A bit of a mad, stoned rant on the ethical philosophy I'm working on "thumotic-organicism"

So I've been working on my own theory of ethics, one that is I guess a form of Humanism, but Humanism is not a terribly elucidating theory by itself. It says that values are relative to people, not to a god or gods, but not a lot logically follows from this conclusion. I found a need to be more precise, so if you have that need too, read on! Otherwise this will probably bore you.

I have settled on calling my philosophy "organicism". Skipping the history of the term, and getting straight to its most relevant feature, organicism speaks to the problems we have in delineating the boundaries of our socio-moral concern; i.e., it is concerned with arranging our moral behavior around others. So it deals with questions like, "who should we arrange our loyalites and our responsibilities behind and by how much", and "why should we be concerned about being moral at all"? As I understand it, organicism requires that we are by nature social creatures who simply can't experience their lives as being valueless - they are highly motivated to manufacture meaning and even to construct elaborate edifices for maintaining their egotistic fantasies. This belief makes me feel quite humble, which I believe is valuable because it corrects my self-concept according to the realities of the situation, which is most essentially (not to belabor the point) social. There are giant regions of our experiences which are concerned with how others experience us, so that esteem becomes quite an essential element of our social, and thus moral, concerns.

It seems that every action we take, every effect our existence has on others, has moral relevance. If we think too long and too hard on how to be moral (if this is a bad thing, which it very well might be), we become singularly motivated to "touch" the most people, to make the most meaningful connections and to create the most positive influence on others as one possibly can. I seem to have a lot of difficulty in this area as compared to many other people I meet (while many others I meet are grotesquely unconcerned with how their behavior is affecting others). One great thing organicism does is bring this fact straight out into the open - we are all like parts of a greater organism. The effects we have on others have ramifications beyond our self; they extend outward to anyone with whom our life is organized around to any degree.

We have to start thinking about how society should be organized as well, which means you also have to start thinking about politics. This is why Aristotle believed politics to be the pinnacle of the human mind's acheivements, and indeed the pinnacle of human endeavor. Eventually all moral philosophy turns into politics, so to hold solid moral convictions one must also hold solid political convictions as well. (Perhaps this explains why Christians are conservative - they hold their wrong moral convictions just as intensely as we progressives hold our right ones, or even moreso). And it is clear that politics is organismic as well. We form groups of many different types and sizes, and moral questions appear in each and every different amalgamation which takes place. We need some method for sifting through the moral obliqueness of it all.

Should we be so concerned with what others think of us? How much are we concerned with others? What range of concern is experienced by all people, and should we all be concerned the same amount (as in, as much as possible)? Or is it morally irrelevant how much concern we take up, how much responsibility we take, for others? I think it is highly contentious to say that our experience of morality should always be our highest priority; yes, being good, in public and in private, can be rewarding, but sometimes morality's got nothing to do with it - we reward ourselves all the time, we treat ourselves to life's pleasures just because we can, for the sheer joy of it. This is itself of huge concern for moral philosophy, of course. And this is why my philosophy (and here I mean "mine", as in no one else's) is actually called "thumotic-organicism". The Greek word "thumos" essentially means "motivation", which is the core of such experience-descriptions as "spirit", "life-force", "will", "resolve", "heart", "courage", and many more, and so it is also intimately tied up with our very sense of self. It encapsulates our human nature because it describes how we perceive ourselves and others, whether honestly or dishonestly. We are concerned not just with our own motivations, but of course we are also really interested in the motivations of others, and this is just what morality is all about. We want to know what is in a person's "heart", why a person or group of people seem resolved to behave a certain way, and how passionate or "strongly-spirited" a person feels towards others, and to be introspective of these motivations as well. This explains why we believe that life is not just a set of rules one has to be followed but that it is also to be enjoyed - we want to experience life fully and deeply, and we believe that this is how you really live life well. You don't have to be an ascetic, you don't have to cast away all of life's "little" enjoyments, like the religious extremists who ban music and art and philosophy (well...) and sex in the name of concerning oneself only with being good (and since good = God, well, you get it). We think this is virtually the opposite of being "good". The term "thumotic-organicism" evokes the image of a beating heart, a living entity throbbing with life's motivations. This is what gets us excited, this is what motivates us to LIVE. We want to have confidence, we want to feel strong and safe and empowered to make the most of life. Yes, this is hardly moreso than when our thoughts turn to wanting to do more for others, but we hardly go to great lengths not to think of wanting more for ourselves as well. We want to have powerfully-rewarding experiences, whether in the name of others or just for our own selfish desires, we want to live life vigorously, to burn our life's flame as intensely as possible. It seems that we have evolved to be this way - it seems quite natural and logical to suppose that "intense motivation for life" is somehow coded into our genes. Some of us are clearly more enthusiastic about life than others, but this is one quality we greatly value in ourselves and others. Life is to be lived, and lived well, and this just is what we consider "goodness" in life to be about; well-being (as Sam Harris puts it), flourishing (eudaimonia, as Aristotle puts it), even "maximizing happiness" (Epicurus, the Utilitarians), these are all deeply concerned with making the best out of life, with not just meeting the basic conditions of life but exceeding them. Only Kant's deontology (duty, or responsibility) stands in contrast to this general thrust towards the general direction of happiness, and this, I think, is only because it leans more towards the organismic points than the thumotic. Essentially, Kant is saying that our duty towards our organisms, our social/organismic responsibilities, are of primary moral concern, and he replaces the "because that is the best way to experience life as positively rewarding" and "that is the best way to well-being" with "because if you think about it, it is purely rational to behave only as you would want others to behave". So he was also right, because it is rational to expect the members of your organism to hold the same values as you do, and to act on them reciprocally or cooperatively. What this perspective leaves out is how this desire to behave as a member of a larger organism is experienced, and of course that motivation has been interpreted in widely differing ways, including the desire to be "close" to a god or of belonging to some metaphysical plane of existence which is "greater" or which "transcends" one's own personal existence in some way, or the desire to experience a connection with others which is somehow "beyond words" to express. And it often does elude us how to express this feeling that we do somehow "belong" to each other in a really meaningful way, and it is this: we value ourselves and build our sense of self around our relationships with and to other people. We might not be able to see the connection between our own actions and the consequences they have for people we are never going to see or know about, but they most certainly are there, so if we care about who we are, that is, if we really care about our relationship to the world and the people and living creatures in it, our sense of self can rise to a level of emotional maturity which at least attempts to justify our sense of self-worth and the values we hold. Identifiying the fact that our experience of life as being positive stems both from a desire to have powerfully-rewarding individual experiences AND from a desire to have powerfully-rewarding social experiences seems a necessary precondition of coming to know what morality is. The only question which remains is, how to we balance these drives in our own individual circumstances to live as well as we can? And I don't believe there can be a complete explanation of how we all want to live, and thus how we think all people should live. We can narrow down the possibilities greatly, however. We can be fairly certain that we shouldn't live entirely for ourselves, or entirely for others. We believe that there should be a balance struck, and perhaps that this balance should be fairly even. Much of our private joy comes from doing for others, so there is already a great area of overlap between these two competing motivations. They are united, however, under the umbrella of thumotic-organicism; we want to be great livers, and therefore great lovers of life (it's experiences, not just its mere existence), and we want to belong to a larger group of organisms which are also great livers, and as such we need to be organismically competitive (we need to be adapted to our environment, i.e. we need power over the natural environment), and we need to cooperate with other organisms and organize further with them to do so. In other words, we use what powers we have of experiencing and interpreting ourselves and the world towards the end of experiencing it well, and thus that our interpretation of such is centered on our individual and social experiences and how they effect one another organismically. The best way I can put it is that we are concerned with what results our actions have for our own motivations and the motivations of others, and that crucial to human motivation is our self-esteem, or how we conceive of ourselves and others, and that crucial to these conceptions is how we relate to each other, and that the answer to this last question is that we relate to each other as thumotic-organismic beings, beings whose experiences and values regarding themselves and others are recognized as being motivated to and by an action-reward system centered around the necessary behavior of organisms who have evolved to organize in ever-more-complex ways with each other, and the unneccessary behavior of beings simply continuing to push the boundaries of what an ecological niche can be, and what types of experiences are possible. We are quick to point out to others all the wonderful and awe-inspiring experiences we come across if for nothing else than to join into this great back-and-forth act which shares super experiences as a matter of course.

