Beginning A System

I do not know where I was going to go with this post when I first wrote it but, here is what I have at the moment.

What if, instead of focusing on individuals, we focused on the space between them?

I mean that ethics, so far, generally focuses on individuals and their actions and virtues derive from those actions.  What if, instead, virtues arise only out of relationships? I propose that one cannot  be virtuous in vacuum (I’m far from the only one on that but still), only in relationships.  This includes in relationship with self.  Using ideas from psychology and sociology I come to an understanding of at least two forms of self within an individual and then the external relations we generally have throughout our lives.

One of the main issues in ethics is motivation.  Why should we think about our actions? What about those situations that are not the extreme cases created in thought experiments?  Then, when trying to define lines of where ethics stops, we come into the problem of what is sentience and who/what has it.  Focusing on relationships instead of individuals and their actions avoids or answers all of these problems.

We must start with the “internal’ relationships first though and build out from there.  This internal relationship is built up from the internal dialogue most individuals are thought to possess; between self-esteem the “I” and the “me” as some sociologists call it and then the society that the individual is immersed in. The “I” is the initiator (see what I did there? XD), this “I” is the animal per se, there are impulses that people have which arise from the “I” and the sense of being an individual.  The “me is the consciousness mechanism which makes it so that the individual can look at its own “I,” recognize the impulses and decide whether to act upon them.  The “me” is a mirror which is used to temper impulses.  The relationship between these two is at the heart of the internal relationship and the possibility, chance, opportunity to have a healthy, flourishing relationship is why all human beings have rights and where ethical action begins.

The I arises from being one individuality.  The “me” is more complicated in that it arises from a combination of recognizing one’s individuality as compared to society overall.  The “me” internalizes this societal other and begins to apply rules and strategies to temper the impulse coming from the “I.”  These rules, strategies and the general need to control the impulses comes from being in relation with others and society overall.  The more people you come in contact with the more impulses the “me”learns to try to control and the more that the “I” changes and grows too.  The relationship between the “I” and the “me” therefore,  is a constant dialogue, one that can have various affects on the individual and how they see themselves/their self-esteem.  If the “me” is weak for some reason meaning, unable to curb the impulses well, one can have a low self-esteem since what they think/want in some ways is overpowered by a more sub-conscious self leading the individual to feel like they are unable to control themselves.

An extreme to the other direction can lead to a similar problem.  If the “I” is so tightly controlled that none of the impulses are ever considered the “I” can, in a way, be choked down like a fire without oxygen.  In order for a human to flourish they need to find the correct balance; in order to have an impulse to act and direct those impulses towards things that they want.  The potential for this flourishing is the kernel from which human rights and the impetus to treat others ethically arises.  One cannot enact this potential without being in relationships.  Only by finding a balance between the “I,” “me” and external relationships can a person flourish be truly happy and be trying to act ethically.

As can be noticed by my word choice: a basis for ethics for me begins with the ancient Greeks.  Aristotle, specifically.  It all generally starts off with, “what is good?” You cannot point at goodness, you can only say that things are in possession of qualities which make it “good.”  If you consider the qualities that an object has which make it good, they are generally qualities that influence the objective of the object.  A knife is good because it has a sharp edge which it holds for a long time, both qualities affecting the knife’s ability to do it’s one job – cut things.

Living things become more complicated of course but, overall, a good plant or creature is one that can successfully fulfill its niche and reproduce.  Humans become a bit different though, this is because we have an ability to influence our environment in very profound ways compared to animals.  We also have this “I”-“me” relationship so we have to decide what makes a good human being.

When we say that someone is a good person, what do we mean?  Generally, it seems to mean that this person has qualities we value as a society: honesty, trustworthiness, helpful, etc. etc. Also, the person seems to be like that always and without need for ulterior motives.  Someone can be “good” in order to gain something but once the truth is discovered, we find that we cannot call that person good anymore.  The other side of a good person would be one who is content with their life.  If we knew someone who had all of these desired qualities but begrudgingly, would they be “good”? I think not.  As such, a good human being (person?), it appears, would be an individual that has these good qualities and works at gaining/enjoys having such qualities.

Next, these generally desired qualities–what are they?  I think that virtue and care ethics are the two best places to find out what these qualities may be.  In short, they are the qualities that generally show that the “me” can temper the “I” in the individual to the correct amount and supports the growth of others in creating a healthy relationship between the “I” and “me” in others an oneself.  An exhaustive list is most likely impossible and even a good start is likely not recommended (and well outside of my current abilities).  But the qualities I am speaking of are the same qualities that come up in religious ethical systems, virtue and care ethics systems.  The one thing that has not been noted in these characteristics, especially from the side of virtue ethics, is how these characteristics help others flourish and gain a good relationship between the “I” and “me.”

