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  • Charles Vermont
    Shawn, in your email of 9th September you asked me to elaborate on my previous post - I have only just got back from a week away in Italy so this is why I have
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 11, 1999
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      Shawn, in your email of 9th September you asked me to elaborate on my previous post - I have only just got back from a week away in Italy so this is why I have not replied earlier.

      Another way of putting what I wrote is to think about absolute value systems. If I believe there are moral rules which each and every one of us should follow then it seems to me that I am denying everyone's freedom of choice to believe in a different set of rules, or no rules at all. Therefore from an existentialist point of view I cannot hold with any approach to living my life which imposes a priori conditions on the way I relate to other people.

      I find this extremely embarrassing. All I can say is what I am against. I cannot even consider a moral issue a priori since I have no framework against which to judge the situation. All the absolutists can point out that my approach is entirely negative. At least they have a morality (of sorts).

      I could tell them that I do not believe this lack of a morality is important. They could rebut by saying 'But how can we regulate our societies without rules? Do you mean we should all be free to choose to murder someone else?' I can have no answer to this since I am against an absolute system of rules but have nothing to put in its place. All I can offer is my intuition that unregulated murder in any society is likely to bring it to its knees.

      However, perhaps there is a way out of this. Perhaps I can find a morality of sorts in my belief that I am responsible for all my choices. In other words, since I have freedom of choice then all the choices I make are my choices and not someone else's, and therefore I'm the only person who did the choosing. This makes me responsible.

      One of the problems with this approach is that it requires me to reverse my normal way of thinking. Instead of making some assumptions, then use logic to come to some conclusions, I have to start thinking from the specific to the general. In other words I have to discard the 'scientific method' and start again.

      So, there I am, making responsibility for my choices the starting point of my morality. The next link in my chain is to say whether the choices I make have different qualities to them. Is the choice to eat a banana the same as the choice to eat another human being, for instance? I think not. From this it follows, for me, that the choices I make have differing responsibilities. If I treat another human being like I treat a banana then I am not taking responsibility for the different qualities in our relationships.

      This leads me into a view that human relationships are the most complicated choices I make on this planet since other human beings also have freedom of choice. In having these relationships I have to take responsibility for the fact that the other person has the same freedom as me - I don't have to do this with all the bananas I've ever met so far. Perhaps the other person feels the same way, or perhaps s/he chooses not to take responsibility - it's his/her choice. We then mutually choose the areas of our lives over which we are prepared to give each other freedom of choice. We may simply nod to each other at parties, or live together 'til death do us part, or something in between. In the areas where we give each other choice we agree on the ground rules, we have a morality 'for ourselves'. This may be different for all the people with whom I have relationships.

      However there is a caveat. There are some freedoms which may undermine the very fabric of the society in which we live. If two or more people agree to exercise their freedoms of choice and follow these paths then I become very concerned. Their choices may ultimately infringe my freedoms by destroying the society which gives me the freedom I have. If most of the rest of the members of our society agree then we may take steps to restrict those particular freedoms. Therefore we might impose sanctions against murder, theft, rape, fraud, assault and so forth. These would not be measures brought on by a set of absolute moral principles but merely a practical response to the problem of maintaining the freedoms of all of us in the society. In other words, as a society we would agree collectively to restrict the freedoms of all members of our society, including our own.

      So there you have it. An existentialist morality founded on the principle of taking responsibility for our choices...

      ... but perhaps I have failed to make my case. Do please let me know, especially if I have been unclear on any of the points I've made.

      Charles Vermont
      London, England
    • John C
      Charles, you mentioned personal responsibility. What about social responsibility? How does politics fit into the equation? Sartre s existentialism was strongly
      Message 2 of 2 , Sep 13, 1999
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        Charles, you mentioned personal responsibility. What about social
        responsibility? How does politics fit into the equation? Sartre's
        existentialism was strongly associated with his liberal political views. I
        don't think you made your case.

        John C.
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