0006 | Tonight is my last shift at this current workplace. A coworker told me last night, that the universe will take care of me.
To continue from yesterday’s train of thought on reasons….
Once, I hypothesized that the universe brought me to Harvard “for a reason.” Perhaps it was actually only me, and my foolish affections for what Thoreau and other favorite philosophers had to say that brought me here. Perhaps it was a certain anger as well; the sort that drives one on to seek justice. Affection and anger — a ball of passion and reasons.
Perhaps I am being questioned at this point. Whether I will accept the hypothesis or not. Well, it’s not like I haven’t been questioned before. But every time it happens, it feels momentous, doesn’t it? You would think that I would be quite used to it by now. But I’m still not. It still feels as tremendous — as if I were the President of the United States deciding upon matters of life and death that concerned the entire world.
If the hypothesis is true, why me? I am not a Jew. I am not a royal. I’m not particularly “religious” and I don’t belong to any organized religion; being a “groupie” has never really been my thing. I have my personal reasons for why I am as I am, but these reasons need not necessarily concern the whole world. And yet, I am now required to say why the whole world ought to be concerned with why I am as I am and my personal reasons.
What reason could I give? Surely, I cannot give the same reasons that brought me here since those are indeed personal reasons that are relevant only to me. Of course, it is at this juncture that I am most tempted to bring in something bigger than myself — the sky, God, the laws of nature.
But what does it mean for a person to be justified? One need not be able to speak to be “rational” (given the definition of rationality which I gave yesterday). On my view, even nonhuman animals can be considered “rational.” To some extent — that is, insofar as there is at least some relatable account of their behavior — their behavior and actions are just as justified as that of any human. And this just is what it means for an agent to be justified: to act or behave in a manner that can be explained by a rational account; the agent herself need not be able to speak or to give the account herself. And such an account need only be given once, really. Of course, sometimes the concern is whether the account is accurate or not, since there are competing accounts for the same or similar observable behaviors, and sometimes I think that none of the accounts are quite as accurate as we think (and this is why we need philosophers to come up better ones that have a better fit with the truth).
And now, what does it mean for a reason to be justified? This is likely where Kant makes his grand debut. I imagine that Kant’s argument for the justification of a reason would rely on something communal. His categorical imperative — to “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” — seems to imply an underlying arbitrariness to the cosmos. His principle of deferring to “universality” is not simply a matter of choosing to be obedient to the laws of non-contradiction; it is to defer to convention, since the human will is not infallible (for, if “will” is simply the Saxonized name for “choice,” then the possibility of being wrong is necessarily built into the nature of such things). And to defer to convention, it seems to me, is too banal after all. For myself, I need something stronger than the collective choice of humanity. I need something like the force of truth.
Now, to defer to the sky, or to God, or to the laws of nature, is to appeal to something universal — but minus the convention, since these things (presumably) do not depend on human choice. Still, if I defer to something bigger than myself at this juncture, then I defer to something other than myself. But this seems problematic, since if the thing that I defer to is the truth, and also if the thing that I defer to is something other than myself, then doesn’t this mean that the truth is something other than myself?
What would I will universally? I would will that one devote oneself to the truth, and to the seeking of the truth. And I would will a world in which one has the means and freedom to do this. [Is this called “the will to power”?] And if I might even go further and make demands upon the cosmos, I would will that the truth be just as good for the person who seeks and devotes herself to the truth. In short, I would will that one “love and be loved in return!” (A line from Moulin Rouge, from a tune by Eden Ahbez. Is that too cheesy?)
But here is something more genuine: without love, life is unbearable. It is the truth. It is so much the truth, that I could scream (but I won’t, since I did that once already).
Well why defer to something bigger than myself, if the truth is in myself after all? What need do I have, for the consensus of the rest of humanity, if what I have is the most powerful and relevant thing of all — the truth?
Still, when someone demands that I give them a reason why they should be persuaded to acquiesce to my demands, I am very tempted to defer to something bigger than myself. Very tempted indeed. But I cannot do it. I cannot tell them that they ought to, since, to be honest, I do not really know whether they ought to or not. And I cannot give them reasons that they themselves do not have. I find that I can only confidently speak of my own reasons. In fact, I cannot even presume that I live in a society of like-minded persons. [For all I know, I am some sort of strange alien on a foreign planet. But oh, how I long to go home finally. I am so tired of wandering….]
