Tag Archives: self-fulfillment

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 6

Summarizing my previous five posts: for those that are attempting to lead good moral lives there are three basic moral philosophies: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

I believe that consequentialism, while possibly noble, is one that deemphasize individual choice and performance for the sake of the good of society.  As such, it can be used to justify actions that are harmful to individuals for the sake of the social good.  This philosophy robs the individual of his/her pursuit of happiness and the future flourishing of society.  Ii is very difficult to accept the premise that the ends justify the means, and that the individual is subservient to the will of society.

I believe that deontology, the most widely accepted of the three philosophies, also while possibly noble, is one that emphasizes the individual and his/her actions, but without regard for the consequences of those actions.  Just following what one believes to be the duty or obligation for certain actions, without considering the consequences of those actions, leaves the individual and society at risk.

I believe that virtue ethics is the only philosophy that is concerned with the individual making the right decisions for the right reasons.  The virtues found in good people make sure that this happens.  The virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and love of neighbor, are displayed throughout the fine arts as the models for achieving happiness and the flourishing of society.  A person who possess all or some of the virtues will lead to good actions.  In other words, a good action will only come from a good person, and a good person is one who has earned or is earning the virtues.

Not only do the great masters of the fine arts present the virtues a necessary for good actions, but the great myths, great philosophers, and modern positive psychologists also support the earning of the virtues through hard work and preparation as necessary for a moral life and one that leads to individual happiness.

The virtues are the catalysts for the individual to seek out and capture the boon that is the gift to society.  The virtues (of which at least wisdom and courage are earned from a loving family, and involvement and exposure activities earlier in life before acceptance of the call to adventure) are the instruments by which the individual is awarded happiness and society flourishes.

Let me illustrate with three great artworks:

The Morning Bell by Homer

The Morning Bell by Winslow Homer (1871)

Above is Homer’s interpretation of the acceptance of the call to adventure (Gallery Four in my book).  The girl has the wisdom to see her future course of action and the courage to follow the path, even though it is uncertain where the path will lead her.

Homer - The Veteran in a New Field

The Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer (1865)

In this painting, another one by Homer, we have the adventurer who has fought the many trials and has captured the boon for his society (the end of the Civil War, as displayed in Gallery Five of my book).  He is displaying the virtues of temperance and justice (concern for the common good) – wisdom and courage to accept the adventure were earned earlier before battle.  But one thing is missing, happiness – the veteran has not yet been recognized for his efforts by his fellow countrymen.

 

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

In this masterpiece by Rembrandt, we see the protectors of the community being lauded by the military followers as well as the citizens (depicted by the little girl).  They have fought the many battles to capture the boon (safety and security of the community) and have been able to return back to the everyday world as a result of the love and admiration of their friends and neighbors (as seen in Gallery Six of my book).

This great Rembrandt painting illustrates that it is the responsibility of individuals and not the state to determine the future of the community (consequentialism is not supported in this painting).  Also, the painting illustrates that the mere duty or obligation of the few military men to protect the community is not sufficient as well.  The lighting and the placement of the small girl, representing the common community that it relying on the military men, is prominent in the painting, and for a special reason.  She represents the admiration and love for the heroes that have returned from the adventure: it is she, the personification of love of neighbor, who is welcoming the men across the threshold back to the everyday world (a personification missing in the Homer painting above).  It is this love of neighbor that brings happiness to the men (who have earned the virtues to succeed in the adventure) and the gift of their boon of protection to their society.  A mere sense of duty (deontology) would not have been sufficient.  It is the application of the virtues that makes this painting a masterpiece.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 5

In my last few posts I have talked about three moral philosophies that can be followed by those wanting to lead positive lives.  What I would like to do now is provide a quick comparison of each of them.  It is clear that there is some overlap among the three philosophies.  However, I believe that the following are the distinctions:

1) Consequentialism is concerned with the ends and not the means.  It is concerned with providing the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people.  I believe that this goal of the most happiness for the greatest number of people tends to diminish the role of the individual at the expense of the goals of society, as determined by some collective body of people or leader.  I believe that this is not an optimal philosophy and can be greatly abused by the collective bodies or leaders imposing their will on individuals.

2) Deontology is concerned with the duty or the obligation of the individual.  The focus is much more on the individual, requiring reason and intelligence.  However, the lack of focus on a goal or outcome, as well as the lack of concern for unintended consequences, can lead individuals to a false sense of purpose.  I think that this approach may take the individual far along the “journey” segment of the road to happiness, but falls short of encouraging the “adventure.”  This limits the ability of the individual to reach happiness and the promotion of the flourishing of society.

3) Virtue Ethics is concerned with the individual and his/her character.  It is based on an ultimate goal of happiness.  To reach this happiness requires acquiring the virtues.  It is these virtues that lead the individual along the road to happiness.  It includes the goal-focus of consequentialism and the duty-focus of deontology but with an emphasis on individual character and not action.

