Monday, December 14, 2009

A Common Introspective Thread

As I compiled the list of values I’ve gleaned from the different thinkers that compose the Search program for this class' final paper, I initially thought that I was affected by each for different reasons. For many I certainly was, but I was surprised to find that several on whom I drew seemed to embrace the same message, only in different forms. The thinkers about whom I am referring to are Luther, Kant, and Sartre.

On the surface, each seems to be notable for different reasons: Luther for dissent against the Catholic Church, Kant for his theory of moral objectivity, and Sartre for the contribution and perhaps founding of popular existentialism. But as I analyzed why I was drawn to each, I realized it was because the message of each is built on a common principle: the necessity of introspective self-examination and the open criticism of the motivations of our actions.

Luther’s primary aim was to encourage Christians to abandon the practice of seeking forgiveness through physical deeds, and to refocus on faith and the nature of the heart. Luther cites biblical texts in reference to the importance of faith over deed, and (controversially) suggests that good deeds done for the sake of good deeds are useless, that the only truly good deeds are those done out of faith and good intention. Luther forces his audience, in this way, to critically examine the genuineness of their actions and renders useless those that are not.

Kant’s message is similar, but whereas Luther was concerned with religion, Kant is concerned with the treatment of others. Though it is easy to get caught up in his clear commitment to duty and action and actually being moral, the three formulations of the Categorical Imperative attempt to inspire self-examination of maxims and intentions. For Kant, the only way to act dutifully is to act out of good will, and his formulations offer very specific criteria for how to do so.

Lastly – and perhaps this one is more of a stretch – it seems Sartre is trying to get at a similar idea. Sartre suggests that because man’s existence precedes his essence, a predetermined human nature does not exist and he is therefore capable of determining his own nature. But as the cliché demands, “with great freedom comes great responsibility.” Sartre is quick to mention that as we attempt to create an image for ourselves, we create an image of we think man ought to be and, in a way reflect all of mankind. He demands we ask ourselves, “What would happen if everyone did what I am doing,” and that he who does not simply “lies to himself” in “some kind of bad faith” (Sartre 25). So it seems that even Sartre is dedicated, in a very similar and serious way, to the self-examination of our actions and their consequences.

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