foliumnondefluet: (Default)
[personal profile] foliumnondefluet
I think a striving to be "a good person" often derails into rationalizing and justifying our not-so-good actions as somehow virtuous. I have the impression that often, when there is a conflict between our moral sense and some other consideration, people try to redefine their morals so as to avoid ever acting immoral in their own mind, even if such rationalisations appear blatantly self-serving to others. I think that is actually the greater evil - it's a habit that can lead people very far astray, committing atrocities that they've convinced themselves are moral.

I think the main fallacy behind this is seeing "goodness" as an attribute of a person (if we do a bad thing we're not a good person anymore) rather than a property of an action. It gets even more convoluted by bringing intentions into it - so if you do a bad deed with good intentions or a good deed with wicked intent, it's the intent that determines your "goodness". Clearly if we strive above all to be "a good person" it becomes more important to us that our intentions were "pure" than how many people were hurt by our actions. Like a Christian focus on sin, it can lead to judgmental airs of moral purity and hypocrisy - one's "stance" trumps the actual consequences of one's behavior.

I tend to think that moderation in all things (including moderation) is usually preferable to all manner of extremism. In my opinion, it is better to *not* try for "moral perfection". Because, if we think a certain course of action is "good", then being anything less than fanatical about it would mean acting less "good" than we are able to. But the moment we start investigating, the concept of absolute, objective or essential morality quickly collapses, and one is left trying to do good when "good" has no fixed meaning.

The childish answer is the negative "don't do anything bad" - don't break the rules. A more mature morality will make judgments on what a given situation requires - who will benefit, who will we harm, in which kind of world do we want to live? Even then I think perfect morality would require perfect wisdom; it's easy enough to say that, for example, minimising harm is a good thing, but it's far from easy to figure out what course of action in a given situation corresponds to minimal harm.

Since I'm only moderately wise, I think it's best if I accept that I can only be moderately moral, too. History is full of atrocities committed by people whose desire to be moral exceeded their wisdom. Or as they say; "the best is the enemy of the good." I think it's preferable to leave my morals intact even if I sometimes don't live up to them for various reasons of fallibility.

If people try to "be good" rather than "do good", they have to resolve the tension between who they are and who they think they ought to be. I think that being excessively bothered by that gap may lead one into bizarre directions. Much simpler to say that no person is "good" or "bad" as some inherent property, but rather the same people can act in ways we admire or disapprove of...


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June 2015

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