Thursday, October 29, 2009

Closing the Eyes of the Mind

It is as easy to close the eyes of the mind as those of the body: and the former is more frequently done with wilfulness, and yet not attended to, than tile latter; the actions of the mind being more quick and transient than those of the senses. This may be further illustrated by another thing observable in ordinary life. It is not uncommon for persons, who run out their fortunes, entirely to neglect looking into the state of their affairs, and this from a general knowledge that the condition of them is bad. These extravagant people are perpetually ruined before they themselves expected it: and they tell you for an excuse, and tell you truly, that they did not think they were so much in debt, or that their expenses so far exceeded their income. And yet no one will take this for an excuse, who is sensible that their ignorance of their particular circumstances was owing to their general knowledge of them; that is, their general knowledge that matters were not well with them, prevented their looking into particulars. There is somewhat of the like kind with this in respect to morals, virtue, and religion. Men find that the survey of themselves, their own heart and temper, their own life and behaviour, doth not afford them satisfaction; things are not as they should be, therefore they turn away, will not go over particulars, or look deeper, lest they should find more amiss. For who would choose to be put out of humor with himself? No one, surely, if it were not in order to amend, and to be more thoroughly and better pleased with himself for the future.

Joseph Butler, Upon Self-Deceit. My Ethics class had a good discussion of this sermon (and self-deception and hypocrisy in general) today, the first time I've done it. It worked very well -- self-deception and hypocrisy are moral themes to which everyone can relate. I had to retell the story of David and Uriah, though, since almost no one knew it and it is the centerpiece of Butler's discussion; one student, who had been in Iraq, said that she had seen things similar, albeit on a smaller scale, even in today's military. One thing I found interesting was that the case of smoking (i.e., smokers telling their children not to smoke), which was brought up by a student, turned out to be very helpful for clarifying various issues with respect to hypocrisy; I'll have to remember it for future versions of the class.

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