Back to Blackburn

Wow!  Been a year since my last post.  But I am back at least today and perhaps later this week as well.

Lot to chew on in Blacburn’s “Being Good,”  but this is what caught my attention last night.  In making the distinction between an ethical climate and a moralistic one, Blackburn observes, “one peculiarity of our present climate is that we care much more about our rights than about our ‘good.’  For previous thinkers about ethics, such as those who wrote the Upanishads, or Confucius, or Plato, or the founds or the Christian tradition, the central concern was the state of one’s soul, meaning some personal state of justice or harmony.  Such a state might include resignation and renunciation, or detachment, or obedience, or knowledge, especially self-knowledge.” (p. 4).

Now I have no intention of specifically addressing his topic, rather I was struck by he emphasis on self-knowledge.  Yes we all know our preferences like technology (Mac), music (Terrence Blanchard) or ice cream (cookies & cream ice cream cake from BR).  But do we know ourselves?  Can we map the terrain of our own soul.  Or is it just a baffling place that sends us fleeing to the hills?

I once had an altercation with someone I like and respect.  It should not have blown up to the degree that it did.  It took a bit of digging and ruminating until I found ‘it.’  So now I walk away with a deeper understanding of who I am and a greater sensitivity to the humanness of those around me.

Lest I puff myself up too much, I must acknowledge that most days are spent following my preferences (and avoiding the mint chocolate Dips in the freezer).  I enjoy my family, friends, and work.  I pursue intellectual topics that I find stimulating.  Perhaps I should spend a bit more time with compass, paper, and pencil in hand.


4 Responses to Back to Blackburn

  1. Becky Vartabedian says:

    The idea of “the good” fundamentally challenges our cultural sensibilities. However, I’ve noted that when I teach ethical theories oriented toward the good (e.g., Aristotle’s *Nicomachean Ethics*) I find that students are more keen on the long view the good provides. I’d like to think that Aristotle emphasizes self-knowledge in the way we approach the mean and cultivate virtue. This process is not blind, but fundamentally linked to our activities, habits, and the careful consideration of our actions.

    I think the kind of knowledge you’re talking about isn’t at all mysterious (at least on Aristotle’s view), in fact it’s probably horribly mundane. We find it convenient to disconnect our preferences from our being and assume that these have no connection to our good, but if we examine them carefully and thoughtfully our preferences do give evidence of our soul’s terrain.

    This is part of the problem of philosophy, in some ways, that it allows us to avoid the kind of self-cultivation we need because the words and phrases are hard. That’s why we need (and need to be) good teachers and examples – “living stones” (in a phrase) of change and orientation to the good.

    Glad you’re back blogging. 🙂 Sorry for the tangents (?).

  2. Nancy says:

    So what you are saying about Aristotle is that the good is more of an outward focus – driving the overall orientation of culture…

    I’m sure I was no where near any real philosophical thinking on this one. But I like your comment about evidence provided by preferences. I could peel a layer or two back to see what it reveals – (hmmm… what does mint chocolate say about me 🙂 ).

    Love the tangents! Glad to be back and at least attempting to philosophize from time to time.

  3. njkirchner says:

    I think that knowing ones self is indeed a very terrifying place to roam around, especially in the context of good.

    Self reflection I find typically leads to questions of why? Why have I made these choices, why am I making these choices, and why am I not willing to make these choices in the future. And usually if we’re honest with ourselves, our motivations are not always the most noble or selfless. But I feel that we must continually challenge ourselves to ask these questions amidst the discomfort of the truth.

    I have not been able myself to reconcile the ability of a compassionate god that can and does forgive if truly repentant, with one that sees sin as a stain that remains with us for all eternity. And even beyond the acts of apparent sin, what about those of indifference to the situations of those even closest to us. Oh only if we could comprehend it all and not lose our minds.

    Even if we get close to being a ‘Good’ person through our own attempts at selfless acts, if we do not try to strive to do even more, is that better than never doing anything in the first place? This being a question that I feel only someone who is attempting to do more has the right to ask.

    I will never claim to have any definitive answers in this area. Yet I do truly believe that the more honest we are with ourselves about who we are and what makes us good in our own lives, the more peace we will each hold inside.

    Thanks for the Terrence Blanchard recommendation.
    Perfect for writing comments

  4. Nancy says:

    … on “sin as a stain” The best analogy that I’ve heard (speaking of painting) is that is you start with stark white paint and then you add a drop of anything, you no longer have stark white paint. So in a since, God is holy – stark white, and eternal communion must also be with that which is stark white… – see R.C. Sproul’s “Holiness of God” – I think I have a post somewhere on that one.

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