The Foundations Project – The Morality of Becoming

The Dilemma: “To give any sensible account of how it is that we can acquire standards which we turn against the society that taught them to us, we need a coherent picture of how the individual can be shaped by his upbringing and yet become an active, intelligent moral agent — one more reason for being cautious about exaggerating the extent to which morality is emotive and reactive.” (From Reasons of the Heart, by Alan Ryan, a review of James Q Wilson’s new book, The Moral Sense. NYRB, 9/23/93, p. 54.)


While much of the current dilemma in understanding morality seems to revolve specifically around issues of absolutism and relativism, the locus of the problematic is specifically concerned with the nature of who and how we are as individual and as social creatures. An explanation of morality thus depends on a prior analysis of the human condition and/or of human nature with respect to the nature of our individuality, and how the flow and vicissitudes of life may frame our being and identity. It is worth reminding ourselves that Western thought has merely presumed that the individual, located somehow within the physical body, is the locus of morality. It is precisely this presumption which falters in explaining morality. Continuing within this presumption we are left with the either/or of fixity or of change, of a morality which is built-in or which cannot really exist; we are left wandering…



A Critical Turn within a Life of Thought and Respect for Others’ Thinking and Believing: Other species, we have realized only this century, are (also) social (Darling, 1934). Sociality and morality are inter-linked, perhaps mutually defining. This (new) understanding would seem to ask us to rethink the issues and nature of morality, a field of inquiry which has depended largely upon assumptions and beliefs about the uniqueness of humans, and upon the sense that sociality and thinking are what sets humans aside from other species. Our thinking about morality has developed principally within tha area in which we have particularized human uniqueness. Instead…



Being-is-social-is-moral…already! Questions of morality and freedom have been intertwined with a history of assumptions about the human condition. It has been assumed, for example, that each individual already contains the seeds of future morality, rather than morality and individuality being aspects of being which emerge from sociality. In this realm of thought, it has been the idea of the individual which confined the issues of morality. If, as appears to be case, other species are moral (act and live morally) in spite of…not having language, not foreseeing death, whence morality…?

This insight implies that almost everyone considers (even upon critical and honest reflection) that s/he acts and lives morally. The question of why some of us live and act immorally as others construct that notion rises to more puzzling dimensions than ever before: no devil, no evil…only us, only you, only me.

Taking this position, a major burden and puzzle and quandary is to examine morality without destroying its possibility by relativizing morality, and claiming that all behavior is either moral, or that there is no such thing as morality/moral behavior/being. Can we ask questions about human nature which will illuminate rather than further obfuscate the nature of morality? Can we find some contexts or boundedness within our being which we can find as particularly moral, rather than fighting within the argument over absolutes and external agency as opposed to relativism and anything goes, might makes right or its apostolic opposite,…or denying meaning within life?



Survival of the Individual within Social Species: In beginning to understand that we are – by our nature – a social species, it is important to strive to understand that the so-called individual, the self located within the physical body – is not intrinsically survivable. Our survival is interdependent and dependent on and with mothers/others. Our individuality is not continuous with our physical being, but is a characteristic of our being which is emergent: demanded by others, acceded to by ourselves. The I of who and that I am, is a social constructed self seated in the wish, demands, and necessity of parents to have a child which is self-generating and not dangerous to itself or to them. The persistent problematic in understanding morality in Western thought (at least) is presuming the primacy of our being is physical, then disregarding that presumption in exploring and searching for the nature of morality and moral being…



Introduction: In a world most often conceived as a place reserved, prepared, and purposed for human beings, the question of morality has seemed quite clear: locate authority – deity, parents and elders, texts, some notions of the world; then guide one’s being to conform with this authority.

In effect one strives to become an (active?) agent of the authority which lays out how one should be, or structures much of the detail of the shouldness of being. Thou shall or thou shall not…be…do. This to be translated experientially into: I shall…yes, or not. There is a sense of certainty, of surety, of there being a morality which is clear, even absolute in its directedness.

In a world where the purpose of our (human) being is not (any longer) clear or is considered continually problematic, where the possibilities of being moral within the context of authority seem reduced, where we might grant ourselves full authority for our (own) being, where we note globally various different approaches to morality – then we stray from any clear and clean (absolute) notions that authority is to be found in any certain place. Perhaps it is not to be found even in our own being…a worry for those who seek calm.

The question of morality is often then relativized: do what seems correct, what feels good, what doesn’t hurt others, what you would have others do unto you: live a golden life, find a golden time. And we find that all of these admonitions open myriad possibilities which one or another of us finds different or difficult, without purpose and meaning, and with a sense of futurity which weakens in our very becoming. Any sense of a moral present, of being moral in our ongoing existence, is reduced. And like others swimming in the tides and murk of when is post- to the experience of the modern, we place a price on morality, sell it to the highest bidder, and look to other times, places, texts, agents for explanation and control.

This is, at least, the sort of story which we (Westerners) have told ourselves; a story which has led by now to some epic battle for a bottom line and guarantee of authority finding itself at deepening odds with the observations of live and let live, or let me do my own thing or that others understand morality from other perspectives equally valid as mine or yours or of any deity.

What sets the stage for such a battle is much of what this study consists in: an exploration of the foundations of the morality of becoming – of becoming, because it is a battle also about the question of change and eternality, of spirit and of authority, and some sense of towardness orfinality of the human condition: becoming and moving toward one’s next place in life; moving toward some global or universal utopia, the end and the eschatology. Often, but not always, this has involved questions of personal and of others’ deaths…thence of life as questions and fears of death enter being and meaning and whatever is morality.

In this attempt to understand a conflict which does not seem necessarily conflictual (to me), I have tried to gain some sense of how this problem has arisen in the West. What are its foci, what its directions and paths, what its arenas for agreement and disagreement, and why they seem to be operative (to work) in some eras and places and for some persons, but not in and for others, and particularly why (not) now?

The story of morality is one aspect – perhaps the major one – of a Western metaphysics which has construed the human condition and uniquely human purpose within the context of certain presumptions: a division of each of our individual being as being constructed (usually in opposition) of two parts – a body and a mind. The body is considered to be an aspect of nature, while the mind is seen as being outside of, removed from, advanced beyond nature.

In this depiction and setting of the human condition, the mental aspect of our being has been the locus and focus of morality: the remove from nature, the direction and purpose of life. Within Platonism (Phaedo) and neo-Platonism (especially Augustine) even the Christian (and Muslim) idea of the deity is constructed as a mode of creating a transcendent and unchanging deity/purpose to our being. Within the mental, the concept of language has been very powerful in the development of the metaphysical depiction of the human condition: language not only in terms of what it is and is presumed to be, but also in terms of what is has been supposed to do in the context of removing humans from nature; becoming social, civilized, and all of that (John 1:1).

The rub, especially in the context of questions of morality and human purpose, is that nature is quite different (now appears much different) from how we had formerly supposed it to be. Where we had earlier presumed that humans in nature were the only species to have become social – via language and its ability to remove us from nature – it now seems clear that other species are also social, communicating with one another, perhaps symbolic and removed from the present here and now which we had associated only with humans, and certainly moral; at least within their various species.

What then, what now, morality? What then, now, the human condition? How should we be? What should we now do? Anything?



The Present Context: With the discovery only this century that humanly related/similar species are social, there arise a series of issues about human origins and the human condition/nature including those concerned with religion and morality. In a wide sense, morality is concerned with how one lives with and treats others, and why; how others treat oneself – and why. In the context of this wide sense of morality, the fact that other species are social asks us to rethink the history and ideas of morality as a specifically or uniquely human attribute.

If, as seems correct, other species live rather peaceable social lives within species, raise their young to become social adults, it is reasonable to wonder whether they are not (also) moral; in some senses like humans with an morally interpretive sense of towardness in raising their young. Does thinking of other social species as moral lead us to new and/or critical perspectives from which to view the nature of (human) morality?

It is also interesting to wonder whether we should compare human behavior and the human condition with other species. Part of the issue to be considered here, is that this question itself has a moral aspect, reflexively raising the issue of how we have formulated our thinking about human nature. For example, the question of whether we are somehow in or outside of nature has often made sense to thinkers about human morality – as if nature and moral humanity are some dialectical relationship. I will explore such issues in this foundational study, attempting to search for the human condition both in its living dynamics and in the stories whose heritage we share and only now find contested.

How is it, as it is often posed, that we are said to be creatures who can transcend ourselves? (Some pose this ability as that by which we can ask: Why?)Is this due to some aspect of being human which is unique to our species – as it has usually been held? Or is transcendence available – even ordinary – within other species? As much of our being has been constructed within the idea of some dichotomy between humans and others (mind and body; culture and nature, etc.), if we realize that humans are not so unique, how will this affect our understanding of ourselves?

If other species are moral, do they have a god, a deity or deities – one God…or many? Our God? – each species, a God? Do they generalize, universalize; or are they stuck within the here and now, reactive and signaling, rather than symbolic and with some sense of happening?

If other species have no god, and if they are indeed moral, then the religious basis for human morality is not, apparently, a (natural) necessity. Humans are (would be) moral with or without such a notion, being social creatures: the death of the concept of god, as Nietzsche put it, should have no necessary or particular effect upon our being what and who we are. That is, whatever we are, however we choose to believe we are, the entailments of ongoing sociality are already moral. We treat others reciprocally well, raise our children to possess conscience, because that is (an aspect of) our nature. In this context, there is no need to justify or to explain morality. Morality requires re-thinking, not denial or approval. Our stories about morality need to be recast.

Similarly, the question of human freedom is an important aspect of this discussion. How do we act as we do: tied to our natural or emotional make-up; or capable of deciding (rationally!?) to act morally; able to grow and to decide that we can act in terms of some idea of morality, rather than being permanently tied to experience, observation, desire, or habit?

In this set of aphorisms on The Morality of Becoming, I examine morality as social ontology. Beginning from Nietzsche’s attempts to criticize the moral form for our conduct, and to substitute some existential vision, I attempt to flesh out a human morality which is neither more nor less than the requirements of our continuing being, being together in the existent global universe, upon a now shrunken earth.



The Human Nature Issue: The issue of morality being linked to other species is not about diminishing humans by claiming that our animal nature is about to win some war with what is particularly human – although some biological thinkers have construed it that way: as a biological morality (Lorenz: On Aggression, D. Morris, The Naked Ape; E.O. Wilson,On Human Nature). Biology, in this sense, has been construed to mean somehow more fundamental, basic, primary; and biology is understood as opposed, somehow, to mental or cultural – entailing some notion of the ancient antinomy between change and permanence.

Rather the issue is to attempt to see the human condition as clearly as possible without being totally burdened by the weight of earlier theories and stories about the human condition which color our thinking and focus our observations and questions very narrowly. Such (Western) theories have depended in some large measure on certain ideas of what is human which have included ideas of what is not-human, tending to divide each human into two: a bodily or mechanical aspect usually thought to be like the nature of other species; and a mind or mental aspect thought to be unique to humans.

Or theories have invoked religious, political, and metaphysical ideas which have used theories of human nature to elaborate one or another view. Or these have been commentaries within some structured way of thinking about ourselves which have had more to do with solving certain intellectual problems than with issues of experience and existence.

In particular, Western thought has begun thinking about human nature by assuming that we are both related to and different from other species; what I call a juxtaposition theory. These ideas, as I elaborate elsewhere, affect and shape very fundamental thinking about humans particularly and presumptively as individuals.

In the realm of moral questions, this leaves the larger issues of morality as located somehow – fairly mysteriously at that – in each individual. And we are left trying to explain questions of good and evil without much consideration of good and evil with respect to other persons: our significant others/mothers, families, groups, enemies, and so on. Indeed, Kant who frames the question of morality in an epitome of thinking about morality as a kind of logic or geometry, posits that we must have within each of our beings, a kind of transcendent moral law, which operates independently from experience (Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals).

Morality, that is, has been cast within various forms of idealism as a priori structures, rather than emerging from our social and communicative experience. This does not necessarily alter our perceptions of right and wrong. But we should note that it has persuaded us to look for appropriate questions and answers in what I consider to be narrow and particular places.

As the human condition has been characterized in idealist thinking as unique due to our minds, to language and rationality, much of the issue of morality has located itself within our mental being trying to overcome experience and bodily desires. As I will attempt to show, we are what and who we are, and much of our being is in relation to and emergent from our interactions with others.



The Entire Earth: The comprehensive question about morality arises at this moment in part because the earth is – for the first time – conceived (and conceivable) as a singularity. Morality is thus not just a question about why and how to be with respect to those whom one knows or will be in some relation to, for now this includes potentially everyone (and every thing and every species).

Or the inclusion of the entire globe in our conceptualization forces us to rethink morality because we now realize that others (entire traditions) come to (some?) moral questions differently from ourselves: different theologies, different senses of purpose and reasons for life. And we ask ourselves why are we like we are, they like they are, and is there some overarching sense of rightness and morality? Is there some sense of an absolute morality; or is all just different, relative, and perspectival? At an extreme: does it make any difference in the context of human survival if we kill one another in the name of…deity, nation, right, wrong?

This epoch in global history raises, as well, questions about the appropriate contextual questions to ask: survival, a good life, life lived well, preservation of human nature, of nature, of…? Are there some persons/groups who are better/worse, more/less deserving of…? Are there too many of us? Which/who?

Who will decide such questions? On what grounds? Can we even conceptualize any sense of morality which applies to the entire earth – without appealing to privilege of…?

And there is this peculiarity of our being global which seems somehow to interfere with, to overlap, with the idea of the universal translating sometimes into holism everywhere, sometimes into variations of oppositional thinking.



Location (Locus) of Morality: One of these overarching contextual questions about morality has to do with how and where morality is located.

By locus, I mean that the ways of conceptualizing the problematics of morality have particular dimensions and directions of thought within theo-political and individual histories which seem, by now, obvious.

Obvious means that certain thought modes do not get critically considered in any new situations, but are at the level of what we assume uncritically; more generally and merely applied.

For example, do politics and morality overlap or find themselves often in different loci? In the Old Testament injunction of Genesis 1:26, it says that Man (human) is made in the image of God, and has dimension over all the other species. This is clearly a political statement, stating that humans have control (= dimension) over the destiny of other species. Is this to be interpreted to mean that we also have (moral) responsibility? In this context/locus, clearly morality and politics overlap or are the same.

And how (a method/methodology) do we determine how we humans are? By asking how God is? By asking how God says we humans are? Here morality is likely not located in asking ourselves, say, to observe how we are actually. More likely we are directed to texts inspired by deity (Old & New Testaments, Koran, etc.), in which (hu)man is derived from God. In these historical contexts, the locus of morality in within the interpretation of the deity’s saying who and how we are and are to be; often, why (e.g., to return to God in a day of judgment.)

In other contexts associating with and deriving morality from politics, morality derives from power and authority: a monarchy often virtually controls the definition of morality, packing and containing it within the persona of the monarch as much as possible.

If we question (as I do) the idea that morality is built-in to each human individual, then we must relocate the issue of morality to sociality as a primary locus; move from the oppositional idea of mind as the locus of morality, and enter into questions of interaction, conscience-for-others, and enter new sorts of wonderments about human freedom and the emergence of the individual. This gathers, as it were, the structuring of politics and attempts (e.g., toward a democratic government) to show that freedom and individual responsibility is on ongoing aspect of being human, rather than some obvious given. In this context, morality is not divisible into goods and evils inherent in our individual being, but located elsewhere: e.g., in a pedagogy of dialogue; in the ongoing Nietzschean attempt to overcome ourselves; in a regathering of authority to ourselves; in a continuing development of critical self-consciousness about morality and the honesty necessary to sustain this effort.



The Loci of Morality: As with questions and quests for being and for meaning, the issues which gather under the rubric of morality are important and not always very clear. In considering so-called Foundational issues, the early attempt is to locate the thinking in whose/those terms we already think we know and understand morality.

Why the morality of becoming? To call our attention to the fact that, in the human condition, we are in some flux; changing, perhaps growing, hopefully moving into some next places in our lives which are developing, pleasing more than…before.

It is not enough to wear morality as if a permanent veil, a gossamer structure whose ability to see through it does not necessarily make it permeable. It is insufficient to be and act good. We also project ourselves forward into our imagined tomorrow’s. The ways in which we inform our becoming is at the very heart of morality.

In my thinking/being the locus of morality is primarily and necessarily within one’s self and one’s ongoing experience. Problematics of morality rise most usually as a set of questions about how to deal with others and with oneself; with others as with oneself. Questions of being and of relationship intersect, intermix, and complicate the domains and terrains which express themselves as moral issues. And it is difficult even to write this down, because the locus of the agent – of who I am that I say, of who I am that others say – is also intermixed, complicated…a study in self.

But the locus of morality is also within the human condition. We may refer to human nature – whatever it is that differentiates humans from other species, or that which has been taken to remove us from nature. Or we may explore the limits and possibilities of any notion of humanism and of our outermost and complete potentials – whatever we might be which is also somehow moral. In this context, particularly, there has been a long history and a virtual edifice of thought construction about morality as a uniquely human aspect of being, which must be examined critically and in some Nietzschean or Derridean sense, seen-through or deconstructed.

The history of locating morality has been filled with rather particular if unexamined solutions: to place humans somewhere other than other species and to claim we are what (we claim) others are not. Morality, that is, has something in particular to do with our nature as a kind of given; to empty ourselves of experience; to avoid thinking that we are actors, but rather (passive) recipients of forces which have invaded our being (e.g., good and evil).

