Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just Moralized Self-Interest

Richard Beck concludes a discussion of No Country for Old Men and theodicy as follows:

[W]e recognize Sheriff Bell and Carla Jean as virtuous people. And we recognize Chigurh as evil. The failed theodicy of No Country makes those recognitions possible. By contrast, the "virtue" within, let's say, a Disney movie, is just moralized self-interest. With a guaranteed "happy ever after" we have the perfect theodicy, a world where virtue lawfully produces happiness. And all we can see in this "best of all possible worlds" (and Disney delivers on this score) is Homo economicus, self-interest disguised as virtue. Nothing in this sort of world is heroic or admirable. But virtue in No Country is the real deal, it's the workaday heroism of doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do.
I think there's something to this, but of course, I'm a filthy atheist. It's not clear why a Christian such as Beck would find comfort in this conclusion since it implies expressly states that placing trust in a cosmos that's assumed to have a just ending -- like, say, the Christian cosmos -- is reduced to "self-interest disguised as virtue."

It has long struck me as a problem that Christians seem to want people to behave in the light of an eternity in either heaven or hell. If you're counting on the threat of punishment to keep people from brutalizing one another, you're really just counting on people to fear they will get caught if they do, in fact, brutalize others. Every maximum security prison is filled with people who did not fear punishment enough to keep them benevolent. Indeed, all human history is replete with the mangled bodies left by people who managed to convince themselves they'd elude the wrath they incur by their deeds. Rewards and punishments have their place, but moral decision making that deserves to be so-called comes from another source.

(via Eli Horowitz)


Filthy Agnostic said...

I'd love to know your thoughts on where moral decision making comes from and how to instill it.

Dale said...

Fellow Filthy, I am flattered by your interest in my opinions -- I knew my views were compelling to others! That's totally why I wrote a blog!

Anyhoo, I am flattered, but I'm also skeptical. I'm not saying you're a troll, but I'm also not not saying you're a troll.

I am perfectly willing to repeat myself -- I do almost nothing else -- but not right now. Here are several posts in which I have addressed this topic:

You might also do a search for "Dacey" or "Austin Dacey" using the search window thingy at the top of this precious, precious blog (and other search windows from your short list -- google, amazon, etc.) I think he's very much on the right track with respect to these questions.