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Thursday, February 19, 2015

To think or not to think, that is the question.

Is thinking a moral act?

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. In other words, a thoughtless life is a worthless life. Since thinking is the way we have knowledge, can evil consist, or at least be due to, a lack of knowledge?

Or is the culpable act the decision not to think and therefore not to know? That is, evil is choosing to act without thinking. Thinking we have seen involves a sense of direction towards greater truth and good, an openness to transcend our beliefs when they are obstacles to human fulfillment, and a relation to other persons as other selves.

So thinking is what casts a moral character on our acts, our lives, our persons, and our communities. To think or not to think, that is the question of human existence.

Is an act without thinking a human, i.e. moral, act at all? I breathe, I smell, I defecate, I blink, I scratch, my heart pumps, my blood runs, my saliva flows, I feel aches, all without thinking. These are not human acts and do not have a moral character unless I think about changing or stopping them. Nor am I culpable if I cannot think, e.g. if I am forced to do something or if I do not have the time or opportunity to think about it. Many a trial centers around whether the crime a human act. And many a penalty for a crime is lessened if diminished thinking occurred.

What about Dresden, Hiroshima, The Twin Towers, Slavery and Jim Crow, Wounded Knee, KKK lynchings, ISIS beheadings, the Final Solution, Guantanamo, My Lai, Armenian genocide, Rape of China? Were these thoughtless acts? Hardly. They were planned and executed with full weighing of their consequences. Thinking casts a moral character on these decisions. And they are good or evil based on the nature, value, and standards of thinking itself which are present in every human act.

My Cousin Vinnie sent me a note from Mexico saying he is enjoying the sun and refuses to think about the poor slobs freezing in the Northeast who believe the earth is warming or about poor people in general, just glad he has the means to travel. But of course he is thinking about others or he wouldn’t have mentioned them. He is just having fun piquing me. His refusal to think is culpable only when he really refuses to consider other ways of looking at the world and feeling how other people feel because that might make him change his ideas. And the same for me.

A meditation on the Biblical story of Adam and Eve is helpful here. TBC.

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