There are many ways of (apparently) avoiding complications: by acting as if agency is located primarily outside of oneself in, for example, an unchanging deity; of acting as if morality is located in some code of laws which exist, also, outside of being. Then the shouldnesses of life are referable always to places or persons outside of experience; at least outside of the experience which I am; which I tell myself I am.

But the complications of being oneself, especially and particularly, rarely seems simple or direct (See:Identity). I write this because it seems, to me, moral activity to write about morality. This is so, especially, because the prior loci of morality have seemed to me to be misplaced and constructed upon a narrow understanding of the human condition – at the least, in Western thinking. Being moral may be an enduring condition, but it is also doing. And it seems important, and moral, to attempt to explore the truth as I understand it…even as the question of the idea of truth has itself become problematic.

For me, this means engaging in observation and thinking about other species in addition to humans, in order to see our own seeing, being, and morality. This is so because, in this time, it now appears clear that other species are social; and this notion of species as social thus seems to alter radically the loci of morality, ultimately to reflect us back to think and rethink the condition of being human, and of being who I-am and you-are; who we are in various ways of being-together.



Agency: Once the question of absolutes, of the certainty of locating authority is considered critically, the question of agency arises to our consciousness as well. Who/where, precisely is the directedness for any action or thought?

If we consider some notion of deity as the locus of total authority, then the agency which moves us is to be found in the idea of some transcendent power: God knows and tells us what to do. We only (!) have to query God’s will, and we will know… Agency is thus granted/derived from the deity, and our own movement/thought is derived.

In the often anti-theistic humanisms which have arisen and dominated much of Western thinking – at least in the arena of politics and experience for the past few centuries, agency is granted to us humans as actors. Even if there is a deity, God has granted us free will, and we do what we will: we are the agents, and agency is ours to use, to abuse…to refuse. If there is no deity, then agency is ours alone. We do what we want! There is no one to blame but us! There is no evil in the world, but only bad or thoughtless (or bureaucratized) thinkers and thinking; only bad or thoughtless actions.

Nonetheless we have many habits of assigning agency in our looking and searching for causes in the world of existence and happenings. Genes do it! – we (persons) are only the outward manifestations of genic desire to reproduce. Evolution does it! – bad behavior is not my fault: a no-fault will. Culture does it! – bad parenting, peer-pressures. Literature is all of being, and all we can do is interpret how others have told us our being is. Our bodies do it! – the penis is unconnected to consciousness and is unmindful of itself (it has a self!?). Hormones rage! It’s a wonder that there is any me left: the subject of my being myself can only be read into…me.

The queston of morality and truth: if there is one truth, is there a single, obvious, graspable morality? And if there are many truths…? Or there is…no truth?

The problem (romantic/modern): the suspicion is that there is no locus for one�������s own agency in being, thinking, acting: the postmodern dilemma where lack of personal agency and nihilism race hand-in-hand to deny meaning to being and to morality.

The issue: where is the ground upon which meaning and morality play hand-in-hand?



Choice: One (I/you) can choose to be moral; to live morally. Or I/you can choose to be immoral; evil.

Or can I, you?

The issues, indeed the entire domain of the morality of becoming turns to a large degree on how one deals with the issue of what is choice, and the grounds and arenas in which is constituted.

The presumption that choice is active, available, includes the idea that the I of who I am is active, self-directed, willful; that I have knowledge, that I am thoughtful and understand the consequences, potential costs and benefits of my actions. I am a being with conscience, caring about others as well as or more than I care about myself; or I am ideological, thinking and caring about the nature of some idea(l) in which I am a player; one among others. And the others care about the idea(l) much as I, and would/should act much as I.

But others do not at all presume that the I of who I am is so willful; rather I construct the who of who I am within some construct of, say, good and evil. I am some combination of a good deity and an evil Satanic force, an anti-Christ who is at war in my being with the good which I can assert but only partially. In this construction of being and morality, I am already conceived in some sense of sin whereby my very being has been constituted at least in part by some others (parents) whose desires (for sex) overcame their own consciences: and I am some soul now embodied and living in a deepened sense of condemnation. Most of what is possible for me to do is to redeem myself-my-soul. What choice do I have? Any choice I may seem to have is bound within a concatenation of questions about my very being being born in sin. Woe is me! All of my so called choices are cast within a cosmic battle for my being, and the illusion, the chimera of being me also includes the chimera of choice. The only choice I may have is to give in to the evil within rather than engaging it in battle. Some choice!

The existential, experiential problematic is, however, much more the questioning of being as being moral: a set of problematics, of situations, of anti-responses to others who seem to act morally or immorally, of whether to tell a lie and is that some shift on the entire truth, and whether this compromises my integrity so that I can no longer be certain of what I said, or meant, or who exactly it is that I am. Honesty! Honesty?

If I please others or do not; am I being moral…to them, to me: the boundaries of treason, treachery and the questions of choosing to belong or to leave, of how long and the conditions of the contracts I make in the world with myself and with others: with children it is for life; with others…? For better, for worse!?

And the sense that choice is bound up with individuality is always complicated by social arrangement and the ongoing pulls and tugs of others upon me upon you; the sense of contract and obligation and responsibility toward culture, family, society, business, the who of who provides my goods and my food and insures my well-being. And if I consider that choice is truly mine to make, then I need to have some sense of motion and towardness and an ongoing sense for the morality of becoming…who I would and can be.

…to be updated frequently!



Laws of Nature: Rather than looking to see humans as we are – the habits and the obviousnesses of our being which hardly permit us to see who and how we are by looking away at other species, gaining new ideas and wearing new observational lenses – instead we have constructed and concocted stories of how we are: removed from, beholden to, controlled by, in control of…nature.

There is some urge to see us as if we know that we exist with respect to nature. If only we would know nature, who and what we are would then be obvious. But there is in this quest, no less a set of jumps, a wish to locate the true agency of our being in nature much as we have done with a deity. While there are no doubt limits to our being, the idea of limits has been carried as if it were definitional of the human condition: the agency of nature. This is a form of bio-politics, a story about being and morality constructed, as it were, to save us from ourselves, rather than explore who and what we are.

The fact is, that in Western thought, we are juxtaposition thinkers already. In thinking about who we humans are, we implicity are comparative thinkers: we include in our ordinary perorations of the human condition, an active set of stories about other species with which we compare our being – irrespective of the accuracy of these stories. This seems easier, morally, than scrutinizing our existence and disinterring (deconstructing?) the edifice of stories in terms of which we live our living…



Altruism: The general biological puzzle of why certain animals sacrifice themselves for others remains overwhelming for many thinkers.

The thinking which underlies most of the current sociobiological phase which ponders this question – and answers it to its apparent self-satisfaction by claiming that organisms use altruism to their advantage by passing on their genes, thus continuing the species – depends on some assumptions about the nature of our being individuals (See: Being and Identity). This presumption, especially in the light of our rather recently achieved understanding that other species are (intrinsically) social, seems, to me, to miscast the notions of being, and of sacrifice.

For social beings are not independent in the sense that they look to their own self-interest (as the economists would hold – see Self Interest and its moral transcendence, below). What is a sacrifice, then, has much to do with how any organism/person sees s/his own being and identity as independent/interdependent with others’. This is not to say, that even within sociality, there are not cases of sacrifice, conscience, responsibility; but these cross various species boundaries, and are not restricted to (any uniqueness-stories of) the human condition.

Western thought merely presumes that the individual is the locus of the agency by which it does what it does, and that any interdependence derives from the (agency of the) individual.

It would be more useful to increase our understanding of why various organisms-individuals-species do what they do, to ponder questions of how they gain meaning, identity, and so on, in their own terms (See: Vicki Hearne, 1987, for the nobility of various species’ being: Adam’s Task: Calling the Animals by Name. London: Heinemann: 253-60).



Imagination: Given the Western propensity (obvious, necessity,…) for presuming that the individual is the locus of all of being, the question of how we live outside of the present here and now, remains troubling and problematic in our thinking about morality. Or, because morality requires that we have imagination and do think beyond the here and now of the being of oneself, the very question of morality remains problematic. How, it has been asked, can we imagine that which is not, has never been?

Whatever is, precisely, the individual (See: Being and Identity), our morality (and our being) seem to have much to do with our relations with mothers/others. Upon being born as the infant which has been forming and fulminating within the being and thinking of the mother-to-be for so long, the newborn infant is not simply observed and conceptualized within any present here and now. S/he is projected forward (imagined and interpreted by its parents as growing…up) within the variety of imagined possibilities that exist within the knowing of mothers/others – a grand largesse quite beyond the life experience of any one person: all the stories of others, of ancestors, of the virtues and foibles of everyone’s being strong and noble, weak and lesser.

One does not, that is, ever exist only within the present here and now in the terms in which s/he is treated. Good/bad behavior, thoughts, occur within the imagined future that one’s mothers/others cast into s/his life’s possibilities: gender, roles, relationships, loyalties, loves, fragilities, carings, treacheries,…the possibilities of all of being cast within what is known. Even in the most limited of societal experiences, this remains large and includes the life-ways of many persons; the possibilities placed upon the infant suckling remains and continues much as work of the imagination. Within social species, that is, the present here and now includes the imagination of future becoming, and consistently interprets a child’s behavior as both present and when-will-s/he…?

It thus seems to me that understanding the beyond, the becoming, the towardness is built-in to each moment of our being. In any understanding of the ordinary of life’s ways, including morality, it is more difficult to see how we know and can remain sufficiently in the present to deal with the dangers and vicissitudes of any moment, than it is to understand the work of the imagination.

The error – metaphysical, ontological, cosmological – remains in our conceptual work, not in the life experience of any of us.



Sociality – Being with Others: Sociality means, I think, much more than merely being in each other’s presence, trying to communicate what each individual knows, thinks, or wants. It means (G.H. Mead) that we each have in our minds’ eyes some sense of the being of others; it means that we construct ourselves much in relation to who they are, as well as who they say we are, and are to be.

Sociality means that the next generation is not simply fed and nurtured to survive, but that infants’ behavior is seen and interpreted within the contexts of proper, that is moral behavior and being. Children are continually being shaped, being corrected with a sense of interpretive towardness – toward being adults within the sense of a good person. They are not merely treated as physical being, but projected forward – into an indefinite future – as real persons; i.e., much like we are already. The child is seen consistently within framing ideas of the adult it will be, eventually. It is never interpreted merely within the presence of its present here and now.

And, I think, this is also true of other species. Social behavior (all behavior) is corrected within frameworks of becoming whatever it means to be a proper wolf, or dolphin, or crow, or ant to momma and papa wolf.

The historical-philosophical error of understanding morality as located within the physical individual has created a study of morality which sees the human condition as particularly unique, particularly in our mental capacities; and has derived its forms from whatever we have considered to be the differences between humans and others.

Humans are clearly different from other species; but we share some ways of being, treating, and understanding others. The study of morality should (!) begin from the study of social similarities, not from the (presumed) differences between us and others. (See: meditations on…Next Places)

Sociality implies that we already know a great deal about others, (including their constructions of the world), and makes problematic the nature of individuality – not the other way round. Contra to Rousseau, we are not born free, but live in complicated relationships with ourselves, with others, with our senses of being proper and defining (frequently) who we are.

And it means that we have others with us who are self-critical and critics of our own grapplings with morality, with honesty, integrity; and with our doings in which questions of morality are often in some places and moments of irresolve.

And sociality means that individual being is (always?) in some measures of intersection between who I am that I say and think I am – and who others see and say I am. As I understand human processes, the quest for individuality is as important to others as it is to ourselves: we are, in various ways and senses individuals. But we are never only or solely individuals. (See: meditations on…Next Places)



The Psychology of Morality: It seems difficult to distinguish some sense of the psychology of morality – the why and how of morality serving human ends and needs – from the sense of morality as independent of our (individual?) being.

Thou shalt not kill, should honor thy father and mother, not covet thy neighbor’s wife,…are laws, admonitions, but they also can be thought to serve our existential being. That is, breaking these commandments also places our experiential being in some places which move us to the…edges…of our being. Killing someone (usually?) reduces our hold on life by cheapening the worth of existence; if we do not honor our parents we tend to dishonor ourselves; by imagining love we grant less seriousness to the complications of loving those with whom we enter into contracts of marriage.

It seems clear that, to some (great?) extent, the psychology of morality has much to do with the importance, necessities, utility of the psychology of morality. If we do (not) unto others as we would to ourselves, then we are thinking about the care of others, but particularly of ourselves, and the importance of life, presumably as some sort of gift or of its own necessity: a kind of Jewish view on the nature of existence, but also an existentially informing view.

It refers reflexively as well to the necessity of caring for our selves in order that we may be sufficient – strong, self-assured (assured of self) – to care for others. As a teacher, for example, my first duty to my students is to maintain myself; no small task.

How universal, how time-unbound, how out-of-situation, how culture-specific this sense of the psychology of morality, is not always clear. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, much of life is seasonal and cyclical. To anchor morality to some unchanging sense of the human psyche may often be to deny that we exist in history. And while we take care of the individual psyche, we open vacuums and spaces for the politically totalitarian to so bind existence that all quests and questions of morality are not allowed to be asked.

And so…



The Politics of Morality: not an empty category. To be written!



Absence (of Presence): Being moral always includes, I think, being present: having presence to oneself as well as to others. As Kant would have it, we must be self-conscious of our own consciousness. But this is not enough because our physical presence is so obvious that we seem able to absent ourselves even from our own presence, apparently noting that others see us…and…then…we retreat…into ourselves, into interior spaces where we are but at the same time…are-not.

This aspect of being and not-being present also has a quite long and powerful history of the architectonic of our being moral, because being and not-being have since Parmenides been included in the dialectic of life and death; less presence in our own presence. The issue arises in Plato’s Sophist, a line which Heidegger rephrases in his Being and Time, a line which seems to underlie the thinking against being which inspires the questions of suicide from Hamlet to Schopenhauer and rephrase themselves in the 19th century wonderment of why we continue on: willings, wills to…live…power.

And as we can absent ourselves from our presence, we seem to be well-equipped, we Westerners at least, to not note the presence of others…whenever…it suits our purposes; whenever…

Given this propensity to oppose (thence to equate?) being and not-being, it seems that we develop much of moral thought in the spaces between moments of our present presence. We wander, that is, from awareness of our presence as we act as if we are other places, and derive moral and ethical rules from spaces where we situate being, which are not right here and right now. Actually Plato (& Pythagoras) set us up for this by developing the forms and ideas in whose terms we are (morally) supposed to live, even as they deride actually being present: living as aspects of the ideals, of partaking in the ideas at a level much lower than the reality of the universal ideas of being (Republic X). Morality stands, as well as our presence, at a higher level of being than our actual self-conscious presence.

Toward any morality of becoming, it seems necessary to understand that being present and non-present in the same moments of being, constitute (a) paradox; and note that life is paradoxical across a number of apparent oppositions. If morality until now has derived essentially (sic!) from our absence from our presence, then there is also a sense of morality of becoming which constitutes our presence in our presence. The inability to see this within oppositional dualism derives from our habits of understanding presence from the essentialisms of idealism (absence), not from experience…itself (e.g., Heidegger’s dasein)


Research: It was not so many centuries ago when we knew very little about the mechanical aspects of the human body. Wherever the body was punctured, blood would spew forth as if blood and being were in some total suffusion. Only with the intellectual discovery and insight that the heart is a sort of mechanical pump, do we begin to understand the what’s and why’s of blood circulation; of oxygenation, of the concept of nutrition, of waste; of why, wherever there is a puncture of the body, there is blood.

In order to understand the staggering jump provided conceptually by the idea of the heart-as-pump, and the making sense of the circulatory system, one must attempt to do some sort of thought experiment, suspending belief (and disbelief) to try and see the human clearly andanew, to develop theories of our nature, like the theorists of old; without, that is, benefit of such a mechanical understanding.

Performing such a thought experiment is important not only to understand – and to develop a critical stance of earlier theories of our being – but also to develop a critical stance of our own present thinking. Present thinking still, for the most part, presumes an unexamined sense of human uniqueness due to language and mind – including a uniquely human sense of morality – and leaves us observing and thinking about humans much as if our observational lenses were conceptually colored by what we think, more than what we see even when we bother to look carefully.

Or we look especially at certain behaviors or aspects of the human condition, it not often occurring us to look at others. A large amount of human behavior particularly concerning the human body and the human face, is generally by-passed and unnoted in our thinking and seeing: even as we look, we often do not see! This is so, at least in part, because we use the face as an arena for making social judgments (beauty, age, gender) and do not see it. One arena of developing interest in is so-called sports medicine, in which it becomes quite obvious that much of our understanding of the human body previously, has depended on conceptualizing the body lying down, at rest, cadaverous. We have, for the greatest part, not taken human movement in an upright position into our thinking about how we are.

The research problematic is to develop a good critical sense for how we see as we do – guided by certain habits or theories – to see through our own seeing; to examine how we are in the world unguided by stories and theories about human uniqueness which have allowed, even encouraged us to think that humans are unique due to our mentality – overlooking the most obvious of the obvious aspects of being human, that our bodies and especially our faces are very particularly human…and that we are the species who particularly loves and studies faces as we develop and mature (Sarles, 1985: Chapter 14).



