Norms and choice

A reader of this blog commented on my post on norms. She said:

"personally, i believe that norms are purely societal…and adhering to any of them (or not) is you own personal choice regarding what your stance is with being accepted in society or your lack of interest in being accepted in society…or if you deem it necessary as a vehicle for whatever personal purpose"

Hume tells us that ‘reason is the slave of the passions’, that the power of reason is always subject to the power of irreason. (This is something as a Kantian I struggle with but reluctantly accept)

Sometimes we don’t have a choice as to what norms to accept: does a first century Jew know how to object to homophobia? Does a hungry child object to sucking his mother’s teat (Spinoza reference)? Does a fashionable girl in this day and age freely choose to accept the contemporary clothing customs?

I think norms undermine a lot of our freedom. Here is my argument:

I. Norms pervade our culture (proof: empirical)
II. Some norms are non-rational (example: smoking)
III. Reason is the slave of irreason (proof: confabulation and other instantiations of instinct predominating over reason)
IV. If we have freedom at all, it is characterised by rational autonomy (Kantian presupposition)
IV. Since irreason has stronger influence than reason, norms pervade freewill (Lemma: This does not deny freewill, it merely undermines it)

2 thoughts on “Norms and choice

  1. Your blog’s title alone is erudite and your entries worthy of the name.

    It may be easy for us at this vantage point to forget the more banal aspects of Spinoza’s or your putative first Century Jew’s existences.

    If they lived to philosophize, I infer they ought to have eaten food and used the sanitary facilities, such as they were at the time.

    Their rules of engagement have survived, practically intact, to the present time. The Talmud, the Old Testament, the Pentateuch are also with us today for reference and perspective.

    Did that hypothetical first century scholar know of his Scriptural guidance to eschew the “abomination of man lying with man?” Almost assuredly.

    Did he interpret Lot’s offer of his kin, instead of the Angel, to the Sodomites with a grain of salt or with a strict dogmatic view that condoning the rape of one’s daughter is less a sin than the inhospitality of having one’s Guest ravaged?

    I don’t know if Jewish sensibilities (of healthy skepticism, of intellectual contemplation, of ethical analysis) have changed that much in two thousand or five thousand years. Heck, I can’t even get a straight answer on whether they all believe in an afterlife.

    Since homosexuality existed and was known in that first century (BCE or AD, makes little difference), and since homophilia and homophobia are in and out of societal vogue with dizzying unpredictability, I’m quite prepared to believe he might have had a perspective surprisingly close to mine today.

    De gustibus non est disputandum, and there is nothing new under the sun.

    Our individual and our conditioned responses have not changed all that much in 10,000 years, in my humble.

    The individuals you cite might not have a ready point of view on Internet Dating, but suckling, prejudice against homosexuals and homosexual acts, and personal fashion statements are hardly things we have lately invented.

    a. Any culture by definition consists in part necessarily of behaviors classified as “norms” or “cliffs”
    2. Such “norms” (or “cliffs”) prevail depending on principles roughly corresponding to Maslow’s hierarchy. In Winston-Salem, smoking is considered socially acceptable, and non-smoking could mean bad business. In Danbury, Connecticut, formerly the Hat Capital of the Universe, service could be refused to unhatted prospective diners or banking customers.
    iii.) I know few creatures purely rational or entirely emotional. There’s a volume entitled Kritik der reinen Vernunft you may know.
    四 autonomy implies constantly choosing between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, intellect over evolutionary animal instinct
    D, Part 2 Any time we share food instead of taking it from a weaker person’s grasp, or obey traffic signals, or wear clothing on a hot day we overcome our irrational impulses.

    Does this make any sense?

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