Why care about moral philosophy?

"Why care about Moral Philosophy?"
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This post is a continuation from yesterday’s introduction to moral philosophy, in celebration of World Philosophy Day.

For context on my personal experiences and the invitation into a thought experiment below, you may choose to read the following two blog posts.

A quick refresh: the discipline of philosophy is the process of understanding an argument by way of reason. It is an approach to research where a practitioner renders explicit someone’s reasons for their conclusions.

Over time, as the discipline of philosophy was applied to every type of argument one could imagine, this practice started to render clear broader Topics that were being disagreed about. And so the arguments about similar Topics were grouped together into categories so that people could study the various contributions pertaining to one particular Topic of disagreement.

One of these groupings – also known as branches of philosophy – is Moral Philosophy (aka Ethics, Dharma)!

Moral philosophy is a group of disagreements about the Topic of The Right Or The Good. In other words, it is a group of disagreements about how to live (The Right) and what to aim for (The Good).

According to philosophical research, there are four kinds of moral theories, and within each there are many contributions to the broader disagreement. Here are some examples:

 

Virtue Ethics: good character causes right choice

  • INDIAN TRADITION: JAINISM, VAIŚEṢIKA
  • CHINESE TRADITION: TAOISM, CONFUCIUS, LAO TZU
  • EUROPEAN TRADITION: PLATO/ARISTOTLE
  • THEISM

 

Consequentialism: good outcome justifies right choice

  • INDIAN TRADITION: THE BUDDHA, NYĀYA
  • CHINESE TRADITION: MO TZU
  • EUROPEAN TRADITION: SOME ASPECTS OF ARISTOTLE, BENTHAM, MILL

 

Deontology: right reason justifies good choice

  • INDIAN TRADITION: KARMA YOGA (BHAGAVAD GĪTĀ), PŪRVA MĪMĀṂSĀ
  • CHINESE TRADITION: LEGALISM
  • EUROPEAN TRADITION: KANT

 

Yoga/Bhakti: right procedure causes good outcome

  • INDIAN TRADITION: UPANIṢADS, BHAKTI YOGA (BHAGAVAD GĪTĀ), PATAÑJALI (YOGA SŪTRA), RĀMĀNUJA
  • CHINESE TRADITION: 
  • EUROPEAN TRADITION:

 

Each of these theories are offering you an option of how to live and what to aim for.

Okay! Onto the new stuff!

 

I find it pretty awesome (it literally inspires awe within me) to see this diversity of choices about how to live and what to aim for laid out in front of me.

I feel empowered.

I am reminded that:

  • I can make educated decisions.

  • I can be very intentional and specific about the way I want to live life.

  • I can experience less indecision and struggle associated with being unsure.

  • Emotions like fear, anger, embarrassment and sadness can play less of a role in my decision making, allowing me to identify with them less.

  • I can be open to new information and make decisions based on reasoning (allowing me to grow forward) rather than beliefs (which chain me to the past).

  • I can have more confidence and closure in decisions once they are made because I understand concretely why I made them.

For me, the process of learning about moral philosophy has delivered the support of a psychologist, business coach, 12-step meeting, life coach, anti-depressant, spiritual guide and personal fitness trainer all rolled into one. It has been a game changer.

 

As such, I am not surprised by the tactic of western imperialism to downplay the practical value of moral philosophy, designating it for ‘the philosophers’ and ‘the intellectuals’ rather than the common people.

Meanwhile.. every time I – a common person – make a decision, I am engaging in moral philosophy.

SpongeBob SquarePants playing leap frog with Gary. He says, "Whee-hee!" as he leaps over Gary, and then says "Okay, your turn."
Image Description: A GIF of SpongeBobSquarePants playing leapfrog with Gary the snail. SpongeBob says, "Whee-hee!" as he leaps over Gary, and then says "Okay, your turn," and Gary crawls up SpongeBob's back.

It’s your turn!

Here’s the thought experiment you could try.

 

What type(s) of moral philosophy were you were raised with?

Keep in mind that ‘religion’ is a word used by western imperialism to refer to contributions to moral philosophy that don’t originate from within the European tradition, so if you were raised with religion in your household, that could be a good place to start looking!

And if you don’t have a clear starting point, that’s okay too.

Because moral philosophy is not taught to the masses, people are often raised with a melting pot of philosophies. This can lead to confusion and disempowerment in decision making, which is then passed from generation to generation (a calculated move by western imperialism).

A situation that you may be able to relate to is this: if a guardian ever used the strategy of punishment and reward, then you were raised at least in part with Consequentialism. In this case, the Good outcome / what to aim for (the reward, or a lack of punishment) justified the Right choice / how to live.

 

Once you determine – even loosely – how you were taught to live and what you were taught to aim for as a child, you could consider if that is how you are currently living.

Option 1: It is.

Option 2: At some point (or at multiple points) you could have made a choice to change how you chose to live and what you chose to aim for.

 

There is no ‘right’ option here. This is simply an exercise in understanding your history of living and aiming, which can help you to understand why you choose what you choose today.

With this awareness comes the invitation to ask yourself: “Is how I am living and what I am aiming for meeting my Needs?”

(For clarity, when I say ‘Needs’ I am referring to the intangible energies that fuel humans, such as care, safety, learning, empowerment, purpose, etc.).

 

If your answer is ‘yes,’ I am deeply celebrating with you. I have experienced pockets of what feels like pure contentment and optimism in times when my Needs were met, and that experience is important to acknowledge and celebrate.

 

If your answer is ‘no,’ I am deeply mourning with you. In this harm-full world, it is rare that humans actually have the spaciousness available to them to

  1. understand that they have a choice about how to live and what to aim for,
  2. research and decide how they want to live and what they want to aim for, and
  3. take that action and also physically survive.

We do not have to scour the history books to see this violence in action. It is happening today all around us: human beings – you and me included – are denied their basic ability to thrive by the system of western imperialism and its subsidiaries (colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, ableism, racism, ageism, the list goes on..).

This needs to be mourned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mourn the violent effects of the system of western imperialism.

And I celebrate that you are here right now reading this. Because I don’t think you would be reading about moral philosophy if you weren’t searching for a way to embrace choice, empowerment and self-responsibility in your life – all of which contribute to the dismantling of western imperialism.

 

I celebrate because I subscribe to the Yogic view that you can be the change you wish to see.

(DYK? Ghandi references Patañjali (Yoga philosopher, compiler of the Yoga Sūtra) in his theory of non-violent civil disobedience Satyagraha, which was then referenced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.)

On the Yoga view, if you want the ability to choose how you want to live and what you want to aim for without restriction, you can practice owning your values and being that change (Right procedure). And through your practice, you will create that world not only for yourself but for every other person (Good outcome).

 

 

On the Yoga view, you are the one person revolution.

 

My Manifesto:

As a network of revolutionaries, we can create the world where everyone has the opportunity to

  1. understand that they have a choice about how to live and what to aim for,
  2. research and decide how they want to live and what they want to aim for, and
  3. take that action and also physically survive.

 

Said differently, we can create the world where everyone has the opportunity to live life on their own terms, and thrive.

It starts with you. It starts with me.

 

Happy World Philosophy Day!

In practice,

Tara

The post is inspired by the work of Dr. Shyam Ranganathan

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Why care about moral philosophy? – From The Hearth