Ethico-Cognitive Parallelism: Hans Reichenbach teaches us (The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, UC Press, 1963) that much of modern morality derived from Spinoza who tried to develop an Ethics modeled on geometry and logic. Moral-ethical first principles would be stated much like geometric statements and theorems, and morality judgments would follow. Similarly with Kant (Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals), this modeling seemed to follow the idea of logic within the mental, unchanging, true in a mathematical sense; knowing, thence and thus morality.

The major problem since the 1930���s is that geometry and logic are now understood to be assumptive and models – one among several or many geometries – logic, a system among systems – leaving ethics…where?

It is clearly appealing to think we have a philosophical morality by which (some) philosophers can tell us how we should be. But can they? Do they have some better knowledge or better preachment than the deity or an Ayn Rand who preached respectively:love thy neighbor or love thyself as the directness of human nature and its condition?

Are there some places or ways between the Either/Or of Kierkegaardian morality: ethics vs. esthetics; live like a Christ lived…or…else? (How can each of us live like ourselves, morally?)



Self-Interest and its Moral Transcendence: “How does it happen,” asks Adam Smith, “that man, who is a creature of self-interest, can form moral judgments in which self-interest seems to be held in abeyance or transmuted to a higher plane?” Heilbroner (The Worldly Philosophers 34) quotes Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments as holding “that the answer lay in our ability to put ourselves in the position of a third person, an impartial observer, and in this way to form a sympathetic notion of the objective (as opposed to the selfish) merits of a case.”

The problem with Smith – and with the (entire?) history of Western thought from Plato on – is that this argument is assumptive and circular. It is based on the assumption that human beingness is metaphysics – after physics – that (physical) individuality is primary and prior: thus the notion that man is a creature of self-interest (from Natural Law, like all other creatures – Hobbes).

But we are not necessarily creatures of self-interest any more than we are creatures interested primarily in one another. We would, for example, not continue to exist, to survive as infants if mothers and others were (already) not very interested in our continuing being, and willing to act (morally) more on the behalf of their infants, than upon their own (present) wishes or interests.

The idea that we are the creatures who are objective, can be objective, derives from the history of the so-called origin of language argument which sees the uniqueness of humans as due to language; language leading, in turn, to knowing words for objects, leading to objectivity, to seeing ourselves both as subjects and as objects – allowing humans (alone) to be moral.

But we really (!) don’t know that other creatures don’t possess language and objectivity – this all having been assumed before we knew that other species are already social, communicative – and probably in some senses objective and surely moral, even in our terms of whatever is moral (Sarles: Language and Human Nature).

So if it is that we are transcendent, it is much more an ordinary aspect of our being human, than something which is particularly or solely human. This line of human uniqueness argument does not lead us to consider any true foundations of the question of morality.



Nature: Many of the questions of morality have been dealt with in the context of the human condition being understood within various dualisms rooted in the issue of our relation to nature.

It is illuminating to juxtapose the Politics [1254a5 - 1254b] of Aristotle with Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.


Aristotle: But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?

There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule…the living creature, which, in the first place, consists of soul and body: and of these two, the one is by nature the ruler, and the other the subject. But then we must look for the intentions of nature in things which retain their nature, and not in things which are corrupted. And therefore we must study the man who is in the most perfect state both of body and soul, for in him we shall see the true relation of the two; although in bad or corrupted natures the body will often appear to rule over the soul, because they are in an evil and unnatural condition.


Jefferson states simply : [It is]…self-evident that all men are created equal.


Are we aspects of nature; removed from nature; unrelated altogether to questions of…nature? Are we, as in Western thinking, both of nature and removed; e.g., in the dualisms by which we have imagined that our bodies are like the bodies of (other) animals while our minds or souls or spirits are somehow removed from nature? Are we aspects of nature at the moment of birth, but become gradually removed from nature as we go from biology to rationality? Is the female aspect of our being more centered/located within nature, and the male more removed; as it were, civilized and rational?

Such questions have, I think, dominated discussions of (human) morality because in Western tradition we have been ambivalent about the relation of being human to being aspects of nature. Morality has been seen as an aspect of being which is particularly and uniquely human. It has merely been assumed that other – even similar and/orrelated – species are not at all moral; do not partake in morality, but are completely tied-to or dominated by (their) nature.

Human have been construed, that is, to be the only species which has been (able to) overcome its nature – either because religiosly we alone were created in the image of a deity, or we evolved somehow (usually, via languaging and all its entailments) into the only species which have managed to overcome or to dominate or to otherwise remove ourselves effectively from nature.

Now, as was pointed out in the Introduction, such stories apparently have been constructed in the human imagination without much careful observation of other species in the contexts of their feral/wild/actual situational nature. Our observations of other species, apparently, has been based on zoo, specially trained work animals (elephants, camels, etc.), or domesticated species as if they represent fairly accurately the actual lives of other species.

Our observations of humans have been done largely within the context of our stories about ourselves, more often than from careful observation and analysis. Plato observed that older (men – women were generally excluded from/hidden with respect to issues of morality as they entered into thinking about the human condition: or as aspects of purer nature – unfathomable, obscure, dangerous, unimportant (Paglia: Sexual Personae) that (some?) older men were somehow beyond the pulls and pushes of their own desires (Republic, Laws). Age had to do with being, removed from nature. Not only were the raging, desiring hormones tamed or understandable and dealable with, but the older and experienced persons had plenty of experience with flattery and corruption (and all the other deadly sins), and had presumably survived them or transcended them, and were able to see beyond the moment and the individual –> wisdom.

Social class – royalty, aristocracy, and education, etc., were often constructed within the idea that the proper or appropriate ruling types were somehow more beyond nature than the poor and (ethnically) different. That is, within our construction of the human condition, we have applied a sense of nature, and our social-political theories to different persons/groups along some hierarchical notion which parallels our sense of their removal and distance from nature: jungle bunnies (used to characterize some African-Americans in late 20th century America) and the rest of the racialist epithets and thinking.

Most important, in Western thinking, is the concept from Hobbes (based on Aristotle’s Rhetoric and his Politics), of so-called natural law, which has been taken to be applicable to legal and political theories. The story is a metaphor which we are urged to ask in understanding and analyzing how the world works: how would people be in a state of nature – compared to how they are right now – in order to analyzed why they act as they do?

The difficulty – the mistake and error, I think – is that the depiction of any state of nature has had wild swings. Until the present, our representations of nature have had little to do with humans or other species in any actual nature. Indeed, our notions of nature have principally derived from our theories, rather than having contributed to them.

The nature story (the women are absent, presumably keeping the kids behaving): all the solitary males are highly competitive, seeking food and sex and all their hearts’ desires. They gradually acquire language (requiring origin of language theories, also derived) which got them to be objective (to know objects), then to know themselves by being objective, thence also to know present, past, and future. Seeing futurity (now, for the first time), they got to foresee their own deaths, got very frightened, and began to limit competition by forming societies (also, presumably, for the very first time in nature).

Thus society is an outgrowth of the (uniquely) human development of language and rationality; a society which is formulated by independent individuals coming together for mutual protection et al. And this is why the discover only this century (Introduction) that other species are also social is (i.e., should be!) a powerful shock to our thinking. It causes us to rethink language, society, individuality – and in the present context, the nature of morality.


…one more comment: that the concept of nature has also been largely derived from our theories of human-uniqueness-due-to-language. So we have particular representations of nature – ranging from beneficent (Rousseau and society has bound us in chains) to terrifying (Tennyson: “nature red in tooth and claw”) and many positions between on this axis of a nature-agent which either determines us to a great extent, or from which we must work to remove ourselves further and further, until – via culture, art, the imagination. Instead, nature is much more interesting, probably changing as much as anything else (another issue in this discussion), and suggests to me, at least, that the human condition has been underestimated and mis-understood: morality, not the least of all.



Nature as Propanganda: Phil Regal asks how an apostolic notion of Christianity which was against politics, against the pursuit of money, against the idea of massive propagation for over a millennium until the early 1300’s, could have changed/yielded…sold out to a world view and practice which seems utterly to have reversed its stand on all these issues. Orwell’s Orwell!

The answer is the invocation of Aristotle’s notions of nature which presumed that the human condition is essentially political, and underwrites the pursuit of wealth. The context was the Crusades against Islam, set off after the 1st millennium when many readers of the Book of Revelations found themselves in Palestine waiting for the arrival of the messiah, and found themselves still waiting after the moment of prophesied arrival…did not occur.

The holy wars moved the Popes in the direction of needing a politically bounded sense of being – a state, and an army, which needed money, and people to engage in the wars and wars, and wars to come: thence usury, thence the rise of nature over the eye on the ideal God of the apostolic Christians; thence the arguments that a particular version of life on earth (inequality,…) should determine how we are and are to be.



Justification for War (Sepulveda): One of the most compelling examples of how the argument from nature has been used (is used, still) in the context of morality is 15th century argument used by Sepulveda as an apologetic for why Spain can justifiably conduct war against the native peoples of the New World.


Democrates:…In the first place, one must keep in mind a principle which is the basis of this and many other questions: everything which is done in the name of natural rights or laws can also be done by virtue of divine rights or evangelical laws. When Christ tells us in the Gospels not to resist the evil-doer and, if someone strikes us upon one cheek to turn the other…, we should not believe that he was attempting to do away with the laws of nature which permit one to resist force with force within the limits of a just defense…Those words from the Bible are not laws in the obligatory sense of the word, but rather advice and exhortation which do not belong so much to everyday life as to apostolic perfection…

I wish to make in clear that one should search not only in Christians and in the writings of the New Testament, but also in those philosophers whom we judge to have dealt most wisely with nature and the customs and governments of all societies, especially in the writings of Aristotle, whose precepts, except for a few opinions referring to matter beyond the capacity of human understanding, and which man can understand only through divine revelation, have been received by posterity with such unanimous approval that they no longer seem to be the words of a single philosopher, but the decisions and opinions held in common by all wise men.


Leopold: Let us return, then, to the business at hand. Now show me the reasons, if there are any, by which you believe that war can be undertaken and waged in a just and pious manner.


D. A just war requires not only just causes for its undertaking, but also legitimate authority and upright spirit in whoever declares it and a proper manner in its conduct…


L. …But what happens if a ruler, moved not by avarice or thirst for power, but by the narrowness of the borders of his state or by its poverty, should wage war upon his neighbors in order to seize their fields as an almost necessary prize?


D. That would not be war but theft. For a war to be just, the causes must be just…Among the causes of a just war the most important, as well as the most natural, is that of repelling force with force when it is not possible to proceed in any other fashion…The second cause of a just war is the recovery of things seized unjustly…It is licit to recover not only one’s own things, but also those of friends, and to defend them and keep them free from harm as much as if they were one’s own. The third cause of ajust war is to punish evil-doers who have not been punished in their own cities, or have been punished with negligence, so that they will take heed and not commit their crimes a second time, and others will be frightened by their example. It would be easy to enumerate here the many wars waged by the Greeks and Romans for this reason, with such approval from the people, whose consensus must be considered to be a law of nature…


L. And who is born under such an unlucky star that nature condemned him to servitude? What difference do you find between having nature force one under the rule of another and being a slave by nature? Do you think that judges, who also pay much attention to natural law in many cases, are joking when they point out that all men since the beginning were born free, and that slavery was introduced contrary to nature and as a law of mere humans?


D. I believe that the jurist speaks with seriousness and great prudence, but this word slavery means quite a different thing for the jurist than for the philosopher. For the former slavery is an accidental thing, born of superior strength and from the laws of peoples, sometimes from civil laws, while philosophers see slavery as inferior intelligence along with inhuman and barbarous customs…

Those who surpass the rest in prudence and talent, although not in physical strength, are by nature the masters. Those, on the other hand, who are retarded or slow to understand, although they may have the physical strength necessary for the fulfilment of all their necessary obligations, are by nature slaves, and it is proper and useful that they be so, for we even see it sanctioned in divine law itself, because it is written in the Book of Proverbs that he who is a fool shall serve the wise…If they reject such rule, than it can be imposed upon them by means of arms, and such a war will be just according to the laws of nature. Aristotle said, `It seems that war arises in a certain sense from nature, since a part of it is the art of the hunt, whch is properly used not only against animals, but also against those men who, having been born to obey, reject servitude: such a war is just according to nature…’”


It is only necessary to claim that some other persons – those against whom we would justify war – are in some measure less civilized or more barbarian-like-animal-dumb than we are. Any claim to morality or ethics is easily defeated as idealistic by the claim to nature, which is more real, more inevitable. And thereby we can justify whatever we want to do!

And if this lacks some power of convincing by justification then we can do as Hitler – simply define a new notion of a eugenic ideal, a direction for the human race, and proclaim that some (e.g., Jews, gypsies, homosexuals,..) cannot fit this definition. So even our idea of nature can be altered to suit ourselves or our purposes, as against whomever we would engage in battle. In effect, the idea of any morality is itself captured as hostage in a war with nature. It only remains to define a new ideal, a new utopia which excludes some categories of person…by whoever controls the claim to nature.




Free to be…me…you…

The locus of the nature of how anyone is to be free, how much freedom, where it directs itself, can be directed…?

How are freedom and morality connected? Are they?

Much thinking about morality has located the nature of anyone’s being moral as interlocked with s/his sense of freedom. One wouldn’t (!) be moral, if he were not free to…choose!? Here the question of morality has been deeply intertwined with the notion of the will: of free will, of freedom of will; freedom to inquire, of free inquiry.

If we must obey…you listen to me…trust me…listen to God, obey the law. Love your mother; call your mother. Do what she says! If not…

Rights, reponsibilities…by now my head is aching with the complications of being so complex that I can no longer think. Oh, just to be…me…you…!



Law(s) and the Scale of Society: Because morality has been ensconced in some theory of humans being different from other species, and the construction of a history of development away from animals, and toward some notion of being moral and like a deity, the question of law has also entailed a developmental structure: toward civilization, toward a higher human way of being.

This thinking has often begun with some construction of what humans are like, really: really, being understood variously. The natural law ideas stemming from Hobbes, for example, concoct (!) a depiction of the human condition previous to our becoming creatures who could exactly think, has language, could imagine the future, and so on – a competitive world of all against all. Women are not present in this depiction; men who learn through language to foresee the future, become frightened of death, and seek protection in social agreement: laws. Here, Leviathan (monarchy) is proposed to control the natural propensities of men to destroy one another.

Other pictures (Plato) begin by being concerned more with psychological factors: virtue, the control of desires (sex, power, fame, money,…). He proposed an older philosopher king – those who had grappled successfully with virtue and desire, and had gotten past some of life’s driving forces, to rule the kingdom.

Recent feminist arguments propose giving voice to women and others who had been made to disappear from theories of law, of virtue, of desire or to be passive within their understanding. Women would balance the boys’ penchant for war, and focus questions of being and morality, law and control, on dynamics and understanding of more actual and experiential/existential forces of being.

Much has probably been left out of our thinking about laws. One important factor obscured by the stories which have had some notion of human development toward civilization (democracy?), is that codes of law develop whenever the scale of any group expands beyond the number who can be, live, and study one another in a fair fulness of their being. In small groups, everyone is in face-to-face relationships, knows everyone else in great detail, and usually have ways of punishing those who offend, whose behavior is egregious or annoying beyond toleration.

Once there are too many, then other modes of regulation develop –> laws. We deal with one another only partially, or as partials: roles, classes, clans. Like classical orchestras, when they move beyond the number which can see each other face-to-face, they need a conductor – someone to mark time, who they all can see. Then laws occur; laws are…necessary.

The dynamics of being change with scale, as well. When we live in the one-to-one, then we deal with one another in some fulness of our mutual existences. When we deal with partials, when there are too many, when we no longer know anyone in great fulness, then our thinking about others and ourselves change and alter – sometimes radically. The power of family to define us is likened to the small community. Much of our thinking about them and ourselves in within each other’s terms: positive or not so positive, I am still the son of my parents – now dead for 10 and 20 years, still wandering and developing within my thinking. But with many, there develop distinctions and differences which affect ourselves and moral being: who am I to be has little modeling in the world of my experiencing advancing age; who all the others are divides into gender and color and nationality and not so classy and those who have some power…of definition…about my being…older,…

Laws remove us from ourselves when there are too many, when the scale of life’s experiences enable us to see many, more than to see one. Then we construct them, and reflectively construct ourselves, and it is difficult to know what this might mean from time to time.



The Problem of Evil: Construed within the notion of being-as-social, the question of evil recedes, collapses, or is overtaken by issues of being, of identity, of politics, of fear, and the myriad motivations which work themselves through the human imagination-turned-into-activity.

This is not to say that there is no evil, but that our concepts of evil residing in Western oppositional dualism can only label, but never help to explain whatever is the nature of what we may mean.

Life is largely a process of self-development, emerging (as it were) from a social being which/who is largely defined in terms others provide (language as well as any sense of an independent self). In its becoming, the self develops within the context of others’ treatment, definitions, outlooks both of immediate and of long-term existence. One’s parents, looking at the newborn, do not merely see in the moment, but within the lifetime of possibilities, already shaping who they see in terms of who they expect, want, will love…and will hate.

In this context, notions of evil are aspects of development, as well as other aspects of the self who is becoming. As one learns the language which is the descriptor of the world as one’s mother/others experience it, one learns the possibilies and parameters of one’s own beingness. As de Sade instructs us, with personal freedom comes the possible and potential inclusion of deeds which are destructive of self and of others, and of the moral schemes which have previously defined even reasons-for-being.