Final thoughts in my next post.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 4

In my previous post I discussed a second philosophical approach to moral behavior – deontology (consequentialism being the first).  Deontology determines whether a situation is moral correct based on the rightness or wrongness of actions that brought about the situation (the means to the end).

This philosophy is less concerned with a specific goal in life and more concerned with making the right decisions based on duty, laws, and obligations.  For example, under this philosophy, giving money to a homeless person would be considered the right action to take (comforting others in need) even though the consequence may be that the homeless person purchases liquor or drugs that further his/her demise.

The first philosophical approach that I discussed – consequentialism – is concerned with the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of our actions (the ends and not the means).  Consequentialism would say that it is acceptable to lie or defraud someone if it would lead to an increase in the common good.

Both of these moral philosophies are based on actions.  Either actions that are concerned with the right or duty of one towards others, or actions to produce a certain outcome or consequence that increases the common good.  However, the third and final philosophical approach centers on character rather than actions.

Virtue Ethics is a philosophy that emphasizes the role of virtue and character rather than either doing one’s duty (Deontology) or acting in order to bring about good consequences (Consequentialism).  A virtuous person is someone who is moral or upright in all situations over a long period of time because that is his/her character and not due to a perceived obligation to do what is right or consider actions that lead to the greater good.

Both Aristotle and St. Aquinas are philosophers that support this theory.  Virtue Ethics places great importance on the virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and love of neighbor.  They are much less concerned with identifying and putting into practice certain duties or obligations to act in a specific way, or to identify ways to increase the common good.  They are more concerned with questions like: “How should I live?” and “What is the good life?” and “What are proper family and social values?”  The current philosopher, Alisdair MacIntyre, who I mentioned in earlier posts, is a proponent of this philosophy.

One additional aspect of Virtue Ethics is that it is purpose driven.  There is an ultimate goal to life, which is happiness.  And the only means of reaching happiness is by acquiring the virtues.

More to come.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 3

In my previous post, I wrote about consequentialism, one of three moral or ethical philosophies for leading a good and moral life.  Consequentialism is concerned with the consequences of ones decisions, or the ends rather than the means to the ends.  The means to reach the ends are justified, no matter what they are, in this philosophical approach to life.  In other words, the greater good of a society is more important than the means of reaching the greater good.

Deontology, derived from the Greek word deon – meaning obligation or duty, is a philosophy based on actions that adhere to rules or obligations.  In many ways it is the opposite of consequentialism.  Deontology is not concerned with the consequences of actions but the motives behind those that carry out the actions, or what is “Right.”

Kant is one of the main proponents of this philosophy.  Kant believed that people should behave out of respect for the moral law.  He taught that people act out of respect for the moral law when they believe that they have a duty or obligation.  Deontologists believe that what makes a choice right is conformity to a moral duty or obligation.  Deontologists believe that the Right takes precedence over the Good, no matter what the Good may lead to.  The ancient Stoics, presented in my book, adhere to this theory of moral philosophy.  They believed that reason and knowledge would determine the appropriate duty or obligation to lead a moral life.  They believed that the consequences of our actions are out of our control.

A current example of deontology is the actions by Congress regarding Obamacare.  The Republicans thought that is was their duty or obligation to defund Obamacare.  As such, they tried to tie the defunding to the shutdown of the government and the raising of the debt limit.  Their duty to defund Obamacare had significant unintended consequences for the nation.  The same is true for the Democrats that passed Obamacare without really understanding the bill that they were voting upon. They believed that it was their duty or moral obligation to pass a bill providing affordable healthcare, not understanding the consequences of their actions.  Both parties were following the deontology approach to moral and ethical decisions.

So, what we have with Obamacare was consequentialism employed by the president and deontology employed by the Congress.  Unfortunately, both had good intentions but the unintended consequences are just now being felt by the nation.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 2

In my last post I mentioned that there are three philosophical approaches for those of us who want to make morally correct decisions: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics.  Let me begin with consequentialism.

Consequentialism is a philosophy in which the morally right decision is one that focuses on the best overall consequence.  It is concerned with those actions that provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.  Until recently, consequentialism was labeled utilitarianism.  Both John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham were philosophers supportive of utilitarianism.   Of course, the first philosopher to propose such a theory was Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher mentioned in my book.  Consequentialism supports the idea that the ends justify the means.

I am not a supporter of this philosophy.  The main reason is the definition of the greater good that determines what are acceptable actions.  For example, a hedge fund that has been trading on inside information may consider such actions acceptable because they enhance the greater good of the investors of the fund.  That is true, if the greater good is defined as the wealth of the investors or shareholders, then such actions would be considered acceptable and supported by the philosophy.  Also, a communistic country may determine that a government mandated limit of one child per family is acceptable as it contributes to the greater good of the country.  That is true, if the greater good is defined as a target birth rate.

