Sunday 7 January 2024

Ultimately, all "oughts" reduce to a choice of affiliation

The idea that we "ought" to do something was once largely unconscious - it was obvious what we ought to do, and to question it was incoherent.

But part of modernity is that we become conscious of such things, and all imperatives are met with a question of "why should?". 

Of course mainstream-mandatory atheistic materialism fundamentally excludes all possibility of an answer to the question of why ought we to think, say or do some-thing - because there is no purpose or meaning to reality, because reality is a combination of mechanical causality and randomness. 

But the ideology survives and thrives exactly because the "why should?" also dissolves the old imperatives of religion. Or, at least, it reduces them to the same level as the sound-bite emotives, and arbitrary but coercively-imposed assertions, of mainstream totalitarian propaganda. 

("Yes, I hear your detailed descriptions of God and his plans and what He wants us to do; but why should I want all that stuff? In fact I don't want it - but something else instead") 

Religion may describe the structure of a universe, or describe the underlying nature of God and Man and divine plans - yet, at the end of the day, "why should?" still stands. Because, even if one accepts that every-thing is made by God for some divine purpose, and even if human deviation from this destiny carries unpleasant or miserable consequences for us and/or other-people - such arguments are mere expediency, and does not address the question of "should" any more deeply than in our worldly mundane life. 

I mean that if rejecting God, or violating divine law, carries a horrible punishment - then this is not qualitatively different in terms of values from the totalitarian rationale of Do This, Or Else. 

If religious obedience is ultimately enforced by carrots and sticks calibrated against gaining putative pleasures and avoiding pain; this hardly amount to a superior system of values. It amounts to "God Says This, Or Else" - competing with "the government/ the police/ my employers says This Different Thing, Or Else. 

Both are threats. One may be a worse threat, or a greater bribe than the other; one is here-and-now while the other is asserted to be eternal - but at root they are just competing expediencies. Who is to say that choosing one is morally better than choosing the other, if the choice is a calculus of predicted relative pleasure? 

Is there any escape from the "utilitarianism" of an individual seeking happiness (of some kind, in some way)?

Why is it ultimately better to to take the side of God, rather than to oppose God? 

Is there any way of framing this question such that we are not merely kicking the can a bit further down the road? 

We have reached the point where the question of what we should do has been stripped of all unconsciousness and unquestioned habit -- and we are faced by a stark existential choice between basing our affiliation on personal expediency; or else choosing on the basis of our own value system

In other words; we either choose on the basis of what makes us happier (in the short- or longer-term according to preferences); or else we choose on the basis of what we think is right...

"Right" - while accepting that this choice is not something we can justify to others; and, because it is rooted in a personal preference, it is not some-thing we can say that others "ought" (objectively, universally) to do. 

(Others may be set-up differently, desire differently... have different preferences.) 

I am saying that our decision of what we ought to believe, think, do - has become a matter so deep and so personal, that the choice becomes a matter of ultimate personal responsibility; a choice rooted first in what we-are; and then in what we desire to-be.

Even the business of how we make this choice has become personal. Some people (most people) apparently prefer to hand-over this choice to somebody else - whether society, the media, a church, a party, some implicit or explicit "authority" - or whatever. 

It seems wrong To Me that somebody should eschew personal responsibility for ultimate choice of fundamental affiliation; it seems better that we be aware rather than unconscious of our fundamental choices; it seems better too that the choices be made clear and simple and easily comprehended by me, rather than complex and in-obscurity -- but of course all such "wrongs" and "betters" are again definitions that depend on ought!

In the end; the only coherent way I can think about "ought" is that it depends on choices; and For Me the fundamental choice is whether to take the side of God, or Not. 

But even that choice depends on multiple other and linked choices to set-up that choice - regarding the nature of God, my relation to God... and so-on and so-forth. 

Taking sides is where the buck stops - but it is individuals who, one way or another, make the choices by which sides are taken, and indeed what are the sides that we might choose to take. 

Ultimately ought reduces to something like Thus I Choose - and I also choose (like it or not) to take the consequences of my choice, whatever they may turn-out to be. 

1 comment:

Doug said...

Henri Bergson has an interesting account of obligation (Two Sources of Morality and Religion). He is almost certainly spot-on with his "first" (your "people ... apparently prefer to hand-over this choice to someone else"). The fact that it "seems wrong" might be due to the influence of Kant (and his association between autonomy and morality)? As a child learns to do something ("say thank you", "don't hit your sister", etc.) they start out in a state of heteronomy, but it is almost certainly right for them to do so. How else could they ever come to the place of doing those things with "awareness" or "personal responsibility"?

My gut tells me that Bergson is missing something with his "second."