Existentialism journals

Emmanuel Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philosophy 130 – Ethics (Spring 2003)

Existentialism journals

[Students and professors, please read.]

Journal One:  Questions from Lecture

1.  Is it difficult to make decisions?

Yes, especially when others are involved, or there is some ethical dilemma involved.

2.  How burdensome is the awareness of consequences for actions?

As heavy as the consequences, if you take responsibility for them.

3.  How burdensome is the responsibility for taking action?

As burdensome as the consequences.

4.  How do you react to the statement “we are condemned to be free”?

I agree with it–“not choosing” is a choice with its own consequences for which we are responsible.  There is no such thing as relinquishing our freedom to choose.  We’re stuck with it, no matter how much we’d like to be free of it.

Journal Two:  Questions from Text

1.  Evaluate the question of character versus conduct in politics.  Which do you think is of the highest importance for a person running for (or elected to) office to have:  personal integrity or a view on government that you agree with?  Is there an alternative?  Explain.

I think the personal integrity thing usually has to do with extramarital sex, drugs, or fraud (improper conduct, which reflects poorly on character).  If it has to do with sex, if they’re into anything weird or too much, you know, like an addiction that takes priority or reflects into their dealings concerning social issues, I would say character is important (they must be able to relate well with others, and if they can’t relate normally when it comes to sex, then that may translate poorly into their socio-political views on various levels).  If it has to do with drugs, as long as they did it in moderation and not at work, it’s their business… same deal with drinking alcohol (if they get arrested for DUI, and/or if they are an alcoholic, character is important).  If it has to do with fraud, if it effects poor people directly or indirectly, while making themselves richer…then character is important.  If it’s something they did in their youth (assuming they are at a mature age), but not something they currently condone, then it’s not important.  I would say that, assuming character is not an issue, in that they don’t have bad character, then the priority would be how they stand on social issues–if they are not effective in that area, their character doesn’t really even factor in (unless I am involved with them in other areas outside the political one).

2. Discuss the question of character versus conduct in personal matters.  Philippa Foot claims, with Aristotle, that a person who has a good character is slightly better than a person who has control of himself or herself.  Kant would say the opposite.  Explain these viewpoints.  Which do you agree with more and why?

Well, it kind of reminds me of a bible verse I grew up with, but I couldn’t recite it word for word, or the book, chapter, and verse.  But basically, the verse is in favor of Kant’s belief that showing effort is more deserving of praise.  And I think I agree with that.  I think a person who has never been tempted is actually a person who has never been in the opportunity to be tempted–an innocent, like a child, like someone who doesn’t know what they’re missing, because they have never been exposed even to the idea.  It’s a great place to be–but it is not a morally superior place–it is a morally neutral one.  Temptation is not a sign of weakness, it is a part of being human–weakness is in the giving in to temptation–strength is in the overcoming of it.  A person who has never been tempted has never even experienced their own nature.  And even if temptation were a sign of weakness (human frailty, as they say)…the effort to overcome that weakness, is that much more praiseworthy!  A person who has overcome their weaknesses is stronger, I feel, than a person who has never even been tested.  I feel that giving into temptation, and allowing our weaknesses to rule us, if it becomes a pattern of behavior, a habit–that is the sort of weakness, or bad character, that should be taken into consideration.  Temptation itself is not weakness, especially if you have tried and true tools of overcoming it, which untested individuals do not have (and so are more vulnerable), because it comes with experience (unless you are good at learning from others’ mistakes).

3.  Bernard Mayo wants us to emulate role models.  Can you think of a person–a historical figure, a living person, or a fictional character–whom you would like to emulate?  Explain who and why.  What are some of the problems involved with the idea of emulating role models?

There have been certain things about people that I admired and tried to incorporate into myself, but there hasn’t really been a person I wanted to emulate completely.  The older I get, the more I see the similarities between myself and my parents, but that comes with negative stuff, not just role-model material.  The problem with emulating someone else is that–1) no one is a perfect, unchanging model human, and, although that is reason enough not to emulate them, they also don’t need that kind of pressure by being emulated, 2) it is like saying you are not worthy of being who you are, so unworthy that you must emulate someone else, and 3) it doesn’t involve reason whatsoever–you don’t think for yourself why something would be right or wrong, you just ask, “What would so-and-so do in this situation?”  There’s no virtue in that.  But I do see the benefit in learning from other’s mistakes, rather than having to make them for yourself.  And there is a lot of good things to learn from others, like different philosophical perspectives…but that is a lot different than making them your role model.

4.  Levinas is reluctant to include animals as being with “faces.”  Do you agree that ethics can be extended to animals only as a secondary move pattered after ethics toward humans?  Or should ethics toward animals be a primary form of ethics?  Can Levinas’s own theory be redesigned to include animals?

I don’t think I completely agree with Levinas’ theory that we take responsibility for The Other because they are different from us.  I think we take responsibility for them because they are similar, and so an extension of ourselves, our own life (and in that way, irreplaceable, without substitute).  There are other ways of being similar than having a human face or voice.  Once we are cognitively aware of the similarities between humans and other living things, we might include them in our extended self, based on those similarities.  And there might be different levels of organization–ranging from those that are most like self (less replaceable),  to those that are least like self (more replaceable).  In that way, yes, animals can definitely be worked in to a primary form of ethics, if Levinas’ theory is redesigned to emphasize all similarities, not just the human face or voice–and do away with that part about our differences… True “other”ness (stranger-ness) invokes fear and alienation, not a sense of taking responsibility for the other.

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