Not only morality, but the why’s of being moral are up for discussion here…and will lead us eventually into issues of existence as wide as the universe of understanding.

This is to say that evil is a construal of our being, not an aspect of it. Much/most of what we call evil has to do with some developments/directions/habits of thinking (bureaucratic, etc.), in terms of which we cast morality within terms having to do with construing of the self as an aspect of something beyond ourselves: deity, bureacucracy, authority to which we then grant agency, a new within which we now see ourselves and others differently from before: culture, corporation, apparatus.

This is not to say that there is no evil in the world, but that its understanding is not illuminated by constructing evil as any direct opposite of good. No doubt people act evilly, but there is great doubt that they (most of them – there are, no doubt, some anti-persons who have thoughtfully rejected any earlier notion of the source of their own morality, and have chosen its apparent opposite) recognize their acts as evil.



Morality and Politics: Where does one begin and the other…end? In the context of sociality, being moral is an important aspect of dealing with others as they would have one do. Rather than conscience being an aspect of morality built-in to one’s character, morality is seen as overlapping with politics. “Do what I say,” says mom, “because (I say) it is good for you.”

The politics and authority of parents wanting a child not to burn herself or fall down the stairs or be hit by a car must somehow be internalized by their child: to act as her parents would have her act. Maybe she recognizes causality in the world, and will eventually for most activity. But acting with conscience is, in early life, acting as authority urges and demands. In this sense, it is not very clear that morality and politics are very different.

Later in development, things become more complicated: as one begins to develop more involved pictures of who she is, the urge to act morally becomes increasingly distinct from its politics. The authority previously granted to parents is now taken in and on to oneself: authority is transformed into responsibility.

Questions of what is good or bad transform themselves from what others would have me do, to what I want to do. A realm of morality invests selfhood: do what others would have me do, what they say is right or wrong becomes me. Sometimes I am not very clear that when I oppose them, that I am acting badly or immorally. In some Christian (Protestant-Lutheran) families I have known well, behavior of children is often (usually) judged in terms of whether one will get to heaven – or not. God is invoked as the authority for conscience and it seems never to be clear whether good and evil are moral or political; never to be clear whether one takes on any personal responsibility for his or her behavior and being, except that some sense of authority hovers about one’s head, buzzing one’s decisions. In such persons, it is often difficult to separate contrary urges from immoral thoughts.

And in one’s internal perorations, emerging from sociality in becoming oneself, the realms of morality and politics are never completely separable: opposition, hatred, immorality, evil – compose a slippery slope.

As Freire would account for it, the question of morality is inseparable from politics as long as those who are weak are oppressed and, having learned too well, become oppressive in their turn (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). The development of a true, social morality, begins when one is sufficiently strong to not need to oppress others merely because they are weak; not to feel frightened and have to direct ones fears and feelings toward others. In this sense, morality includes politics, but is beyond politics.



Spirit: …is a term whose meanings go in many different directions from some sense of personal strength, to a sharing of a sense of a deity, toward sharing – a sense of being at one with others – family, group, nationality, religion, the world, life…

In other contexts, it can be used to represent the sense that each person is truly s/himself; not exactly like anyone else; a kind of independence of…spirit – although in, e.g., the Cameroons, one is born and exists as if s/he actually were some specifiable ancestor – one is one’s grandmother. Her spirit is alive in me; as me. Among Amerindians, one’s spirit (Nagual is as common a word as I know) is shared among several: human and animal – and is released from the human during sleep/dreams.

The term, spirit, overlaps sometimes with the mind or soul: some sense of being which has permanence. In the Augustinian-Christian story, one’s soul falls to earth, and is placed in a body. It should have been in Heaven with God, but due to the evil of sex and Adam and Eve and all that, it finds itself on earth, and needs to be born alive, baptized, and thus return to Heaven. There is a kind of evolutionary travel story among the Buddhists, where the soul’s journey begins low (in some animal) and gradually rises to the state of Nirvana, when finally with death, comes the truer death of the soul.

In the context of morality, I think we refer principally to why this aspect of our being acts like it does. I, the individual, am conceived of as a complex of features, but am locatable as a central persona who acts, thinks; who may be complex but is and does and has some centrality and consistency. While everyone lives as a congeries of roles, spirit is at the least a centralizing tendency which can find itself when it wants to, or needs to.

Since this area of being is so complicated – yet has been made to appear so obvious and central to the idea of the individual in Western thinking – one finds it difficult to describe the nature of spirit without falling into simplistic or quickly transcendent terms. The complications arise because it seems that we are paradoxically both one and many, with variation in situational, relational, and contextual variables.

In the sort of societal theory which I propose/observe in this exploration of morality of becoming, any especial individuality which is possibly inherent within the physical organism in early infancy, is seen by mothers/others in their – adult, cultural,… – terms, and treated as if their constructed depictions of the child are the ones which the child is. To a very large extent, each of us then becomes the one which the parental generation sees, expects, corrects,and treats as if it is…that person, that spirit.

Perhaps the Cameroonian notion of becoming one’s ancestor can illustrate this well: my (friend/student’s) grandmother died shortly before she was born. She was named for and as the grandmother. And for all intents and purposes she was seen and treated as the grandmother in her cyclical becoming again (and into futurity). All of her behavior was treated, interpreted, concretized into her being and becoming this other person who was known in terms of what I am calling her spirit: the senses of being and doing which is bounded and called by her name.

As it happened, all this did not fit particularly well this student, who left home (complicated politics et al), searching for herself in the midst of all her being interpreted as the grandmother whom she was supposed to be. We can say that the spirit of her grandmother – an identifiable set of habits, frames of mind, of being – did not enter her wholly.

Or we can recall Borges’ story of the person who could have become exactly the person who would have hated, and had to kill, the person/spirit he actually became.

Importantly here, it is in this sense of the personal spirit which is the source of morality and the ability to act as if one is someone; someone who can trust s/himself, and be trusted by others to act with a sense of integrity – as an integral person – standing outside of the immediate, beyond the desires of each moment, and still be human.

For many the world of the dead is full and they surround our being; for others the spirits of the formerly living show up only at certain times or places; other spirits may be found only in cemeteries or in the workings of our own changing being.

Existentially, it has seemed to me that the important idea of spirit is to grant the fulness of existence to every one, thence to oneself; to oneself, thence to every one; and to continue to explore this aspect of being whatever one’s paths –> Teaching as Dialogue.



The Individual: In the social world, the individual is not the given which is directly continuous with the physical individual which emerges from the womb, but is process and product emergent within the sociality of being.

It is never clear in this life exactly where one begins and ends. Nor is it clear, internally or within the theories of our being constructed by those who seek certitude and direction and purpose, precisely who one is; or even what these questions mean.

We live within a historically constructed edifice which has much to tell us who we are: a kind of programmed matrix of being to which we must eventually conform. Whatever we become, wherever we seek, the trajectories of individuality have seemed to be set out. Some peoples have models for their being – saints, heroes, martyrs, teachers,… Direct being toward these anointed to become anointed oneself. Made in the image of God, we only must enter the strait gate order to…But in the global village, we find that there are various gates, and various paths, and what is virtuous for some often is at war – sometimes literally – with the howness of others.

In most of these edifices, the architecture of the individual is set within the physical constraints of being, and individuality is never the puzzle which experience teaches us it is. In the real-social world, the individual is an emergent notion: never complete, never completely alone even when s/he is alone. (G.H. Mead)

The individual – the idea of the individual in sociality – is certainly one which parents demand: and most of us take on within various contexts of our being. They demand that each of us be sufficiently responsible for ourselves, for our independent being, that we can be trusted: proposing, propositional creatures which have taken on the mantle of independence and freedom which says that they do not have, at every moment, to tell us how to be. How independent, in what times and places, how much we return to interdependence varies in different traditions.

It is for these reasons that morality is confusing: that one is not immoral because the devil dwells within us; that one is not immoral because she or he gives in to evil. Much (most?) of what seems immoral has to do with the confusions and complications and internal wars of being independent and inter-dependent…mistakes are made, judgments are made, one’s being is structured or is not…

Whenever (it has seemed to me) individuality is constructed so that direction and completion are not only possible, but likely or necessary, then the issues of morality overwhelm politics; we begin to praise/condemn acts more than persons; and everyone’s being is diminished to the boundaries of toleration…and beyond.



Paradox: Part of the contextual problem of considering issues of morality within Western thought is that we are accustomed to thinking that morality is a horn within some dualistic architectonic. This sense of thinking as dialectic sets up a universe of the two-sided either/or’s of life within the penumbras and lights of good and evil.

The world is arranged into two kingdoms (Augustine), is filled with the Deity and the anti-Christs and Satans; our very being is construed to be dual: mind and body – with the mind as the locus of the good, and the body as bad, evil, and sinful even as we are supposed to be born in sin and fallen to earth. The mind, mental, mind, spirit, soul – is an arena which is unchanging, the place in our being in which we could know an unchanging and eternal God. The body is yucky, and the locus of change and can only distantly partake in the reality which is the universal and unchanging. Each of us is some combination of good and evil, always at war with the devil within to determine how to be and to survive to escape from this earthly world: life itself is not life…itself. By the time the bodily actuality is dealt with, it too becomes an aspect of the place of the mental, a social construction rather than anything mortal or experiential.

One exercise which may illuminate the limitations of thinking dually – leading, hopefully, to a sense that the temptations of duality have more to do with the fact (!?) that various life paradoxes are aspectually the human condition – is to begin to consider the nature of being from a curer’s perspective. The perspective of curer, an attempt to relieve, to change, to restore, prevent, make whole,…often turns upon a tri-ality: a sense of beginning, middle, end end. Every illness or disorder has an onset, a set of pathologies, and experienced discomfort, an actual break of bodily bone or organ, a spilling of blood, an orifice where none was intended. Then one attempts to change: conditions, contexts, experience – curer and patient. There is a yielding, a surrender to condition, to curer. Finally there is a restoration, or to a new newness, a cure, a disappearance of pain or discomfort, a staunching of the flows of liquids green and red; a sense of boundedness that one calls oneself. And this process seems to want to organize itself in a sense of three; and this sense of three may place in some perspective the wanting to split into two, eventually to desire backgrounding to disappearance the one over the other of the opposition of body and mind, of life and of death, of nature and art and culture and the experiencing of life which seems so often to subordinate itself to the essence of our being.

The paradoxes of being, many of which we experience only occasionally as truly paradoxical, but nonetheless are apparent in all moments of our being what and who we are: girl, boy; one, many; now, then; on and off; awake, asleep. These, different traditions have dealt with often by banishing the one, or attempting to background the one and to foreground the other so successfully that our bodily experience remains almost hidden to our being; or so subordinated that we have developed complex theories to tell us who we are, rather than observing what and how we do. Wakefulness over sleeping, we take the simplicities of logic, the regularities of geometry and try to apply them to life and experience. Reality, likewise, is formal; the ideas stand in the light in whose shadows experience and the senses, pale and seem to tell us that what and who we are is not what and who we are. (Plato, Spinoza).

We take, then, these resolved paradoxes and construct them into theories of sociality, of politics, only rarely coming back into the mode of discovering that we are; and that we are, for example, moral creatures who tend to act in terms of our stories about our being, more than we explore our being to understand the nature of our morality.



Immorality and the Or of Being: Questions abound! The wonderment of how to be; and how to be moral, and why others, some others, act against; against the law, against their mother’s wishes, against the laws of God and nation, against one’s own self-interests – all these seem to set the issue of morality as residing within some oppositional dualisms: good and evil, God and Satan, construed within some Manichean clarity of this or that, of Plato’s question of identity constructed always as an either/or. The or of being seems primarily to be constructed outside of one’s being and experience.

Inside one’s own being, morality and immorality do not seem so clear: break laws, disappoint others, tell lies, screw others lest they screw you – or before they do – Hobbe’s war of all against all in this too short life…all of these raise the questions of the why’s of existence. I would like to be good, if only I could discern always what that means. Are we reduced to questions of meaning? Whose?

Are we engaged in some ancient wars between thou shalt not, and thou shall…?

Or in some quanderies of being and identity which cannot yet tell us the limits of our being who we are?

Or are we engaged in a metholological problem: knowing and not-knowing how to proceed in asking/answering such problems?

Or are we engaged – as of old – in always trying to balance questions of desires and rationality whose war seems to entice us unaware…until it is too late? Do we settle into the living room of life seeking some harmony between the places which threaten to spin us out of control: the abysses of total Sadean freedom vs. the boredom of all of being being foretold, safely seeking safety? Or do we move to explore the possibilities of life’s fulnesses, treading on the edges as we try to move them to accommodate being, even while being tries to punch holes in existence?

Nietsche wondered out loud if those who broke the laws of life’s commandments weren’t explorers in the first instance – looking for excitement – instead of the simply or merely…immoral?



The Immorality of one’s Child’s Sickness/Death: Much about the nature of human life remains at the level of mystery. Some think it should remain this way, claiming that mystery is the voice of the deity whom we should believe and not seek further to pursue any Faustian ambition.

There is, for example, not much which is obvious or clear about the nature of time. Korzybski claimed that the human is the time-binding animal, following Aristotle while claiming to overcome his thinking. What is clearer, closer to our actual experience, is the nature of generations: we have parents/grandparents, we have children/grandchildren, and we locate ourselves in life often, perhaps principally by our sense of relation to other generations.

It seems, to us, appropriate in thinking about a life, to think that it should consist of infancy, youth, maturity, and old age, and death will follow a long life, well-lived. If any of these is not met, if a sense of a life is interrupted and cut short, then we think that this is some sort of tragedy, and have invented various ways of making tragedy handeable: heavenly returns, an end to suffering, etc. But these are stories which seem to emanate principally from within the sense of being as of one’s own generation. One expects grandparents, then parents, to cease life before oneself.

What presents itself in moral terms has to do with the descendent generations; who should live beyond oneself. In this context, one senses that generational time has itself a moral component. Perhaps it frames morality in some senses: one’s children and grandchildren should not sicken and die; it is immoral. It is often cast in terms of the constructs of nature of life – as unnatural, as against nature, opposed to our sense of what is a life.

The death of one’s child can be survived. It can never be right. Do the seeds of morality reside here, in the generation construction of what is a life?



Why Ask Why? Morality is often construed as the uniquely human ability/burden/opportunity to ask about the why-ness of being: why do this; why not that; why, why,…why.

Somehow in our construction of the presumptive human whom we try to solve and set straight, we have equated the rational with consciousness of a world which wants or needs explanation. No mere facts, please, but a universe where we want to know how come this or that, or the should���s and cant’s of the restrictions to our being completely…free. “Don’t do that; stay out of the street; don’t hurt him; be gentle with her!”

In the comparative sense of what human means, it remains the case that we don’t know whether (other) animals are moral. As they are social, one suspects that they raise their young with some notions in “mind” of how they ���should” (not) be at any point in development. The cubs and ponies of the world apparently get reprimanded when they do dangerous things or otherwise “step out of bounds.” I mean that there are boundaries on their existence, perhaps similar to how we both grant increasing space but within certain restrictions of danger and what moms can tolerate. If, as I suggest, other species raise their young to be much like themselves – and the range of possibilities within development “exceeds” the actualities – then it seems likely that other species are moral; not necessarily in ways so different from how we are. (See: Chap. 1 of my Language and Human Nature to explore what sociality entails across species.)

But to return to the case among humans, the notion of why arises to our thinking that it has a life of its own, not within a self-invented grammar of a language within each human individual, but within a concatenation of questions and responses. Children do not invent language or the world it represents, but adopt the words for the objects as their mothers/others say they are. Language – including the why�����s and why-not’s – is adopted by authority. Why say this or that: because that’s what it is called/I call it!

Much/most of early developmental use of the why’s of life is to explore the boundedness of categories as well as the boundaries of what is allowable, acceptable, and contextually meaningful as belonging to the individual (child), to the politics of social situation, and an increasing sense of the context of context in which meaning grants itself. Much of it has to do with the (necessary!?) development of social conscience without which hardly any infant can survive: “Do what I say,” says mom, “and start believing that you mean as I mean, and will to do what I think is necessary for you to be a safe, moral child/person!”

At some point of self-consciousness, the why of who I am to be begins to take on a new life. And I truly begin to wonder who and why I am, or why anything is as it is said to be, and why-not that.

Will develops from a sense of conscience in which a social imperative of internalizing the mother’s sense of propriety and of avoiding danger becomes one���s own. And at later points, this increasing size and power of the individual persona comes to grapple with s/his own conscience; no longer s-mothered and trying to come to terms with the who I am and why not that’s which actually set the scene for the usual discussion of human morality.



Being within Comparative Thought: Within the usual strains of Western thinking, it is difficult for us to realize that we ordinarily think of the human condition within the context of comparative thought. Thinking of humans as particularly unique – due to language which allows us to think or possess consciousness, to our large brain which makes us smarter than other creatures, opposable thumb which allows us to work, of any of the other features by which we have tended to separate the human from other species – this form of thinking about humans is already and presumptively comparative in its very formulation.

