1. 19:12 23rd Jan 2013

    Notes: 2

    Finitude, Transcendence, and Ethics: Sartrean-Niebuhrian Resources for Understanding Difference and Dominance

    This book looks at the work of Dead White Man Number 1 and
    Dead White Man Number 2 and imagines what they would say to each other if they weren’t dead. The hope is that this will fix bad things in each man’s work.

    Dead White Man Number 1 believed in God while Dead White Man Number 2 did not, and both thought that right and wrong have to do with whether there is a God or not. But they agreed on a lot.* Both thought that if we want to figure out the right thing to do, then we need to understand what it means to be human. Both agreed that being human means being both free and not-free at the same time. Humans are not-free in that lots of important things are outside of their control, such as the kind of body they have, the kind of family they have, and how other people see them. But not like other animals, humans are also free in that they can decide what they think about all of this and pick lots of their acts. Both men also thought that people worry about having to be free and not-free. Sometimes being free is hard because it’s easier for someone or something else to pick your act for you, or pick how you feel, or who you are. And sometimes being not-free is hard, like when you’re sad about something you did in your past or about other things you can’t control. And so both men thought that people often lie to themselves: When it’s hard to be free, they pretend they’re not-free, and when it’s hard to be not-free, they pretend they’re free. Both men thought that bad things happen when people lie to themselves this way.

    But even though they lived at about the same time, they lived in very different places. Dead White Man Number 1 lived in a strong place; Dead White Man Number 2 did not. This may have caused them to focus on different ways that people with and without power lie to themselves about what it means to be human. Dead White Man Number 1 focused on when people lie to themselves by pretending that they’re completely free. He thought that this led those people to be bad to God (by focusing too much on things in the world instead of on God) and also not to be just to other humans. Dead White Man Number 2 focused on when people lie to themselves by pretending that they’re not free when in fact they are. He wanted people to own who they are and what they do. And he thought that sometimes when people are not just to others it’s because they pretend they have to be that way.

    Adding the work of Dead White Man Number 2 to that of Dead White Man Number 1 makes for a better take on what it means to be human, and that gives us a better take on right and wrong. Like, Dead White Man Number 1 got in trouble with women because he said that people wrong God and are bad to others when they pretend that they’re completely free, but women usually already act like they’re not-free, and listening to him would just make that worse. Dead White Man Number 2 lets us see that it’s wrong for women to pretend that they’re not free.

    * Four people (as it happens, all white and each a man, but none (yet) dead) needed to read and like this book in order for the one who wrote it to become a doctor. They all did, and she became a doctor. (Let us be happy!) But one of these men told her later, after she became a doctor, that he had not thought that anyone could write a good book that put together the work of Dead White Man Numbers 1 and 2 because they were too different

    By Michelle Meyer

    @MichelleNMeyer


     
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