Unfortunately [at least as far as my own intentions toward resonance are concerned] I’m afraid we will have to do a bit more intellectual carpentry before we advance any further. If we don’t establish a proper frame, our House for Artists will fall down at the first sign of wind. In other words I will name [for the sake of a future argument] the ONLY three ethical koans I believe survive scrutiny. They are:
- The Golden Rule.
- The Categorical Imperative.
- The Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence.
[It goes without saying (and yet I am compelled to say it anyway) that I am not familiar enough with non-Western Ethical koans to make any knowledgeable assessment of their worth.]
My undergraduate philosophy professors would SCREAM at me for what I am now about to write, but their concerns were Academic and mine are Practical so I will disregard their obvious objections and say… those three ethical maxims are one and the same. Yes, philosophical sacrilege, but the truth nonetheless. Jesus/Kant/Nietzsche were all saying the same thing.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.
- My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely to bear the necessary, still less to conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness before the necessary—but to love it.
If you take the skin off any ethical maxim, what you find beneath is a teleological position about the relative worth of a way of being. (1) Of the three listed above, I always appreciate Nietzsche’s for being the most intellectually honest. In his statement it is clear that the obligation owed to Ethics is dependent on not DISAPPOINTING oneself. The Golden Rule and The Categorical Imperative rest on a principle of self-shaming as well, they just don’t make that expressly clear in their formulation. Only Eternal Recurrence, tells us what is at stake IF WE DON’T adhere to our Maxim—we cannot “love” what we have done. [We only “conceal” actions which make us ashamed.]
What I always find to be glaring from Kant’s Groundwork is how hard he has to fight the argument because he knows humans are NOT actually rational creatures. It beams through [like great subtext] every line on every page. If we were ONLY rational creatures, the book would be one page long and the discussion would be extremely boring. The fact that we are not, and yet the Categorical Imperative is written as though we are, is why the ideas that make up the bulk of The Groundwork are drawn out, and hard to read and understand.
And yet, the Categorical Imperative is the clearest formulation of ethics ever stated [whether you prefer it as written by Jesus, Kant, or Nietzsche]. It tells us how to live and why. And I agree with it in all three forms in which it has been stated.
I sometimes think it is easiest to think of your life as a movie [imagine that]. How would you feel if you had to WATCH yourself make the same poor choice over and over again for eternity? Wouldn’t you change the script? Make a director’s cut? Do whatever you had to do to ensure that you were a hero worthy of your own film? Of course you would, and so would I. We would all write ourselves as our Best Possible Versions…
…As easily destroyed as the above Ethical Framework is, it does provide what we needed to advance. We now know what philosophy and religion have been saying about Ethics [in the Western World] since we first invented thinking. Namely, we ought to act so as not to embarrass our best version of ourselves.
Breaking Bad says this is not true for all Humans. There has been an evolution which has not been scientifically recognized. At some point in our past a branch of We humans diverged from the Sapiens tree. Colloquially, we refer to these “people” as Artists [and when we’re feeling less charitable we refer to them as… psychopaths]. In more scientific terms, we should be calling them:
Breaking Bad is trying to tell us the ONLY thing we know for sure about this species is that the categorical imperative—no matter how you write it—does not apply.
- I am well aware that all Ethical Philosophers everywhere and for all time… would deny the truth of that sentence. They are… everywhere and for all time… kidding themselves.