12 June 2011
I want to quit smoking. I am convinced that I ought to quit smoking. Ah, but there is this craving. I am tempted, and fall, give in to my urge, grab a cigarette, etc. This is the language we use in speaking about many of the experiences of our moral life.
Kant said that the only thing good in the world is a good will -- a will to do one's duty. Whatever it is, it is a matter of will, not of sentiment. Not only does sentiment tend to steer us wrong, like those cigarette cravings, but even when (for Kant) when sentiment steers us right, it represents the wrong reason for doing the right thing.
This standing-up-to-temptation idea of the moral life, though, obviously isn't the only way. On January 27, 1986, engineers and managers from NASA on the one hand and from contractor Morton Thiokol on the other met to discuss a simple question: whether the launch of the Challenger the next day should be cancelled due to the low temperatures and given the concern of some of the Morton Thiokol engineers that O-ring difficulties had been connected with low temperatures.
The decision made that day cost seven lives on the morrow.
I suspect the conversation in that room could be described in the failure to-resist-temptation paradigm. But I suspect that any attempt to see it in those terms would be a wild misreading.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.