Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Existentialism, Determinism, Free Will, and the Meaning of Life

The last of the views of morality is existentialism. The view here is that we as humans have a sole purpose of making choices and all other things that we come across are abstractions that hinder those things. Money, religion, politics, and laws are all things that society forces us to conform to and thus can hinder our ability to make free choices exercise our ultimate purpose as human beings. Yet beyond this more critical and isolated view against society, there is more to it. We choose not only who want to be but what to make of the world around us. We follow our choices and will and face the consequences. In the end we decide, though our choices. We decide everything

This obviously is something that works hand and hand with the idea of free will. Free will is the idea that we as humans have the ability to decide between multiple futures through our choices. It is counterpart to determinism which says there is only one inevitable future. However if we look at things rationally outside our own views, everything is bound by laws of physics which inevitably produce influences that we cannot escape. For us whether it is present circumstance, beliefs, personality, genetics, or desires, all these things stem from events and experiences of the past. These objects of the past we cannot change and as a result we cannot choose. All things happen are caused by something from the past. In the same manner everything that happens now will be a cause to something that happens in the future. This means that only one future can be possible from the conditions of any present time period.

I think in existentialism, a better way of explaining our ultimate role instead of making choices our duty to act. The one thing we can do in our lives, looking outside our moral judgments is to act. If we make some change to the world as humans, as a whole or one by one and face the consequences by preparing and adapting, then it will push history forward. That is not only the way to live but also the very nature of life, action and adaptation. It is without a doubt, the duty of every person to act and live out their lives. In the end we are not the ones to judge if what we do is right or wrong morally. Our will to act, our will to live, our will to be something; these are the things that truly matter.

Each individual life is a story and all we really want to do with morally is to protect one another the best we can but we cannot escape the miscalculation of our judgments and perceptions. To find peace, all you really have to do is to let them know you exist. Inevitably every person will act to change something that no one has ever changed before them. To me, that is the meaning of life; the moral duty and purpose of each and every one of us.

Path to the Objective

Our lives are limited. Our time here will end at some point. It is inevitable for us and inevitable practically everything else in the universe. Time is a cruel mom. How do we cope with this? Everything we see is with our senses. Outside of that we can’t really affirm anything. It all could be an illusion, magnificent or terrible, that shrouds us from the truth. How can we live with that?
There must be something outside ourselves and that is what we search for. Something that will affirm our own existence and last beyond our existence; that is objectivity. That is the reality we hope for. Some of our strides towards it have changed throughout history and some haven’t. Either this is what we search for. We look for friendships not only to enjoy another’s company but also so that through someone else we can see how we exist and affect the world.

Yet on a grander scale we all strive for something objective. Love is an example. We know that we need each other to affirm on another but not only that but we want to belief in something that is forever. We want to believe that person will always be there. Believing in something forever or enduring puts faith in something that is outside ourselves, something beyond our control or perception, something objective. Beyond that as humans we will strive for that.

Another reason is so we can leave our mark. So we can all of them know we exist. If we can change on thing, fulfill one purpose, whether on accident or on purpose, then something outside ourselves has already been established and it sets off a chain of reactions that combined with that of others will shape history. Then we want to pass on our dreams and hopes. And no doubted that there will be others in the future with our same dreams. They can know we exist with their dreams, and as a result their purpose and dreams will be reaffirmed and so will ours as the torch is carried on.

Humankind will always search to understand its place in the universe. It will always be looking for the final answer. Religion was probably the first known method that civilization went about this. It became a way for man to define himself through nature and nature to define itself through man. God is eternal. Heaven is eternal. We strive to be eternal. Objectivity is eternal. God represents something objective. And as we look further to an answer we wonder the biggest questions of all. Why? What? How? and philosophy was born. To observe and question all there is in the universe. To define existence in its fullness, what does it mean? That was the goal. We want an answer, an objective and everlasting answer. So that we will know that there is truth in the universe, that this is something concrete and real. In the end our faith will push us to believe and hope for something that is forever.

Awesomely we have made great progress in this venture. As new minds throughout the century we have pieced together what makes our world around us through science. We know how old the universe is, what creates weather patterns and seasons, that the earth revolves around the sun, and what builds not only life but also matter. As get closer to an answer we find ourselves amidst the strife of our own subjectivity. War, Justice, Good, Evil, Religion, Morals they are all matters of subjective views, different for every group. In the end we just try and do what is best. Yet if we destroy ourselves in our own subjective wants and value that what would be the point? In the end, no matter what anyone of us believes in, we all bear witness to the same world.

The battle of subjectivity and objectivity comes from the dispute of whether the universe is in the mind or in a physical existence outside of it. There is the idea called Neutral Supervenience and it states that the universe in somewhere in between. It is not fully in our mind but it is not fully outside of it either. I think that is where we exist as well. Perhaps on day there will be an equilibrium drawn between subjectivity and objectivity, where both are fully understood. There is an answer out there and that is why I believe philosophy exists, so we can understand everything else in a rational way that will allow us to look for an answer. If you believe in anything you believe in philosophy. If you believe in philosophy you believe in an answer. If you believe in an answer you believe in objectivity. If you believe in objectivity you believe in something outside yourself that can endure. If you believe in something outside yourself you believe in faith. If you believe in faith you believe in peace. Believe in peace. Have faith. Have hope. Step into a better world.

Nagel’s View on Life’s Meaning Shown Throughout the Semester

Nagel points out that we can’t mediate a meaning to life because we cannot balance out the struggle between subjective and objective. Through class we have constantly seen this struggle with every unit.

