Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What is the value of virtue when there's no other choice?

Existential questions!

Sure, there's a way to rope new readers into the blog.

But this is a question that occurred to me over the weekend when I consumed my first pint of stout in nearly a year.

I enjoy a stout now and then. Or I did. But then I had large sections of my insides removed last year and, when I took my first post-op pint, some weeks or even a couple of months afterward, there were, um, repercussions.

But this past Saturday, that first pint tasted just wonderful. It was so wonderful that I even ventured a second pint. And it tasted wonderful as well.

In years past, I might have had one or two more besides in the course of the evening. But on Saturday, I was concerned about what this might do to me. So, after the second stout, I switched to water.


So I was apparently virtuous -- I was the very picture of moderation -- but only because I had no other choice. I feared horrible consequences if I continued. (And I paid a physical price for the little I had, as it happens.)

So was I really virtuous?

And here's where it gets philosophical: If you don't run a red light at a deserted intersection because your picture will be taken by one of those Orwellian cameras, are you obeying any other law than the law of self preservation? If you do good in this world because you fear sulfur and brimstone await you if you don't, are you really doing good at all?

I'll hang up now and listen for your answers.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

"Orwellian cameras"??? i love this!

smiles, bee

Anonymous said...

Virtuous you were not by your own admission, I think.

It is not the cameras that control me, but the fear of someone's fender up... or the high priced ticket, so much for my virtuousness.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

'Orwellian cameras' is a good description.

Jeni said...

Hmmm. Addressing the issue of consuming some stout after having had surgery on your intestines - e-mail me, if you want, as I've had three major surgeries in the past 5 years, one cancer related -on the intestines. I don't drink very often, but every now and again, I have a couple of brews. So far, I've had no bad problems after other than once or twice, when I indulged a bit more than usual -or almost like my old "usual" -I did have a minor hangover but nothing worse than that. You can find my e-mail thingy on my profile page on my blog.

Shelby said...

Intriguing question.

I offer this quote from C.S. Lewis in response (because anything I could write would pale in comparision I am certain).. for I know but cannot express as fully as he..

"People often think of . . . morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not think that is the best way of looking at it.

I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other."

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Ben and Bennie said...

First off, you left a marvelous response to my latest entry. I don't think anyone could've summarized things any better. And if you EVER teach a philosophy or ethics class, please let it be an on-line course.

Shelby's answer via C.S. Lewis is quite outstanding. Within itself discipline is quite difficult to obtain. That might be a confusing thought but ponder it for awhile.

Discipline is a virtue which is desirable for some and yet undesirable for others. What makes a disciple? Fear of smoke and ash or fear of missing out bettering oneself?

Huge conundrum my friend.

may said...

Jesus had the same question, but not in these exact words: "if you only love the lovable, what is your difference from the pharisees?"

sorry i haven't been here in ages. thanks for dropping by :)

Lahdeedah said...

Oh, I know the answer to this one!

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the things that you did honestly and with good intent.

But, life teaches us that moderation is the better way. We ALL do good things because of the consequences, whether they are laws, consequences to physical well-being, guilt, a nagging sense that it's 'the right thing to do' so HOW or WHY you make the right choice is irrelevant, what's relevant is that you made the choice.

It's your actions that define you, as a person, not your thoughts, although, it's your thoughts that define your existence, since if you think you are...

it all made sense when I started the post....

now I just don't know!

Barb said...

Some of the good things I do are due to my belief system, others are for fear of getting caught. I won't tell you which is which. ;)

I never run a red light even at night. Even if there isn't a photo monitor thingy. In fact I once sat at a BLINKING red light for way too long one night. (I had enjoyed a few pints myself that night.)

Patti said...

I have a guilty conscience, and I wasn't even raised Catholic.

I do the right thing, because it's the right thing. Doesn't matter if anyone is watching. I have to live with myself.