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Archive for February, 2021

Complacent Morality

“We speak in the first place of inconsiderateness, a lightheaded version of folly. The inconsiderate person acts on the world as it appears, and does not subject the appearance to reflection…Inconsiderateness is reflective to a certain degree. It imagines a world, which it constructs out of bits and pieces of experience, but the pieces have not been interrogated and ordered. The imagination has not undergone a communicative probing and confirmation. It remains as it is received, fresh with the dew of new affection. Inconsiderateness is a failure to proceed towards self-contextualization. The spontaneous self projects its own world as, in Falstaff’s famous phrase, ‘mine oyster.’ The tourists who crowd off their buses to beat the pavements of the great European cultural centers, led by polyglot guides holding their flags of identification aloft on the point of an umbrella, gaze at those who have business in those streets, the buildings which house them, the traffic which brings them to and from work, with unparticipating fascination, as though at interactive images on a screen. They would step into the path of a tram, expecting it to melt on contact. In absorbing and contemplating a world that confronts them as new, they cannot place themselves realistically within it.

We may call this form of inconsiderateness ‘complacency’…For the complacent person morality is a matter of occupying a point of view. The world and its affairs evoke affective knowledge, but it leads to no responsible thought about action. As from a seat in the theater or the football stadium it views the world and its affairs and enjoys the sense of being on the edge of them, as in Lucretius’s famous example of those who watch a shipwreck from the cliff. Anger, sorrow, delight, amusement, all blend together to give us our world-experience, and we would not willingly be without any of them. We like to live life to the full, affectively, and pour our sense of agency into our tears and laughter, our manifold appreciations of the ebb and flow of events. These are allowed to play themselves out before us but are never held up to interrogation; they pose no questions as to their implication for the living of our lives, for the living of our lives has come to seem no more than simply the responses we make to them. Our knowledge of the world has, as it were, swallowed us up. Our satisfaction lies in deploying it, watching it, reflecting and commenting on it…

To a view that is wholly that of an onlooker, all that occurs begins eventually to assume a two-dimensional and tedious character. Spontaneity is paid for by boredom, and boredom by loss of resourcefulness.” (Oliver O’Donovan, Finding and Seeking: Ethics as Theology, Vol. 2, pp. 84-86)

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