Saturday, October 30, 2010


Virtue Revisited

The Virtue of Authenticity—Existentialism

In existentialism, “How and why should we be or behave with the Other and self?” is somewhat answered by emphasizing an authentic character (L1.2, L2), valuing that we take responsibility for our choices, and considering important the consequence of responsible freedom. The answer to the question isn’t as important as, to the essentialist, experiencing it as true, and to the voluntarist (70), creating it
 (ironically considering it more authentic to design something artificial; L2). Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre and Emmanuel Levinas will be discussed. Kierkegaard and Levinas are essentialists finding authenticity (referred to earlier as “good faith”) in freely choosing, despite adversity, the human responsibility to love (see Objection 16 in Appendix E), whereas Heidegger and Sartre are voluntarists (70) rejecting discovered (71) purpose and finding authenticity in creating how we think humans should be (L2).

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) wrote about Angst—the dread felt when burdened with inescapable choice-making. Some suffering angst have wished they did not have free will, that God would take over their will and make all their choices for them, but to relinquish responsibility that is only yours to bear is inauthentic. Kierkegaard also wrote that universal truth is not out there but personal—“Subjectivity is Truth”—and he wasn’t talking about cognitive relativism (42). If moral truth is essentially Golden Rule love, for example, Kierkegaard makes a lot of sense, as love is personal and not out there. This means that Christ's revelation may be objectively true whether or not we subscribe to it—but the rubber meets the road where (the whole point is that) we put our trust in him, love him back—that is the 'real' Truth (point). It means that if examining the evidence for God’s existence leads you to intellectually accept the truth of Christ's revelation—if it doesn't go any further than your brain—if it doesn't sink into your heart—you still don't have the Truth (see Objection 6 in Appendix E). Kierkegaard was angered by clergy who focused on evidence (knowing/believing "that" God exists) and never demonstrated saving faith (knowing God "personally" and believing "in" God). That's why he focused so much on faith. But he wasn't "against" evidence—he just knew nothing can be proved/known with certainty (and that much of Christianity feels like counter-evidence, like the God-man, which seems paradoxical), and that the 'virtue' sort of faith (trust "in" God) is where it is at (but see Objection 24 in Appendix E). It was the inauthenticity (which Sartre will later term “bad faith”) of the external legalism of the Pharisees that Jesus so strongly confronted and warned against. Kierkegaard wrote that we must confront our sin, responsibility, and God’s forgiveness as an individual, but that we progress dialectically through three stages (58, 66) before being able to do this.

The Kierkegaard Dialectic

Thesis: Aesthetic stage of sensuous enjoyment.
Antithesis: Ethical stage of following others’ rules.
Synthesis: Religious stage of enjoying a trusting relationship with God.

We start out in the aesthetic stage of sensuous enjoyment, unconcerned with right and wrong (thesis) until we hunger (57) for meaning and reach the ethical stage (where the Pharisees were stuck), where we commit ourselves to doing right and being good in the eyes of others (antithesis), until we take a leap of faith without reasoned explanation to others, into the religious stage where we are alone with ourselves and God, committing ourselves to him, finding fulfillment in him (synthesis). In this way we “become a true human being, a complete individual and person,” (4; 420). Kierkegaard grounded the answer to “How and why should we be or behave with the Other and self?” in God, eternal love, the Golden Rule, and in so doing, passed all three parts of the litmus [but see (42)]. His thinking was motivated by high-quality fuel and the highest destination, unlike Heidegger and Sartre.

