“Vivere si rectè nescis, decede peritis;
Lusisti satis, edisti satis atque bibisti;
Tempus abire tibi est, ne potum largius aequo
Rideat et pulset lasciva decentius aetas;”
Horatius as quoted by M. de Montaigne in: Essais II, Editions Gallimard, 1965, Chapitre XII (Apologie de Raimond Sebond), p. 213.
[Amateuristic English translation: “If you don’t know how to live well, leave your place to those who do; you have fooled around enough, eaten enough and have drunk enough; time for you to withdraw for fear of having drank more than reasonable and in so doing, of becoming the laughing stock of the young, to whom cheerfulnes is more becoming.”]
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 07-04-2010. Only one to go ;-]
I wanted to talk about essential differences between absolutes and universals. The wish not to live beyond your expiration data is universal. The requirement to live until such time as ‘one is called’ is an absolute. The difference between the two is the meaning that is conferred to to what it is ‘to live’.
I (try to) explain.
Universals are things that, on reflection, cannot but be true. Do not do unto others what you wouldn’t have done unto you, is one. There is no point in living when there is no point in living anymore, is another. You can only have a conversation when there’s a certain somebody to talk to, is maybe a more obvious one. These things all feel like tautologies but they are not quite that. One of the reasons they are not is that there is a certain ‘feel’ to it. Exactly the same type of ‘feel’ there is to whether or a sentence is grammatical or not.
These are cases of truths that emerge in a way like icebergs: suddenly you see them and once seen they are unavoidable. Their truth is not a matter of control; not a matter of revelation; but a matter of this common sense that is always an evolving common sense, but that is never common sense that can go back to accepting for instance that people are sentenced to death or left to their own devices when sick. Their truth is in fact a matter of fact.
As more people have more visibility more of these icebergs are spotted. & once spotted their presence is communicated and then they are known. Not Forever with a capital F but forever with a normal everyday f which may not be very different in units of time but is different in that the latter doesn’t abstract from those that have spotted the iceberg & allow others to spot it.
That are universals for you. They include the knowledge of all predecessors. They are the material of which all future men will AT LEAST be made of.
Absolutes are different. Absolutes are summaries of what is known up to some point and then extrapolated as if nothing new can come up, ever, anywhere.
Intrinsically absolutes have a purely functional purpose: to establish custom and tradition allowing a standardization of the way people live together such that we can have an orderly society and all that good stuff. Absolutes are just a matter of convention to which a sense is added that they should be adhered to absolutely. Indeed, admitting there is room for divergences is the same as not bothering at all; and organizing purely dictatorially i.e. at the whim of one that is more than the others.
There’s nothing too wrong about absolutes and the moralizing that goes with it. [It is a universal truth that we need our absolutes if we want to be free from the arbitrary.] The common sense is to heed absolutes with which your parents try to indoctrinate you if only to avoid unnecessary complexities.
The problem comes when the absolute is taken absolutely; when it is stripped from its conventionality & its convenience; when it’s established as revelation, and therefore can no longer be amended following a due process. The problem with absolutes is not that we have to follow them when they apply but that we cannot change them because some of us believe they always hold.
Take life, euthanasia, abortion, (assisted) suicide and all that.
For sure everything in this list is problematic. But it is not the solution (even if many think it is The Solution) to say life is sacred, and that that is absolutely true. It is not and everybody in his or her right mind knows this. It is a matter of situation and circumstance and in the end: if life is not worth living – it is not worth living anymore.
The thing is: life is n’t this Infinite Eternal real ontological thing. Life is just a word in use to denote a collection of events of a certain nature, where nature cannot be grasped in any direct non-verbal way. Life is just something that comes and goes. It is not much more (however romantic we may be inclined, it is not). We don’t have to make A Big Deal out of it.
I know I am bordering once again on the mystic but let me point out that the motto that ‘if life isn’t worth living – it is not worth living anymore’ does not give a fiat for a fully random way of stopping life. It doesn’t, at all – just as with Kant’s categorical imperative it is a hovering sentence that makes clear that life is not an absolute but it doesn’t say when life is not worth living anymore. The latter is something that is to be discussed and is part of a Rawlsian overlapping consensus.
Pff. Tired. Work in Progress. [There was something on categorical imperatives that needed to be done but in fact I am now more tired than I was when I wrote this originally ;-[
[Whilst writing this I was listening to nothing at all – but not in complete silence as there are always some noises where I live; a fact that is no longer disturbing to me and instead is of some comfort nowadays.]