Monday, December 14, 2009

The Hypothetical Universal Decision

In “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Sartre claims that a man’s total freedom and control of himself and the course of his life leads a man to feel anguish. This anguish arises from the individual’s constant need to make decisions and bear the responsibility of those decisions. Essentially, when a man has total freedom, he is responsible for making the decision that he views as the best decision. This does not mean the best decision for him, but the best decision for all of man. When a man then makes that decision and follows through with it, he is saying that that is the decision that everyone should make if given the choice, and he should ask himself “what would happen if everyone did what I am doing?”
I found this reasoning to be very similar to part of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which states that your actions are moral if you can will the maxim behind your action as a universal law, and if your maxims could be adopted as a law in a kingdom of ends. Now, the large scale importance of one’s decision has clearly been emphasized, but I wanted to bring up one more question that naturally accompanies those listed above. On top of asking “what if everyone made the decision that I am about to make?” you should also explore what would happen if everyone chose differently than you. While this may seem absurdly obvious, I can’t help but feel that asking this question would help to clarify the outcome of the decision, especially if the decision involves stress or emotional involvement. These factors can often blur the morality of a given decision, especially when making the decision has immediate benefits for you, such as avoiding a tragedy or keeping an item of sentimental or other value.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more Aaron, it seems the idea of how our actions affect other people is a subtly common theme among the things we've read. I actually just published a post on a similar idea - though for the record, I feel I need to clarify for all and for Doctor J that I actually had not read yours until after I finished my own...