The combination of these two is where an external ethics arises.  In order to be a good person one must also interact with other humans and interact in such a way as to enact a healthy “I”-“me” relationship and enable others to do the same.  In other words, to flourish one has to help enable others to flourish, or, in terms that are more legalistic: every human has dignity which ascribes certain rights to every individual and group.

Dignity, in the UNDHR, I think is the word used to point at the potential for every human to have this “I”-“me” relationship.  The potential only.  Some may not be capable of having it easily, if at all, but we do not know for sure.  As such, every human being has the potential, has dignity, which requires all of us to recognize the ability for them to flourish if given the correct environment, education and relationships.  Relationships are not just with other humans either, we are also in relation to other animals and, I woudl argue, our environment as well.

Although these other things may not have the same sort of dignity as other humans, humans have the ability to self-police and act in a good way with these other entities plus these entities do still help to form, reifnorce and support both the “I” and the “me” aspects of individuals;  you simply cannot live in a physical vaccuum either.  Finally, one’s interactions with these non-human entities also helps to show their internal “I”-“me” relationship.

Alright, a lot got said there, let me unpack what I mean.  The potential that all human beings have to be in possession of this “I”-“me” dialogue, the potential only, I am calling dignity.  To treat someone with dignity is to treat them in such a way as to be supportive of that other’s dignity.  To act with dignity is to act in such a way as to be expressing your personal “I”-“me” relationship in a positive way or in a way to define your potential possession thereof.  Treating others with dignity confers honor, the next word I intend to use often.  Treating others with dignity could be called respect too but, respect as I understand it, does not go far enough.  I can respect one’s dignity by not trying to negatively affect it but, I honor their dignity by respecting it and being willing to help them have/promote their own dignity.  In honoring another’s dignity I see that my personal dignity is reflected in my relationship with that person and their dignity.

An interesting discussion on respecting versus honoring rights comes up at this point but, that will have to wait.

Next, of course, is respect.  This is the negative action of supporting one’s dignity as compared to honor which is the positive and negative.  By negative I mean the same as for liberties: to respect one’s dignity is to just not actively try to infringe upon it but not positively promoting it either, whereas honor (or grace) has that promotion aspect.

Grace and rights are the next two concepts.  Grace is by far the largest term because grace is to act in such a way as to honor your own dignity and others in a coherent whole.  A dancer has grace when their skill is combined with timing and an audience for it all to come together in a way that is pleasing to mind and body.  Doing the same with dignity is grace.  So, a graceful person in this sense, swims through their life and relationships with their own dignity and promoting everyone else’s dignity in such a way as to show a cohesion of self and make it all look easy.  Socially graceful but, in a way that shows that they are truly a person and not just scheming.

For a much more compact, useful word, let’s talk about rights.  Rights are those things which a group deems required for an individual to have dignity and for the society/community/group to honor individuals and other groups’ dignity.  So, one can respect rights as in simply not infringing on them or honor rights as in working to promote and defend them.

So, how does one show/enact/honor dignity?  This is where care ethics and the virtues arise.  To care, for me, is to begin to cultivate thoughts and the ability to honor another’s dignity in specific ways to that specific other.  I care is to listen to what the other considers important for their own dignity.  To care is to honor in many ways.  The next are virtues, these are the characteristics that one cultivates to create a healthy relationship between the”I”-“me” and that the society/group/individual has decided help to respect and/or honor their own dignity and others’.  Only through caring about your personal “I”-“me” and others can you get the virtues and only with the virtues can you now your own dignity and others leading to right action and eudaimonia.

This “I” and “me” are fundamental to this ethical set up so where do they come from?

The “I” is easy, essentially it is the basic state of an individual being a living creature, there are desires/needs.  The I arises through these needs and desires and, as one is exposed to more things, the “I” attempts to expand.  This expansion leads to running into obstacles, some of which are environmental such as a river blocking access to food, and others are through having to interact with other individuals which also have their own “I.”  These obstacles, especially those arising from other “I’s” help to create the “me.” This is because the “I” learns that in order to fulfill its desires sometimes one must work with the other “I’s” leading to a learning of how to take another’s perspective to try to work with them more effectively.  But, this “me” due to its ability to take other perspectives, begins to put severe limits on the “I’ and its impulses through its continued dialogue with the I and others outside.

