Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Reasons for Hope

With the daily constant negative news from around the world and here at home, hope seems to have become extinct like a winged flyer whose beauty is no more.

But brilliant thinkers despite the cruelty of nature and the ravages of human history have emphasized ultimate hope: from Plato to Erasmus, from the seeker George Fox to the skeptic Martin Gardner, from the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant to the modern mathematician and process philosopher Alfred Lord Whitehead, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, and so on…

Photo by J.J. Harrison

There, too, is a 'the perennial philosophy' in ethics. While we ought to be seeking for more clarity in ethics, always needing to be careful of confirmation bias, in many issues we don’t need to reinvent the moral wheel.

For the vast majority of humans, the moral wheel--moral characteristics such as honesty, fidelity, rational discourse, compassion, and generosity are highly valued. And destructive behaviors such as the killing of innocent civilians, rape, theft, lying, inequality, racism, superstition, and cruelty are condemned.

Reason, consciousness, conscience, empathy, altruism can give us a fairly stable grounding for an objective ethics.

Consider the very similar moral views as expressed in the Buddha's Eightfold Path, in Jesus’ the Sermon on the Mount, in…

Mystical experiences of some humans such as Rumi the Persian poet, the abolitionist John Woolman, modern ethicists such as Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen also focus on hope.

While it is speculatively possible that all existence is only cosmic necessity as some famous atheists claim (that humans are “puppets” and that even if the universe started over a “trillion” times, everything bad would happen exactly the same),
there are other modern thinkers who strongly deny such hopeless views
and hold out the possibility of change. A prime example of this is Howard Zinn, the American historian.

A lesser cause for hope is "a priori." Deists such as Thomas Jefferson advocated this moral outlook as have more recent thinkers. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Admittedly, this concept seems weak since so many millions of humans don’t support “equality” for everyone, especially not for women and the impoverished. And Jefferson himself didn’t practice equality towards others but owned slaves all of his life. So much for "self-evident" when it came to his own life.

However, there does seem to be some sense of "fairness" innate in human consciousness from early childhood on. Even those who deny moral responsibility, claiming it doesn't exist will quickly get upset if treated unfairly.

Another hopeful sign is aesthetics. Years ago a rather bizarre book came out, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where the author Robert M. Pirsig argued philosophically that human desire for Quality (meaning beauty, perfect design, amazing competence, etc.) is a sign of the
Universality of Aesthetics leaning toward ethical truth. It was a thought-provoking book. And other philosophers have argued this point as well.

To be continued,

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

No comments: