Saturday, January 12, 2008

Man, meaning, morality

What is morality? According to Leslie Cannold:

Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life.


This can't work. If I define my own good, then the good isn't worth much. The good only begins to have a sustaining meaning if I hold it to exist beyond my own personal preferences. Then it becomes something significant to live by and to be guided by.

Little wonder then that Cannold's view of the life worth living is so limited. She sets up a framework in which people are unhappy because they don't dare to pursue the careers they really want to pursue. Cannold believes that they are led astray by consumerism, which keeps them working in jobs they dislike.

But are we really only defined by our talents as expressed through careers? Is this all there is to man?

I think we connect to much greater things than this in our lives. What about the love we experience for our spouse and family? Our place within a national tradition? Our response to art and nature? Our identities as men and women?

And what about the value we place on integrity and character?

Human "flourishing", as liberals like to put it, does not revolve around the adoption of an "individual life plan". There are goods which we do not uniquely choose for ourselves, but which give a significance to our identity, to our labours and to our experience of life.

7 comments:

  1. When you read comments by secular humanists about how ethics, morality and vision are supposed to come from within us, you can begin to understand why suicide rates have hit the roof in the past century. If you tell people to look inside themselves, and they look inside, and find nothing concrete or solid or meaningful, then what is to stop them deciding they are defective and killing themselves?

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  2. This talk:

    "Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life"

    sounds like:

    "I want to do what I want, unfettered by constraints, and get to pretend I'm living the moral and purposeful life"

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  3. The quote you give here is probably the stupidest, most shallow thing I have ever read in my life. If defining one's own good is "at the heart of the moral life," then it is impossible to speak in concrete terms about what the moral life might or might not consist of--making the statement self-refuting! What is at the heart of the moral life is the struggle--and what sane person will deny that the truly moral life is a struggle?--to conform oneself to the good, to act in accordance with one's duties, and to do so without regard for one's own preferences. According to this dimwit's conception of the moral life, ordinary people are not only suckers for trying to conform themselves to some standard which they did not invent yet cannot escape--they're actually bad people.

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  4. I've stated this before, but by far the biggest cost applying to a person is having to buy a house, which is now absurdly expensive in many parts of Australia, especially Perth! You'd be hard pressed to buy a house there for much under $500,000. This means scraping together around $50,000 for a 10% deposit plus fees and stamp duty, and borrowing $450,000 from the bank. At 7.5% interest this is $33,750 in interest payments alone per year, or $650 per week. To pay such a mortgage in 30 years would mean an average of $15,000 per year, or roughly $300 per week. So someone buying such a house from scratch would have to pay around $950 per week.

    Even flats have become absurdly expensive, and with increased fuel prices, transport which flows onto such things as food increases costs as well. Added to that the fact that shops have to pay higher rents and other charges.

    This isn't "consumerism". I have no doubt that the high cost of housing has a large part to do with slowing family formation, and encouraging people to not have children, or have fewer children.

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  5. Thanks for the excellent comments.

    Anonymous, I agree. Most people are working hard to get by and not to realise themselves through a consumeristic lifestyle. I've seen some US research showing that the combined male/female wage today is less in real terms than the male wage of 1970 - thanks largely to the cost of housing.

    Sage, an excellent counter-definition of morality:

    What is at the heart of the moral life is the struggle--and what sane person will deny that the truly moral life is a struggle?--to conform oneself to the good, to act in accordance with one's duties, and to do so without regard for one's own preferences.

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