These limitations, though beneficial to society, end up hurting the “I’ unless the dialogue can be made healthy.  The “me” and interactions can lead to all impulses by the “I” being stopped or controlled, leading to frustrations, disappointments, poor self-esteem, possibly other undesirable effects.  So, the ‘me” has to be able to let the “I” work at the same time as tempering it because, someone simply satisfying their impulses leads to generally undesirable traits and could be considered to sign of immaturity.  Cultures generally, have built into themselves what they would consider the best ways to keep this “I”-“me” relationship healthy in having explanations and expectations for how relationships should work: ethics.

These societal ethics, as such, are premised on what an individual ought to do in reference to different situations in that culture.



Sin as Responsibility

What if the “original sin” was/is actually simply not taking responsibility for one’s own actions?

Think of the basic story: Adam and Eve are assigned the task of caring for the Garden of Eden.   “The Devil,” in the form of a snake/serpent and convinces Eve to eat the one fruit that they were banned from eating.  Adam, finds out about this.  He is then convinced to eat the same fruit.  The fruit has its side affects of humility etc.  Then, when God asks them about whether they have eaten the fruit, they lie and then try to blame others.  Adam claims that Eve convinced him and Eve argues that some [essentially random] snake convinced her to do it.  Not that they were physically force fed this fruit but that they abdicated their responsibility and personal control and let someone/thing else “convince” them to do the one action they were not supposed to do. Then they are ejected from the garden to work and toil for food etc.

Before we move on further, consider the cliche about apologizing for what you do.  One can find it in most children’s books and movies.  The main character makes some sort of mistake on their own or does something bad and then they try to cover it up or blame something else.  Eventually the lie is uncovered and they are punished and find out that had they been honest and openly discussed what happened they would have been forgiven and the problem would have been less bad.

I have not yet come across anyone who asked, “what would have happened if Adam and Eve had simply taken responsibility for their action(s)?”  Would they have been forgiven?  Would we forgive them?

I like to think that I would, at least, that is how I remember being raised and those being the ideals in the movies; better to come out and say what happened, admit to your mistakes than just try to cover it all up.

What Causes Poverty?

This week two questions were asked: “what is poverty?” and “what causes poverty?”

My knee-jerk, smart-ass response to that was: Poverty is caused by sitting around asking these questions.

Talk about the kettle calling the pot black being a philosophy major. Meaning I specialize in asking questions and not going much further than that.

But really, it is an interesting topic to an extent.  Also, I have to react in some way to someone who wrote “capitalism” as the thing that causes poverty.  I intend to start with “what is poverty” though, I am a philosophy major, defining words is my thing.

Poverty, I think, is instability if one goes to the very root of poverty although I think the better phrasing is “lack of stability.”  (Yes, I do in fact enjoy going that deep into phrasing.)

I say this because lacking stability leads to a feeling of no control and probably a relatively poor environment (physical, emotional, psychological).  These things then cause some form of hopelessness meaning no planning for the future or minimal planning for the future.  That leads to certain mindsets which just continue this terrible cycle.  I like plant analogies so, in this situation, poverty would basically be lack of stable soil/water/sunlight for a seed.  Take those things away and a seed probably will not grow and, if they are of poor quality, that seed may grow but not to its full potential.

I say this because, without some sort of stability, some sort of solid ground, it is impossible to make any leaps, any leaps of faith.  Those leaps of faith are the things required to be and feel successful (just run with me on that for sake of argument please).  Think of all of the assumptions made on a daily basis by an individual 1) there will be a tomorrow that they will wake up to 2) their living shelter will still exist and still be theirs 3) they will wake up in good enough health to get to work 4) they will still have work to go to or have the ability to find work 5) they can or will get some sort of food/nourishment.  The alarm has not even been turned off yet and we have 5 assumptions!  Plenty more get made once you sit down and think about it.  Not being able to make these fundamental assumptions leads to instability and loss of control which, I think, leads to a cycle into the usual sort of poverty of lacking money etc.

The problem is, how do we promote that stability required without simply hiding poverty?  As in, how do we create something that helps someone create their own stable environments without simply creating a fake stability and thus helping to create a reliance on the help and then generational poverty?  Somehow we have to figure out how to help someone build their own permanent stability where there is none or very little to start out with.

STOP what you’re thinking.  This is not a critique of current programs that exist or anything, I am simply pursuing a line of thought that is not often discussed openly (at least not in the circles I frequent).  Instead of critiquing government etc., what if I threw the responsibility back to you, as an individual and member of society?

