Monday, January 24, 2011


Ronald Dworkin (leave it alone...just leave that joke alone) writes an excellent essay on morality and ethics here. In it, he attempts to unpack what we mean by the 'good life' by understanding the concept through the twin but separate frames of morality and ethics and arrive at a concrete definition by merging the two. Being at a particularly shaky point in my life at the moment, lost amid the buffeting waves of second-guessing and what-ifs, Dworkin's essay hit the spot. Before attempting to codify my own topsy-turvy morals and ethics, I should understand the foundations of what I'm attempting to organize.

Dworkin's underpinning clarification is that we need to understand the good life as something which fulfills not just our various and complex physical and emotional desires, but one that we feel can stand up to a critical analysis.
"a life we can take pride in having lived when the drives are slaked or even if they are not....We are charged to live well by the bare fact of our existence as self-conscious creatures with lives to lead. We are charged in the way we are charged by the value of anything entrusted to our care. It is important that we live well; not important just to us or to anyone else, but just important."
A life well lived is a life worth living on grounds deeper than Hobbesian utilitarianism or Hume's selflessness. Dworkin goes on to examine various theoretical lives, judging whether they could be considered well lived or just good lives. (The risk-adverse seem to get the short end of the stick in his estimation which appreciates the beauty of risk and failure.) He includes space for the product values of a person's life (how much good they create in the world around them) but ultimately recognizes a life well lived is more akin to a work of art than to a utilitarian impact. It is in the performance, occasionally coming at the cost of a good life, that the art is displayed and the life is thought to be well lived.

My decisions of late lay lighter on my shoulders for this understanding and I am grateful to Mr. Dworkin {titter} for his essay. Although its been said many times, many ways, it is not the end but the means. Though my moral compass continues to pinwheel wildly, that pinwheeling, in and of itself, indicates a life in the process of being well lived. My decisions are not selfishly based on a Hobbesian utility analysis nor a Humian gut instinct. Rather, they are the product of a feeble brain attempting to do the right thing. There is no code to follow nor should I try and give myself crib notes. Every situation is different and, when faced with uncertain futures, second-guessing is just part of the adventure.

Nothing is fucked, despite the plane having crashed into the goddamned mountain.

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