Whether we accept the comparisons as particularly valid or yielding of insight, or as negative and invidious, the fact is that we are comparative thinkers. We have-in-mind other species when we think of humans; and we think humanly when we think of others; usually to raise humans in some direct or not so direct line of hierarchy or complexity. But – to reiterate and to underscore – when we think about humans we have other creatures already contained in our thinking, how we go about asking questions, judging the reasonableness of responses, and so on. We are not so good at seeing the human condition as it is, because we approach questioning and observation already with a fairly well developed metaphysics.

We have tended, for example, to concentrate not on the human body in its variety of complexities, but to grant grand possibilities to the human mind, already construed within the dualism of body and mind, which is used to separate us from other species – within the claim that humans alone possess minds; while, in the same breath, we somehow claim that the human body is just like (e.g., in nature) the bodies of other species.

That is, we take to the study of humans, assumptions which foreclose our seeing much more than we have already assumed about the human conditions – not the least that humans are the only social species, for which we have over the last two and a half millennia concocted elaborate stories (“natural law” and all that) which have attempted to explain how we are, based largely upon the dualistic assumptions of our presumed differences, rather than from experience and observation of how we are, get to be, and so on.

Many of our stories of the human condition even banish the possibility of our experience informing our knowledge of ourselves. Thus it is no exaggeration to claim that we see ourselves particularly, narrowly, wearing strong/colored lenses informed by how we have thought we are, rather than seeing how we are.

The fact is (actually) – and here we have to fight the Platonic inscription of the control of the very idea of reality and the making of reality into an idea – that we are creatures who love faces, as much or more than we are the smartest critters to have walked the face (!) of the earth. Get real! Faces will explain smartness much or more than the mind.



Kant Couldn’t: The problems with morality expressed within the context of the uniqueness of humans due particularly to our mind and rationality, is that morality has become a kind of subtopic cast within the nature of whatever is (considered in any place or time) the rational.

Kant – as (all) others in the Platonic-Western idealist tradition, begin to look axiomatically at our being creatures which partake of the logical, rational, geometric notion that humans alone have a sense for the forms and ideas which we understand through our reason: realms which Kant wanted to purify, thence to grant agency. There is a realm of physics, of logic, or morality/ethics, each of which has its own purity of being: and its own agency (Spinoza Ethics).

As rationality is taken to be an attribute of each individual mind, the question of morality tends to begin with an exposition (Kant: Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals) concerning the nature of what rational has to do with morality. If – as I observe, as the ethologists of the world have decided – other species are already social; if, as I suggest, humans are also social, rather than being social due particularly, solely, or principally to our (unique!?) rationality, the problem of morality is not due to rationality in any a priori or particular sense, but is an outgrowth or an emergence of our sociality.

Thence much of the question of the nature of morality devolves upon our understanding of the nature of our sociality; how we as individuals emerge from this sociality; why we act as we do with respect to issues of conscience, of right-ness, of justice, and so on. It is not that we are not rational, it is more that rationality, like morality, is a consequence of our being social, not the reverse.

The Western story: as we develop, we become more rational, thence more moral. Rationality and morality become attributes solely or particularly of each individual – essentially independently of our relations or interdependence with others: being children of actual mothers who are themselves children of mothers,…; having our being and behavior observed and interpreted within complicated (moral,…) frameworks within but also beyond the present moment; having objects presented to us both/and as particular and universal. Whatever might be built-in to the individual in some sense of continuity through a very large and rapid period of change, seems to be subordinate to the sociality in terms of which each so-called individual comes to interpret and develop s/his personal sense of self.

Morality (now italicized) has much to do with what parents need each child to believe/do: carefulness (burns, electricity, drugs, cars,…), being hurt/hurting others, self. Conscience must become an attribute of the child; conscience, thus morality, a similarity of understanding shared by child and parents, and a sharing of activity and of responsibility; thence of respect for others,…and of oneself. The self, the person emerges as parents demand that each child act as if s/he is responsible person, especially for s/himself: toilet training, proposing ideas in the forms of word combinations, sentences.

Morality is intrinsically social, and becomes an attribute of each individual as the society would have it become. Morality, thence, immorality, has to be understood first within its social context, and only then seen for what it is.

Comparative thought – the noting that other species are also busy raising their young in their own terms to become responsible persons within the ongoing notion of any particular species – is what all species who have the concept of raising their young to become competent adults, have in common. That these ideas of morality seem to differ considerably, should help lead us to see our own seeing of morality; then to see how we raise our own young to become like we are and would be.



Moral: Social or Individual: The question of morality seems to arise differently depending on whether we assume/believe that humans are intrinsically individuals or intrinsically social (or some “mix” and what is meant by social and social-individual): this seems, almost, to be an involution. All questions of motivation, what is intrinsic to human nature, etc., become historical-social, if we are somehow intrinsically social because our existence is not separable from others in any clear sense. The tensions which exist are derived from sociality – the very idea of self-as-independent-individual is a social idea whose “motives” are not independent either. That is, the concept of what individuality is, can be, is a socially-derived notion. What is good, bad, conscious,…are negotiable, changeable.


The problem of morality (social-interactional) is to work, always, at the concept of individual which is sufficiently “strong” or transcendent to see beyond any and all extrinsic definitions of itself; yet not to “fall in love” with oneself at any point in one’s development – (as did Nietzsche).



The Freedom to…:

Existentially, perhaps the most interesting thing about humans is that we are capable of continuing to move on, to grow, to overcome ourselves as it were. If we can or must, as Kant holds, put our spirits into the development of some moral ideas which transcend the ordinarinesses of our being flesh and being social in and to our cores, then we are more interesting than our being human merely or obviously allows us to be transcendent. We often can and do overcome our desires, experience, observations of the ordinary and the worst, to think and act in behalf of, to act nobly, to act (as some thinkers about animals claim – Vicky Hearne) out the destiny of being human at its…highest.

Examples: To take on the tasks and responsibilities of being and doing the sacred work within the secular – curers, preachers, teachers…who are given and yielded the spirits and bodies of others within the context of helping more than hurting – is to act morally, if one truly does these tasks. To be a mother/other to someone else: to act on the others’ behalf at least as much as upon one’s own is truly moral. It is not overly strong to suggest that our very (human-social) existence and survival is dependent upon the morality of others: human infants are not survivable by themselves: (The question of the self is obviously at question within the idea of the social being definitive of being human! Physical being, individuality, and the self/person are not coterminous within the human condition, even though the approach of metaphysics has held these to be the same or to follow one from the other, as it were, naturally.)

If we are not, as Rousseau held, born free, then isn’t the idea of freedom some chimera of anti-scientism, of religious thought, of a politics of thinking wishfully or toward some aspect of self-interest? Indeed, the notion of social means that we are not exactly born free. It is not society which has us in chains, but sociality is the human condition. How can it be that we are both social, and with the possibility of being free, acting freely? Is it truly the case – as some materialists who see the human condition as if we are basically and only the physical condition – that we are determined or limited in our being much as by a toxin or oxygen?

One answer is to look around, and to note that we have come an amazing distance in our knowledge, and do not live much like the so-called primitives from whom we undoubtedly sprang. If this is about freedom, then we have had much of it (Phil Regal’s The Anatomy of Judgment)!

The more likely correct response is that our individuality – thence our possibility of freedom and of morality – is emergent. As we exist within sociality, the definition of our being is not totally intrinsic to our physical being (which is itself socially contingent even for survival). The issue of freedom and of morality even as possibility is bound with the notion that we become individual within sociality: both the self and the wishes, motives, and activities of others/mothers is that we become individual even as we grow and grow up. Indeed, growing up is to take on those aspects of being which we have equated with physically-given indivuality. Our parents/society want us to become creative, self-generating individuals who are free, competent, propositional creatures…much like themselves.

Socially, we are useless, dangerous, destructive…unless we are free and individual: ourselves and not anyone else. What is only at issue from society and theo-political arrangement to another has to do with how freedom is placed contextually, or how much freedom is given or possible; how long the umbilicus of self-determination can be extended or stretched without other forces coming into play which attempt to reel-in the boundaries of self-determination, or to limit their elasticity. And it seems (to me) not particularly different with other species.

So, to claim as Kant does, that to derive morality from experience is necessarily incorrect, does not jibe with our being able to transcend our experience. That is who we are, and we can get beyond ourselves. Transcendence is this life. It is within the ordinariness of living experience that we become moral and can find the places in our being in whose terms we can (and frequently do) universalize morality. Experience – which is social – is not (in spite of Rousseau) necessarily limiting of freedom. On the contrary, our notions of freedom are developed, refined, practiced within the ordinariness of being.

Transcendence: this is it! Freedom: is a search within being and experience. (cf. meditations on…Next Places)



Why are Humans Moral? Are we? (Nietzsche: Twilight of the Idols}

Do we need to ask this question: Why does it arise? From fear of…death…one another…oneself? Fear of time, of change, of loss of…?

Nietzsche’s antidotes: about personal strength, increasing knowledge, all of that about which devolves the concept of power, the why-ness of our existence, under attack in a human universe devoted to supporting personal weakness/meekness rather than strength which grows in such ways that we can stand to accept our own past in which we were less: the pity of pity.

The “Overman,” dedicated to the idea that tomorrow will be more difficult than today, and yet we will live it…live through it!

…dedicated not merely to accept, to survive, but to search for understanding, control — of oneself, of one’s evolving dedication. Like preparation for the Olympic Games in which they will always occur in the next time period (always postponed?); in which one must stay in shape, prepared, as it were, to compete for the gold medal, the universal-world cup; not merely to be and experience, but to be and experience to the very edges of being and experiencing – and beyond – without falling into the abysses; but to say where they are and what they are like.

But even at the edges of the abyss, to plunge ahead, as if one can roll up those edges like a carpet, and push it over to one side of the universe, to view it anew, each day thenceforward, in a more benign form, till it becomes another piece in the furniture of life, to be unpacked, moved, or rearranged on necessary occasions.

But isn’t being already moral? Isn’t morality natural? Don’t other species have a moral sense for themselves and for others in which they are “careful” about what they do? Why do we think we need some greater, some divine to tell us how to be? Do we not require that, or do other species also have a divine – the divine?

Doesn’t the question of divine, especially for humans, arise when we seek to reject the natural – about other species, and about what we think are the natural aspects of ourselves? It is a rejection of life, and a deeply puzzling paradox: to have to reject life in order to live correctly – to survive in the …-after?!

But the psychology on which this rests, which it presumes, is and is always tending toward negativism and pessimism. It seems always self-fulfilling: expect the worst,…and so on.

And it supports a view of nature/natural which remains separable and independent from us; from humans and human nature.

A second paradox: the view of nature which we conceive of as separate from humans, pursuades us that “it” (Nature) exists, and possesses its own power, correctness, and morality. “It” selects who will survive, who exists and, because it arises as a counter-divine; it becomes its own higher law which “dictates” not only what is, but what ought to be. What odd twists in our thinking! The creation of a sphere of our being which is distinct from some other sphere: then we grant agency to that other: now we are two, effectively independent, even pure.

Doesn’t the question of morality, the notion that there is an issue, a separate or independent aspect of being which can be identified or labeled as moral, arise only when there is trouble?

Doesn’t the persistance of the notion derive from a time of trouble – as an aspect of a solution to that trouble which has then come to take on a life of its own? – whether or not it ought to continue to apply?

Doesn’t the issue of morality, as such, arise only when there are sufficient numbers of individuals that the concepts of “danger” and “stranger” take on real meaning? Isn’t it the lack of present knowledge of one another, in very full aspects of being, that even creates the possibility of harming someone else; that one needs to have a “code” of conduct, which is relegated to self and is out of the present time of every one-to-one interaction?

Doesn’t the question of “seeking oneself” make sense only when there is a dawning that one is one-self, in some sense independent – individualizable; a self with a life-line, in which the line seems its own; and from which it seems to be longer and longer, to reach out beyond itself? {Nietzsche: Genealogy of Morals #13}



The Will to Power: The actualization of oneself, the sense of movement being directional, moving on, growing…transcending the sense of self we had just a moment ago, leads in various directions.

It may lead as well to a totalitarian take-over of all the world’s peoples and powers – Hitler, Faust, …. It may lead to such a take-over in the name of power and the purity of the human species (eugenics), of the deity and of a church structure. It may lead each of us to attempt to fill and to live our lives with some senses of fulness. Or it may lead us to quit growing at various points in our being: out of frustration, a weakness to discern where we may go and grow or some sense of inability to do what we think necessary.

And this sense of the will to power is often not any place in our being per se, but is contrasted dialectically with who and what we are-not or cannot…be. It may attempt to destroy rather than to overcome what we experience as weakness or hesitation; often acting as a way to excuse ourselves from self-growing. Or it may be used to justify the varieties of ways of self- or other-destruction which a growing sense of power and its attendant strength would presumably overcome.

Where, precisely, the will to power turns toward acts of destruction and evil toward oneself or others seems to have to do with the enabling and increasing strength of…character, in whose terms we can overcome ourselves without having to overcome others. Here, Epictetus is probably the greatest teacher; the traps of personal history and the stucknesses of vengeance toward others and toward this history being the greatest disablers. And the nurture and feeding of one’s fear-places can grow to the dimensions of the entire universe. (See: meditations on…Next Places)



Even Evil: Whether we consider good and evil the opposites of some force of being which is essentially of the same cloth, whether we see them as so different in their opposition that they represent the religious notions of a living deity and a condemned devil, even so these issues construe themselves differently when the nature of the human is understood as intrinsically social.

It is the ordinariness of goodness and the banality of evil which begin us in our understanding. Not that there are not good persons and those who act out of destructive and vengeful tendencies, but that these aspects of our being develop from our sociality rather than contribute to them.

It is that our relationship to others defines, shapes, and constrains our relationships to ourselves: not the reverse. As we learn the language presented to us by our mothers (and others), so we learn the nature of conscience in relation to them, in and through them to us.

It is not that our character is (so) inbuilt, but that it emerges from the relationships. Knowing, being, the shaping of who we are is in-relation. The one, the I who emerges self-consciously, is not the one who is born and would die without the others who feed and sustain and grant the it of one’s cells’ continuity in life.

Much of the developmental period known these days as the terrible two’s is a clash of wills-in-the-balance of being oneself or being as one’s parents demand, can tolerate, support, despise. Be nice; gentle – is at odds with the wonderfulness of the toddler becoming able to do and to say and to be…some one; some one, somewhat independent within a continuing dependency. The space of future being is developing. “Do what I say,” the p[arent laments, “or you will get hurt, hurt yourself!” “Be strong, but not too independent, lest you become a moral monster, and no one will be able to stand you!” “Grow and become yourself, but do not sacrifice all of my being” is at some obliqueness with, “I love you,” and “Love me!?”

All of this is to say that conscience, the foundation of morality, is an aspect of being social, remaining social, becoming what one���s parents want and demand, while becoming sufficiently in-dependent to become oneself and to do that which (one’s parents and culture say) is sufficient and necessary to be safe, to be whole, to be…It is from this experiential (and learned) developmental sense that the person emerges, the one which is moral, which is the seat of morality in becoming. If we do not develop independence sufficiently, if we do not develop conscience…but that is moot because (almost?) all of us do.

What we mostly mean by morality, then, derives and rests on this originary but emergent conscience which is already an aspect of human sociality. We are moral creatures by our social nature!

The complications and arguments about morality, the questions of evil, then derive from this sense of conscience in some ongoing intersectings, adjustings, and battles with the emerging self-findings, and the pull of remaining social while growing…up. The process is more a matter of centrifugal – becoming oneself and centripetal – becoming and remaining social within those becomings – than any either-or (See: meditations on…Next Places).



Morality and Will: How strong, how independent, how separate is each individual…from every other? How is one interdependent, how is being dependent; where and when is freedom located? Much of this has to do with concepts of the will.

Rises the voices of the stoics within us telling our being that we will to survive, no matter what. No matter what? Is will necessarily linked to what we need to do in order to survive? What do we do in order to flourish; in order not to hurt others; in order that others flourish as well or more than we?

Where are the intersections of meaning and being where I will joins with I should? And just who is telling who: some inner dialogue between my will which asserts itself to rise to the kingship of all of my selves over…; some inner dialogue which has figured ways to be integral and to have integrity? Is my will strong enough to be able to yield? to surrender? When, and to whom?

Isn’t it the arena of the sacred within the secular which is the ground for this sort of peroration? Curers we yield our bodies in order that we may be cured, become well, end the sensing which is our hurt – will or will not. Teachers we yield something about our spirits: hoping that in some sense of surrender, we can become stronger, learn, grow, a sense of progression and a moving beyond – a carving out of an arena in which our wills might flourish. To preachers we may yield our souls, and grant a sense of agency to something and someone who is outside of being – a surrender to our own ideas, a diminishing of will, a containment of ideas and feelings (of feelings, thence ideas?); I believe, but not in my own sense of will.

The world is full of human (and other) bodies, to which we grant personage. Do we grant them all the same? And if they are not all…the same – as they never are? Then in the granting of sameness, we actively replace differences in being with…with what? We do this, I think, willingly.

Will, in its moral sense, seems always active, requiring a doing; a kind of circularity and cycling which grows more than diminishes; or which may compensate for diminishing in other arenas of one’s life where there may be no possibility of control (Epictetus). But one may also be actively passive, willfully calming. In these senses, the seat of will is an inner dialectic more than any inner dialogue.

In the contexts of morality, the question of will often goes beyond dialectic; towards polemic, between self-care and self-caring.