Instead of waiting for a government program to come and help solve poverty without you, as a citizen and possibly neighbor to someone needing help, doing anything, maybe it is time to think about how you, since you are right there, can help create stability for your neighbor.  You, as the person on the ground, can actually see where stability is most lacking and are closest at hand to help that other person actually begin to find stability or create stability.  As an actual face too, that person is less likely to become reliant on you because humans are proud individuals and having to look at someone constantly that they owe will help them want to get free of that “owing” and return the favor in the best way that they can.  Not saying you ought to look for something from that person but, their want for their own individual pride, can help make sure they do not become reliant on you for stability; something that a vague program simply cannot do.  Just saying, next time you want to critique a vague program of any sort: what part have you had with it and what are you doing to fix those problems you are critiquing?

My Ethics: Part 3

Due to realizing how much this work will expand I am going to cut it short at this post.  I am going to writing out the rest of it and see where it goes from there.

Rationality, the God of our world currently.

Rationality comes in, insofar as it is reasoning and seriously thinking about the world and an individual’s situation that lets you understand 1) every situation is actually different and 2) a full overview of one’s situation.  This is again when being rational you can apply rules in an understanding way allowing you to actually be just towards a person, even one you do not actually know.  Human rationality and imagination allows an individual to place themselves into a different situation and come to understand some of the motives behind another individual’s actions.

This imagination and rationalization is what allows you to be just as mentioned in the prior part of this tirade.  Also, this imaginations and rationalizing can be spread across humans in a way that other ideas cannot do.  Every human being understands care, caring relationships, relationships in general and the emotions attached to them in various ways.  I think it is called “drama” in theater and part of the reason why the same plays and emotions can continually be called upon in entertainment: they are fundamentally touching to humans.  It is hard to get this feeling for every single human being on the planet though, the relationship I have with someone on some other continent whom I’ve never met is not the same as a peer in a class which is not the same relationship I have with my parents.  Each one is sort of like a different circle with me in the center, parents are closer than the peer which is closer than the other I’ve never met.

In order to gain access to this far-out relationship though I need to bring it closer to me, get it in arm’s reach for me to understand the relationship and the person.  Imagination and rationality are the things that produce this affect.  If I am told about the other’s situation I can attempt to put myself in their place and try to apply reason to the relation.

Reason does not end at this point though, it can take bigger steps.  But, what reason can do is for an individual to explore and too big for me to feel like taking on in the scope of blog posts.  So that’s the beginning of an ethics, caring, virtues and rationality.

My Ethics: Part 2

This is seriously just the second half of my draft, at 1,000 words total so far it’s a bit on the long side so I thought I should try to spread this whole system out a tad.  So continuing from the first part, found just before this one.

One can begin to see that children in some way, understand this work required for a caring relationship, those little drawings and gifts that children early on attempt to make for their parents as an example.  There is an understanding and a socialization that caring requires certain work and that gifts are an appropriate way of showing and promoting caring.  Then children start interacting with others.

When this interaction starts they are again taught that caring is important, they learn to show friendship, trust, make gifts for each other etc. etc. etc.  They learn to care about the other children and adults in their community and identifying them.  For a long time this is about as far as one would necessarily have to go in raising a child, but we live in a different world now which has different requirements: the children begin schooling.

Now, in broader respects children are sent to school and learn to identify their nation, they learn to identify others that are in some way related to them such as other English people, other French people, other people who are members of their extended community.  They learn they have to care for these peers in some form, they have favorites of course but they are all their own in a way and fellows.

If it stopped here (as it used to), we have serious and bad consequences: slavery, terribly devastating wars, brutality on scales we do not usually see, cannot fully comprehend nor imagine.  If one learns to only identify their “kind” their “nation” and not anything more it becomes really easy to view others as less than human and one’s own kind as higher.  At this point though it becomes hard to consider “care,” it’s just not a concept that lends itself to easily being expanded and recognized at this point.  This is where those virtues that children have been taught and socialized with come in handy.

Consider the virtues, generally they are things that relate to being a good person, good citizen/member of a community or anything similar to that.  Also it is generally assumed it seems that you cannot really be a good person in a vacuum.  Think about a good person though what is it you think of?  Not just a charitable, benevolent person that’s just a nice guy.  But they have a personality there is something memorable to them and you want to be with them, they are simply fun people to be with.  Aristotle deals with this a bit more specifically, for example when he talks of humor.  Someone who can’t tell or at least take jokes is not nearly as easy to care for or be around to have a relationship with.  They also know how and when to put in the proper efforts for relationships, if they make mistakes even.

Humans do make mistakes, simply.  Even this incredibly good person who you spend time with, notice another thing though: when this person makes a mistake, you are “just” to them through being understanding of their mistake and their situation, you care back to them and show it through appropriate gifts etc and being understanding and supportive etc. when the good person makes a mistake.  You are being impartial with regards to yourself, say the good person forgot something to show that they care for you at an appropriate time (birthday for example I guess).  You remain impartial and understand that they had other duties or things to worry about and you are fair to them through acknowledging they make mistakes and cannot possibly do everything at once, unless of course you are hanging out with God on a regular basis, that is a slightly different story.  You care enough about your relationship and your friend that you are willing to be fair to mistakes made by either party.  Rationality comes in for this also.

