Ethics of Empathy

Morality, in truth, is bound to the subjective nature of mankind. Morality in itself, however, is not subjective; rather, it is objective in the sense that there is the absolute best thing to do (and the best outcome) in every moral situation. Only that this kind of absolute objectivity cannot be possessed by anyone, rendering the ability to act in accordance with it terribly difficult—the occasion of such an event more often than not (if not always) an accident. For this reason, morality easily becomes confused as being subjective, as mankind in their different ideas and different factions find dissenting reasoning in an attempt to arrive at this objectivity. And through this process, different individuals find varying paths and ends that stray from absolute objectivity. These accidents of arriving at objectivity though, become less of an accident with use of greater reason. Reason that, because it is bound only to mankind and mankind’s limitations, inevitably becomes just as limited. Especially when emotions are involved—which is preferable, actually. Objectivity certainly should be aimed for, but no one should want to possess it. No longer would we be qualified to be a human being, as reaching absolute objectivity would in fact strip us of our human qualities. From all this, I arrive at a principle of morality that possesses intrinsic value both in theory and in practice:

Do as to promote greater, more permanent, emotional well-being amongst all morally relevant individuals, placing ample significance to that of oneself’s.

Self, and Self-Empathy

Unlike the dominant ethical theories rested in logic and rationality, which completely separate themselves from the Self and its emotions, such a theory places great significance to the Self. The Self is what is required to be understood by the agent to better understand everything outside of the Self, such as other morally relevant persons, as well as everything in relation to it. For how can the agent even make an estimable attempt to understand anything external when it does not even possess an ample understanding of the fundamental workings of a most basic unit that exists and comprises of all that is within himself? How can one make an attempt to understand the physical world without knowledge of the fundamental properties and workings of an atom? Define human relationships only in terms of morality, and what results is a matrix consisted of subjects and emotions possessed by these subjects. This taken in its entirety becomes too much of random and overwhelming nonsense, until the agent gains an ample understanding of the Self. And in doing so, the agent is better able to give consistency to what originally appeared to be nonsense. The nonsense that is the various components of the matrix, of subjects and their emotions, which are better linked with each other. Only from an initial, empathetic, understanding of the Self can the agent more clearly perceive these links. From a more clear perception of the entire web of morality, then, we gain a better sense for it, for the idea, and for its properties, consequently approaching objectivity.

As the Self, or the moral agent, I must first understand the limitations of my own abilities and potential to make a favorable difference in any dilemma; and alternatively, the potentiality of my abilities to make a regressive or detrimental difference. I must realize the extent of my abilities, from which I can then understand that I have no moral obligations to act beyond the extent of my abilities. That is, I have no moral obligations to act when it is futile to do so. On the other hand, when presented with a moral dilemma in which it is fully within my capabilities as well as my understanding to make reasonable decisions and take rational action—all of my particular talents and abilities considered—I then ought, morally, to take action. Specifically, to take the best course of action arrived at through careful reasoning, from best available information.

Emotional Well-Being

To better understand the principle—do as to promote greater, more permanent, emotional well-being amongst all morally relevant individuals, placing ample significance to that of oneself’s—we also look into what exactly “permanent emotional well-being” means. Given: as the self acting on any moral dilemma, one must act as to bring about an outcome where everyone involved is the most emotionally well-off. But not just more emotionally well-off for only a short amount of time. We do not create a temporary remedy, but a more permanent healing, or at least a more permanent avoidance of injury to the self. This state of being directly correlates to virtues, where any virtue refers to “a disposition which is well entrenched in its possessor . . . concerned with many other actions as well, with emotions and emotional reactions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interests, expectations and sensibilities” (link). To be virtuous is an accumulation of several virtues, “to be a certain sort of person with a certain complex mindset.” The more virtuous, the more emotionally well off; the less virtuous, the less emotionally well off. Thus, the agent must bring about an outcome that guides all morally relevant persons towards this state of being, and, if unable, that directs them away from an unvirtuous state of being. For instance, by lying to that man from the party, unreasonably enraged at your friendwho is hiding in your housefor dancing with his girlfriend, asking you for your friend’s whereabouts. Had he been allowed to injure anyone, he would have been led to an unvirtuous state of being.

