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The Philosophy of Best

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Originally posted: http://bendench.blogspot.com/2009/05/philosophy-of-best.html

 

There is only perfect will and the freedom of understanding. I call the will perfect because it occurs to me that the will is always uniform in its nature and, while dependent upon criteria that may be considered imperfect by some standard, always acts in such a way as to satisfy those criteria most fully. The ability of the individual to achieve its goals may be limited, and the criteria that determine what decision is the best may be based on inaccurate information, but the will is perfect in always choosing that which is thought best in the instance of choice.

 

This manifests itself in different ways in different spheres of experience, but it is always the same process. On the emotional level, one’s desires determine action through their proportion. If there is a horse and your desire to mount the horse is greater than your desire not to mount the horse, which can be the result of the desire to do other things or simply repulsion to the thing in question, then you will mount the horse, provided your action is not thwarted (this image is taken from Voltaire). At the very least you will have decided to mount the horse. If your desire not to mount the horse is greater than your desire to mount the horse the decision is likewise determined by that fact. You will decide not to mount the horse. On the intellectual level you recognize different things as having different degrees of importance. Always you will choose that which, in the moment of choice, is of the greatest importance to you. These two circumstances are not separate but coincide with one another. A thing having importance to an individual draws upon the individual’s desire for different things to determine what is important, and having conceived of something as having importance one gains a desire to achieve it. What we conceive of as having the greatest importance in a given situation, at the time of choosing, is by us conceived as being the best choice and is always that which we choose. We cannot do otherwise, nor would there be any reason to.

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The matter is obscured by the fact that often by one set of criteria one will determine one thing to be that which is best or right but will do another. This is the result of the fact that there are numerous criteria sets that we have, different considerations that we make about a decision or a thing in determining its worth, and that the results of each of these criteria is itself compared and subjected to a base criteria of what seems most important in the instance, as determined by our desires and as guided by our rationality. The decision about what is the “unselfish” thing to do is only applied to the extent that doing something “unselfish” is important to the individual in the moment. One may decide that smoking is detrimental to one’s body and is thus the wrong decision, yet this is only of significance to one’s decision to the extent that one’s desire to preserve one’s body is greater than one’s desire to fulfill one’s craving. You may wish that you did not find taking heroine better than refraining from doing so, but in the instant you choose to do it you consider this your top priority.

 

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The social implications of this are staggering, but it does not, as some might think, negate the value of responsibility. To take responsibility for a thing is to concern yourself with it, and you shall do so, as always, as you desire. The reason we hold others accountable for their actions is not because they are failing to do what they think is best, but because their actions effect us and we wish to have control over things that effect us—for the purpose of our own success and survival. The only reason we care about the intentions of other individuals is because we, rightly, regard those intentions as indicative of the types of future actions they will engage in. Were we invincible, we would laugh at the ill-intentions of others. We invoke praise and blame to alter the actions of others—and of course we want to support the things we like and discourage the things we don't like. But really considering another to be at fault for their actions would seem no more rational than considering the storm or the wild animal to be at fault for theirs. They are simply doing what it is in their nature to do. The most rational response upon learning that anyone has done anything would appear to be, “Well of course the person did, given the circumstances.”

 

But in understanding this, the only thing that has changed is that false virtues and vices are revealed for what they are, and decisions are made for the virtue that the decision has in itself, not that is imposed upon it. That one will not cheat on one’s lover so as not to do wrong or be thought a bad person in some ontological sense will have to be replaced by an actual desire to form a relationship of trust and honesty and love, if that is something that we decide that we still want. Such is a refreshing honesty in our understanding both of ourselves and are actions as well as others and theirs. There can be no more scapegoats, just accurate appraisal of a situation and what conditions caused it, as well as decisions based upon what action will most fully implement and embody one’s ideals. Does this mean that there is no free will? I cannot say, because I do not know what people mean when they say free will. As far as I am concerned, this may be free will—that you always do that which you think is best, that you always act in accordance with what you value as being most important in the instance of choice.

 

People do not like to be controlled, and so the idea that one is determined is upsetting to one. But after all, it is not as if you were made. You were not fashioned by some other creature for whom you are a plaything. Rather, you grew out of the ground of being, as a natural and necessary product of nature. In the West we think of causality in a certain way. We say that A caused B to do C. In the East, however, they think of it differently. A cannot cause B to do C unless it is in B’s inner nature to do so upon meeting A. The inner nature of A and B interact to produce C. You and your actions are neither strictly determined nor random—rather you and your actions are necessary, in the same way that mathematical relationships or the laws of probability1 are necessary. For my part, I cannot imagine a world ruled entirely by strict laws of causality, a world in which Chaos did not enter into the equation. Not because of chaos I see in the world—that may be explainable by a given set of laws and I may just not be aware of the connections—but because without Chaos I am not sure how the ball could have started rolling, or even why I am me and not you. But Chaos is merely the soil from which all good and beautiful things grow. From the sea of Chaos you, like Ra, emerge as a self. Your actions are the perfect reflection of your nature in relation to any given circumstances, as are you a perfect reflection of the nature of being itself, of which you are an incarnation. As Hindus would say, “You are the local representative of divinity.” Freedom is neither being bound by desire nor reason in your choosing, nor being “free” from desire or reason, but rather is a state of strength, independence, and influence which is progressively achieved, and the will to which is inherent in the ground of being and present in everything that is. Indeed, which is everything that is.


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1 A balanced coin may come up heads 100 times in a row—but given enough flips, it has to be 50/50. Similarly, your inner nature imposes itself on chaotic external influences.


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Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently (more...)
 

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