First there was the despite over knowledge and whether we can really know anything. This comes down to the fact that everything we do is in literal definition a subjective experience, and additionally that means we cannot see outside that own view to know if we are being fooled, if we are alone, if there is another different reality, or if our lives have a different value than we thought. The quest and claim that real knowledge exists is an objective claim, that there is something solid and concrete that we all will see the same.

Then there was identity. Here it came down to what makes someone who they are, is it is a soul or conscious, or their psychological properties alone, or their body and its state. We want ourselves and our existence to last forever, that is the idea of eternal life and as a result we believe that our subjective will endure past our objective self, the body. However at the same we want to look at the facts, what might be physical is what might be all there is. Objectively we all only see and realize death, so how we can affirm there is anything after without objective proof?

Next comes free will and determinism. Free will is based on the subjective point of view that we decide everything we do. However objectively from outside our points of views we know that there are things outside of our control that influence our choices. Things that happen to us before we can remember shape our personality, recent previous events and circumstances shape our judgment. Ultimately previous experience and genetics influence everything we do to a heavy degree, especially previous experience. And if there is only one past that can only shape our future in one way, then how is our future not inevitable? Determinism clings to the idea that it is inevitable.

Finally there was morality which came down to the struggle between Utilitarianism and Kantianism, both of which are on completely opposite ends of the subjective vs. objective spectrum. Kantianism is a completely subjective application to moral ethics because it worries about whether the person is moral from their own point of view, regardless of if the outcome or result benefits the greater good or society. Then the objective approach is taken by utilitarianism. It is says that actions must taken that benefits the objective world in the best way possible. It says that as long as the beneficial outcome is achieved we, it’s okay to use question and sometimes unmoral methods. It also says the one must make sacrifices for the greater good.

So it has been shown that objectivity and subjectivity go head in philosophy all the time. These issues are only basic ones and as the view of the world gets more complicated and complex these two will continue to collide. Hopefully one day there will be a solution. When that day comes we will have the meaning to life.

Act vs. Rule Utilitarianism

One thing about utilitarianism is that it has a split between two variations. Utilitarianism is a method of applying moral ethics in which you chose the outcome that has the maximized benefit, regardless of means. This means that it is okay to use somewhat question means at any time if it will generate a result that betters the greater good. However as pointed out in class, almost everyone can argue that their situation will better others if they are pushed a necessity of doing so. As a result it would make a chaotic mass of exceptions where everyone found their own reasons to ignore rules. Traffic lights for instance would be one of the areas where this would fail. As a result of this critique arising, a newer form of utilitarianism was conceived. Rule Utilitarianism is when a rule is set that obeys the standards of utilitarianism but then it is followed and adhered to regardless of circumstance. I found this split to be interesting because it comes down to whether you believe in absolute justice or lenient justice. If we keep letting one person slide the past the rules every time, then this world falls into chaos. How do we know if what are doing is or isn’t fair and just? In what way must we go about judging ourselves and others? Where is this world going?

Lonesome Stranger

One of the critiques of utilitarianism that we talked about in class I found very interesting. It was called the lonesome stranger. Here’s the idea of it. You are a sheriff in a town. There is criminal that remains on the loose that the town really wants captured. They are going to riot if he is not captured and persecuted by the law. So far there have been no leads whatsoever and the town is going into unrest. A lone stranger wanders into town. He has no family or other acquaintance. The question is whether you are morally obligated to frame the stranger as the criminal in order to ensure the town doesn’t riot. According to act utilitarianism this is morally okay because in this situation framing the stranger would create the greatest benefit. However if you are going by rule utilitarianism then it would unjust to because it would go against the rules of justice which are meant to benefit society. Honesty it’s hard to say which would be better to do. Many agree it is okay to tell a lie to safe someone but not at the expense of another’s life. At the same things like this have been done many times before right under our noses. People will often use the term justice to vindicate harsh and unnecessary action. How will we know what is right and wrong when the people at the top of society decide what justice is? Are they helping us and how many have they unjustly sacrificed to do so? To me this dilemma is truly not only something that challenges but also disturbs our views on morality and justice.

Aristotle on Ethics

I found many parts of Aristotle’s views on morality to be unique and also very profound. One of the main things I liked about it was how Aristotle said that all things we inherently working towards the greater good. He said everything’s morality is fulfilled as long whenever is in question is fulfilling its natural role. For example a carpenter would be moral is he was good at building with wood. A doctor would be moral if he could efficiently heal the sick. Aristotle goes onto to say that humankind’s moral duty and role is to function as rationally beings. I think that most justice should be based off rationality. One thing that I found as a contradiction in Aristotle’s moral views was that he said it took years to develop moral conscious and only white high class Greek males would be able to reach that platform, not women, not foreigners, and not servants. Yet if these people are incapable of developing a moral sense than should they even be judged according to moral views. Moral ethics when they are be applied should be applied to all of society. No one should be able to be above or below the law, or else they are outside the law in some way and the system is corrupt or ineffective. I do like how he divided certain things up such as rationality, spiritually, freedom, health, class, and wealth to determine the hierarchy of how we should organize our priorities to be moral rational beings. With the exception of how his moral guidelines only include a certain group of people, I think for being one of the earliest philosophers and scientists, Aristotle did a good job of laying the ground work for later views on morality by focusing on the most important trait of humankind: rationality.