Friday, July 30, 2010

Kekes, On the Human Condition II

There is an enormous world of brute physical events and objects, having no significance or value in themselves and independently of what any conscious being thinks or desires. In this midst of this there is a tiny place we carve out in which events and things matter to us because we are beings who have preferences that things to go one way for us rather than another. There is no larger story. Death is the end for each of us. Some of us have undeservedly bad lives, and there is no balancing of the scales afterward. There is a set of values by which we can guide ourselves to fulfilling lives if we are in sufficient control.

Such is the secular view of the sort Kekes describes. If this seems unsatisfactory, then you are committed to the position that if there is no supernatural backdrop to the cruelty and contingency of life which redeems it for its shortcomings, then life is not worthwhile, there are no genuinely good lives worth aspiring to, and there is no right and wrong but only, as Euripides said, dreams of these things. This is an untenable position. It is conceals an inevitable commitment to despair.

However, religion, in its decent and good varieties, of which there are many, is a beautiful complement to life. And God, if he exists, would be disappointed in the covert commitment to despair. Look at it in this way. He loves you. He is in your heart. Upon death, you cease to exist.

A second point, about what I've called "Humean realism." It may also be called "subjective realism." Do not confuse it with Kekes view of moral facts, which we will endeavor to discern as we go. But to make it clear, consider the taste of sugar: sweet. It really is sweet, is it not? You might convince yourself otherwise as a freshman in Intro to Philosophy class, but only for a moment, and only with the giddy knowledge that you are playing with the facsimile of belief. Sugar is sweet. It has this property, as a matter of fact. Now, this property is not one it has independently of the subjective states of human beings and other animals, any more than "70 miles from Charlottesville" is a property Richmond has independently of Charlottesville. Similarly, the various moral values we hold dear are genuine and real, but they do not exist independently of the set of desires which beings like us have by nature and by cultural and individual persuasion. Think about these things a little more and you will begin to get an idea of subjective realism, at least of the variety I espouse.

We'll turn to Kekes's chapter two next, in which he fills in his picture of control.