You know what they say, “If you steal one idea, it’s plagiarism. If you steal more than one, it’s research.” I have ‘borrowed’ the phrase ‘inescapable frameworks’ from the Catholic Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor.
I shall be referring to Taylor throughout the rest of this series of reflections, and it would be very helpful if someone with a bit more knowledge of the subject and the philosopher would get in touch to correct some of my blatant misunderstandings!
Taylor does not accept some of the prevailing utilitarian, Kantian, and, as he sees them, reductionist theories that dominate western thought. Instead, he argues that there is something more to our decision making, and indeed make-up as persons, than just desires or perceived usefulness. There is a framework for our moral decisions that is not reducible to the individual or society.
Underlying everything we do, Taylor argues, is a sense of strong evaluation. In other words, and here I’m oversimplifying, I have an inherent sense that some decisions are better than others, that there is a scale of the good, if you like, and that this sense is not reducible to the way an individual thinks or desires, or even what society deems expedient.
When pushed, Taylor, as a believing Christian, will say that the source of this good is God. But, for his philosophical arguments, Taylor sticks to the issues over which philosophers have argued for millennia: who makes me, me? How do I know how to act?
Ultimately, it is the ability to move beyond ourselves, to be in a state of openness and love, and to act accordingly, which makes us who we are. The whole nature of language, for example, is, Taylor argues, revealing of something beyond ourselves, a quality that we can’t ‘reduce’ by ‘scientific’ or naturalist argument or rationale. This Taylor says is what we Christians understand as agape, overflowing love.
‘All very interesting’, I hear you say, ‘but what has that all to do with the price of cheese?’
Well, think about how we think. We are encouraged, these days, to think of the individual as paramount. What I want, what I desire constitutes the whole of the good; my rights. Of course, there are limits, and it’s when my desires or rights clash with others that the ‘fun’ really begins.
Ultimately, it could be argued, that human rights and other issues over which we get exercised are decided these days by who has the louder voice or the more compelling argument, as can be seen in the ongoing arguments over abortion.
Taylor is saying that there is something beyond this. Something that is inescapable, over which we ultimately have no control and must accept if we are to be authentic human persons. And that is The Good.
How do I think?
This will be the last post for a couple of weeks while our webmaster takes a well-earned summer break and while I go off and listen to some decent music. Perhaps, in the meantime, we could all think about how we reach conclusions and how we act.
On what basis do I come to a decision and what are the values that affect my choices?
I leave you with a passage of scripture from the recent Feast of St Benedict:
Proverbs 2, 1-9
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— 3 indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.
9 Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path.