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) wrote that humans differ from things because we are asking, thinking creatures, and to revert back to a thing and objectify ourselves or become absorbed in what “They” (Das Man) do or say, as if They have obvious authority that saves us from having to think things through, is inauthentic. The alternative is to be engaged in the care (Sorge) of life’s details, or be caught in a mood, like Angst, the aimless drifting we feel when the way we’ve always thought of things which anchored us to reality no longer holds and there is nothing permanent to replace it with. Authenticity (“good faith”) to Heidegger is remaining intellectually flexible and independent of such anchors. All we can count on (anchor ourselves to), to Heidegger, is that we humans are a "being-unto-death" (22). Christians do not faithfully accept that, but realize that even though we can know, we are not omniscient and our understanding of the Unchanging Anchor is apt to change. [Does Heidegger attempt to answer original question, or merely stress authenticity? His voluntarism fails L2 (70), his track record with the Jews fails L1.3 and L3 (70), and if he doesn’t answer the question, he fails all of L1 (70) and is running on empty to nowhere.]

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), along with Dostoevsky (1821-1881), and Nietzsche (1844-1900), thought “no God” meant “no absolute moral rules” (L2) and, unlike Dostoevsky, he was an atheist. Unlike Nietzsche thought, the only responsibility existentialist-atheists release themselves from, according to Sartre, is the responsibility to a higher power, whether or not one exists (Nietzsche thought the fact that we did not cause our own existence means our actions are determined and that we are not responsible for them, but see the section Free to Be or Not to Be…). There is no master plan, life is absurd, we must create our own values (subjectivism; individual voluntarism, 70) (L2) and be our own example (though Nietzsche would say the virtues we create, ironically despite our being determined and irresponsible, are our own and not for others), and this realization makes us feel anguish. If we shoulder responsibility when we choose (despite angst)—we are authentic. If we try to make others (including God, our pastor, or the old “the devil made me do it” excuse) or circumstances responsible for what we choose, or if we choose to not choose—that is an inauthentic choice, a choice made in “bad faith”—a self-defeating, inauthentic lie.

In reaction to the belief that essence (or virtue) is a natural part of reality and precedes our existence (thesis), he said “existence precedes essence” (5d) (antithesis)—that we are not characterized by anything other than how we actually behave ‘after’ we exist. Again, to refuse to choose (create, L2), to go along with what supposedly came before, is a choice made in “bad faith” (don’t mistake his language as inconsistently admitting it is a real privation of good when we refuse to create—he didn’t believe in essential good). However, essence is "essential" and can only be discovered (71)—it isn't something to be created (though it is something to be freely chosen—stay tuned) after we exist—and so Sartre should have used a term other than essence, because to put it 'after' existence is to annihilate it. He admitted as much when he argued that there is no human nature—that we choose (create) ourselves, and in so doing, choose all men (passing L1.3 and L3)…“In choosing myself, I choose man,” (5d).

Never mind that making stuff up (otherwise it’s “bad faith”) is a massive let-down to those who just found out their old ways of thinking are supposedly just as made up. There must be human nature (essence)—the virtue, essence or purpose of humans must be, according to Sartre, to create meaning through choice as an individual (passing L3)—because if there is no human nature, there is no obligatory moral autonomy common to all humans, or bad faith when we do not fulfill this obligation. That Sartre intuits a connection between ‘self’ and ‘all men’ (namely objective freedom) brings the Golden Rule to mind, which acknowledges a similarity in essence between self and the Other (see Appendix G). But Sartre cannot, without contradiction, appeal to that which he attempts to deny (essential obligation). If every self is free, then freedom has objective value—man is the subject who has objective value—man is the object (fact) who is subject (has value). If there is real essence, essential obligation (see Objection 5 in Appendix E if “if” sounds heretical to you), it precedes existence [or eternally exists his essence—is God (Golden Rule love)—the essence after which our essence is patterned—how and why we should be or behave with the Other and self]—and we are free to responsibly choose or reject it, as the ability to love is the freedom to choose love, to lovingly create after the pattern of our creator (synthesis). This has all been leading up to this dialectic (58, 66) from the section on Greek virtue theory…

The Existential Essentialism Dialectic

Thesis: Essence (virtue, final cause, ought, how we should be) is a natural part of reality and precedes our existence (character, formal cause, is, how we are) (Greek essentialism) [is-ought (12) fallacy of reification (70) (see Objection 2 in Appendix E)].
Antithesis: Existence precedes essence—we define what it means to be human (Sartre—atheist existentialism) [ought-is fallacy (82) of reification (70) (see Objection 3 in Appendix E)].
Synthesis: Our essence, our final cause, our virtue, how we should be, is to choose Golden Rule love, justified because it answers the question of Ethics (83), true because it corresponds to a perfect being who exists (chooses) this essence at every moment (69). See Appendix F: Six Moral Realist Dialectics (Non-interchangeable).

