Courage is: Love that is greater than Fear


1131 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

“From the point of view of recipients, the main reasons arise from our need for information that other people can supply and, more specifically, our need to be able to rely on what other people tell us.” (p.317)

This is quite clearly a kind of deontological thinking. [But is it Scanlon’s view? Or is it just a view?]

Scanlon also writes:

“Potential providers of information have, in many cases, good reasons for wanting not to be required to disclose everything they know, but they do not in general have strong and legitimate reasons for retaining the freedom to mislead others. (I will return shortly to some of the reasons they do have.)” (p.318)

I think that I have to disagree with this. I think that people do have in general strong and legitimate reasons to retain their freedom to mislead others. But, it’s important to note that having a strong and legitimate reason for retaining the freedom to mislead others isn’t the same thing as having a strong and legitimate reason for actually misleading others. I think the freedom to always do so is in general necessary, just in case the person encounters a good reason for needing to mislead others and must respond to the situation at the person’s own discretion (and also as a matter of principle, since freedom is a prerequisite for choice). For instance, maybe Mulan thinks that she has a good reason to pretend to be a man and deliberately mislead others. But if she is to go this way for a while, then she must have the freedom to choose to do so and the power to actuate her choice. [I have been watching Disney’s Mulan today, so her example is fresh on my mind.]

However, on my account, people have a prima facie reasons to want to speak the truth and to keep promises and so there need not be a special prohibition against misleading others. It is both pleasant and beneficial to speak truth and to keep promises. Therefore, absent a good reason to not speak the truth or to not keep promises, by default most people will choose to speak the truth and to keep promises.

Consider the physical health of the body as an illuminating analogy. On a more comprehensive view of what “health” is, there is such a thing as a healthy reaction to a problem. Though lying and/or misleading others is unpleasant and undesirable just by itself, if it is a part of health on a more comprehensive view, and health is always good, then insofar as it is a part of health on a more comprehensive view, it is also somehow good. For example, pain may be undesirable for its own sake, but it may be desirable that one feels pain when certain relevant criteria apply (ie, it may be a good thing to have an ability to be sensitive to pain) — and in that sense, even pain can be seen as “good,” by association. Granted, to the person experiencing the body’s reaction to the problem, these reactions don’t feel so good — eg, vomiting, having a slight fever, or even pain. But it is not the vomiting, fever, or pain that is the problem itself. Viewing health in a more comprehensive way then, these reactions are a healthy body’s own attempts at relieving itself of the real problem. In most mild cases of sickness, these responses are probably quite successful.

So, suppose that lying and/or misleading is a kind of healthy reaction to an unhealthy situation. Surely, this is possible?

Stoicism can be seen as one such example. And like Stoicism, lying and/or misleading others might be a healthy response to an unhealthy political environment.

But when we commonly think that these things are “wrong,” what we mean is that in essence, lying, misleading, and/or breaking promises is an inefficient and ineffective (in short, contradictory) means to achieve what we really want — and I have already given a positive account of at least one thing that we truly want. And so it is “wrong” in just the same way that a math problem might be solved in a “wrong” way. [And this kind of self-contradicting “wrongness” just is what I usually think of when I am thinking of impiety.] And I’ll add a note here about this: not knowing what one truly wants in order to be happy just simply is what it means to be self-ignorant. And when we use means that contradict our own ends, we can only be said to be distracted, maddened, or confused in some way. This is why Socrates says that self-knowledge makes us better persons.

In any case, perhaps this — ie, the ability to have healthy reactions — is probably the “strong and legitimate reason” to retain the general freedom to mislead others or to speak falsehoods.

When the situation is viewed in this way, one might aim to improve the environment and restore it to a state of wellness, rather than to fixate on the individual who is having the reaction. If the analogy holds true, when the environment is restored to a state of wellness, then presumably the individual will also cease having the undesirable reaction.

Of course, the analogy may not hold. But even if the analogy doesn’t hold, it’s still true that on principle, every choice requires options to choose from.

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1826 |  When we are very, very young, we don’t lie — at least, not with the intention of misleading others or with any awareness of the significance of what lying can do.

I think that there is intrinsic pleasure in both speaking and hearing the truth. This pleasure is what motivates us as infants and children to learn about the world around us. It’s why we are so eager to learn, and why we learn so quickly.

I suspect that when we first lie, it is because we have discovered some reason to be afraid of speaking the truth. It seems to me, that there is a great deal of fear and weakness in every lie. The strong and healthy have no need for lies; infants and very young children have no need for lies.

The first memory I have of deliberately and consciously lying was when I was 5 years old. My mother had asked me a question, and I responded with a lie knowing that it was a lie. I knew that I had an option before me. I knew that if I told her the truth, her feelings would be hurt. But if I lied, she would be spared of hurt feelings. Other than this, I wasn’t consciously aware of whether lying was “morally right” or “morally wrong.” But with what I did know — just my knowledge of “good” and “bad,” and of pleasures and pains — I chose to lie and spare her of hurt feelings. I lied to protect my mother. It’s not the typical sort of lie that one is ashamed of having told.

Looking back at that time, I am actually a bit astonished at my intellectual and emotional capabilities at that age to engage in such reasoning and to make such a complicated and difficult judgment call.

As for myself, in my older age I feel that there is some kind of duty to myself to speak the truth in my heart. To be sure, there is some fear, and some belief of weakness — and it even requires some courage just to admit these very probable and obvious things. But in my older age, I get to have something that infants and very young children do not have — what they cannot have until they first have sufficient fear. I get to have courage, since that is what courage is: love that is greater than fear.

On second thought, perhaps I was a courageous child. I loved my mother so much. And I certainly did have fears. I was so protective of her.

I don’t think that she knew then how to appreciate the love of such a special and amazing child like myself. I feel like she wasted my love — like she wasted me. I don’t think that she knows, even now, how to appreciate what she had then. She is totally oblivious to the depth and strength of the passion that is in my heart.

And I will even love her, just as she is now. I am luckier than her, perhaps, and so I have more love to give. For instance, I know about Plato’s love, and many wonderful and beautiful things besides, about the Ancient Greeks. I know my Great Uncle’s love, and my Uncle Tony’s love, and my son’s love. I also know my own love, which is worth much.

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2237 |  Is it guilt or shame?

So I have conclusive evidence about whether it is shame or guilt that my cat experiences. Verdict: It is guilt.

So, here is the basic background body of facts, and the evidence supporting the facts:
(1) She differentiates between pain and pleasure. –When her tail is accidentally stepped on, she yowls in pain.
(2) She knows good and bad. –If I laugh or talk too loud, she goes away. Loud is bad. Quiet is good.
(3) She is usually able to control the degree of injury or damage which she inflicts. –If she accidentally bites your finger while feeding her shrimp, her bite hurts. If she deliberately bites your finger while playing with her, it is soft and not painful at all.
(4) She can be vengeful. –Once, when I brought home a foster kitten and she didn’t like having a new guest, she pooped in the middle of the living room to express her spite.
(5) She condemns others’ behavior that she disapproves of. –She swipes at Michael if he makes silly faces at her that annoy her.
(6) She knows that some of her behavior is “disapproved” of by me. –She sometimes looks to see whether I am looking, before she takes a swipe with her claws at Michael if he annoys her. But if she sees that I am looking, she usually refrains from swiping at Michael.

And the final evidence of her guilt?

So sometimes, when she is annoyed by Michael she gives him a small nip. Sometimes, she nips him a little harder than at other times. And when she feels that she has nipped him a little bit too hard, the nip is followed with a couple loving kitty licks. It means that she feels guilty for biting harder than she thinks that she ought to have — and she’s sorry.