That's as much as I can muster tonight. That's as motivated as I can be, as good as I can get, on this night. Kind of sad. I shall have to try to clean this mess up sometime.

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Comment by Jedi Wanderer on December 26, 2011 at 5:14pm

I have heard some really good counterarguments to the golden rule. "Do not do unto others as you expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same." (George Bernard Shaw)

So if you are a libertarian, then by all means do NOT do unto me as you would have me do unto you. But of course if you think you are right, then you should act on your convictions. There are some pretty clear exceptions to the rule, when you know for example that the other person definitely does not want or like the same things that you do, but it is generally a good principle. I like this way of putting it best. "You must be the change you wish to see in this world." (Ghandi)

Comment by Steph S. on December 26, 2011 at 4:46pm

oh -- you are asking why be kind and respectful to others?

Because I think we should treat each other the way we would like to be treated. That's a really tough question -- I will think on it further.

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on December 26, 2011 at 4:29pm

Well, the point of these paths down the mental landscape is not merely to state the conclusion, but to show the path that got you there. Why be kind and respectful to others? But yeah, I guess you could take that away from that mess!

Comment by Steph S. on December 26, 2011 at 4:15pm

"The best way I can put it is that we are concerned with what results our actions have for our own motivations and the motivations of others, and that crucial to human motivation is our self-esteem, or how we conceive of ourselves and others, and that crucial to these conceptions is how we relate to each other, and that the answer to this last question is that we relate to each other as thumotic-organismic beings, beings whose experiences and values regarding themselves and others are recognized as being motivated to and by an action-reward system centered around the necessary behavior of organisms who have evolved to organize in ever-more-complex ways with each other, and the unneccessary behavior of beings simply continuing to push the boundaries of what an ecological niche can be, and what types of experiences are possible."

so -- in short be kind and respectful of others? That's how I try to live my life.

Comment by Mundify the Epigastrium on August 7, 2011 at 12:27pm
My actions are the result of a hundred trillion, trillion neurons firing with inexplicable complexity allowing me to enjoy the illusion of free will. So much for humanism, surely humanism is the illusion of perception by some very, very complex quantum process.

Existentialism is a simple model to enjoy, my complicated neural activity compels me to enjoy experience and I am happy to comply, as an existentialist, atheist and realist...
Comment by Jedi Wanderer on August 7, 2011 at 12:29am
Well, Glen, while I'm disappointed I only conveyed a "faint idea" to you, I appreciate you taking the time to read it and I'll focus on the word "remarkable" and take that as a compliment.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on August 7, 2011 at 12:08am

Wanderer,

Your namesake is similar to your mad thumotic-organicism essay; shedding light inwardly and leaving your readers with only a faint idea of what you intend to convey. However based on your probable stoner state quite a remarkable ramble.

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