North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Reform or Revolution

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More from Dallas Willard:

The morally good person, I would say, is a person who is intent upon advancing the various goods of human life with which they are effectively in contact, in a manner that respects their relative degrees of importance and the extent to which the actions of the person in question can actually promote the existence and maintenance of those goods.

The person who is morally bad or evil is one who is intent upon the destruction of the various goods of human life with which they are effectively in contact, or who is indifferent to the existence and maintenance of those goods.

Being morally good or evil clearly will be a matter of degree and there surely will be few if any actual human beings who exist at the extreme ends of the scale. (An interesting but largely pointless question might be how humanity distributes on the scale: a nice bell curve or…what?)

Here, I submit, is the fundamental moral distinction: the one which is of primary human interest, and from which all the others, moving toward the periphery of the moral life and ethical theory, can be clarified. For example: the moral value of acts (positive and negative); the nature of moral obligation and responsibility; virtues and vices; the nature and limitations of rights, punishment, rewards, justice and related issues; the morality of laws and institutions; and what is to be made of moral progress and moral education. A coherent theory of these matters can, I suggest, be developed only if we start from the distinction between the good and bad will or person–which, admittedly, almost no one is currently prepared to discuss. That is one of the outcomes of ethical theorizing through the 20th Century.

I believe that this is the fundamental moral distinction because I believe that it is the one that ordinary human beings constantly employ in the ordinary contexts of life, both with reference to themselves (a touchstone for moral theory, in my opinion) and with reference to others (where it is employed with much less clarity and assurance). And I also believe that this is the fundamental moral distinction because it seems to me the one most consistently present at the heart of the tradition of moral thought that runs from Socrates to Sidgwick–all of the twists and turns of that tradition notwithstanding.

I have posted more from Willard’s interesting essay because it brought to my mind what I thought was an interesting and useful distinction. When we engage people of a left leaning persuasion (particularly the hard left), and we attempt to take them to task for their eagerness to tear down the traditions and institutions around them, they will very likely reply that they are not destroyers but are in fact “hyper patriots.” I think this is the tactic taken by Michael Moore, hence his slovenly appearance and shaggy beard and slouched posture. His carefully constructed visuals are trying to tell us, “I’m just a dude. I coulda been a nerd in a comic or video game store, but I’m such a patriot that I’m trying to reform these evil structures instead.” I am not claiming that Moore, or even our own friend and blogger, Robert McCelland, are evil. Not at all. I am saying that in their zeal to “bring about change” they are no different than a lumber company clearcutting trees off of a mountain faster than they can re-grow. Civilizational Ethics are even more slow growing than trees. And the lens used in deciding what has to stay and what has to go is far too often a mere blip – the product of less than a generation of thinking.

Naturalism can offer little or nothing in resisting the attack on human institutions that took so long to reach us in their current form, because:

Something peculiar happens when we view action from an objective or external standpoint. Some of its most important features seem to vanish under the objective gaze. Actions seem no longer assignable to individual agents as sources, but become instead components of the flux of events in the world of which the agent is a part…. The essential source of the problem is a view of persons and their actions as part of the order of nature…. That conception, if pressed, leads to the feeling that we are not agents at all, that we are helpless and not responsible for what we do.

This is why the embrace of naturalism leads to left thinking; in naturalism we might as well be pumpkins rather than humans. What we need is not so much a strong web of human interaction, but enough of certain physical conditions – food, shelter, and so on. And because we need them we are justified in doing anything, and I do mean anything, to get them, whether it means using the government to rob other people, or simply doing it ourselves.


Written by Curt

November 27, 2004 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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