“We are condemned to be free,” (Sartre, “Being and Nothingness”). Sartre failed to see that crediting God as the source of good is not the same as blaming him in bad faith for our choices. The existence of God does not take the choice out of our hands—it gives us the choice (see Objection 13 in Appendix E). Carstens made an astute observation when he said “unless man educates himself to be a competent judge, he is condemned to be ignorant,” (20; 6) and, as mentioned earlier, one could argue God and those who follow his will to be the only competent judges (never separating “unmerited love” and “judge” and not judging those who miss out on the point due to their caregivers neglecting the nurturing of their moral sense). This isn’t to say that the ‘how’ of L1.1 requires omniscience, or the ‘why’ cannot be implemented—one can choose the best of the available options (if one cannot swim, one cannot be blamed for being unable to save the drowning man, for it was not an option) (63, post 385). Free will is actually the gift, not condemnation, of a God who knows love must be voluntary and who will not force us to blindly follow his will (Golden Rule love). The objectification of God’s will can only happen through subjective choice. To abuse free will is to make ourselves slaves to sin, and to create slaves of the Other, as when we fail to educate our children in the Way to freedom, to God’s unmerited love.

Carstens is fond of referring to creator and monster in “The Knife and the Wound Philosophy” (20). In his language, though he would disagree with what is being expressed here, God is the essential Creating (Loving) Monster (actuality with no potential). his is the essence (image) after which our essence is created (“made in God’s image”), but we must freely co-create with him in order to become competent creating (loving) monsters. Our innate potential for Golden Rule love is actualized in a trusting relationship with him. So, the essence of true creating, of truly existing, is discovered (71) (intuitively known, consciously chosen), not created. If we reject this, we reject full existence, and deny full existence to those around us.

Lastly, Sartre spoke of the dominant gaze of the Other in competition with us—“Hell is other people,” (from “No Exit”). However…

Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995) preferred to refer to philosophy as the “wisdom of love” rather than as the “love of wisdom.” He considered the beginning point of all philosophy to be our encounter with the Other as distinct from our self, vulnerable, and our responsibility. It might help to imagine a woman or young child stranded on the side of the road, and the triggered urge to protect. Many would object this is not a common impulse (51) to every encounter between humans. Levinas is saying this urge is present in every interaction with the Other to varying degrees. He considered this type of encounter to be fundamental to our nature, happening whether or not we realize it. Levinas considered ethics to be “First Philosophy. … the needs of the Other come before any philosophy about existence,” (4; 430) which differs sharply from Sartre’s view. The face or voice of the Other represents an irreplaceable self distinct from our own. We cannot demand the Other see us this way and behave towards us accordingly, but we must respond according to the way we see them, without promise of a Happy End, of reward, of returned love. To Levinas, this is the truly authentic (responsible) relationship—it is the point. It brings to mind Jesus’ command to “love your enemy,” (Luke 6:32-35) which Kierkegaard might say leaps beyond the ethical realm of the world’s “hate your enemy” into the religious realm of being alone with God and being viewed as foolish by the world. However, for Levinas, you should always put the needs of the Other ahead of your own. Some argue that this goes too far, that it is a self-abusive theory (see L1.3). It does stand in direct contradiction to egoism, a consequentialist theory which considers selfishness a virtue, and which we will now discuss. [Read more Levinas. Do Levinas and Confucius make God too distant?]

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