The moral law

The good will is the will which acts from freedom and respect for the moral law.

-Immanuel Kant

I like Kant. I don’t agree entirely with his precepts, but I like them a lot overall. The moral law is an obligation that binds all people without exception. In other words, right and wrong is something outside of our individual standards and something that applies to all. From the perspective of a society, this does make sense. As a concept, this is referred to as the Categorical Imperative.

The Categorical Imperative really encompasses three major concepts: universalizability, human dignity, and reciprocity. Universalizability is similar to the “Do unto others” rule – you want to behave in a way that is conscious of the fact that others could act in the same way that you do. Human dignity involves the consciousness that you deal with other thinking, feeling people. When you engage in an act, to be moral, you should treat people as an End, not a Means. (This is most contrary to the John Stuart Mills view of the benefit of the many outweighs the benefit of the few utilitarianism.) Finally, reciprocity might similarly be labeled fairness; the idea of holding yourself to the same standards. You should be subject to being legislated as well as being legislator. In other words, we must recognize that in the same way we judge others, we are judged.

These ideas are rather compelling and both ethically and reasonably appealing. This philosophical ideal can be broken into three major premises.

First, we are all equal. We can’t hold ourselves to a different standard,  because we are all human. We all have differences, but our ethics ought not deviate from individual to individual.

Second, the consequences of our actions are morally irrelevant. To make this clearer, the idea is that we are only morally responsible for what is in our control. The consequences of our actions are not something we control. Therefore we can only be responsible for our own actions. Ideally, this seems reasonable, but it is a basic syllogism which has inherent tendency to fallacy. Nabokov’s “I am not another” is brought to mind. From the legal perspective,  the cry comes up, should you have no responsibility for foreseeable consequences, at the least? “If you cut me, do I not bleed?” Still, from an idealistic state of mind, this isn’t a wholly absurd premise.

Finally, your will is within your control so it is the proper basis of moral evaluation for your actions. Because we can control our will, in thinking before acting, we have that moral compass of should and shouldn’t. A philosophical sort of conscience.

It is notable that for Kant there is a distinction between intellectual thought and practical morality. There is much that is idealist in this, but a little idealism may make for a brighter day. The ethics and morality are a sweet relief from Plato’s absence of sentiment and eagerness for logical purity. Today is a good day to appreciate Kant, even where my legal mind rebels.

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Tea

The perfect cup is such an elusive treasure. Is there any wonder that the Japanese developed an entire routine around the ceremony of making tea? There are so many variables to take into consideration!

First, there is the choice of blend to contemplate. This is a mixture of identifying those perfect balances of flavors, whether using fresh leaves, dried leaves or even store blends; and then linking that to suit your mood and physical needs. Sore throat? Perhaps orange or lemon… stressed out? Maybe chamomile. Lack of focus or difficulty in process? Mint might aid. Or is it a day demanding caffeine? Sharp or mild, sweet or bracing? The blend is a major choice in and of itself.

Then comes the act of tea creation. How to boil the water? Like the proverbial skinned cat, there are oh, so many ways and each with their own routine. Microwaving water for tea feels like cheating to me and I find that the water seems less agitated; it cools faster than convection or true boiled water. Boiling on a stove top within a kettle takes longer, but the quality seems so much greater! I have a convection kettle which aids when I want it quickly and lasts longer in heat than microwaved water, though it remains inferior to true boiling.

And finally, there is the steeping. Tea relaxes if only through the need for patience, the infusion of the water dissipating flavor from the leaves in the same way the aroma can permit the momentary dissolve of cares and concerns. There is a peace to be found in the enforced delay. And it permits the contemplation of final garnish.

Once steeped, are the leaves removed or permitted to linger? Do you add honey? Sugar? Lemon? Cream or milk? Or even a little cool water so you can consume immediately? Each cup is a minor work of art in its own right, whether minimalist, abstracted, decomposed, or even impressionist. It allows a moment in time to escape and an escape that may be shared.

There is something particularly lovely about a cup of tea that simply cannot be expressed to anyone who has never engaged in the practice of making a cup. It is an unspoken philosophy for the cherishing, for any who choose to undertake it.

Little Things

All the little things I miss about you. It isn’t the large or overwhelming, though they still creep up to surprise me in their absence like a childish game to see how high you can make me jump in the startling — no, it is the little things I miss. The day to day joys and yes, even frustrations, that you were so skilled at causing were so much more beloved than I ever let on. We only know what is truly best once it is gone.

I miss your logical testing and playful silliness. I am bereft of the clever quips and the terrible fake Scottish accent or descent into archaic speech – this day greco-roman conventions, then High Elizabethan on the next. There is nobody to make jokes of absolute absurdity that still contain an element of background education and delight in mythology, theatrics, and inventive philosophy. I miss your aid and your talk of beards and your love of food. Your laugh, your smile, your raised eyebrows or nonsense declarations, such small parts to the great you.

It isn’t the important,  the life-altering, or even the romance. It is the little things that define a person. Every little thing helps to compound that vast aggregate grief, the loss and the anguish, but in every day, what I miss are just those many, ever present, little things.

Silence

There should be a hundred different words to describe silence because it falls into a thousand variations, each with their own mood and meaning. How inadequate is our language to provide us with only the one? And the offerings presented within a thesaurus are doubly insufficient for the needs.

Think for a moment of the silence you hear when you step outside in the evening when a large snowfall has recently ended. The crisp air, the white blanket muffling the world and the dark sky overhead work together to quell all noises. When you stand out in it — I remember doing so in the middle of the street as a child, watching the streetlights on either end of the block changing with no cars, or bikes, or people in view — the world in silence feels open and wide, but private to behold. All of it, the snow, the clouds, the silence is there for you, so long as you can stand the chill.

