Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From Scratch to Solid Ground: Live According to Your Will but Make Sure That This is What You Are Doing!!!

It is amazing how apparently simple questions can be very difficult to answer. The question "how should I live my life?" is certainly one of those questions. I think the reason why such questions might appear both simple and difficult in the same time is that while, the answer to such questions can be easily provided intuitionally through common sense, further reflection upon those answers clarify that that there are several inconsistencies in them which requires management. Grounding our intuitions might be so difficult. However, sincere efforts can finally provide a full blown theory that explains our common sense and answers our most basic questions.

This is exactly what I have been trying to do in the last few articles I posted. It is here in this post that I will try to put an answer that I think is the most coherent up to this point. Lots of what I will state here has been stated repeatedly by me before. However, at least I would benefit from rewriting the whole thing for one more time. So, here it goes.

I am a human being. I am naturally equipped with biological drives, shaped through centuries of evolution to ensure my survival. Those drives are the basic drives of seeking food, sex, shelter, security and most importantly to bond. The particular drive of bonding that makes me a social animal might be the most important among other drives in shaping the next stage of evolution that human beings have undergone through, namely cultural evolution.

It is through cultural evolution, that I now posses drives other than those biological ones. Those drives are my values. Those values constitute my personality. They go all the way down in me. They don't only drive my actions but they shape my emotions, my reactions and my judgments and so on. Those values and biological drives don't only drive my will but they constitute the very essence of it. Even though, through the theory of evolution I can explain how such motive came to exist, I can't justify them. Again, reason can never justify my passions. I just have to follow them or more precisely act upon them. Passions constitute the essence of my will and who I am. Justification is not need for them; it is only needed for managing them.

Among the values I hold and I think all of us hold are the values of understanding and practical reasoning. They are the motives for writing those particular articles. The value of practical reasoning moves me to do the following;

· I need to understand my self. In other words, I need to understand the motives which constitute me. It is easy to understand my biological drives. However, understanding my values require reflection upon my actions, my emotions, my reactions and my judgments. The broad ideal account which I accepted as the theory the describes my actions, emotions and judgments convinced me that my values can't be reduced to only one value but rather a list of irreducible different values that primarily consist of understanding, friendship, accomplishment, pleasure and practical reasoning.

· I need to understand the world I live in. I need to understand not only the environment I exist in but the people that I share my life with. I need to construct a theory that explains the behavior of the world and of other people. Such theory would allow me to appreciate the situation I am in and to determine the best chances available to me to achieve my motives.

· I need to use this knowledge together with reasoning to make my decisions and choices. Knowledge and reasoning would allow me to choose to get involved in forms of practices already developed by the society or to develop a whole new form of practice that I have to imagine and come up with.

· I need to be able to implement my choices and decisions voluntarily without being coerced by anyone else but my own self.

It might seems that since the values of practical reasoning requires understanding of myself and the world I live in that this value can after all be reduced to the value of understanding. However, all that is required by the value of practical reasoning is just having a set of beliefs about my self and the world. Putting the further condition of those beliefs to be true is something not required by the value of practical reasoning but instead required by the value of understanding. So, those two values are distinct from each other after all. However, since I value understanding as well, I need those beliefs to be true. I think science provides me with the most coherent, accepeltabe, adequate, and successful theory that explains the world. On the other hand, I think psychology based on the broad ideal account is the best theory to explain the behavior of other humans.

However, there is a point which I need to consider when it comes to understanding myself and when it comes to understanding others. I have concluded that each human being acts according to his own values. But what about variations among our values? If we are not justified in holding values, and if values are mainly the creation of human culture, then our values might differ and accordingly I can't secure any understanding of human behavior. It is here where morality plays a crucial role.

Cultural evolution didn't simply develop values as an integral part of my nature. It developed a whole moral theory based on values shared by all the others in the sphere of my culture. Those values stemmed from shared social forms of practices. Those values are not only a part of me but rather a part of an ideal person that has been drawn through generations of human beings. As I act upon my values, I get to realize the criteria of this virtuous person that I don't only aspire for but as a matter of fact all of those surrounding me aspire for. What I am trying to say is that my values can't be isolated from the values of others. They can't have ever been developed in me unless at least it was shared by the culture I grew up in.

But, this moral theory that shaped my values is not static. The culture that produced it is continuously changing. In today's world, there are many states with different histories and different forms of culture. In each state there are many different social groups with different situations and different chances. On the other hand, science develops and it brings out new discoveries and it changes our vision of the world. Economy fluctuates and the whole environment we live in change every single day. How can values be anchored in anything if every thing that constituted them changes almost every single day?

Even if values might change, there is something about human beings that can't change in us unless we ceased to be human beings. It is our basic drive to bond. Bonding is another biological drive in us that was shaped by evolution to ensure our security and our survival. We are driven to bond with all other human beings who are within the sphere that can affect us. In toady's world this sphere has extended to involve the entire globe. All of us need to bond together. This in not a mere act of preaching. It is a fact enforced upon us by our nature and by the world we live in today. Fortunately, our history extends for so long. We have started affecting each other long ago. We share lots of core values. It seems that we only dispute over the more trivial ones. Our dispute is more related to how we might realize our values rather than what is most valuable in our lives.

To sum it up, I should realize my values. I should cultivate them and allow them to grow in me so that I can become happier. I should not act in ways that would violate those values. I should be open to learn about the best ways to realize my values since my knowledge is certainly still limited. Whenever, there is an apparent conflict with others, I should realize that there are ways to resolve those conflicts. Morality is an integral part of me and all of us. It doesn't allow us only to be happy but through its share in the construction of our values it constitutes the very essence of happiness itself. With the mere exception of sociopaths, we all share the values of pleasure, understanding, practical reasoning, friendship, and accomplishment. Any conflict among us is only due to limited knowledge and not being open enough to understand others.

Here is my final advice to myself and to others. Happiness is nothing but realizing your values. Realizing your values can't be done unless you have proper understanding of yourself and the fact that you are made of values which are not only a part of yourself but rather the main part of a whole theory made by others. In addition, realizing your values can't be achieved unless you have proper understanding of the world you live in. you might be prevented from achieving your values by the people surrounding you. It is time in such cases to remember that you share with others more than you might think. On the other hand, the world and circumstances might be an obstacle in achieving your goals but in such cases it is again that you can't do any less than changing the world you live in. after all it is your values that constitute your will. Failing them would only fail your own will.


  1. Dr. Tarek,

    Is that you living your life, or is that social values living THROUGH you?


  2. I can understand exactly what you are trying to say. I myself was so much not comfortable with the idea of the society surrounding me having such a great effect on my life. But as I read more and things started to be clarified in my head, I began to see things differently. The most significant truth about human beings I guess is that they are social animals. Much of what we take for granted as some kind of distinct reality is actually based on social forms of practice. Knowledge itself can't be truly explained except as a social form of practice.
    As a matter of fact why you might feel resistant a little bit to such a thesis is because of the value of individualism which has been created by the human society itself long ago before you were even born.
    However, the value of individualism is great after all. It helps practical reasoning to a great degree. The thing is the moral theory created by your society might have contributed to a large extent to the person you are. However, this theory is not yet perfect. As a matter of fact it might still needs lots of adjustment. You certainly have the freedom and hopefully the creativity to adjust as you might think appropriate. However what would guide you after all in figuring out what needs adjustment are still other values held by you and which were also shaped by the society.