Play to Your Strengths

“Play to your strengths,” the (admittedly false) Mad-Eye Moody says to Harry Potter when he is faced with the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. At this moment, the task at hand felt legitimately impossible and frighteningly overwhelming.

The same can be said for the environmental problem we face — the problem is overwhelming, seems impossible to face. This is partially because the magnitude of the problem requires so much work that cannot be done by one person. But I wonder if it is not also because we are not playing to our strengths. As I turned the problem over in my head for the last few weeks, I gathered as many resources as I could on climate change — from my library, from the web, etc., in the hopes of putting together a coherent narrative. I wanted to understand the science and the problem before I tried my hand at telling a different story.

But perhaps… perhaps the science is not my job. The science is interesting to me, sure. But I already have what I need from the science, and I think the people that know the science well are already doing their job explaining to the public as best they can what the projected environmental impacts are if we  continue on our current course.

So, what does playing to my strengths look like for me on this problem? Perhaps it is in the vein of what I have done and am doing currently. Reading and appropriating philosophers and theologians from history to help us understand what it means to live the “good life,” and then relaying that message somehow. It means teaching a philosophy class, doing work in my local church community, and writing, writing, writing on the importance of thinking clearly, charitably, and with an open heart and mind.

Kierkegaard calls us back and back again to examine our hearts. “Subjectivity is truth,” he writes — because he knows that when we become deeply authentic (not the weak, anemic, American self-esteem based, authenticity, but the kind of authenticity that is that of a human being becoming a true “self” apart from the mass of humanity that demands conformity), we create a better society. And this just may be true about the environment as well. Deep authenticity (or, a better individualism) will save us.

The Nature of Morality

Here’s my latest question that I have to answer in History of Philosophy I. I’m curious to know what you guys think. I had to think about the answer for a few days, but I think I know what my answer is now.

In the Euthyphro, while Socrates and Euthyphro are discussing holiness (piety), Euthyphro offers several accounts of the nature of holiness.  To his 3rd account, that holiness is that which all the gods love, Socrates asks if holy things are holy because the gods love them or if the gods love them because they are holy.  The idea behind his objection is this.  An account of holiness should explain why holy things are holy.  If everything which is holy is loved by the gods, that might be an interesting feature of holy things, but it might not explain why they are holy– thereby failing as an account of holiness.  If all the gods love holy things because they are holy, then the love of the gods doesn’t make them holy (since they were already holy and therefore deserving of love).  On the other hand, if the gods love makes things holy, then there is another problem.  If these things weren’t already holy, then why would the gods love them.  Thus, it seems that the gods’ love cannot be based on anything in that which is loved, thereby rendering the love of the gods arbitrary and making it the case that there is no real unity or nature to holiness.

Socrates’ objection has been taken to show that morality, if there is any genuine moral value or truth, must exist independent of God.  For instance, murder is wrong and God forbids it (according to the Old Testament, anyway).  If God forbids it because it is wrong, then God’s commandment doesn’t make it wrong.  If God’s command made it wrong, then there was nothing wrong with it before the command.  Hence, there was no reason for God to forbid it.  God’s commandment is then arbitrary and morality has no real truth or nature. 

So, what do you think about Socrates’ objection?  Can there be morality apart from God or religion?