What are the Difficulties in Treating Others Decently or Well?

Is it something about ourselves or about them? Does their existence, does their possible presence cause us, somehow, to think and treat them ill? Is it in the moment; is it in some idea of the future, of the past?

How does the idea of what is, translate itself into what might or should be? Is it a game of time – constructing what is the present – in terms of an idea of that present from some earlier moment? If so, then which is THE reality; the existence which is each instant, each “now?”

If one’s anger or anguish is aroused, what is the nature of the battle by which s/he “controls” himself, and doesn’t re-batter his child, friends, self? A battle with himself – but how? Two exact present selves – one good, one evil? Two (more?) selves, constructed somehow differently? But how? Stories to oneself about experiencing some present? Some idea of the present? The present-not-the-present? (Borges)


Morality, Actively, is Concerned with the Negative - what we don’t want…to be, to do, … but think we ought to do, to be.

Perhaps this is a pre-occupation, a diversion from some positive sense of being and doing; e.g., if we can “have” a moral sense, we may never have to grapple with the fact that our actual being is more empty, less complete than we admit.

But how do we have or experience our actual being? With reference to others? How do we measure: what is enough, too much? What is the nature of a scale? Isn’t the debate about absolutism-purity an argument about where such a scale can be found? – and who might own it?

But perhaps we are really different, say, in different eras. In some we are truly fearful; truly patient; deeply greedy. That is, these are our conditions: they inhere in our beings, in our nature. In other eras, we are, say, truly dialectical; hopelessly greedy. Educational traditions would act as if some prior notion of human nature were still existent; and attempt to “train-in” and “train-out” what they considered correct, right, or virtuous. The “felt-tensions,” the dualisms of experience, the conflagrations of life and death would then have different manifestations.

In what senses do we know that this is not true?

When it it claimed that some part of us is moral, what does that mean? What is NOT moral? Writing is moral! I sit here inventing tales to pursuade, to instruct, to change, to make people “better,” to have them not destroy others or themselves; to be inventive, to create “better” institutions, to teach, to appreciate and love their life-ways; to hate and explore the deepest abysses of melancholy, to investigate their own histories and to “grow”…but for what? To entertain myself on an almost spring morning? For myself and my children, and J. and my dog, and…What a curiosity!



Looking for Causes: If it is true that the concept of cause (causality) is, for example, a linguistic trick, what then? Would the world be any more of an illusion? Other people? But here we are, ready or not, illusion or “yes.” Life is nonetheless difficult even in an affirmation of it. Besides, some of us drift into the notion that the pain is explicable, and merely drift into a new form of causality. Life, moral life, the search for the individual which is oneself?

Perhaps…life as that search, but having to treat others well in order to find oneself!?

And if the world truly is an illusion…? Still, we live. And much of thinking about morality turns upon the dialectic between life as some form of sin and life as some form of gift. Whether we live to overcome something not much of our own doing; whether we live to fulfill the sense of possibility and of promise…increasingly of our own making.



Life-Morality: a series of workings-out of varying forms of fears of life and death. Essentially negative in the sense that fears are “negative?”

But what’s positive? – a struggle? Winning? Losing with grace and style? Surviving – but what cost to determine what is a cost? Health, hurt, good feelings – all modifiable in real/conceptual terms which depend on others to tell us somehow that we are, and set the grounds for being and judging. That is, the primary moral problem is not moral, but esthetic – concerning how we organize, form our judgments; decide, for example, what we distinguish between ethics and esthetics.



The Path from Morality to Nihilism:

And if one seeks perfection (is it possible not to, in some sense or other?), and one becomes tired, gets discouraged or weakened, it is persuasive to tell oneself that there is no perfection.

For the utopist of means and strength, this self-telling is rejected, and s/he casts about for new ways (or old ways which will work in the new present) to seek that perfection.

For the weakened, for the person who has few means of sustaining ideality through some present experiencing (which s/he may call “reality”), it is increasingly plausible to enter a phase of denial; at first denial of perfection. But, depending on one’s ability to live well-enough in some experiencing, the temptation (toward temptation, etc. – it is a slippery path!), is to move towards denying meaning: toward denying the possibility of meaning, towards denying any possibility…



Morality: a Weakening? Nietzsche believes (Genealogy of Morals) that the discovery – invention? – of morals was a weakening – and a mistake. To see the world in terms of good and evil, to contemplate a wrongness to our being and to call it sin, is in many senses destructive, and for Nietzsche, particularly self-destructive.

To judge (it is necessary to judge, is it not? – aren’t we arguing the grounds and how often?), is itself a complicated notion. It is to have (in mind) some framework of not-being; some way of not liking or enjoying a moment. It is, minimally, to seek a change-of-state; simply from, say, hunger to satiety. The question of judgment comes in when one knows outcomes; when one has “experienced” a state-of-being which (from memory?) s/he calls the “source” and seeks a change, a “solution.” In this sense, the discovery of morals and judgment are not very different from what we usually mean by causality.

But the road from judgment to sin is not very straight, and depends on certain self-judgments in which a change-of-status is “preferred” (self-observation) – or would be preferred, except…And the question of the ambivalence contains the seeds of conscience, of self-hatred in the sense that a change which was preferred is now argued.

In the context of the individual and society debate (in which thinkers from Rousseau argue the individual versus society), a second judgment of self is seen as coming in from the outside, from society (at least from one’s significant others) = Freud’s super-ego.

But from a social determinist position, the earlier notion of ego preference also has a social base and causality, so this represents (this conscience) no necessary “loss,” but a further development of socialization in which it is necessary to judge one’s “feelings” (and to judge what is a feeling) in a “new” sense of preferred states. It is a part of understanding others in their terms. It is, it is true, a kind of weakening of the self – in a universe of individuals – but can be seen as yet one more place in a world of becoming. If it is seen as enabling as much as weakening, we have overcome Nietzsche’s problems, and can still admit to being social as more than self-destructive. Nonetheless, it is an important exercise to think through Nietzsche’s objections to morality, to go back to origins, personally and historically, in order to investigate one’s self critically, to understand the ambivalence; neither to accept nor reject, but to use that understanding.



Invoking Morality to Justify (Politics of Morality): A “good times” strategy to account for how things are or how they work when it is otherwise inexplicable; also, an “excuse” for not digging deeper to see how/why motivation works. But the Fundamentalists and Biologists use this perceived emptiness to enter the field of government and politics. (If they are wrong??…it works in pessimistic eras as it sets a moral groundwork which, it claims, is “natural” to humans, and especially, will work!) Also, a move by authority, and obliged to give thrust and/or justification to why they do what they do. (Why do we seek such accountings?)



Moral Claims: Hearing a “moral philosopher” talking about morality, it became crystal clear that he was using the term “morality” as an invocation; to sanctify some claims about human being and behavior.

Somehow it is not sufficient to merely be, to enjoy life as wonderment. One must find “meaning,” a sense that life is…for something other than what it is or seems to be. Is this the case from fear (of life, of death, the fear of fear, of yesterday, of tomorrow, today?), from difficulties in extricating who “I” am from whom I was told to be, or said to be; that which created the existential tension between what others think I am, what I am, and what I imagine others think? (What I have learned/been taught about imagining…)

If one were truly free, would he/she have need to make moral claims?



Morality-as-Corrective: many believe that things go wrong because of immorality; that, if we were all moral, that we would do right; or, that in some battle between right and wrong, we would somehow know which was which. But this boils down to a question of knowing, and entails a push to an absolute — to Platonism or some other form of surety. (As, for example, “Creationism” is a purism, so it perceives Science as an “impure” purism.) This entails, in turn, a stopping of time unless one uses, as model, an ongoingness which is somehow stopped: e.g., Kierkegaard’s form of Christology – i.e., to live as Christ would live, one can do, just do, as/what he would in each [new] moment. (And I wonder what Augustine would do in a secular era.)

In any case, all notions of correctness are tied to humans saying, giving testimony, saying which texts to invoke, and/or intrepreting those. The question comes down, then, to which humans, living, what/whom to believe, and on what grounds.

Is my own moral stance, in any sense amoral, or a political stance about the morality of others’ claims? It would be easier in living day-to-day, to grab onto a sure thing – and, this is part of my (J’s?) morality, that what is easy can never be moral – per Kierkegaard. But what is difficult is not then definitional of being moral. To be moral, for me, is to think about morality with as much toughness as I can muster, and, to do this, requires knowing all that I possibly can about myself-as-observer with respect to arenas in which I live and interact and react. It is an attempt to gain freedom in a constantly renewing way, and to do that with respect to the others who substantiate my being: in order for me to go on, to grow in any positive sense, it is virtually necessary for them to go on, as well.



“Biological Morality”: (D. Morris, Naked Ape, p. 99; K. Lorenz, On Aggression).

A notion that in a two-part, double-aspect creature, there is a “more natural,” biological “morality” which determines how we really (at bottom) are/ought to be.

What we turn out to be and seem to be is, to a large extent, appearance. It is the other side, the non-biological tune, to which we dance: “social,” “cultural,” “learned” – whatever term is selling in the arena of anti-biology, of non-biology gone self-destructive, is that which is what we see and seem to experience. But this is claimed to be false!

The bed-rock, the real, is (claimed to be) the biological: that which we are, truly. It is ancient, it is claimed, thus more natural (or natural, thus ancient – circles abound).

In such theories, the “present” is weak, obscured, an aspect of something “other” – since these biologists are basically and primarily convinced of the notion of life-as-survival: how we got here, not what are we doing her (ultimately, historically). Since the rational, the strong-willed thinking self is “in,” or requires a strong theory of the present, our conceptual abilities are down-played.

Nature/natural, being an equivalent “self,” has its own morality which is both proper and correct, a guide to living and to continuing in some sense of “species’ destiny,” which appears to drive their theories, and to continue, as it were, its own “biological morality.” (This appears to be a form of biopolitics.)



The one certain thing about humans is that we are extraordinarily susceptible to believing our stories about ourselves and acting in their terms!

Why, how, do we give up one set of stories and accept another as if they were hair or clothing styles?

Do we forget, or do we recast our theories in new circumstances so they appear to not be very new or different? Do they appear “progressive” such that we reject those which are “proven” false?

(Are we discussing truth or meaning or…?)



Morality – a Life-Strategy toward a Definition of Futurity: The notion that life is (at least) double-headed – an IS and an OUGHT – provides a dialectic which is both sustaining and the foundation for a theory of history…and entertaining, too? (Kant)



Loss of Morality: an explanation for modern times!? But which morality; whose morality? Confused with a felt demise of civilization? – use of drugs, breakdown of family, loss of belief in higher powers? A crisis in morality or in the meaning of meaning? (See: Aspects of the Crisis in Meaning)

A loss, perhaps, of fear as a/the most powerful motivator?



Relativism: pragmatics, situation ethics, ethical culture, the idea that morality is not absolute in any sense whatever – except that we could find it if we would (wouldn’t we?) – seems so to frighten whoever searches the world for its clarities and absolutenesses.

The fears: a cosmological fear, that I am unsure that I exist, and the idea of a clearly moral-morality underscores my existence; the conservative (nostalgic?) fear, that there is no truth unless there is some sort of guarantee – from science, logic, determinism, that there is a world which “works,” then all will become politics, and if all become politics, then any measure of truth will become claims and charisma; fear that there is no authority (left) in the world. Everything is as good (bad) as anything else: no morality, no paths, a cynicism leading to nihilism; no meaning, no point of anything, no reason to live – or to allow anyone else to…

The strengths: to counter previous claims of anyone (religious, political, moral, strength of arms, my mother,…) to know precisely what is correct – for everyone, for all of time; a critical view that we do live in history, and that our experience is valid in some sense or other at least for ourselves, not to be bent in the terms of some (usually prior) metaphysics or claims of ownership and architectonic of the real standing outside of ourselves (some battle between “logic��� and being); to admit that different persons, cultures (species, genders, ages,…) have somewhat differing rights, responsibilities, levels of authority and/or vulnerability, and that moral-ity sometimes differs with respect to such differences (e.g., a right of the terminally aged-ill to die; of a woman to decide if a/her fetus survives).



Morality-become-Economics: a measure of life and living in terms not of what is worthwhile, but what is worth money: when is morality a commodity?

Is it analogous to the bureaucratization of all institutions? They come to serve their self-definitions in terms of survival within those definitions and forget to wonder what they are for? Is it, then, a loss of any sense of purpose which results in an apparent loss of morality?



Bureaucratization of Morality: A kind of technologizing of being seems to occur whenever an/any organization rises above individual being and experience. Part of this is an aspect of scale: when there are too many persons to know and experience everyone in any community in the fulness of their being (@ 1500 individuals?), then we begin to deal with persons as partials; to fill-in their characters from more general schemata derived, it appears, from our own location within the bureaucratic structures.

Once we become members of any bureaucratic structure, we seem to begin to think about many things differently from how we would have previously; e.g., our minds become bureaucratized and we begin to think about ourselves and the world as the organization within which we exist, think about it. Questions of why we do what we do become submerged to the organization’s outlook, goals…, attempts to survive as an organization. Whatever independence (freedom) of thought has been gained throughout our lives until this time, is subverted and otherwise changed as we see ourselves as a member rather than as our (previous) selves.

This is all complicated because being social and being independent are (always) in some tension/harmony. If, for example, we diminish ourselves within (a) marriage to the other or to the relationship, then we become less than equivalent partners within some notion of contract; or as a priest/nun, dean or president, or senator, or a cog within the wheels of any other organization, then we change and often decrease our sense of independence/freedom.

The fact of harmony can be thoughtful and done well if we do, indeed, retain some sense of self and a grounded position outside of our being within the bureacratic organization. If we lose this sense of self and exterior being, then we become less mindful, less able to see what we have become.

It is as this point that our minds become bureaucratized, that our moral sense is also shaped less by our independent self and more by the bureaucracy. But this is not obvious to the person who is within the organization because (as Kierkegaard points out in The Present Age) s/he h;as already begun to see futurity as being (at some level) successful within the definition of the organization. The mind change is less in any particular terms of the organization, and more in terms of what is means to be continually successful and surviving within the organization. One suspends various forms of judgment, subserving them to whatever is policy; and subserving one’s judgment to any next policy – now no longer noting or even noticing that s/he changes even radically, even suspending what would otherwise have been clearly in the moral sphere in an earlier time in s/his life: even, in the Nazi case, finding it necessary to kill, having now redefined formerly human beings to the realm of the less-than-human. No evil left here; only bureaucratic banality which has swallowed up any possibility of morality within a particular definition of goals and objectives.

And here, any organization can also lose any reason for why it existed in the first or second or last place, taking on a life of its own which has replaced any moral/meaningful being.

In the modernity of experience which is constantly attempting to rewrite itself in some sense of post: post-modernity, beyond being – the I of I would know and be tends to get lost and disappear, hardly leaving a trace. the I of my being gets desparate in this game of hide-and-seek, tempted to destroy being in the name of morality, not being able to see itself having yielded self-criticism…



Bureaucratization of the Spirit: As anyone joins a bureaucracy, s/he undergoes a shift in thinking about being: a sense of yielding to the definition of one�������s being in terms of the structure of the bureaucracy. One does what needs to be done in the terms of the apparatus of the bureau.

Perhaps the greatest shift in thinking about oneself is that one tends to do what one does increasingly and primarily with respect to one’s own duration and success within the organization; within the organizational definition of one���s being.

Here there is a moral shift; a tendency to suspend moral judgments of oneself with respect to one’s significant others or to one’s self judgments. Increasingly one judges oneself with respect to how one succeeds within the definition of the bureau (school, government, church, military,…). If the bureau itself has some duty or mission or vision which informs its being in some senses morally, then each person within it may be acting morally. If it has, as many organizations do in certain historical/political moments, lost this sense of moral vision, then the operative, the bureaucrat, has yielded s/his moral sense in the act of yielding the definition of self to the policy of the organization: a structural answer to being.

While this loss of vision can be widespread and long-lasting in certain situations, its actual situation is generally obscured to those who have joined it and yielded to its definitions of themselves. Here, activity can be justified in the name of the government or church…or of simple and obvious necessity…to continue to succeed in its terms.

Here the notion of evil is degraded to banality (Arendt), and the worst and greatest immoralities – the killing of millions in various holocausts – is experienced not as immoral, but as sorts of organizational necessity.



Loss of Morality: = an attempt to gain personal strength? (= Immorality?)

If, in a world of unfairness (everyone’s world to some degree), one decides to gain and show strength, to shift the unfairness a little more towards his/her side and purpose, how else then to oppose what there is perceived to be?

If that which is, is opposed; and that which is, is believed to be moral, how could anyone oppose the present, that which is, except by being immoral?

But this is not the case at present. The current loss occurred, it seems, when we (our nation) opposed a “Communistic” force perceived to be evil. Since they were evil, immoral by definition, the nature of morality was constantly being defined and redefined in terms of how we depicted them – metaphors of holocausts, the A-bomb, world imperialism. The loss (1948!?) must have occurred as our morality became reactive and oppositional to that depiction of immorality. Perhaps it occurred because the definition of morality became obviously political, and ours, becoming politicized, lost its groundwork and its fervor.

Perhaps, it was that the imminent threat of world destruction altered our individual outlooks. But how?



