Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Morality and the Individuality of Doubt

Yesterday in class we continued to discuss objective and subjective truths in the context of Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life. It is popular among the existentialist philosophers to suggest that objective truths are not what we really mean when we discuss what is true. This is also incorporated in calculative thought, in which we learn facts such as 2+2=4, accept this as factual, and move on with our lives. In my opinion, this argument undermines the importance of objective truths, because they allow societies to function properly. It is evident that we have objectified morality, because we have established laws that people subconsciously accept and live by. For the most part, we do not even think twice about the cases of murder, rape, etc. because it is engraved in us that these actions are immoral. To take our own subjective views on these actions would be “frowned upon,” and to act contrarily to these social norms could land one in prison.

We discussed the idea of raping babies in class. We collectively agree that raping babies is…wrong. Then we attempted to find reasons when raping babies would be thought of as just, or “called for.” Our inability to think of any legitimate reasons for such an act shows the little influence of subjectivity on aspects of morality. When is it okay to murder someone? When is it okay to steal or cheat? To subjectively conceptualize when these acts are decent is irrelevant, as society has established that they are wrong. Thus, we must abide accordingly. While it may be an entertaining thought exercise, it has no application or relevance.

Let me shift gears a little bit and turn to Unamuno’s irritation with Christianity’s generalized rationalization of its beliefs and requirements. Both Kierkegaard and Unamuno criticize Christianity for attempting to make itself something to which everyone has access. However, to understand God or to have a relationship with such an all-powerful being is individuality at its highest degree. One must undergo an entirely particularized experience to have such a relation with the Absolute.

But that begs the question: Is doubt not a singularized view as well? It seems that in order to fully disbelieve in God, one must recognize the utmost individual experience with the Absolute. Disbelief would then stem from the failure to have such an experience, or to recognize those who claim to “know God” as absurd. However, one could develop doubt of God from an experience that causes him to “lose his religion”, as we mentioned briefly in class. This particular occurrence, in which something tragic or not according to God’s “plan” happens, will cause someone to lose his faith altogether. Something as powerful as this, to break the most particularized relationship, must also be out of the ethical realm entirely.


  1. Jen brings up very interesting points in this blog. In her first point, the thought of the irrelevance of truth about some topics such as murder or raping babies is very unique. Such concepts are just accepted in society and do not need a subjective or objective truth. Maybe a type of
    " definate reason" can be introduced that is either subjective nor obective but it is a type of reason that is accepted by all of society without further debate.
    Her last point about disbelief caused by doubt is very striking. The classification for such a relationship that is based on disbelief is thought provoking. I wonder if there should be another type of Abolsute realm because "losing faith" is a concept that is not universal and should not be considered in the ethical realm as Jen said and " losing faith" would be another type of singular experience.

  2. I think the fact that society has deemed acts such as murder never okay, these ethics must be accepted on an individual level, or else they have no meaning or power. Also, I do think it is relevant for the individual to internalize these ethics, question, and qualify them. I personally don't commit murder not because I don't want to go to jail or because a law tells me not to, I don't murder because of my own convictions, which are obviously influenced by my environment and the society I grew up in. What's important though, is to be able to live according to you own subjectivity and not just accept the fact that murder is wrong and leave it at that. Even though in this case, starting out with accepting the previous statement is a good starting point. Justifying it is the next.

  3. It seems to me that murder is too easy of an example for objective morality. I don't murder people, not because the law tells me not to, not because of my personal convictions against murder, but because I have no reason to. (Obviously this is not personally true, but you see my point.) I wouldn't murder if it was acceptable because I still wouldn't have a reason to. Basically, the law and morals can only strengthen one's conviction against murder, but one cannot say that there is not a circumstance when he would not murder someone. This is because murder itself is too subjective to be objectified. Lets face it, none of us has ever seriously considered murdering someone.

    Also, I feel that an experience that causes one to lose faith is obviously in the singular realm because it is personal and it is not between you and the absolute.

  4. I think you raise an interesting point with regard to murder, rape, etc. I think it makes a lot of sense that some acts such as these seem inherently wrong to human beings, or rather are objectively wrong to us. Call it evolution or what you will, but I am not so sure that we are completely void of any predisposition towards not committing these egregious acts. This might be in some way contrary to the existentialist precept existence before essence, but it nevertheless seems apparent in our inability to rationalize or justify raping babies in class.


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