Impossibility of Objectivity

But how do we arrive at figuring out the best course of action? If the best course of action is the action that would bring about “greater, more permanent, emotional well-being amongst all morally relevant individuals,” then we must seek to be so open-minded as to emotionally understand all morally relevant individuals as deeply as we can. By understanding the causal effects that emotions have on each individual (focusing more on the long-term emotional effects), and the intricate matrix constituted of the collective emotions of every relevant individual creates in any moral situation, we then establish an inherent logic embedded into the ethics of empathy. Admittedly, it is a logic founded on an impossible concept, as it requires the moral agent to have a deep and total understanding of all emotional makeups of all morally relevant individuals. The moral agent does not even have a full understanding of the Self, let alone anyone else’s. Indeed, being able to have full understanding is impossible, rendering the ethics of empathy fundamentally flawed. But it is an inherent flaw that we must come to fully accept; we are only mortal after all. We do our best to understand more; particularly, the emotions of others and ourselves.

It then follows, from this flaw, that we are more often unable to arrive at the best possible course of action because the reliability of our emotions is imperfect. To arrive at the best outcome is to have full and utter knowledge of all contributing emotions, which is impossible. Most if not all of the decisions we make inevitably lack a complete understanding. There are always parts of any problem that we simply cannot know. We will never fully understand what brought someone to cheat on their spouse, for we have not lived through their experiences and emotions. We do not know the entire chain of emotionally relevant events that prompted the person to cheat. But we must endeavor to know the most that we can so that we ourselves can arrive at the best possible course of action. So then, a consequence of the ethics of empathy is that it does not truly ask what the right thing to do is; rather, what the best thing to do is, given what we know, and given that we possess enough knowledge to act.

I do not mean to say that the ethics of empathy is limited to a short-reaching scope that involves only those individuals that are immediately available to us, although it does give much weight to the more immediate relationships that we have. Only that we have no real moral obligation to act outside of what we know; that is, outside of our emotional comprehension. For if we enter into a realm where everything does not have meaning to us, we may attempt to do what is right, but mere attempts aren’t enough as they don’t direct to the definitive right. We are thus not obligated to act when we can only barely comprehend our actions and their effects in situations we do not understand. We are not obligated in the sense that we cannot be blamed for whatever course of action we take. We may, however, be blamed for our ignorance; but we cannot be blamed for committing wrong, as the wrong that was committed was not even fully comprehended by the one who committed the wrong. Wrong is only wrong when it is intentionally wrong.

This is not to say that we have no moral obligation to understand those beyond our immediate community. Rather, seeking to understand more about others and humanity at large is the very basis and motive of the ethics of empathy. Thus, to the empathetic ethicist, the more championed individual is the one who has a deeper understanding of humanity and the emotions that dictate humanity—whether they be the emotions of a close individual, or the emotions of a distant individual.

However, there comes a point where knowledge becomes too much, and too overwhelming for the agent. That is, eventually, too much knowledge might strip the agent of subjectivity and subjective emotion. He may lose his affinity towards those that are closer to him, in light of immense knowledge of every other emotionally capable subject, as well as their emotions. By arriving at this level of objectivity, he would not be wrong, for instance, if chooses an outcome that does not favor closer individuals. But it is his own choice whether or not he continues to follow that path—a path that, when arrived at its end, make strangers no longer strangers, and close ones just as significant as these strangers.

The Greater Prestige of the Emotionally Realized Person Over the Virtuous Person

I must outline the difference between the more emotionally realized person, and the more virtuous person. The one that is more virtuous acts within limited comprehension of emotions. The virtuous, in other words, may do what they think is best, although their reasoning for arriving at such conclusions may have been through more faulty emotional reasoning. But they have done what is best nonetheless, and so they have acted virtuously. It is virtuous because it is intentionally virtuous, though it involves only a lacking degree of understanding of all the morally relevant persons. The more emotionally realized person, on the other hand, is one who possesses a deeper understanding of a broader scope of individuals. It is thus better to be a virtuous emotionally realized person than a virtuous emotionally ignorant person. It follows, further, that it is better to continually and actively seek to understand the emotions of everyone around me. For the more I understand, the more able I am to comprehend humanity as a whole, and thus the more able I am to reason out the best courses of actions to take. The more I understand, too, the larger the number of people I am able to help.