My Ethics: Part 1

Alright, time to really start creating something.   I’ve spent enough time doing a light observation of the current situation  so I might as well try to create my own.

This new form of ethics, since I feel it deals with real life, not extremes, is going to be somewhat different from most that you know, hopefully.  At least I consider it different since it takes two ideas and blends them together into something to help describe how the world works and then become normative out of it in a way.

My proposal is a combination of virtue ethics and the ethics of care (yes feminists, I’m taking this idea, hopefully I keep it correct enough for you because I do think there is something important in this idea).

It is a slightly different direction though; care ethics (CE) is not going to be absorbed by virtue ethics (VE), it is going to go the other way around.  CE is going to be the place out of which we get VE.

The firs thing, why do I not take utilitarianism (util) into account or deontology (deo) or one of those other ethical systems that float around in philosophy classes?  They are pretty absurd if you stop and consider it, for util all value is based on utility.  Usually this utility is focused on the largest amount of happiness/well-being/goodness or whatever for the largest number of people.  Deo on the other hand basically argues that the person must be trying to be moral by following some certain rule, no matter the outcomes, when that person was attempting to be entirely moral/ethical their action was correct.  So where did these values come from?  Utility just seems to get pulled out of nowhere, I mean I could simply argue that justice is more valuable.  Deo is just replacing God’s commandments with reason’s commandments.  In my opinion both of these are only useful as tools for coming to a decision, not actually a way to live a moral life.  These rules are for computers or for the virtuous person to have in mind when at a dilemma but not THE way of ethical/moral-ness.  No one would be happy trying to follow these rules out to a T. That’s just a short response to make sure there is a basic understanding of why I don’t even consider those seriously.

One thing that CE definitely gets right is that we are born into caring relationships: I see no possible way for this to be argued without being entirely absurd, find an infant, just born, who will be able to survive without the caring relationship of at least a foster care-taker of some sort if not the actual parent and then I will have to adjust my understanding, I won’t be holding my breath though.

So, starting from the idea that we are born into caring relationships.  This idea of caring is also usually described as a practice along with being other things.  Practices take work and thought in order to improve one’s own practice and those around them.  So, at first, being just an infant you really probably aren’t too worried about being virtuous in the relationship, you’ve got bigger problems to attend to, such as your hunger.  But, children grow up.

A Fundamental Logical Error

The law of non-contradiction: X cannot have the adjective q and not-q at the same time. Within logical systems this of course works and is fundamental for a lot of ideas, theories, etc. But, it has expanded too far; it expanded into the human realm with the assumption that an individual cannot be both an individual and not an individual.

The law of non-contradiction made it so that one cannot say that a person is both an individual and a part of a group.  They cannot be both the private person and the public person; only one or the other is allowed at one time.  For some reason I am not sure of yet, the Enlightenment chose the individual, private person as the main focus of reason/logic. This is the point that I think one must put on the breaks.

Only through being aware of one’s connectedness can one really accomplish anything.  In other words, humans are a social animal, I am personally incredibly okay being alone for periods of time, but I know that being alone all of the time is both boring and bad for me.  A lot of great thinkers have struck on this idea: Aristotle being a big early one, there is Alexis De Tocqueville in Democracy in America, he calls this idea “self-interest rightly understood” (or something along those lines), Feminists with the ethics of care have hit it, Jesus with “love thy neighbor” (if you’re feeling religious), for the underdogs we have Marx who talks about this idea, Nietzsche considers humans as herd-animals, wanting to get more scientific our cousins the primates, apes etc. tend to be social, not to mention our friends: dogs.

Dogs brings up an interesting subject with cats and dogs being usually two of the most popular pets: cats are solitary and dogs are more social.  Could this be an image of this unusual spot humans find themselves in?  We somehow go back and forth between the two extremes of being solitary and social.  The problem with the law of non-contradiction is that it does not allow one to be both or work on being both at the same time.

It also seems that no one wants to attempt to deal with both of these natures at the same time.  I think it could be a solution to the theological problem of evil, I also definitely think being aware of this back-and-forth allows for a much more fluid and useful ethics.  It also allows for massive critiques of a lot of Western society: education and economics specifically.  I intend to go into these later.

So consider, which is “more” human?  The individual in the “state of nature” as our society is founded upon or the individual in a family/society as the ethics of care and virtue respectively are roughly founded on?