Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Modal World

In my last post, we were presented with three rather clear problems. Since I feel all the three problems are interrelated, I will be story-telling over the next several posts about all three problems, shifting from problem to problem. This is because none of my individual posts will claim to definitively solve any of the problems by themselves. Instead, each post will attempt to give some more credibility to my stance.

In order to make such credibility more clear, however, let us consider our options in more clear detail. Most of the arguments I have deployed up to this point have attempted not just to give a positive argument for my potentialist approach, but it has constantly been in the context of what other possible stances are possible and not possible. Since the very beginning of my theological attempts on this blog, I have rested my case in part on a strong emotivism - all of our knowledge claims rest upon our values/ethics. I have also argued that once we accept this claim, our values and ethics are clearly without any foundation. One is free to disagree with either of these claims (obviously, I realize that the first claim is more controversial than the second). In our modern scientific world, many would agree with me that ethics/values are foundationless. However, that all of our "knowledge" including descriptive statements are driven at heart by our values and ethics seems counter-intuitive to our scientific sensibilities. After all, what does my statement "the cat is on the mat" have to do with my ethical values?

However, it is critical that I establish that we have good reasons for believing such is the case. Early on, I presented several arguments that ethical primacy was indeed true (such as the possible world where descriptive knowledge of the "world" led to an increased likelihood of ethically wrong actions). However, we will need to revisit my argument for ethical primacy again and again since it presents us with the problem my story has brought us to.

Our story telling has brought us to the point of rejecting any form of moral realism. Ultimately, we are left with a choice, an either/or choice (in the spirit of Kierkegaard). We can choose to tell an aesthetic-ethical story with our conscious awareness that any such story has no foundation. To put it more simply, we can make the gesture against the void. Or we can give into meaningless, into nihilism. I want to stand with the first possibility. What kind of story can we build upon the void, upon a ghost? Of course, my dilemma proves to be false if there truly are other possibilities. To those that feel that there are other possibilities, clearly my gesture is on the brink of nihilism, grasping toward a ghost. Now that the possibility of this dilemma has been presented, however, let us put aside for the moment whether the dilemma is true.

If the dilemma is true, ultimately, it is an unrealizable burden to give an unarguable case why someone should end up on one side of the void (or the other). After all, if our ethics are without foundation, even our choice of standing against the void (or within it) holds no grounds. As Canada Bill Jones said once "I know it's crooked. But it is the only game in town." However, ultimately, if we have to roll the dice, what should we bet on? What story would we tell?

After all, the guides we have discovered thus far have left us with a fairly stark ethical system. To some degree our ethical choices are limited by the dialogue between our locality and our envisioned potential. On the other hand, we do have freedom and we do have choice. We envision multiple possibilities, multiple potentials, in each moment. How can we choose in the face of the void?

Since several posts ago I rejected the realism/idealism distinction, we have made some space within our ethical system that typically does not exist. Traditionally, ethics does function in the modal sense, but only in the should/could/ought sense. What should I do? What could I do? What ought I to do? But because ethics is primary, whether it has a foundation or not, would it not make sense to ask one more modal question? What would I do? What would I say? Or ultimately, what would the ideal story be? In a sense, we have the question of u-topia on our hands, the perfect place - but not a perfect place, but instead a perfect story. What would I will my story to be (apart from constraints)? After all, in a foundationless world, the only constraints are our vision and our locality. Otherwise, the sky is the limit. So what would we tell?

Utopias are criticized a lot for being idealistic and having nothing to do with our world, the place and time we live in right now, the locality that surrounds us. However, what if utopia stories were grounded in the moment we live in? If utopia stories are stories of potential we see, and potential is born of the moment that surrounds us, utopia stories are deeply realistic. Utopias are born of and serve the moment. We should not limit ourselves by false "materialistic" limits. Instead, we are free to allow our ethics to pull us forward. What world would we act(ualize) apart from constraints? "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall."

So what does the recognition of modality give us? Perhaps it gives us some weight for standing against the void, for remaining on the brink of nihilism instead of within it. If we were to tell any story born from our moment, would it really be a story of purposelessness? meaninglessness? of the void and nothing else? If we are to be haunted, would we not still will ourselves to live? to love? to value? And while we walk within the moment, and we struggle within undecidability, with a potential overload, should we not ask what we would do?

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