Friday, June 16, 2006

The Idea of the Good

The Meaning and Method of Moral Inquiry

It is destiny to decide. Whether choices are free or determined, trivial or momentous, carelessly made or carefully reasoned---in a sense it doesn't matter. The one thing there's no choice about is that we have to choose.

The scope of choice is not all-encompassing, since many choices are made by the natural environment, biology, family situation, the authority of other persons, the structure of society, education, upbringing, and by other influences.

But even though the destiny of these choices is not all-encompassing, it is all-pervasive. As we become reflectively self-conscious, we can choose how to respond to these influences and limitations, how to view this environment of limitations, and to what extent we can use its framework as a ladder on which we ascend to important goals. And in this process we may discover that the limitations themselves extend the scope of our choice, because those limitations exist only by providing an endless set of options which increase the scope of our decisions.

Without the provocation of limits, there could be no opportunity to choose, and therefore no freedom, so that the truth of freedom is necessity, and the necessity of freedom is truth.

I seem to have no legitimate claim against my constraints, since I have barely begun to take advantage of the slack which those limitations provide. Therefore it is my destiny to decide.

But for all we know with science at our disposal, maybe our decisions make no appreciable difference.

Many choices can be trivial in the sense that none of the alternatives seem likely to produce any consequentially different effect as over against other choices. An orange or grapefruit for breakfast, a symphony or an opera, paddleball or tennis. But some choices can make enormous consequential differences, such as in the choice of life vocation, a spouse, or some medical treatment or surgery. And sometimes these major choices are themselves conditioned by previous decisions that seem comparatively trivial. If I had not decided to go to military school, I might not have become acquainted with Austin, which has been my home for over 30 years. So we can never be sure about the consequences of even the options that seem trivial and indifferent when we confront them.

But the claim that one's choices make no significant difference is descriptively false, and is itself a choice that generates incalculable consequences drastically different from those that would conceivably follow from choosing to believe that one's options are in fact very important.

A life guided by rationally directed choice will be very different from one governed by the passive indifference generated by assuming no choice ever makes any difference. Hence, the indifference view is self-contradictory by being an exception to its own claim.

Adapted from Reconstruction of the Christian Revelation Claim, by Stuart Hackett

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