Morality and Strength in Teaching as Dialogue: Am I sufficiently strong in and of myself-as-teacher to overcome my wishes and needs to control, to be authority to my students, to subvert my own teaching self; to not oppress my students but to set situations in whose terms my students can empower themselves; thus ending the cycle of oppressor-oppressed which Freire says is the story of the world so far? (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)



Conscience: is a notion by which others teach us (force us?) to judge ourselves as they would have us judged.

It is at once the wellspring of what we call consciousness (as well as conscience) because it is a set of stories in terms of which we tell ourselves how others think and act. It is experienced as articulable awareness: what we tell ourselves what we are thinking (as well as HOW we tell ourselves what we are thinking.)

To whatever extent conscience is the outside-in-us, it is available to be infused with a sense of other persons (parents, teachers, God, etc.). It is an aspect of self which is not-self, and which – at some point in our lives – we can tell ourselves, has such-or-such characteristics.

It – conscience – is a repository of comfort; the seat of loneliness. It is a powerful aspect of our “will,” the depictor of the future and the confirmation of the present. Its power fades with age, and we increasingly invent the outside, or rely on memories of how it “worked” in times past.



Is Morality an Error? Are all moral systems mere interpretations of some putative outside, some God, some great person, some extrinsic agency in whose terms we are to judge and be judged? (Nietzsche).

Do we create these judges? Are they real, or metaphors and stories about how we can or should conduct our lives? Are they mere canons of and for judgment?

Is this judge an aspect of our own selves, of our characters? In what sense do we have aspects? Are we not one?

Even rejecting all God-nesses, all canons for greatness, for should-ness, it seems to me that we are in various senses moral, already in terms of our surviving as social creatures. If sociality is a given, an inherent aspect of human (and most terrestrial existence), then our being in any continuous sense, is intertwined with others’ critical judgement and support of that being. To sustain/to be sustained is to appear “correct” to them; to our parents, families, others with whom we interact. The roots of morality reside within their construction of correctness and the reciprocity of our ability and willingness to accede to that construction.

[Difference between this and an intrinsically individual/anarchic notion of self!?]

Our stories about morality are thus derivative from this sustaining experience; stories to ourselves about how we struggle to be correct enough. This is the first root of morality…from the necessity for human approbation.

The second moral root derives, and in a certain sense, uses the “moral” approbation to place us on our own, to individuate us within a social (now-equals-moral) sphere. Whether it is language, or something about language, it seems that continuing sociality demands an “as if” participation of “individuals.”

The paradigm of social correctness demands that we demonstrate “will”; that we talk as if we are individuals, and – in that process – come to be. Again, whether it is talk-to-ourselves about what we are, or some deep actuality of person-age, whether metaphor or reality, this is the second root of morality. Within the tensions of social correctness and willful individuation, there arises the moral dialectic: the shouldness has discovered the “shall-not.”

All else seems to follow, being (mere?) details in the ongoing resolution of the social –> personal dialectic.



Today I Will be Perfectly Moral! Already partially drugged on the caffeine in my coffee, on the brightness of the day, on hoping I will do something interesting, profound, important, and not anything too stupid, harmful or hurtful,…I grapple with being moral.

But, will I know; how will I know? Will I tell myself; will someone else tell me? Can I query a higher power? Or is this “it?” Better to forget today, and try for tomorrow when my judgment will be more removed and objective? And the happenings have already happened, and I am not crippled by the necessity of ongoing judgments. No wonder it is easier to look for signs and portents to tell us what is the being-of-morality.



Relativism: a bad word? A notion of destruction? Morality must be absolute? a single concept, a single plan of action? A single…truth?

Will not everything fall that is good or correct, if we suggest that there are two – or more – moralities? One for each people or “culture” – will this not reduce to one per person; perhaps a new one each day, or each situation, or…? Will we not be lost? (Why did we ever think we were NOT lost? – a notion from pathology, from the curers? They have no notion of wellness, of being found. If things are not too bad today, well, wait!)

Is the problem that two moralities will conflict, rub heads, clash horns, abut into each other’s territories? Then, what will we do? If both parties fight in the name of absolute morality, then neither will yield, and morality is indistinguishable from power and politics. And the winning morality will claim its victory is morally correct. Untold numbers of human beings can be maimed and killed in situations where morality and power become fused (con-fused?).

Is the problem that truth and rationality and clarity (and logic) fail when there is admitted a possible plural view: no science; worse, it is feared, no possible science. A world dominated by whatever is anti-reason: feelings, whimsy,…faith. Based, it is feared, on whosever whimsies are selling in the fickle marketplaces of flesh and all that is worrisome and corrupt (Phaedo). Feelings lie; flesh tells its own truths; sickness and sex obscure clear vision: the worry of the logician.

Is the problem one of control of self? Will I lose control of …reality? Isn’t absolutism a response to a prior, an earlier motivation? – that one is always on, or approaching, an edge; that if control is lost, one is lost? But what is it “to be found,” to know where one is? How is this to be grasped?



Moral Cycles: almost every generation, and once per generation, there is a moral outcry, a Jeremiad which proclaims the ruination of whatever is social, and whatever the moralist finds informed by (s)his texts and inclinations.

Let us break into such a cycle, say, just after a great tragedy where millions were killed. And we have all just experienced this tragedy on a fairly first-hand basis (e.g., just after WWII).

We are horrified as the extent and basis become known (legal, moral, political, etc.). We mourn deeply, celebrate survivors, and take safeguards to ensure that such tragedies will NEVER recur. We locate, explore, castigate the enemies, the perpetrators, the causers. Their survivors castigate themselves, accuse the accursed, recivilize themselves…and wish it had never happened.

The mature, the powerful – the accusers and those accused – age, grow old, begin to die off, to lose their power of influence, of the ability to tell how the tragedy had come about; how they had fallen into the habit of separating persons into an “us” and a “them,” and how they had regathered all people into an “us,” and why and how to expiate their guilt and their memories of guilt; and how they turned that guilt into the energy of renewal; and how that had worked. And they became old, and weak, and their stories lost the force of personal experience and the depth of personal witness and testimony.

Their children’s generation matured and became powerful, and became the testifiers and the story-tellers; and their testimony derived from the experience of their parents. Their own experience was positive. They didn’t like guilt because they had no personal fault: they hadn’t caused any tragedy; they didn’t have to go through any depth of processing their own need to understand and to forgive themselves. Being the children of guilt-ridden parents was often unpleasant and complicated by affairs beyond their ability to control; to understand. And they were different kinds of persons, a different people from their parents.

There were others around. These people used to be different, to be weak. And they got more populous, stronger; and because they were different, some of the differences became an issue; and because they were stronger, their ideas clashed, or they seemed to clash in the lives of a generation now come to power lacking the experiences of falling into tragedy, of the expiation of their own culpability and guilt.

And it was clear (to them) after a while that their own beginning to lose power with their own age was due – not to aging – but to some sense of external competition, of someone other.

They had become so accustomed to fending off the first sign of self-guilt that they turned these signs into the derogation of others, not of themselves. And they learned that if they told themselves stories in particular ways, of how their own weakenings were due to some enemy, some inferior being, it made them feel strong again. And they began to construct their self-stories in even more self-justifying terms, which gradually took on the signs of truth, of clear truth, of obvious truth, of a truth given to the true and righteous…of the truly moral.

And as their own fear born of forgetfulness and of weakening, of aging, of mortality, fed upon itself, the moral stories of self-justification became clear, obvious, and totally convincing. And any perceived opposition to them and their stories became opposed to them and to their morality: thus, immoral.

And since they had forgotten that the last tragedy was supported by their own parents on moral grounds, they proceeded to judge their own morality and others’ immorality, and that seemed proper, correct, and inevitable.

And there was a great tragedy…and those who survived expiated their guilt by punishing the most guilty, and they understood for a little while, and in the next generation they forgot…and…and…


[This is the effective cycle! J. objects by asking what happens/happened to reflective thought at each and every point in the cycle. No denial. But, effectively, i.e., the actuality in terms of which the tragedies actually occur, people get hurt and killed, is translated into action by an instrumentality, a "military" which operates reflexly and reactively. The power of action somehow leaves reflection aside and beside...]



Death – a Relief: time stops. It just stops. No more; no more. Dying by degrees, by minute moment-to-moment changes, some lead ahead, some toward…

Time stops. No more time; no more dying by degrees; no more being sick about sickness; no more sickening, no more dying.

Death – a relief!



Death – a Directive and a Direction: At some moment around the age of 7, most of us come seriously into the idea that knowledge is also foreknowledge of our own demise. What was (just) previously a question of being and only of being, now becomes a question of being with respect of non-being. This realization, that one is (I am) going to die, is often awesome (more in some traditions than in others!?); and it tends to inform present being, and future towardnesses, with framings, dilemmas, and a space of viewing present being.

We can live for life���s sake. We can truly explore any sense of soul which might be worth saving. We can explore being to find the mortal-fear places, the feelings of strength which can endure endurance that might have been ill defined and only roughly delimited in an earlier invention of our being. At about age 7 we turn both inward and outward in new ways, now realizing the end of being; that being ends.

And the sense of morality, framed against being, gains new tresses as being defines itself anew. What to do, how to be, draws lines about itself like stick-figures expanded. The question of why I do what I do rises from the chest of breathing to the glottis of self-expression…and often sticks there.



When gods are Invented; When God is Invoked:

Being is sufficient when the effort rewards itself and renews to a sufficiency for which we have stories and ways of adjustment. And for which we have a time-sense which can contain our being.

When either of these (stories, adjusting) alters in such ways that are perceived to be insufficient – either the stories no longer work or they “forget themselves,” or time is too narrowed and there is no space in which to be and to move – then we invent modes of being which are “other.” There is “me, the insufficient,” and now there is another me which is at least sufficient, and which I can call myself-not-myself: God.

It is best to have myself-not-myself, but never to call upon it unless one does not need to. But the mere accession of another self-aspect has taken its toll, has had various costs. One is already tempted; that temptation itself being the actualization of self-as-other. One is also weakened. Having yielded to the first temptation is also a path of transfer of self in which a possible perception of an internal battle – of self against oneself – takes over from self and the external world of other beings, and of being other.

In this internal battle, God is invoked whenever one feels a loss of self. The battle is lost whenever one feels further weakened rather than strengthened by an invocation.



Morality and History: Do these co-exist? Can they? Most moral systems derive from some notion of history, of what is past. Behavior and ideation in the present are directed, as it were, from stories out of the past. The hope of a messiah is not different from a theory of the present which no longer works; whose stories no longer inform, no longer have sufficient strength to overcome fears and trepidations; no longer show us any way which is stronger than the reflex of activity which is moment-to-moment and day-to-day. The problem is that historical moralities do not guarantee the future. The present – in times of trouble – simply expands beyond the filling of consciousness: we become weak and susceptible. Having lost our futures, our selves, we call upon God, but can no longer hear, even if…

But: teacher traditions do possess a futurity. Painted as the quality of living, of how to…, the sage is near the end of the best life. All of each present is directed toward our personal becoming; toward, rather than from. A sense of history invented; informed, as it were, from the future.

The trouble, here, is that there is only one future if there is only one model of teacher-sage (Confucious, e.g.), only one sense of curriculum. In fact, however, moral systems compete with medical and various intellectual-social theories of being. A present difficulty is that many aspects of the curriculum are no longer merely competing but are being attacked from within. As the world shrinks, the theology, the medicine, the arts and sciences are all seen to have alternatives. And these alternatives usually “divide” differently in other traditions: e.g., medicine is not different, necessarily, from morality. (See: Sarles, Teaching as Dialogue)



“There is something in the consciousness of literati that cannot stand the notion of someone’s moral authority. They resign themselves to the existence of a First Party Secretary, or of a Fuehrer, as to a necessary evil, but they would eagerly question a prophet. This is so, presumably, because being told that you are a slave is less desheartening news than being told that morally you are a zero.”


Joseph Brodsky – NYRB, 3/5/81


Brilliantly, sadly…true!



First? Early?

Moral Systems in the Global Village: the world has become small enough that we can see how large it actually is. There are different idea markets, different moral “systems” which work to sustain large numbers of persons through productive and “full” lives. There are many ways to teach right and wrong and to live them out; many ways to treat others and ourselves. It is difficult if not impossible to say that one way is the truth, or more of a truth than any/every other. If my way is moral, and another says s/his way is moral – but we are different and opposing – what then?

Were these systems workable and working only in smaller world-times? Do they (did they) depend on national or religio-cultural boundaries whose erosion and disappearance places such moral systems in apparent competition? Did the major systems emerge and become major because their moral authority became politically suasive? Do they not become political whenever threatened; or when the opportunity is perceived?

One political question, perhaps a political dimension, concerns the dependence of morality and suasion for its claim to truth. How important is a claim to truth, especially to absolute truth, necessary for its being and for its continuity? Will we see an epic battle over the control of (the nature of) truth? Will it not reduce eventually to control over the definition of nature; especially, over the definition of what is human nature?



Morality and the Size of One’s Life:

HUMILITY – have it! BE humble! Does an ego possess some inner desire, some burning need to grow? How big is big? When should one be reminded to be humble? – when the world sees too much growth, too quickly, that it threatens some necessary equilibrium?

The world, society…needs arrogance – if only to go on. One needs new energies tomorrow to do what, today, has already been done. Who can do that, in a universe of increasing humility? How much humility is there; how much should there be? When is there too much?

Is there a general demographic approach to humility? In the Tower of Babel story, humankind was increasing in arrogance at a rate which so alarmed the Almighty, that s/he destroyed the ability for group cohesion; destroyed the arrogance meter and forced humility upon those who would have been so arrogant as to take on the marks of deity. If y’all don’t humble yourselves, it will be done to you, and your pretentious edifices will collapse of their own weight: lessons upon gravity?

So-o-o-ooo humble! That’s how humble. Somewhere between self-destruct, non-procreate and proclaiming self-as-God, that’s how humble. How are we to discover just the right amount; to not go under? – why Nietzsche’s screams of false morality rend the intellectual fabric of our times!

If we possess too little or too much humility, does it affect the size of God? Vengeful God, loving God – but, now, a humble God. Who can afford to have a deity who isn’t knowing; who isn’t sure? If God doesn’t, who does? Same problem: no measure of humility. If God decreases, don’t we have to increase in arrogance to protect our (and God’s) kingdom? Wouldn’t God want us to…?

Don’t go too Faust!

What is the smallest size ego one can have, and still…get to heaven? – the largest size, and still…go to hell?


[The "modern" Fundamentalist problem with the "heliocentric theory," is that the earth has diminished radically in conceptual size. Humankind has, instead of inheriting the greatest plum in the universe, gotten saddled with a somewhat-less-than-white elephant. If the earth is not the center, then we are too small, perhaps too humble to deserve the deity who created us. Worse: the earth is full of others, not-so-humans, whose effective power relative to us humans has increased, further pushing us down to their levels. Not humans, not special, not a free ride to Providence, but apes: born only to ape, to copy, not to reason and to imagine. If God did not create us in His image, then - my God - is there no God? Bad enough to lose faith, but to have erected an entire edifice borne by reason to justify it: the worship of Nature become blasphemy. And we won't get to Heaven! A case of too much humility. Not sufficient ego to believe the strong thoughts to ensure eternity! Will the destruction of Science do the job?]



Moral Psychologies:


(1) The Psychology of Sin - in a world view in which one sins, in which one is “in” sin merely for being, the problem is redemption: how to achieve Grace, or whatever there may be (which will get us out of this mess; that is life)?

It helps to confess, to seek absolution. That is the best one can do. One is able to conduct s/his life or not, stays in good health, sleeps, and sins more-or-less as an activity of life. One expects to fall – and one does, and can find some relief…or cannot. One seeks a way which “works”: which is not disruptive in life-threatening modes in which sin and redemption seek whatever due they need. In a deep sense, life is sin, and one does what can be done.

Within such a world view, it is difficult to reject the system without rejecting oneself. And to reject self is psychically destructive. To not destroy oneself, one has to attempt to destroy the system. If one destroys the system in such a way that s/he also destroys meaning, then one destroys oneself in the aftermath of a critical nihilism.

Psychological rejection of the web of meaning – in which one is cast – done well, seems to drive one to seek vocation, to create meaning or to discover how others continue to exist in a world apparently bereft of meaning. Why do they not despair? – becomes: HOW do they not despair? – and does their way have any sorts of “authenticity” and “genuineness?” Moreover, the problem is to translate their “How?” into a persona whose development has been “other”; to find “how” for oneself, without excepting or rejecting the moral authority of someone who has come to it directly and, in the first instance, without thoughtfulness.


(2) The Best-Motivated Self:

In the ontological world-view in which being is not yet complete, in which one is also and always becoming; in changing times the problems of redemption and of perfection are muted. One could be responsible to oneself, if only that self could be located and held still.

One attempt to solve this ontological riddle is, in effect, to deny it; to find a self which one calls, Oneself – the real me. It is a vision of self which declares the “kind of person I am and am-not,” the living equivalent of foreverness.

In a changing world, in a universe of being and of becoming, one never IS, finally. “Oneself” is tentative, at odds with its external treatment as well as with its conception of itself. It is moving – in flux – toward…? Towards the “best-motivated self”, that aspect of self which one likes now and will enjoy being in the futurity of looking-back to each now, from whence it came and which “caused” it to become.

