Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ethicial Introspectionism

While digging through boxes of old photos yesterday, I came upon an essay I wrote when I was working on my Associate's degree at the community college.  I hated high school.  I was on the honor roll because I'm good at taking tests, but I was terrible at turning in my homework and actually showing up to class on a regular basis.  When I finally broke free from the bonds of high school, my dad offered to pay for me to go to the community college.  He even bought me a car so I could get there in our public-transit-poor suburb.  But then we got into a huge fight one day and I gave him back his car.  I took the bus for a semester, but I eventually dropped out in my early twenties when I got my job at the public library.  I had passed a couple of classes, but I was far from completing my Associate's degree.

By my late twenties I was getting bored with my clerical job at the library.  I wanted to be what we call an "Information Specialist" which is basically a paraprofessional librarian, or, in less-fancy terms, a librarian without a Master's degree in Library Science.  In order to be an Info Spec you have to have a minimum of 60 credit hours of college, plus experience working at the public library.  I had the experience.  I just needed to go back to school.

I did, and I loved it.  I paid for it myself and I took classes I wanted.  I even put on my big girl panties and took Public Speaking, one of the requirements for getting an Associate's degree.  I took Finite Math and actually got a B.  I took Logic, one of the hardest classes I've ever taken, a class so hard the instructor always graded our exams and papers on a curve.  I never thought of myself as a very logical person (who returns a car to someone and ruins her chance at getting an education over a stupid fight?) but I'm proud to say, it was always my exams and my papers that set the curve.  My Logic teacher told me I should think about taking some other philosophy classes.  It was the best advice someone in authority had ever given me.

One of the proudest moments of my life was when I opened a letter from the community college with my Associate's degree inside.  I was too chickenshit to attend the graduation ceremony, but I had completed the coursework and finally got my two-year degree only eleven years after high school!  Woo hoo!

One of my favorite classes was indeed a philosophy class, Ethics, taught by Omar Conrad.  For our final paper we had to write an essay about our personal moral philosophy and explain why we adhere to it.  We could use the works of philosophers before us to put together a hodgepodge of our own beliefs, or we could come up with something original.  I came up with something original.

Mr. Conrad loved it.  He asked if he could keep a copy of it to distribute to his future students as an example of a good final essay.  Here's what he wrote on the back of my paper:

This is a great essay.  It is one of the most original I've read. 40/40

Yep, this slackass got a perfect score on her Ethics final.  It turns out I'm not such a bad student when I love what I'm learning.

Here it is, my Ethics final from so many years ago:

Ethical Introspectionism
Becky Burton

Introspectionism n.  A doctrine that psychology must be based essentially on data derived from introspection.  (From Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition)

Introspection n.  Contemplation of one's own thoughts, feelings and sensations; self-examination.  (From: The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, Third Edition)

There are two types of introspectionism, psychological and ethical.  The dictionary does not yet know the distinction.  Its definition I will rename psychological introspectionism.  The second type I will name ethical introspectionism.  Therefore, the definition of ethical introspectionism is as follows:

     Ethical Introspectionism n. A doctrine that ethical theory must be based essentially on wisdom derived through introspection.

We now know what ethical introspectionism is, so to whom does this principle apply?  Certainly it cannot be universalized, since not all beings are capable of introspection.  If a cat cannot introspect, then a cat cannot morally judge others nor be judged morally for its behavior.  Morality appears to be a human creation.  However, not all people introspect, since young children, the mentally ill, or mentally impeded adults are also incapable of introspection.  They all lack the capacity to perform moral judgments, and therefore they cannot be judged morally for their behavior.  Only healthy, mentally and emotionally developed beings are capable of introspection.  Only healthy, mentally and emotionally developed beings are moral judges and the morally judged.

There are three things that constitute health, mental and emotional development in a being, three things that determine whether someone can practice ethical introspectionism: egoism, sympathy, and boundaries.  My definition of egoism is not to be confused with selfishness.  In The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, Third Edition, there are three definitions of egoism.

     Egoism n. 1.a. The ethical doctrine that morality has its foundations in self-interest.  b. The ethical belief that self-interest is the just and proper motive for all human conduct.  2. Excessive preoccupation with one's own well-being and interests, usually accompanied by an inflated sense of self-importance.  3. Egotism; conceit.

I am adhering to definition 1.a., that egoism is the ethical doctrine that morality has its foundations in self-interest.  I am not putting any negative connotation onto the word.  By egoism, I simply mean ethical self-interest.  Furthermore, my definition of sympathy is not to be confused with selflessness.  In The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, Third Edition, there are five definitions of sympathy.

     Sympathy n. 1.a. A relationship or affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other.  1.b. Mutual understanding or affection arising from this relationship or affinity. 2.a. The act or power of sharing the feelings of another.  2.b. Often sympathies.  A feeling or an expression of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; compassion or commiseration.  3. Harmonious agreement; accord: He is in sympathy with their beliefs.  4. A feeling of loyalty; allegiance.  Often used in the plural: His sympathies lie with his family.  5. Physiology.  A relation between parts or organs by which a disease or disorder in one induces an effect in the other.