Vice of Willing Ignorance

So what then does it mean to be bad, or to do wrong? It is wrong to refuse to understand the consequences of one’s own actions, and go on about acting ignorantly. It is wrong to look back at past decisions, and refuse to analyze the goodness (or badness) of its results so that we can apply it to future circumstances. A bad decision is one that recognizes—or has an inherent insight of—the existence of good and bad, but refuses to understand it, and instead acts from selfish and narrow-minded ignorance. It is a willing refusal to do and be better. More often, people do wrong because they are simply misled. Although it is not just ignorance that is vice—mere ignorance itself is inevitable—but a willing, or intentional, ignorance that is vice. The man who has cheated on his wife without any self-reflection, without attempting to understand the consequences of his actions, is a man who has done wrong. The man who, before committing the adultery, reflects on the reasons for cheating on his wife, reflects on the nature of their relationship, reflects on the consequences of his actions, and from these reflections commits adultery for an intended outcome beneficial to all morally relevant persons, is a man who has acted virtuously.

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the seeds of my ethical theory—the ethics of empathy

Consider the following moral dilemma:
You are at your best friend’s wedding just an hour before the ceremony is to start. Earlier that day, you came across definitive proof that your best friend’s spouse-to-be is having an affair with the best man/maid of honor, and you catch them sneaking out of a room together looking disheveled. If you tell your friend about the affair, their day will be ruined, but you don’t want them to marry a cheater. What do you do? (x)

In this situation, it is important to be fully understanding of each individual relevant in the matter. What you say to or do with each participating individual must be fully reasoned and thought out. Although I have personal obligations to my best friend—and am perhaps obligated to better consider my friend’s emotions and values—I must also take into full consideration the emotions and values of the cheater. For how would I be solving anything if I were biased to the extent that all I seek to do is maintain our friendship? Precisely because I care for my friend, I ought to take other factors into consideration.

For instance, I must ask, why does the cheater cheat? Perhaps, when I find the root of the conflict, I realize that it was not the cheater at fault; rather, it was my friend who had prompted the action. And when I realize that the fault rested more on the collective emotions and beliefs of my friend (rather than those of the cheater), I must then take this into significant consideration when deciding on what to do in the matter.

Fault, further, must be attributed to a certain aspect of my friend’s character. If I find that the fault belonging to my friend, and which has caused the cheater to cheat, may be detrimental to my friend in the long run, I must take action to remedy it. Even if it requires acquitting myself to some cruelties. Even if it requires telling her of the atrocity done to my friend by the cheater, given that doing so is the best course of action to take. But in seeking to remedy it, I must again be considerate and caring in my manner of doing so. For if my friend sees that I am lecturing her, and she has been offended from me doing so, my attempts to remedy anything become fruitless. This is where empathy plays a critical role. What sort of countenance must I adapt in order to persuade my friend towards bettering her character, and directing her more towards the good?

Additionally, I must take into consideration the limitations of my own powers and ability to control the situation myself. How much control, if any, do I have in directing any participating and relevant individuals towards the ideal outcome? Because I have such limitations, I ought to realize the extent of my abilities. The extent of my abilities therefore determine the extent to which I have the obligation to take action. If a situation in which all action I take are ultimately fruitless (though unlikely, as often most actions we take have some morally significant effect on at least one individual relevant to any moral dilemma), I ought, morally, to care, but I ought not to feel obligated to take any action.

mathematics of morality

I think that morality can be quantified. Since Truth is absolute and objective, surely there must be some concrete mathematics to attain it. The mathematics behind morality, however, inevitably becomes convoluted with the natural subjectivism of words. And where morality must be quantified with words and concepts, the mathematics of it becomes even more intangible with the natural tendencies of these words to be obscured, or de-universalized. For instance, the concept of “selfishness” is one that is subjected to individual unique interpretations. Therefore placing selfishness in any moral formula, or theory, always becomes muddled with too many different interpretations of it. The idea of “happiness,” further, more often becomes subjected to too many different definitions, and we seem never to reach any agreement surrounding it. Because of this, it becomes even more difficult to reach a conclusive formula for happiness.

And so I think that we must attempt to first reach a conclusive agreement on the more basic concepts involving morality in order to move on to more abstract concepts. Just like how mathematics must first work with basic additions in order to move on to more complex procedures.

Though I may say these things, I myself wouldn’t even know where to start. For instance, what constitutes a “basic” concept? Happiness would at first seem to be a basic concept, until further looked into. And so shall we look into the contents of happiness? For instance, the idea of wealth, which again seems already so simple until further investigated into. From the concept of wealth we may then categorize different types of wealth. For instance: material wealth; wealth in terms of time, of the number of acquaintances that I have, of the number of people I’ve positively affected, and so on.

