling offended or affronted by it.
Although “happiness” may not be an accurate translation of eudaimonia
, living a flourishing life certainly implies living a joyful life, and I agree that “such egoism is incompatible” with it. Mystics tend to be joyful folk; never trust a joyless mystic. I tend on here, with reason, to define mysticism in terms of simple clear awareness of tathata
, the just-suchness of it all, of which we also inseparably are; I do that to avoid inferences of the supernatural or occultism and the like. A better way might be to call it a natural flourishing intimacy in/with/of that just-suchness.
Note: By “joy” and “joyfulness”, I mean precisely that emotional state that reflects a flourishing, harmonious life; grief (see below) is the primary emotional that signals the opposite.
No, that is all crazy talk. Virtuous agents are such that their affective responses reflect their normative evaluations. The compassionate agent wants to alleviate suffering, and will feel relief and satisfaction at doing so. She will regret failing to alleviate suffering, and may feel shame at failing to notice such suffering or guilt at not taking the appropriate measures to alleviate such suffering.
It is crazy. But a whole puritanistic culture is built on it; one which I imbibed and allowed to stalk my life until I was 40 or so.
The only thing that I’ll argue with is use of the words “shame” and “guilt.” Replace them with grief
. If someone tells me they feel ashamed or guilty about something, I’m likely to ask them if they feel sad. Grief is a primary emotion; shame and guilt are not. For me, shame and guilt (guilt as a feeling, not guilt as an acknowledgement) tend precisely toward the egoism you are talking about. For the type of person you call virtuous, grief would be the principal emotion that signals behavior that takes one out of the “flourishing zone”. What could it possibly mean for me to feel shame/guilt over injuring the beloved, but not grief?
[The primary emotions are joy, grief, anger and fear in an imminent threat situation (the survival response), and disgust (also a survival response).]
Except for the comment below, I agree with everything else you’re saying. It may be why I find debates about moral theory personally frustrating. I certainly do not claim to never commit ethical errors; but, if I am sufficiently self-attuned (sometimes that takes more reflection than others), I am aware of them. I feel grief over them; if I can make amends, I do; sometimes I cannot. I grieve and move on.
First, if what one is ultimately after is one's own salvation, the threat is that this motivation will underwrite actions that should be motivated by direct concern for others. I should treat my friend well because I care for my friend; I take him as a source of my reasons or as a final end. To treat him well because it is a requirement for my own salvation is egregiously self-indulgent; it is to be motivated in the manner of a child.
Yes, but I don’t see the moral implications coming in until that point. I did use the word “necessarily.”
Further—and this is speaking personally—I either treat my friend well because I care for him or I don’t. I cannot care for my friend because I “should.” It’s a little like what you said above: if I care for my friend because I “should”, what kind of friendship is that? “The relationship is already in deep trouble.”
I strive to live in what I have called the We
, which is a perhaps overly poetic term (or, worse, overly romantic). Call it , perhaps, living in realization of the inescapable intimacy of the tathata
, of which I also inseparably am. There, I don’t think “should”. When I start to think in such terms, I am not there
. I even find it difficult to think in terms of “because.” I don’t think in terms of “justification”. Those are not even categories that I think in (the question of whether, or not, my existence is somehow “justified” makes no sense to me). When I start to think in those terms, I’ve already fallen off the famous razor-blade. And most of my stuff on here in the past months has reflected just that.