Compare that to the silence of sorrow, once your tears are done and breathing has slowed. Sitting on the floor with the old carpet against your skin, your clothing rumpled and askew, but the exhaustion that drags upon body and mind too great to muster the effort to rearrange or adjust them, and so you remain still. Around you, the world is silent, leaving you to your grief, your self-awareness, and the strange sense of being separated from the rest of the world by a nonexistent pane of glass that keeps you in the emptiness.

How can the same word apply to these both? What of the silence you share with a companion who understands and feels no need to invade or break the instance of communion? All of these are unique, distinct, and deserving of recognition, yet the only word that seems to apply is still the tempered, tentative and wholly inadequate silence.

Inordinate Joys

It still makes no sense to me, but I am filled with joy every time I receive these emails. And as a semi-rational mind, I still seek to investigate and understand this non-understandable concept. It is the joy of a link, of someone who knows the darkest ravage of my heart, but still talks to me about topics I simply enjoy.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this relationship (friendship? Acquaintanceship?) Remains free of demand or particular expectation. The brother of a friend does not mean instant friendship status, nor does the soulmate of a brother require particular relationship from anyone. So we are at our leave to walk away and abandon these conversations at any point. Maybe that is the joy I find? That neither of us have yet, though nobody would fault us if we did.

It does beg the question of how awkward would it be to sit down face to face and converse, for now there is history. Which could cause a stronger bond or could, potentially,  influence us against one another (in such things as preferred composers – his, Schubert; mine, Liszt.) I still think it could be favorably entertaining should we ever try it, but who can say?

Perhaps it is for his brother I have these lingering sentiments, but I simply can’t believe that is the reason for the sudden and overwhelming delight that the receipt of such an email brings. Even prior to reading it, even prior to the contents which may very well be confused, amused or completely contrary. It doesn’t matter. I’m still overjoyed. I feel like a giddy child with a new friend who I can’t believe likes me, even if that doesn’t truly define the situation at all.

I begin to worry that I will be horribly let down, no matter how carefully I limit and contain this experience within my own mind. Isn’t such unabashed,  unquestioning joy a self delusion bound to end in ignominious pain and sorrow? And yet… and yet… I still smile.

Take me down a notch

The flu always takes me down a notch. Perhaps more so than most people find. I had a flu and ended up paralyzed from the waist down and took years to recover and regain feeling. My tensor had a flu and died. The flu is no light and easy thing.

Life wears on, drags on, the day to day needs and requirements never pausing, but my body has slowed, aches and begrudges even simple activity. When that is paired with the pure effort required to drive a grieving mind and will, I am left more exhausted than ever and without any sign of relief in view.

So, when I sink so far down, I need to look elsewhere to lift me up. Today, it was the Virtues.

If we lean towards Aristotelian ethics, our moral virtues are the disposition to behave in the right fashion and a learned practice to balance out our vices. For him, the virtues were those of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Prudence is intended to be, quite literally,  recta ratio agilbilium or the right reason for things to be done – knowledge and foresight are the hallmarks of prudence. Justice is that which ought to be done and the satisfaction of providing what is due at the time it is. Fortitude is the concept of bravery and courage – a very Grecian virtue, but not without use in today’s era. Fortitude is the ability to stand firm in the face of threat or strife. Finally, temperance is our ability to enjoy pleasure without sinking into the morass of gluttony.

But is the supreme good the activity of a rational soul within these standards of virtue? Or is there something deeper that applies?

Of notable absence upon Aristotle’s list are traits such as Integrity or Dilligence. If we pay attention to Confucius, other main virtues are worked into the philosophy by which man ought to live, though such virtues may have even less applicability to the modern world: Jen – human-heartedness or that benevolence that gives man his humanity; Li – benefit and the social order; Yi – righteousness and the desire to do good; Hsaio – filial piety, reverence – perhaps synonymous with obedience for your elders – a concept we see less and less of in the modern era; Chih – moral wisdom – a comprehension of right and wrong; Chen-tzu – the ideal man – the upright person we all must strive to be; and Te – governing moral – lawful rightness.

An interesting comparison between the two. Confucius’ system was very clearly designed towards a governing structure while Aristotle’s was less so, but the question becomes, can either of these truly apply to life as we see it? It also bears noting that Confucius’ standard was of the view that humans are born good and evil is something to be learned, while Aristotle’s view of humanity’s moral state was that humans are neither inherently good nor evil, but seek to learn goodness.

My natural inclination is to move straight towards Kant which is the direction of my own philosophical musings, but one bouche amuse at a time! To move from this into the question of moral question is to take virtues into the entirely next level, since that’s where we begin to question moral absolutism versus moral relativism and moral universalism which may provide very different ideas of how these virtues play out in any moral or ethical question that arises. But that’s a consideration for another time.

Aching

The dull throb sometimes escalates into agonizing wrenching pain. I feel used, abused, and wrung out like a dishrag. Damp and discarded,  without a thought of mildew, I’ve been left at the side of the sink, still wound taut and unable to release the painful twists that I’ve been wrapped within. Fold after agonizing fold has been left with the ignominious water-soaked crumbs; invaders now trapped and ignored, now to rot.

Unmitigating agony, the dull pain just continues unrelentingly. Sharp anguish might be easier to bear, for it doesn’t roll across you like the uncaring tide, breaking and eroding with each and every wave, no end in sight. Such pain is not for the weak of will or heart.

As much as I hate visiting the doctor, it’s time to seek a renewal of my prescription for migraine relief.