The best-motivated self is a view of self moving into an uncertain futurity in which s/he, I, and you will also know and love and like that emerging person. It is neither the I of today, nor yet of tomorrow. It is as much a critic’s view of oneself – an outside, a towards which, which one’s most trusted others will find even more and ever more interesting? absorbing? vital? It is my best motivation for you, for me, as well as yours. It is at once a clash of what should be and who should be, from whom and for whom. That each tomorrow should not be less, not be worse than today, towards the self that we can like and is worth liking: the best-motivated self.

(Where life and death both motivate, and where one seeks to transcend each previous day, in terms that are possible and actual!)


(3) Who I Am-Not: Who am I? I have searched and searched and searched unto the ends of the universe of being, of thinking, and of imagination. I have queried the real world and every unreal world. Some have said who they think I am; others have responded by saying whom they thought I ought to be; a very few have said who they would like me to be; a couple have said who they thought I would like to be (coupled, in each instance, with whom they thought I should be). And so it has gone…Fleeting! It is fleeting!

But am I not moral? How should I know? Does it help to know who I am-not? – to know why I am-not, them? – to know whom I have not been, and will not be? – to fight constantly to not-be, to not-be in an active, willful, oppositional way.

Perhaps, in a changing world, there is no precise way, and one can measure only whom one is-not. Is this not a morality?



The False Morality: will the false morality please stand up and reveal itself?

The fate of humankind resting upon a paradox: a logical trick!?

[and if it is solved...?!]



Judgment and Motivation:

Telling a story to oneself about others and about onself; telling others, etc. What stories shall be told? Will they be true? How will we know?

The dilemma: that there are several dilemmas. How good and solid is my own motivation? Do I do good, or do I do that which I “call” good? Are these the same? Are they consistent or steady?

Do I do good, do what I call good, or do that which pleases me and persuades me (or a significant other), is good? Or if I am of a negative cast of character, do I call good that which displeases me and causes me pain? (Pain: a clear designator of penance?)

Are others good? Do I call them good if they please me,…and so on?

Who am I, to judge? Who, then, can judge? God only knows; God only knows? Who am I, then, to judge who is God who only knows? What if I have chosen wrongly the false god, the evil, the Satanic? Isn’t this a judgment too? Whose? – mine! – mine? But who am I?



The View From Death (Plato: Phaedo):

The acceptance of personal death, looking back to life. Accepting what is, still – mind, soul, the knowing existence, the continuing; thus the true. Realize what is not – body, sensation, perception; that which is not-yet knowledge: opinion, uncertain, fallible and falsifiable.

True? – from death: that which gets us to this acceptance of personal death; to be able to view life from that acceptance, and to discard the trappings, the momentary and evanescent. This thing; this…death. It’s not bad. It is clear, so brilliantly clear without time, without disease, without passion. It is, so to speak, heavenly.

Not only is it what is, but it is what is meant to be. Why would we die if it were not meant to be? Meant, meaning, a mean-er (s/he who “grants” meaning), agency.

What of life – from death? Murky, confused, confusing. Why? Time, disease, passion. If death is clarity, life is obfuscation and illusion. The antidote and remedy: rid ourselves of those aspects and yearnings which are life…from the view of death.

The actual illusion: this view of life-from-death is a view of death-from-life. There are no theories from death. Death merely is; it has no theories! If life is an illusion, our theories of life-from-death cannot inform, and only accelerate.

The actual paradox: theories of life-from-death persuade us of their truth for living; e.g., morality is living correctly to die right. How to know the being of morality?



Manufacturing War:

1) Creation and selection of an Enemy; 2) Legitimation of moral suspension in the case of an Enemy; i.e., that it is O.K. to end lives if `they’ are Enemies; 3) Justification of Death, usually by de-humanizing Enemy; or by claiming they are/will attack us; 4) In the Name of…

Managing Information: easy in a bureaucratic society, even when putatively `free’, because everyone is more dehumanized than otherwise, and prepared to act `properly’ with respect to information.

Hell is here; on earth. (If it were not, we would reinvent it!)



Politics of Religion and Religious Politics:

Machiavelli (Discourses Bk 1) says religion is, in essence, a device with which and by which one manages and preserves the state. Conversely (perhaps) the state is a device by which an essential religiosity conveys and preserves its messages.

The view of the state is that religion keeps the immoral, moral, in line and less dangerous to the state. The religious view is that it enables the state: that the state, itself, must be morally underlain, or it will fall of its own weight.

Somehow, these two find a wavering balance in which a potential war lies over a next horizon, perceived morally or politically depending on where one sits. Apparently, a great deal of what we call freedom’is preservable only within a religious-political tension. Is this because either side considers freedom carefully and seriously as it considers `the other side’ to be competitive with it?



The Great Should:

It is not enough, merely to conduct one’s life (is it not enough merely to conduct one’s life?).

We/our wills are always at battle with…what? – with what we should do!? Where resides the Great Should? Is it an aspect of oneself (how many are we/I?)? Is it what others tell us we are; what they want us to be; what we should want to be…?

If our parents and teachers “guaranteed” some sense of the future, in whose present are we living? Must one reinvent them to find the Should? Has one merely embodied it, to be an aspect of oneself with which to conduct the battles of life, to remind onself that s/he is? (See: meditations on…Next Places )



On Doing Battle:

Being engaged with what is wrong, what is bad, one must spend great efforts on studying the enemy; that which is evil.

If the study as well as the battle, is engaged, one must beware lest s/he begin to fight in terms by which that enemy constitutes itself. At the point, perhaps just before or slightly beyond, one has in effect taken on the mind of the enemy and has become that enemy. The battle has been lost, yet it appears reasonably to be won.

Here, texts will no longer help, since they are now read from the `other’ point of view. In the name of remaining moral, one has become the self which was formerly hated. (Why Satan often wins, virtually in spite of her/himself!)




Who am I that I should be responsible for you? Is the idea of taking care of someone else, someone other, merely another means of seeking identity and confirmation of one’s existence? In order for me to truly be me, you must BE…?

Do I have a right, a reason, a motive to feel that I have to do for you? – or do I feel that I will get something in return, a quid pro quo; responsibility a reciprocity? (Cicero)

Do I respond to you and for you, for myself? – to quiet my yearnings and anxieties, to focus them within manageable constraints, to place them in the pigeonholes of my life where I can file them under `R’, and become a Who which can do what that Who does and is supposed to do?

Neither statement (I am that I am; I am who I am) `works’ without some notion of responsibility, because my being requires that others be, as well, and certify me. And that is my responsibility toward them.



Love: Oneself, others, one other, community, the deity. What is the problem? Why is it difficult to turn the other cheek, to accept humility, to give away…what?

The problem has to do with integrity and the sustaining of one’s own self while caring for others; and is not difficult under good circumstances. What drives the withdrawing from love is the fear of bad times and bad circumstances. Narcissism is the steeling of one’s character against any threat, but so is humility – and they are twins, out-of-love.

To love, one must balance being whole, a certain arrogance, with yielding aspects of wholeness to others, to one another. The balance is precarious as the boundaries of one’s wholeness are subject to the vagaries of everyone-in-relation. One becomes reactive to situations, and while s/his view of integrity may continue, the actuality may be changing, and one becomes remote from s/his vision of self. Then, love cannot come from anyone, directly; because one is not located anywhere, exactly.

Love requires the study and knowledge of oneself continuously, throughout life. Love does not and cannot stabilize or settle down.



Teaching and Love: How great is love; when are there conditions? As Teacher, I try to carve out intellectual spaces which also demand futurity and hope. As I love myself, I can be mentor and guarantor of your idea of your futurity. If I do not love myself sufficiently, then I am of little use…to you. The conditions of being student to this Teacher are many…and involved. The possibility of self-love enables me to me moral, as a Teacher.

But this is because teaching (as curing) resides in the realm of the sacred! I promise to imbue in you a sense of being able to grapple with futurity – a sense of hope – if you yield a sense of your self/spirit to me, the Teacher; your Teacher. Yielding is a sense of love; a suspension; a form of self-surrender.

To be moral as a Teacher, then, requires me to do well – for you and for your futurity; to be sufficiently strong within myself that I can can eventually subvert my teaching so you can re-find yourself within it and become an auto-didact, a who you would be.

But to be moral-as-a-Teacher is quite different from being moral outside of the realms of being which are not sacred; which are secular – where the politics of our being remain open and negotiable.



Arrogance and Humility:

I cannot do what I do except that I believe that I can do it; I could not get to do this, except to have believed that I could; I cannot move on except to try and to believe that I can, and to make it a study, puzzles to be discovered and their solutions sought – arrogance of a sort, trying to be as good as I am and to try to improve. To teach, one must deserve to teach, and (on certain days), I believe no one can deserve to teach, least of all, me – humility?

Need I create another me so I can believe that I solve this problem in balance once and for all? Is that solution what many people call, God?




“One does not hate as long as one disesteems, but only when one esteems equal or superior.” (Nietzsche – Beyond good and Evil #193)

A recipe for healing: By hating, one raises the object(s) of hatred beyond their worth, especially with respect to oneself. In order to judge well and clearly one must see others as they are, and this necessitates a lessening; an abandonment of hatred. (Or hatred as a hatred of self, using others as surrogates for a derogation of self!)




From a handicapped person – I don’t feel pity for anyone, per se. `They’ are what and who they are, and have to do what they can with what there is. I can as much give pity as I can receive it – but it doesn’t help.

I feel the most `pity’ for victims of systems, institutions, governments who have extruded some in order to maintain the others with respect to those systems; true innocents. (But those, I try to teach.)

The greatest pity I feel, occasionally, is for myself, and (occasionally) that becomes so awful that I am forced to reject it and to move on and out. In truth, I often fall in love with my self-pity, and know well how to nurture it, caress it, and make it me.



Anger at Others:

There is none. One is angry only at one’s images of others, in terms of how they impinge on other aspects of oneself (Epictetus)

This doesn’t make others unreal, but claims that anger is a self-perception whose `cure’ necessarily involves a change in self; both inside and with respect to others. The `confessional’ is a statement to some other of how one is coming to be, or says s/he will. The difficulty in changing, reducing anger or other strong feelings, is that they are ours, they are us, and we come to cherish them.

The dilemma is how to love ourselves less and to imagine we love others more. The sustaining solution is to seek how others are, to discover how oneself is – often. And not merely to promise them, but to promise them as oneself…




A necessary(!?) aspect of living – if only to account for how one `got here’, to accept an always less mature past as the real, and to be able to move on. It involves a compassion not only for others, but particularly for oneself; it requires a kind of forgiveness of oneself which is not an excuse, but an attempt at understanding. It is a remembering, a recounting, which enables one to forget sufficiently to be able to live tomorrow.

Atonement must balance with self-hate, the me which I would no longer be, no longer wish to claim, but…To deny self-hate is a dangerous error, to disclaim it is to fall in love with those aspects of self that we learned to hate when we were small. Thus, to deny self-hate is to deny one’s history or to have altered it in a way which no longer informs one’s present. It is to live in the narrowest senses of time, and in the deepest whimsy; the core of one’s living being on the surfaces of one’s eyes.



Hate, avarice, greed, etc.





Requires a searching, a study of where one is, how s/he got here, what/who shaped one’s being and perceptions – before one can quest for meaning in any sense independently. To opt for nihilism is to have said that there is no meaning: therefore I don’t exist.

But this is silly and simply distracts us from understanding. To deny meaning is the obvious solution of the would-be brave who can recover courage only by negating their culpability, and worshiping their own imaginations (or who seek war in order to let someone else teach them courage).

Meaning is in becoming what one would.

Meaning is in the study of that becoming; doing; being.



The Will to Power: There have been a variety of solutions to the problem of being oneself: primarily for and toward oneself; primarily for and toward others; a dialectic of internal being and dialogue; an often constant set of nagging voices occupying the domains of morality when they seemingly have more to do with questions of strength and resolve and patience.

The will to live, not to commit suicide; to go on…and on; on. The puzzle of europe’s romanticism, wondering why we are so afraid to die that we would do virtually anything, everything, to avoid it. Kill others, inform, torture; the fear of the very fear of dying…Why do we go on knowing that in the end there is the end of knowing…of being?

What is this will to live (Schopenhauer), to power (Nietzsche): is it a positive sense for being, a wanting to go on – more than it is a fear of dying? Is it a weakening of character; a lessening love of being once we discover that we are mortal or an increasing sense of weakness, a yielding to the places of fear within our being? How do we, can we overcome and transcend being sufficiently…to…?

Or do we come to love life less and to love fear more?

In those of totalitarian bent, does the will to power overtake the fears of willing to live, or do they become informed negatively: as an overcoming, a shaping, a response to fears which sublimate themselves within power over others? And oneself?



Insurance: Another of the complicating dialectics of the moral life has to do with insurance; with predetermining the future and the nature of our being and eventness within it.

In the most basic, perhaps the clearest senses, we live each moment as the bodily, sensuous beings we are. The stories about morality which are our heritage, have, instead, downplayed the life of each moment in some sense of temporal being and flow, and have stressed the senses of our being outside of time; the permanence of our identity, the universality of being human as opposed to being precisely who I am. Within this concentration of our being removed from each present, existential moment, there is the temptation not only to live in some removal from present being, but to insure that very little bad will happen to us in any characterization of futurity.

The Western dialectic/paradox of life and death is overwhelmed by an eschatology; a concern with death over life and living only as a preparation for our souls to return to heaven. In the context of insurance, the removal from our very existence has tended to essentialize life as a set of structured categories – a who I am as determined fully (gender, ethnicity, race,…). Insuring the future has had the powerful effect of removing ourselves from ourselves.

Here one wonders if insuring cars and houses and lives and health and old age also contributes to downgrading and to backgrounding the present of our existences, and to praise categories of being over experience.

And if insurance removes me from me, does it remove me as well from others? Linked somehow to insurance is the question of charity, of taking care of others if they cannot take care of themselves; of whether they would take care of me and of us. The question is one of communality and of community, and rephrases the questions of the locus of morality.

Am I/we more moral if we/I save for old age; or if we contribute to communality in each year’s possibilities?

Is the world sufficiently stable to insure that insurance does what it claims; that others will feel and act upon the obligations I feel…and does insuring the future contribute to stability or to instability?




To take the name of the deity in vain…is blasphemy! To take the holy – the concept of the transcendent being who is above nature – and to reduce it to the the mundane and ordinary is to blaspheme that deity.

How complicated is this idea of blasphemy which some religious thinkers is the major, and even for some, the only crime worth raising to the basis of morality. From the agnostic idea of the deity having agency over us, created by humans in our image, to now take that image of deity over us, and to claim that to invoke s/his name…is blasphemy. How complicated!

The case of Salmon Rushdie who has been condemned to death for blasphemy…and understandably for his depiction of the scribe in Satanic Verses. The character of the scribe is of he who wrote the words that Mohammed is said to have said, and to have unwritten those specific words, perhaps to have altered them, to have erased some, to have altered the meaning or the context; to have undermined the deity by transforming the idea of the deity; by transforming the truth of the deity, of the truth of the idea of the deity. No longer can we trust that we can get directly or indirectly to the words of the deity.

If the crime of blasphemy has conditions or levels of awfulness and of treachery, perhaps this would rank the highest! For to take the name of the deity in mundane circumstances may be terrible, but to undermine the idea that there is a deity, or that we may not have s/his true words, is to penetrate the concept of blasphemy more deeply by several steps of priority. It would be more beneficent to claim that there is no deity, or that any particular deity is false; but to erase the words of the deity even in s/his writing extends blasphemy into treachery.

In the Christian world, there is a direction for solution, a place where the mundane and the holy may meet to divide up the profits (as it were) of our being: a domain where Caesar rules reasonably; another, where the deity rules…by some jump and conviction of faith. In the city of man, reason is said to rule, and the deity may be invoked or not; preferably not (Matthew 21:22). Blasphemy is herein preserved for the city of God, and one needs know upon whose maps and terrains s/he travels.

But – suffice to say that all of the concept of morality may be condensed in those who believe in belief, that the only morality is gathered into the concept of blasphemy.

Beyond this moral filter – a screening of the externalities of being taken into oneself; and a hard/harsh decision made whether any event is to be counted as good or as evil – beyond this moral filter, all else is detail. All else is background and backdrop to the panorama which is moral being, and being moral.


Politics as Religion vs. Politics’ use of Religion: Was Ronald Reagan a politician using religion or a religious (person) using politics to further his religious convictions?


Teaching, Curing, Preaching – the Sacred in the Secular:


human potential


Scale of Society (thinking?)




Virtue(s) and Vices


confession (George Sand) & atonement (Penance) – who does it, who authorizes it, who gets it/accepts it (–> changes)

The meaning of a life: lives.

The good life.


Authority (moral?)-

Undermining of Authority (Rushdie – Satanic Verses)


The Terror of the Beast (Evil) within Oneself – that one had invented it just the opposite from what it is! – from…Next Places.

Technology (morality of success, doing)


Do unto Others…Love thy Neighbor…

10, 12, 20, 1 Million Commandments: Thou shalt not; thou shall! It is useful (shall I say, good?) yo invoke some transcendent aspect of being in order to say what I/we should do.


Criminality: Wilson & Herrnstein


The Flying Dutchman – wanting the woman & child = being and futurity


Wagner: primal instincts and h-nature


doing good (Tom Lehrer)


Living Saintly: life as painting hagiography.