Thursday, April 25, 2013

Promises

   - Can I ask you something?
- Sure.
- Do you owe anyone anything?
- Do you mean money?
- Money, respect, protection.
- Then the answer is yes.
- Do you owe these things willingly, or were you forced into the obligation?
- Willingly.
- You chose to take on the obligation.
- Yes.
- You protect your family because you want to, not because you are expected to.
- Yes.
- So when we say we owe someone something it is because we have promised to do something for that person. But we made that promise freely.
- Yes.
- Who are we promising?
- The other people, obviously.
- The promise is a statement, official as it were, that you will do something in the future.
- Yes.
- But we said this is not demanded of us, but we willingly bind ourselves to doing something particular in the future.
- Yes.
- The force of the promise, its binding quality, comes from within ourselves.
- Yes.
- A promise to others then really is first a promise to ourselves. Have you ever thought how strange that is?
- Can't say I have.
- One part ourselves, the present part, looks ahead at another, the future self, making a demand on it. Neither part bears much resemblance to what motivates the promise, which is sense of its rightness. Right, like beauty, truth, good can't be found out in the world, in any particular relation of objects to each other. The self bound to future actions is not part of that world of wholeness. And the self which does the binding, and extracts the promised action, is nowhere to be seen doing the extraction of obligation, it is hovering invisible in a nowhere looking down on itself. When we do our duty we follow a rule, but rules exist only in the world of defined relation of things to things, and the self exacting this observance does not live in the world. It's hard to see why it should be obeyed.
- Do you think that is why no one really wants to follow rules?
- I think that it is true that all promises are promises to ourselves. But promises are not made to be kept.
- How are they promises then?
- Remember that we are both the self obligated and the self obligated to. The self that is the source of the obligation can cancel the demand at any time because it is the issuer of the demand.
- We never promised we'd never revoke the demand.
- Right. It is not even possible to make such a promise.
- Because that promise would also have to be subject to a promise not to ever be revoked.
- Yes.
- Then what good is making a promise at all?
- A promise is a reminder to do good. You don't return a madman his gun when he demands it, even though you've promised him you would.
- We owe it to ourselves to do good.
- Which means we've told ourselves to do good.
- But what if we don't do that? Don't insist we do good?
- Our sense of self will be defective and we'll believe we are obligated to others.


- What if we don't know what is good?
- Do we need to know what is good to remind ourselves to do good?
- Don't we?
- No. We are making promises to ourselves that we allow ourselves to break just because we can't be sure what is good in any particular case, but know we should always intend to do good.
- How do we know even if we really intend to do good? Isn't that subjective too?
- As opposed to objective, in the sense that science studies objects? Do you realize that we are never certain about objects, but always certain about subjects?
- You'll have to explain that.
- When you see a circle of light in the sky you call it the sun. It might be a theatrical illustration, and you're wrong. When you feel heat when you go out in the sun, can you be wrong about feeling warm?
- No.
- You are also not wrong about being struck by an intense light when you look at the sky. Calling the light the sun makes a prediction about what you can expect in the future: it will differ, depending whether or not a theatrical device is involved. When you speak of warmth you feel, are you making any prediction about continuing to feel warmth?
- No.
- When you feel happy, are you predicting you will continue to feel happy?
- No.
- Is it possible you are wrong about being happy, and in fact are really miserable? I don't mean you couldn't be more happy, only that you are mistaking joy for sadness?
- No, I don't thinks so.
- So when scientists claim that their "objective" world is more certain than the "subjective" world of feelings, they have it backwards. We can't be wrong about feelings, we always can be wrong about objects.
- You've convinced me. But can't we feel good for bad reasons?
- Yes, feeling relief from past fears and safe from future fears. But as these feelings depend on relations of things in the world they are not feelings of the kind to establish obligation and sense of rightness. They are based on predictions, are unreliable.
- They are objective. Good is subjective.
- Yes. In Plato there is a definition of education as learning to love the beautiful.
- When we've managed to make our lives beautiful we can keep our promises to ourselves?
- We feel good.