A very recent example is the president’s actions regarding Obamacare.  He genuinely believes that Obamacare is a universal good that should be available to everyone.  However, his determination to reach the ends of this goal overcame the means to the end.  He lied to all citizens about being able to keep your plan, your doctor, and receive a lower cost (all are the so-called means to the end).  This lie was justified to pass Obamacare legislation as well as win a second term as president.  Consequentialism would accept these actions on the grounds that the passage of Obamacare would enhance the common good.  Given the recent outcry by most citizens against this approach to leadership, it is safe to say that most people do not accept consequentialism as a valid philosophy.

I believe that this philosophy is dangerous and has been relied upon by too many leaders in the past to justify their actions.  The philosophy’s original premise can easily be manipulated to justify all means to support targeted ends.  Just as hedonism, a subset of this philosophy, is dangerous, the philosophy itself is dangerous, as witnessed by mistakes in the past by governments and institutions.  Finally, this philosophy can rob the individual of those actions needed to achieve happiness and the flourishing of society.  If individual actions are dictated by the need for the greater good, then those actions needed for personal happiness and the resultant flourishing of society may never occur.

More to come in the next post.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 1

If you are like myself, you must often ask yourself, “Why don’t people see things the way that I do?” or “What drives people to do what they do, which is very different from the way that I would do it?”  Philosophy can help us answer these questions.  Unfortunately, the world of philosophy is a forgotten discipline, having been de-emphasized in our educational system during the past several decades.  And, those that are in the philosophical world are too concerned with their own dense language and terms to provide much guidance and understanding to the rest of us.

I would rather go to the dentist that wade through the philosophical literature – past and present.  In fact, it is sad that to understand many philosophical books an introductory book must be read first to better explain what you are about to read!  As I tell my kids, the world of finance, which I know well, is simple to understand if you can get through all the buzzwords and terms; there are only a few concept that drive most financial decisions (e.g., present value, future value, cash flow, risk).

For those that do not want to live morally correct lives, there are many ways of deceit, lies, murder, theft, etc. that can be used to try and get ahead, or at least cope with life.  For those that are searching for the morally correct approach to life, fortunately there are only three philosophical approaches as to how we should lead our lives.  Let me try to explain these three theories of moral philosophy (or how we should conduct ourselves) as simply as possible: my explanations will be somewhat over-simplified, but that is what is needed to do get the point across.

What drives each of us to do what we do morally (or the decisions that we make) can be broken down into three broad theories:  1) Consequentialism, 2) Deontology, and 3) Virtue Ethics.  Each of these three approaches is very different from the other two.  Each approach has its own philosophers (ancient and modern) as supporters of the theory.

To be continued in my next post.

The Natural – The Book (Part 4)

This is the final post on The Natural.  Whether you read the book or watched the movie, the critical question to ask is: Who is the Natural?  You would think that the obvious answer is Roy Hobbs with his natural talent at baseball.

I don’t think that the author intended the “natural” to be Roy Hobbs.  In the book, Roy was a failure, not unlike many other failures that have lived.  He went very far, having accepted the call to adventure, but soon lost during the adventure to temptations and self-centeredness.  He did not have the virtues of temperance and justice to see himself through the adventure and to the ultimate love of Iris, pulling him out of the adventure back to the everyday world towards happiness and the flourishing of his baseball community.

After Roy struck out and lost the game for his team, he recounted to himself, ” … I never did learn anything out of my past life, now I have to suffer again…. He stared into faces of people he passed along the street but nobody recognized him.”  The only solace that Roy can take is that he did accept the call to adventure and will be given another opportunity at some time in the future to begin a new adventure.  Had he recognized the call and not accepted it, he would not even have been given another opportunity.

Iris is the “natural.”  She represents the virtue of love of neighbor.  She is the one that has the remarkable ability to reach out and help those along their own adventure to return back across the threshold.  Iris was asked by Roy why she first came to see him when he was playing poorly (as a result of his desire for Memo Paris).  Iris answered, “Because I hate to see a hero fail.  There are so few of them…. Without heroes we’re all plain people and don’t know how far we can go…. There are so many young boys you influence…. You’ve got to give them your best…. I felt that if you knew people believed in you, you’d regain your power.  That is why I stood up in the grandstand.  I hadn’t meant to before I came.  It happened naturally.”

And that is the reason that Iris is the “natural.”  Because she exhibits all the virtues.  She had her own adventure earlier in her life.  That adventure required that she possess all the virtues for her to succeed.  And she did succeed.  And now, she is willing and able to welcome those at the threshold of the return back to the everyday world.  She is the invisible hand stretched out in the Homer painting, The Veteran in the New Field, welcoming the veteran to a new world.  She is nature, uncontaminated by vices, having attained happiness, with her boon being to help others cash in their own personal IOUs.

I can’t stress enough reading the book and watching the movie.  I think that it is best to watch the movie first – it will make understanding the book easier.