Rebirth of Reason

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Monday, March 28, 2016 - 10:36amSanction this postReply

I too reject the idea that the purpose of morality is to prove that you are a good person.  But I think this is more complex issue than it might appear.


Most people exercise their morality with mixed motives.  They may at some times, if they are religious, seek be moral in the eyes of their god.  At other times, they may choose to be moral in the eyes of others, and yet other times they may seek to be moral because they hold it as a duty.  They may even exercise morality as a simple means to an end and without any concern for any possible audience or duty.  And there can be more than one motivation at any given time.


Joe, the area were I suspect that we end up differing is not in whether or not morality is a means, and certainly not in our agreement with rational individualism, but in the area of morality as a source of rational moral pride - that is a specific kind of pleasure.  In that sense I see being moral as an end but in a way that will always be secondary to it as a means.   I take joy in using my mind.   When it seems to be operating with exceptional clarity, there is a pleasure that goes along with that.   I know (from my younger years) that there is a joy in excelling at a physical task - the joy is a by-product, even it is the purpose (like going skiing).  Emotions follow on, and make up the whole component of life.  We don't just think and act.  We think and act and feel.  The emotions are a product of each of the things we do.  And when the emotions are positive and significant they become an end - the reason for living is the enjoyment of life.  Life, properly lived, is one flush with happiness.


I agree with nearly everything you wrote.  Those who try to use morality to prove to others that they are good, are clearly suffering a serious mental/emotional disorder where they believe their worth is somehow created by how others see them.  Those who believe that there is a god that judges their worth based upon how moral they are is in the grip of a delusion and mistaken about the nature of self-worth.  Those that believe that morality is a duty and that self-worth is based upon living up to that duty don't understand that their life is theirs and an end in itself and their sense of self-worth is going to arise out those basic mental virtues of honesty (not to others, but to self), personal responsibility, integrity, assertiveness, etc.  Not as an external moral code they must exercise, but as exercising their mind as its nature declares that it should be.  Nathaniel would often autograph a book, writing, "You need no ones permission to be happy."  Others, God, duty - all are external.


So, from my perspective, being moral - if being moral is properly understood - can be a source of pride, but it would not be properly understood if it became the end.  The pride is a side-effect.  I'm a skilled driver, and I can take pride in my driving skills, but the purpose of my driving is to get from A to B.  And I don't go out and drive around to experience some sense of pride.


There is a kind of reciprocity here.  It makes sense that I feel good about doing things well, and that if they are things that create a better life for me, then when I do those things for purpose of getting that better life, I am also rewarded along the way with a sense of pride as I attain the different goals.  The individual positive feelings are not the end being sought, and they are never a measure nor should they be mistaken for cognition.  But the on-going sum of positive feelings (a happy life) is the goal.


Your explanation of how turning morality around such that success is 'proving' one is moral results in going against self-interest was a brilliant observation.  It makes me wonder how much of religion's discussions of 'being tested,' making the sacrifice, doing the right thing even though it hurts, etc. is mental self-talk - a ritualized pep-talk - to keep up the motivation of taking those increasingly anti-self-interest steps.


Morality should be about living life well, and should be measured by how well your choices lead to success. Measuring morality by cost, which is how any status-seeking morality must lead, turns the morality on its head. It values the hardest choices and discounts the meaning of useful choices.


Well said!


The Objectivist answer is that pride seeks the value of self-esteem. But what does that mean? Generally, it is thought to have two components. It consists of the confidence that you can live your life, and the evaluation that you are worthy of living.


I'm not sure that there is such an Objectivist answer.  I'd have to see where that comes from - not as I understand it.  My understanding of self-esteem comes from Nathaniel Branden and I'm quite sure he would have rejected that statement.