Like this, I’ve created smaller units able to be quantified within the entire paradigm of morality. Perhaps it is through doing this we’ll be able to reach some objective agreements on certain things surrounding morality. And through doing this, we may work our way up to more complex concepts.

Still, everything that has to do with words always and inevitably falls into an abstraction, as even the most basic words fall into interpretation. If we were to quantify anything with words, there will always be some room for abstraction. But what if we were to quantify words with the mathematics of possession? For instance, basic material wealth is possessing at least this much currency in a given society (involving the currency that would be gained if the assets of the individual were liquified), and so we create some formulaic expression that creates a relation between currency and the society that would produce what would constitute basic material wealth. So we then use “material wealth” in its most modest form to attempt to define what would constitute another basic concept.

I am fully aware of what a grand and probably impossible venture this is. I myself already see too many loopholes within it, and because of it, it may be a fruitless endeavor. But it is an idea nonetheless, and an interesting oneat least to me. Though I may never come back to fully developing this.

the timelessness of the Universe

The Universe is timeless. It never was, or will be. Nor is it even what it is, as it is, right at this very moment. The Universe is constituted of the literal and absolute All, without regard for time, as it is immortal. And immortality possesses no conception of time. Thus, it constitutes every moment that has existed, does exist, and will exist. So, because the universe is timeless, it just is, for “was” and “will be” are concepts of time, while “is” is a state of being and not a direct indication of time. That is, to claim that something “is,” can refer to a characteristic in perpetual, absolute existence. Everything that we perceived to have existed, that we currently perceive to exist, and everything that will happen in the future are all simultaneously occurring Now. It all simply is, with all moments, and possesses itself in its entirety, as it exists Now, all at once. Only that we are mortal and we cannot even catch a glimpse of the “consciousness” of the the Universe to comprehend the all-encompassing Now-ness of everything.

Note that when I say consciousness, I merely mean possession. I do not mean consciousness with opinions or beliefs, but a consciousness that simply “knows” in that it is itself.

more on the conceptual idea of love

When we define love as the total acceptance of something for exactly what it was, is, and will be, it then becomes an impossible concept, for the concept becomes much too perfect and beyond our capacities. We can never understand anything in its entirety after all. We only know things partially, and we fill in everything else with our own ideas. Like puzzles with imagined pieces used to make up for missing pieces, conjured from already-existing pieces. But even with the pieces that are already there—that we’ve already found—such pieces of information may not even be true. In this way, the entire puzzle is perpetuated with imperfection. Although I may love cheez-its, I only refer to my love for its taste. Note that I am not expressing my love for its entirety, for it is impossible for me to know everything about it. I don’t know exactly how it was made, processed, etc. etc. I only assume it was made in a way that is not harmful to anyone or anything, or that it contains ingredients that are entirely acceptable to me. But had I known that it was made or processed in a way that somehow harms me, someone else, or something; my love for it may diminish, or even disappear entirely.

But my realization of these flaws does not now invalidate the love that I had for cheez-its. That is: although my love for cheez-its may cease in light of its shortcoming(s), my love that had existed before realizing its shortcoming(s) remains valid. I can still claim that I had loved it. This explains why people tend to fall out of love. They realize something unfavorable about the subject of their love (e.g. a person) that taints everything else about that person—in other words, the rest of the puzzle. Yet, they still loved and fully experienced it nonetheless.

So, although love in its purest most absolute form may not be possible, I can still validly claim that I did love, albeit flawed in that I did not know everything about what I loved. Which makes all love that is both experienced and given, flawed. Not that all of the love that I’ve experienced doesn’t exist entirely; just that they are imperfect. And all the love that I will ever experience in my lifetime is conceptually imperfect.

In this sense, imperfection may now even serve beneficial to me, for the less I know, the more I can love. Conversely, the more I know, the less I can love. I do not mean for anyone to pursue this sort of ignorance, because I do not believe that ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is not bliss, because the more ignorance we have the more expectations we have. And to have expectations is to pave and often shorten our paths to our own downfalls. We must instead pursue knowledge—pursue knowledge about the things we love. The more we know about the something or someone, the less likely we are to be disappointed with the things that we don’t know about them.

Queued thought: does this then make love at first sight possible?

love in its pure form?

