Friday, December 14, 2012

Pure Wisdom and Practical Wisdom Mediated by the Moral Order

What connects the pure wisdom orders (philosophy, religion, and the arts) to the practical wisdom orders (the social sciences, governance, and philanthropy) is the moral order. In many ways, the orders of pure wisdom (like the orders of pure knowledge -- mathematics, the physical sciences, and their technologies) are specialist orders. One has to achieve a certain level of expertise to participate in them at the highest levels. There remains freedom of entry and exit -- a necessary requirement for any social order to be a spontaneous order -- but one does have to learn some pretty complex rules of the game to participate at such a level that one becomes well known throughout posterity.

However, in truth, we each have our own philosophies, our own religious beliefs, and our own artistic views. In the arts, we have all doodled, written a few lines of bad poetry. But more, we have participated by viewing art (architecture is all around us, as are any number of examples of the visual arts outside of museums and galleries), by watching fictional shows on T.V. and at the movies, and by watching plays and reading poetry, short stories and novels (at least in high school). We all have our own philosophical and religious beliefs, which we at the very least share with our friends and family. We thus are all participating in each of these spontaneous orders. And who was Nietzsche (or any of the great, well-known philosophers) influenced by that nobody ever heard of, but who he knew growing up, and whose ideas influenced him -- perhaps even without his conscious knowledge? What great storyteller in Shakespeare's youth, whose name will never be known by anyone else, sparked his imagination? And who have each of these influenced, whose names we'll never know, who influenced yet others?

This is the structure of spontaneous orders. Our ethics are molded in the philosophical, religious, and artistic orders; our morals are developed in the moral order, and find their expression in the social science, governance, and philanthropic orders. The moral order connects the three orders of pure wisdom to the three orders of practical wisdom. Thus, it perhaps would help us to understand the moral order.

What happens when our passions run amok? Sexual desire becomes rape. Acquisition becomes theft. Enmity becomes murder. What happens when we castrate those passions completely with the sword of morality? We become unsexed, without love We become satisfied in our poverty (or romanticize it in others!). We are desensitized to every offense, to every injustice, and go along to get along. We thus need moderation (how Aristotlean! how Nietzschean . . .) -- perhaps a tangent to moralization, in spiritualization:

"The spiritualization of sensuality is called love" (Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 53). The spiritualization of acquisition is called mutual trade. "A further triumph is our spiritualization of enmity. It consists in profoundly grasping the value of having enemies" (TI, 53).

Nietzsche argues that the moralist in fact simply wants everyone to be just like him (TI, 56). Let us admit he is right. Even those who recognize they sometimes fall short morally have an ideal,which is theirs and their alone, to which they expect everyone to rise. And thus, when I discuss morals, I too cannot escape this fact. For example, to discuss an expanding realm of morals is to assume the very morality of such an expansion. There are others who consider such an expansion to be an acceptance of immoral behavior, and thus evidence of our becoming less moral.

One is thus tempted to try to trace out a neutral position -- but each attempt to do so seems to slip away. If I discuss empathy creation, there is implied a claim that creating empathy is good. And it is I who thinks it's good -- and, perhaps, you do too -- and thinking this, I want others to believe as I believe. We wish others to see as we see, to think as we think, to feel as we feel. We do this because we have a theory of mind -- yet our access to our mind is our only source of what a mind is like. Thus, I posit your mind is like my mind. And when your mind is not like my mind, the differences are wrong -- you are wrong. And even if we develop greater empathy, we only ever move from "I do not understand you; therefore, you are wrong" to "I understand you, but you are wrong." At best we change the borders of our tribal lands, including some, excluding others -- but tribal we remain.

Poets, playwrights, fiction writers write their minds. Religious writers write their minds. Philosophers write their minds. We read them, agree and disagree, understand and fail to understand, and learn to empathize more and more the more of them we read. This is the way a liberal education is a moral education. We learn to humanize more people, to see their points of view, to understand their thoughts. We'll find allies and people we would like to be; we'll find villains and yet understand their villainy.

But we must understand that understanding is not to be mistaken for agreement or approval. To understand is not to defend -- though one must admit that understanding allows the injustice of mercy to slip in. True justice must be balanced on the scale with mercy -- it can't be behind a veil.

And thus does the sun of empathy rise, spreading more and more light, so we can see more people are actually like us -- more like us than we ever imagined, because in our exposure to more minds through literature, religion, and philosophy, we are now more like them. Thus does the moral order evolve. And those morals find their expression in our philanthropy, in how we choose to govern (or have ourselves and others governed), and in our desire to come to a higher understanding of our social orders through the social sciences. Wisdom becomes practice through the moral order, and practice in turn informs the ways we will one day be wise.

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