Pride is a feeling, and in that sense it isn't 'seeking' anything, but rather just is.  A person could have a high degree of pride in some aspect of what they do for a living, for example, and yet have low self-esteem.  Self-esteem does have two components but they are both 'experiences' that one tends to have.  One component is the tendency to experience ones self as capable of meeting the challenges that life will present, and the other is the tendency to experience ones self as worthy of happiness (and being lovable).  This is an experience of yourself that is in the background and too a significant degree separate from the mood, the feeling-state, and any emotion of the moment.  Also, it is very good to think of confidence as something different than self-esteem.  It is too localized and specific.  I'm confident that I can ride a motorcycle, and that is based upon hundreds of hours of having successfully ridden one.  Self-Esteem is the product of how, over the long-term, we have used our consciousness.  For example, a person who upon feeling a fear, an anxiety, of just a small sense of discomfort when presented with some new task, and who reacts to the negative feelings with avoidance and rationalizes the avoidance by creating a false explanation for the avoidance will be decreasing their self-esteem each time this happens.  There is a part (a subroutine, if you will) in the subconscious that is automatically, and constantly, measuring certain kinds of mental operations and can't be fooled.  I suspect that evolutionarily this self-monitoring has provided those who act in accord with it (don't let the emotion determine which tasks to undertake and don't lie to themselves about why they do what they do) with more success.


Virtues can be thought of as the tools needed to connect rational thought with productive action. There are many ways in which this connection can be impaired or severed, and the virtues attempt to defend against these. Honesty keeps you focused on what's real so a false view of the world does not distract you. Independence puts the power into your hands instead of requiring the permission of others. Integrity lets you stand up against various pressures, like emotions or social expectations.


Again... Well said!


There can be a problem with the word "worthiness" - it can be a description of an experience or can be an evaluation (a measurement by someone according to some standard).  I can say that I would be unworthy of a Pulitzer Prize... my writing in no way qualifies me for that.  But I don't experience any negative feelings relating to being unworthy of that prize.  It doesn't upset me or pain me.  And I don't experience any general sense of 'unworthiness' as in a sense of being undeserving of happiness.  


In clinical psychology, when working with an awareness of the psychological problems attendent to low self-esteem, the focus is often on what a person is doing that results in them feeling unworthy, and how did this get started in their life, and what do they do to maintain it, and how do they understand this experience. (As well as how, specifically, it is effecting their life.)  (Discussing it this way is backwards, since a person seeks therapy for some problem, and it is only after an examination and diagnosis that a therapist can start asking those questions.)


We can think of self-esteem as serving two purposes. It gives you the confidence to act on your choices, and it gives you the motivation to live your life. And if we focus on this latter goal, it should be clear that it includes a much wider evaluation than simply whether you follow certain moral principles. It is an evaluation of your life and character. It isn't really an evaluation of whether your are worthy of living. It is an evaluation of whether your life is worth living.


Evaluation always implies an evaluator.  We agree that whatever moral worth is or isn't, that there is no rational or productive value in seeking an such evaluation from a god, from others, or from ones self in the sense that the evaluation becomes an end.  When we talk about that side of self-esteem that generates a sense of being efficatious, and say that it is an evaluation of ones ability to meet what is coming up, then there actually is no evaluator since it is an experience.  In this case using the word 'evaluation' is anthropomorphic, and metaphoric.


Going back to the clinical psychology perspective, there are people who feel unworthy of being loved.  They internalizid certain false judgments about themselves at an early age and to a degree aspects of their life formed around those judgments.  They are held in place with emotional triggers and the defense mechanisms that they bring up.  It is a way they experience themselves.  If you get them to discuss this, they can generate a view of how they think others would evaluate them.  But this isn't the primary.  They cook up this view in their imagination, and dress it up with rationales, all to suit their emotional experience of themselves in this aspect.  It is an unnatural state and the clinician should be looking to see what maintains it and what would let the client let go of it.


Joe, you've written much, much more and I feel like I'd be rambling too much to continue (and that I've been rambling too much as it is).  As you can see, we mostly agree.  There is layer or aspect of morality that I see as a value - a value beyond driving the immediate choice between alternative actions so as to further one's self-interest.  But, I've got to get a better grasp on what the difference in our positions is.


Thank you for another excellent article.

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