Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday Afternoon Philosophy

“I need to figure out what I believe in metaphysically and morally, and how the two are related. That’s the essence of a spiritual identity.” This thought wandered through my head while I was trying to get to sleep the other night. Not as bad as my brain adding to my to-do list for work the next day, but also not as conducive to drifting off as thoughts of summer vacation. It might just have been my mind processing the philosophy of a character in the book I was reading, or I might to be onto something. So the first step in answering this question is to probe the premise – is there a link between morals and metaphysics – and is that, indeed, where the crux of spirituality lies?

Is it possible to have a moral system without it being linked to your understanding of the nature of the universe and your place in it? It seems to me the answer to this is no. At least, I can’t think of any examples – even if you don’t believe there is a God with a will who is pleased by some things and displeased by others, to even have a sense that there is “right” and “wrong”, you have to have an idea of how your actions fit into your larger context . . . and I don’t see how that can be done without an idea of what that larger context is. Even pure moral relativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Alright, so if there’s a link – so what? If I figure out where my morality comes from, will I know what I think about the nature of God? Or if I figure out what I think the nature of God is, will it guide me in right living? If I believe something is inherently good or bad (or that there is no inherent good or bad), that belief must come from some measurement of utility, that seems it would come from my understanding of being. It seems a bit harder to make the link in the other direction, though – in any worldview in which there isn’t some kind of anthropomorphic god, how do we take cues from the nature of the universe to shape our action?

This is twisting my head, and I don’t think I’ve yet figured out if it’s useful or not. I guess that’s why I am a lawyer, and not a metaphysician (or metaphysicist, which sounds much cooler, if you ask me . . .).

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