Saturday, July 09, 2005

How Do I Know Who I Am?

I am Franklin Mason, born September 8th, 1968 in Columbus, Ohio. If I had committed a crime and my identity was a mystery to you, you would need nothing more than what I just now told you. In some sense, this is who I am. It is my identity. But from a certain point of view, it is of little significance. If you wish to know the quality of the man, what at bottom he is like, you must know more.

Last night as I lay awake and reviewed the events of the day (I often do this) I realized that for the whole of my adult life I have labored under a certain illusion. It is that to know not who I am but what at bottom I am like, I need only look inside and find what I happen to think or feel. My timbre, I thought, was open to immediate and direct introspection. Thus I would often look to how I felt or what I thought at a certain time and would judge myself based upon this. Sometimes I would judge myself harshly if I did not feel or think as I thought I should. I read of the pains endured by another and did not feel what I thought was the proper sympathy. I upbraided myself for my insensitivity. I read a bit about the U.S.S.R. under Stalin and began to project myself into the point of view of Stalin and began to think for a moment as did he. When I had realized what I had done, I thought myself to have begun to have a taste for the cruelty in which Stalin so evidently delighted. I condemned myself.

What I realized is that one cannot know one's self in this way. Rather one must come to know oneself in the way that others do. One must observe how one behaves. What we wish to know when we seek after the quality of a man is the make-up of his character. But we can know our own character only if we have observed its expression in our behavior; and this cannot be introspected directly and immediately but is rather an external process that all can observe.

How do I know that I tend to petulance? I have seen myself act petulantly. How do I know that I am quick to anger? I have seen myself become angry quickly. And so on for the rest.

So when you catch a glimpse of an errant thought that you wish had not entertained, do not yet self-flagellate. Do you ever act upon that thought or its kin? If not, do not worry. If you do, worry not about the thought but about the behavior. If the behavior is brought in line, so too will thought.

If you do not feel that warm sympathy you imagine other better people to feel when in the face of the pain of another, do not yet condemn yourself as cold and cruel. Rather ask yourself how you behave when others are in need. Do you help? If so, don't fret about how you happen to feel. If you do not help, change the behavior, for that is your primary sin and not your momentary lack of sympathy.

I do not wish to say that what we happen to think or to feel at a time is of no importance. Rather it is of secondary importance. What matters most is what we do. I hope of course that I will feel and think in those ways that seem appropriate to me. But I hope that in the future I will not much concern myself with them. Rather I will seek to look to what I do. Will I someday feel and think always in the proper way? I hope that God will grant me that grace.

On reflection, this is no surprise to me. For I am what I will, and what is most important about me is that which will immediately controls. But will has no immediate control over what I feel or think (perhaps it has less control of the former than of the latter, but thought still often slips through its fingers). Rather, will immediately controls action. It is the spring of action, it is the guide of action, it is that which ends action.

So look then at what you do. For there you will see your will made external and thus will see yourself.

This is why the man who leaves his wife because he no longer feels the passion he once felt is deeply mistaken about what is of value. What he happens to feel at a certain time pales in comparison to what he does. But if he betrays his wife because he does not feel as he thinks he ought, he has placed emotion over quality of character and thus revealed himself as stupid and selfish.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Process and Product

I find that I have little interest in the debates between defenders of so-called 'Intelligent Design' and defenders of Darwin. The former claim that processes of evolution, if unguided, can never produce genuinely new forms of life. Scientific concensus speaks against this claim, and in these matters, as in all matters where I have not the expertise to judge and the scientific community speaks with near unanimity, I defer to it. It seems as absurd for me, a non-expert, to deny the theory of evolution as it does for me to deny the atomic theory of matter. Why do I believe the latter? Certainly it is not because I have the means myself to verify that theory. I am a poor experimentalist, and my knowledge of the theory in its detail is severly atrophied. Why then do I believe it? Concensus has been reached by the scientific community. Thus it seems that consistency forces me to accept the theory of evolution as well.

But let us pass this issue by. I am not so much concerned with the processes whereby the great diversity of species came about. Rather I am concerned with the products of that process, whatever the form that it takes. In particular, I am concerned with Homo sapiens. It seems to me that the view that one takes of its nature is not independent of the view one takes of its origin. Rather the latter will determine the shape of the former.

How so? Let us assume that a view often called 'naturalism' is true. (This is the view that the natural world is a closed system. The only causes operative upon it are within it. Thus naturalism denies that existence of supernatural and so divine interevention in or guidance of the natural world.) On this assumption, Homo sapiens did not come about so that it might serve any purpose. Rather it was the product of 'blind', i.e. non-purposive and unguided, natural processes. But if Homo sapiens was not created so that it might serve some purpose, it cannot fall short of its purpose.

So, then, if naturalism is true, we cannot believe that an end exists after which we should all strive. Perhaps some of us (perhaps all) will create for ourselves temporary and local purposes. But we were not in any sense required to do this, and we do not fall short of the end that we have qua human if we do not pursue this or that end, for there is no end that we have merely in virtue of the fact that we are human. On the assumption of naturalism, I can say of myself that I am fine as I am.

This why I reject naturalism. It gets me wrong and you wrong too. For I am not fine as I am. I become angry with my wife and children and snap at them. I should not do this. I tend to lethargy and selfishness, but I should not. Nor are you fine as you are. (I have heard reports that some at death say they have no regrets. This is moral stupidity. We all fall short, and we should regret it.)

Moreover, the goal after which you should strive is the same as that after which I should strive. It is to love perfectly. (If we do this, all else will fall into place. Perfect love leaves no room for lethargy or selfishness. It never becomes angry.) This is the goal that all of us share merely in virtue of the fact that we are human.

Might the naturalist interject here that love is but a trait or a set of behaviors selected for because it is conducive to reproductive success? Is this reason to say that love in some sense is part of the proper function of human beings? This misses the point. First, the naturalist has no reason to suppose that the tendency to love is equally present in all human beings. Nor does she have reason to suppose that it ought to be in all human beings. For perhaps in certain situations, a hardened selfhishness serves better than does an other-directed love; if it does, the naturalist has no reason to condemn it.

The point is that the processes of natural selection, as conceived by the naturalist, don't 'care' a bit about love or any other such thing. Rather all they care about is reproductive success. If concern for others helps in this regard, perhaps it will be selected for. But if it does not, it will not. In either case, there is nothing to either praise or to condemn. It is simply what is.

A last note for those who are confused that, given my acceptance of the theory of evolution, I reject naturalism. Some will think this incoherent. I do not think that it is. Here's one very simple model of divine causality to prove the coherence of my view. (I do not endorse the view. I simply mean to say that I can think of no reason to reject it.) God made a world that was very likely to give rise to life. He made it, moreover, so that the processes of natural selection would 'get hold' of the first simple life forms and make out of them an ever greater diversity of forms of life. At those places where evolution has so progressed that it has raised up forms of life 'near' rationality, God steps in bridges that final gap. He takes, say, an ape and makes out of it a human.