I am adhering to definition 2.b., that sympathy is the act or power of sharing the feelings of another.  Sharing implies giving and taking, one and the other, not one or the other.  It has nothing to do with selfless martyrdom.  Once a healthy, mentally and emotionally developed being achieves a state of egoism and sympathy, he or she understands the boundaries between the self and others.  Understanding boundaries means knowing where you stop and others start.  The domain that connects yourself to others is called heaven.  This heaven is not home to the afterlife, but instead a metaphysical state of bliss.  In The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, Third Edition, there are five definitions of heaven.

     Heaven n. 1. Often heavens.  The sky or the universe as seen from Earth; the firmament.  2.a. Often Heaven.  The abode of God, the angels, and the souls of those who are granted salvation.  2.b. An eternal state of communion with God; everlasting bliss.  3.a. Heaven.  God: Heaven help you!  3.b. heavens.  Used in various phrases to express surprise: Good heavens!  4. Often heavens.  The celestial powers; the gods: The heavens favored the young prince.  5. A condition or place of great happiness, delight, or pleasure: The lake was heaven.

I am adhering to definition 5., that heaven is a condition or place of great happiness, delight, or pleasure.  I will add that it also exemplifies the perfect union of egoism and sympathy.

The purpose of ethical introspectionism is to attain wisdom that leads us to this heaven.  Heaven is achieved not through religious salvation but through self-salvation.  No one can save you but yourself.  Self-salvation is liberation through introspection.  No one knows what is right or wrong for you but yourself.  One knows what is morally right and wrong not because others say so.  One knows what is morally right and wrong because one knows so.  One knows so from the wisdom derived from introspection.

It is impossible to teach others morality.  Morality is self-taught through introspection.  There are three absolutes in ethical introspection.  The rest is up to each introspectionist to discover.  It is immoral to:

     a) intentionally impede your own freedom to introspect
     b) intentionally impede other's freedom to introspect
     c) cross over boundaries, allowing others to interfere with your freedom to introspect or interfering with other's freedom to introspect.

Said more positively, it is moral to:

     a) intentionally support and respect your freedom to introspect
     b) intentionally support and respect other's freedom to introspect
     c) intentionally maintain the heavenly domain between your and another's existence.

As examples, we will sojourn within the realm of human sexuality.  According to ethical introspectionism, the only immoral sex acts are those that impede the development of yourself, others, or those that cross over boundaries.

The first example shows an impediment to the development of yourself.  One of the clearest paths to introspection is masturbation.  It is immoral to feel remorse or to allow others to discourage you from doing it in solitude.  It is the physical expression of introspection and should be advocated, not in a lewd manner, such as in public, but as a private self-study.

An impediment to the development of others, child molestation is another example of sexual immorality.  Children are not mentally and emotionally developed enough to fully understand the boundaries between themselves and others, to separate other's needs from their own.  When you use a child for your adult sexual gratification, you send a message to the child that her/his purpose in life is to be the object of other people's happiness and gratification.  The child will discontinue to develop freely her/his egoist side.  Eventually, the child will break down when s/he discovers that s/he has no sole control over other's happiness and gratification, because you have taught the child that s/he is the source of your happiness and gratification.

The third example of sexual immorality involves overstepping the boundaries of mentally and emotionally developed beings.  It is immoral to interfere with an introspectionist's pursuit of the domain that connects the self to others.  Any consensual sex between introspecting beings is praiseworthy, not shameful.  It is analogous to sitting in a coffee shop, having a stimulating philosophical discussion with someone.  Any law--whether religious, social or juridical--that labels consensual sex as immoral is immoral.  Homosexuality, oral sex, premarital sex, one-night stands, and recreational sex should all be sanctioned and included with marital sex as rich forms of discovery for beings seeking to partake of the heavenly wisdom that signifies their connective force.

In response to the question of whether or not moral dilemmas can be tragic, the ethical introspectionist's answer is yes.  Ethical introspectionism is not an attempt to eliminate tragedies but an attempt to eliminate confinement of the soul.  The two basic elements of ethical introspectionism are egoism and sympathy, which can easily run alternate courses, leading to tragic conclusions.  If you only consider your own needs, tragedy ensues when other's needs are overlooked.  If you only consider other's needs, tragedy ensues when your own needs are overlooked.  The goal of ethical introspectionism is to achieve the heavenly state of balance between your and other's needs.  But even in this domain tragedy can occur.  Your intent may be to act in accordance with what you think the other person would most want, but unless that person is around you constantly to tell you what s/he wants, sometimes your guess will be wrong.  Since wisdom comes from introspection, the only person's perspective you will ever understand entirely is your own.  You can always try on another's shoes and walk around in them, but the only pair that will ever fit you completely is your own.