18 February 2008

From my upcoming book

Postprincipal Beginning

Everywhere we see evil, and that is most strange, for it so rarely seems to be caused by bad people. Perhaps the most terrifying feeling we can ever experience, after all, is when we find that we ourselves have caused great pain quite unintentionally. We speak words, and true words, that nonetheless sound hollow in our ears because of the pain we have caused. "I only wanted to help," "I didn't mean to hurt you," "I just wanted to do the right thing." And everywhere, people suffer.

It would, of course, be an infinitely easier sort of world if good intentions always produced bad consequences. Then, at least, we would know what to expect. Not a better world, mind you, but certainly an easier one. Instead, however, we find that for most men the results of our actions seem only slightly effected by our actions. Hume prided himself on disproving the "law" of causality, but it was obvious to those that know from the outset that, at least when it comes to human action, effects and causes can often have the most tenuous sort of bond, and, on rare and occasionally memorable occasions, no bond whatsoever. Because of this it is superfluous to point out that this also holds true for evil—much glory and joy has come from motives and even actions that we would like to and (thankfully) can often manage to forget were not directed toward any sort of "good" end at all.

Yet for all this we still cling to the belief that we ought to do good and avoid evil. This is because, as we have said, the world is not so pleasantly predictable as to be wholly random. If it was, it wouldn't matter why we did anything we did, and we could freely do as we like because it would have no effect on the outcome of our actions. The problem is that sometimes what we do does have an effect on the outcome of our actions. But I trip over this word "outcome..." odd that the word for what stems from our actions is composed of "out" and "come." Does it mean that which comes out of what we do, and indeed out of who we are? Or is the outcome that which comes entirely from without?

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