But why the universe? Why think that the universe intends for me to be here?
Well, my hypothesis only reveals just how solipsistic is my mind.
My uncle recently died (in January). When I needed financial support to pursue my academic interests, he provided that financial support. And so long as I continued to have Harvard’s permission to audit as many courses as I could handle, and the financial means to do it, I had no real need to be accepted at Harvard as a registered and official member. I could simply remain unofficial, and audit courses there to my heart’s content for the rest of my life until either the money runs out or I decide to do something else.
But Harvard has rescinded its permission now (saying that I had audited the maximum number of courses that is permitted as a matter of department policy). And, my uncle has died. And what do these things tell me? They tell me that my uncle has died so that I can have real need to be accepted at Harvard as a registered and official member and get financial funding for my research and academic interests from them. They tell me that the permission was revoked so that I now have a real need to be a registered and official student if I wish to continue to study at Harvard. But if my hypothesis is true, then it would mean that my cousins were deprived of meaningful time with their father for the sake of my benefit. How heartless would I be, if I were to accept such a hypothesis?
No. It is not the universe that has a plan for me. It is just me that has a plan for me.
Perhaps it is justification enough if a reason causes the limbs to move. Perhaps that alone is enough for a reason to be justified, and the universe need not have anything to do with the justification of reasons.
It is love. Love moves my limbs. It is my reason. It is my raison d’être.
Oh sweet love, kill me softly, if you must…. for I am terrified of you!
1041 | The Doctrine of Double Effect says that even if some really bad side-effects come packaged along with the good-intention, it need not be said that the bad-effects were intended. That’s plain enough.
But now, what if some really good side-effects come packaged along with an ill-intention? (Of course, we’d have to suppose that intending bad things were even possible — which, as it may turn out, may not even be possible.) In this case, does the good side-effect get credited to the ill-intention? Obviously not.
But suppose that there is a God, and that this God is perfect, and knows everything, and would not make a mistake. In this special case, the effect should rightly be taken to be the intention.
Now this is just one of my rants, but: I think that Koreans who get cosmetic surgery for reasons other than life-endangering health reasons, should opt to get sterilized too, while they’re at it. Since if the face that is getting fixed isn’t worth living with, then it sure can’t be a face anybody would want to be born with either. Otherwise, their children will also have to get cosmetic surgery, and their children after that, and their children after that…. But perhaps they think that having to undergo plastic-surgery to change the way you look is not a harmful thing to do to oneself.
I don’t know what to think, actually. Sometimes, I feel like an outsider. I think that I don’t understand why Koreans get so much plastic surgery. Perhaps their view of what they think they are doing is very different from what it looks like that they are doing. I have so many questions. People appear to be contradictory to me from the outside, but if it appears that way, then I am sure there is something that I am not understanding — some missing link that holds the whole paradoxical thing together.
1755 | Continuing a study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other —
Scanlon says on page 36, that “believing is believing to be true.”
This troubles me a little bit. I feel like there’s a nuance in “believing” which I think he misses. But it could be that I’m nitpicking on word-choice. His emphasis was on the word “true.” But what sticks out for me here, is the word “is.”
Well, I was thinking that there’s also a sort of believing that one does somewhat by choice. Let’s call this sort of believing, “melieving” to differentiate it from the sort of believing that I suspect that Scanlon may be speaking of.
Melieving is the sort of believing that is more of a kind of “affirmation” of possibilities, than it is an acknowledgement of actualities. In this sense, one could say that it’s very much like having faith, since one does not usually have evidence for the sorts of beliefs that one has when one is said to have “faith.” Melieving is to believe in the possibility of truth, even in the absence of the actuality of truth. It’s a bit of a stretch of the conventional usage of these terms, but if “the possibility of truth” can sometimes be said to be the same as what is now “untrue,” then melieving is to believe in something that is untrue, or false.
So, would Scanlon say that melieving is not a kind of believing at all? Or is it still considered believing, even if what one believes is only potentially true and actually false?