For the longest time, after having thought about the idea for while, I’ve concluded that love—as well as the happiness that it encompasses—cannot coexist with personal insecurities, and need, and fear. That is, love doesn’t need; it is wholly and utterly accepting. Accepting to the point that it does not fear for loss, and does not overly distress over loss when it occurs. But perhaps, although that is true in a perfect world where both of those who love are both completely happy and content with themselves so as not to feel unhealthily attached to the other in such a way, that may also be true for those who aren’t completely content with themselves. What if the love is there, just that it is obscured by illusions and falsities of love? The fact that I say love is only possible for those who are capable of completely loving themselves, and those who are happy just with themselves, excludes essentially the majority of the world’s population, for there is actually a very little number of people who can honestly affirm their own happiness. So I would be condescending in declaring most everyone incapable of true love, and certainly the thought of that does not help me have peace with myself.

you’re a filthy son of a bitch

you’re a filthy son of a bitch
but if you prepared me a tub of your filth
i’d bathe in it

your hair can grow in such unpleasant areas
but i would much rather tape my eyes open for it
than look where you’re not present

peanut butter makes me want to puke
but i would eat it from your mouth
if it means i get to kiss you

i’ve once lingered on a god for his surfer-like golden skin
but i would lotion myself in your oily sweat
as long as you’d let me embrace you.

Part I: on losing and possessing (people)

Recently, I’ve been losing several friends and close ones, both out of necessity, out of their will and my own. Because of it, I’ve learned to not be afraid of the possibility of “losing” anyone.

But in truth, there is no such thing as “losing” anyone, for the simple fact that I can never “possess” anyone. To “possess,” in the word’s most perfect form, would mean to have total control over something. To control, further, requires knowing something in its entirety. That is, to know it in its whole being, from its beginning to its end. To know every single detail about it, so that I am able to predict exactly what happens to that something until it ceases to exist. Which then carries with it expectations–expectations for precisely how that something will continue to exist, and the context by which that something will no longer exist. To possess something then, would essentially mean that I would be the god to that something.

From this, it becomes impossible for myself–for anyone–to truly possess anything, because I cannot fully know the course and end of anything. I cannot truly “possess” a pen, because that pen is susceptible to misplacement, theft, or breakage, and I cannot predict such occurrences. I cannot possess money, because likewise, money is susceptible to the same courses and outcomes. Even more so, I cannot validly claim that I possess another person, because I have too limited comprehension of that person.

People (and objects) only fall within our sphere of influence–we cross paths with each other, and (as crude as it sounds) we merely experience these people. Therefore, we cannot lose anyone; in other words, we cannot validly claim that we have, because we cannot lose something that we never even possessed in the first place.

When someone can no longer be near us, and when we can no longer experience the person, we may mourn for what can no longer be, and in appreciation for what was. We can mourn in such a way, and to do so is totally plausible, in fact we should; but we cannot be angry. To be angry would have meant that something has failed, or that something did not go the way we intended it to go, which implies that we had something in control which we failed to control, when in fact there was nothing to control. Controlling anything is god-like, and thus impossible; we can only influence.

We all point to Truth differently

I’ve noticed increasingly that when people speak of certain aspects of the Truth—especially with matters involving right and wrong—a lot of times we are in fact speaking the truth, only that we have different ways of pointing to it, having different skins to do so as well.

Oftentimes, if not all the time, this applies to religion too. Whether it involves those who are of different religious backgrounds, or those who do not possess a religious background whatsoever. Both the religious and the scientific of various upbringings.

It is as if we are all pointing to a figure, resting at our center. I may say that this figure is a simple physical static object, incapable of emotion; while another might see an animate figure, capable of emotions, and power (such fundamental polarity lies at the root of much conflict in interpretation of the Truth). The other can call this figure, “It,” while I call it a block. We are both essentially pointing to the same exact thing, only that both of us see it differently. Why can’t we agree that it is a figure, that it’s something to love and appreciate, and that it’s something overwhelmingly amazing and beyond us? Regardless of what we see, this figure causes the world to work in such and such ways—why can’t we just discuss the workings of this world rather than waste time disagreeing who or what makes this world work?

By discussing those things, there is truly much more to agree on than there is to disagree on. We only seem to be blinded from any conclusive agreements because we see too much the surface matters we cannot agree on. But wipe out, for a moment, how the cover of our books appear, and read the deeper contents. We then find that there are several parallels between our world-views and beliefs.