Or, “normative heuristic microethics, part 1.” You can skip the next paragraph if you want.
I’m searching for something. I think that doing good things will improve my life, and doing bad things will make it worse.
Ethics is the philosophy of right and wrong.
Normative ethics is about how to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.
But I don’t really care about Right and Wrong. I’m not often confronted with the chance to bump a guy onto a train track to divert a trolley car to save 5 lives, or the chance to go to war or not. So let’s just cut it down to things about my individual life, and call it Normative Microethics.
And even then, my ideal ethical philosophy would likely involve making some huge calculation at every turn: what are the odds that this will turn out like X or like Y, what are the payoffs if it does so, etc. This calculation is usually incredibly impossible to do in real life; I don’t care about how to calculate it, because I’ll never be able to. I’d like to know some heuristics. Hence, Normative Heuristic Microethics.
Basically, I’d like to develop a set of good rules to live by. (I think of them more as “tastes”; whatever.)
Buddhism has been helpful in this; I feel like (at least some) Buddhists have the right idea about a lot of things. WWBD? I think he’d say something about reducing cravings.
Now, before we go any farther, let me just say one thing: Buddhism is not about renouncing all desires. Say it with me: Buddhism is not about renouncing all desires. Buddhism is about renouncing the desires that hurt you if you don’t get them: the cravings. Addicted to drugs? Pining over that girl or guy who doesn’t care about you? Love your new car so much that it would kill you if anything happened to it? These are cravings. But if you kind of like cake and don’t overeat it, or you get excited about X-Men movies (but it doesn’t cause you pain when a new one is cancelled), or you love and appreciate your family, these are fine desires.
That’s kind of a half definition, though. “Avoid cravings” tells you what not to do. And especially when we’re talking real-world decisions here, I want to know what TO do too. Here’s my hypothesis: seek opportunities, where by “opportunities” I mean “those fine desires.” Seek out things that make you happy if they turn out well, and don’t bother you when they don’t. At work, I hear about so many exciting ideas that I want someone to research them all. If one doesn’t turn out, there’s always another. Traveling, I generally want to get from point A to point B, but if I don’t, the detour is generally all the better. This seems a promising attitude to have about life in general.
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