“Repay to the living that it is they find themselves owing the dead”

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by coberst, Jan 1, 2008.

  1. coberst Registered Senior Member

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    “Repay to the living that it is they find themselves owing the dead”

    This phrase is part of an article “Coming to Terms with Vietnam” documented in Harpers by Peter Marin, Dec. 1980. http://www.harpers.org/archive/1980/12/0024455

    "All men, like all nations, are tested twice in the moral realm: first by what they do, then by what they make of what they do. The condition of guilt, a sense of one's own guilt, denotes a kind of second chance. Men are, as if by a kind of grace, given a chance to repay to the living that it is they find themselves owing the dead.""

    This quotation rang my bell on the first time that I read it and has continued to resonate for me each time that it comes to mind.

    Morality is, I am convinced, one of the most important concepts in human existence. It is vitally important and, I suspect, almost completely mystifying to the average Joe and Jane. It certainly is mystifying to me.

    Understanding the meaning of this concept is vital for our welfare as a species and I am convinced that we must do a better job of comprehending its meaning.

    I think it would be worth while to analyze the above quotation in an effort to develop a meaningful comprehension of aspects that make up morality. But there are many important moral aspects within this quotation and I think we must focus upon only one at a time. I would like to examine, in particular, the phrase “repay to the living that it is they find themselves owing the dead”

    Cognitive science, often in the form of cognitive semantics, provides us with a means for comprehending the nature of morality.

    Cognitive science has discovered that “the source domains of our [linguistic] metaphors for morality are typically based on what people over history and across cultures have seen as contributing to their well being”.

    Morality is primarily seen as a concept that focuses upon enhancing the well-being of others. Cognitive analysis revels that we comprehend morality “based on this simple list of elementary aspects of human well-being—health, wealth, strength, balance, protection, nurturance, and so on”.

    “Well-Being is Wealth is not our only metaphorical conception of well-being, but it is a component of one of the most important moral concepts we have. It is the basis for a massive metaphor system by which we understand our moral interactions, obligations, and responsibilities. That system, which we call the Moral Accounting metaphor, combines Well-Being is Wealth with other metaphors and with various accounting schemas.”

    Our moral understanding is often manifested in commonly used metaphors. To do bad to someone is like taking something of value from that person. To do good to someone is like giving something of value to that person. “Increasing others’ well-being gives you a moral credit; doing them harm creates a moral debt to them; that is, you owe them an increase in their well-being-as-wealth.”

    We are dealing with moral considerations much as we do with financial matters. We maintain a mental balance sheet upon which we record debits and credits of moral dimensions.


    Morality is about many things and one thing morality is about is reciprocation, which means paying back to others what we owe to them because of something good they did for us. On the flip-side of that is something we call revenge. Revenge is about our feelings that if Mary Ann does something mean to me then I owe her something mean back.

    Morality is partly about our moral accounting system. We seem to have a moral balance sheet in our head and we are often careful to pay back ‘good with good’ and ‘bad with bad’.

    Ideas and quotes from “Philosophy in the Flesh”—Lakoff and Johnson

    Do you think that it is possible to make a moral payback to John, who died in the war, by doing a moral good such as helping the nation to become a better democracy?
     
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  3. sowhatifit'sdark Valued Senior Member

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    No. Not a moral payback to John.
    One can have learned and do better. But John receives nothing even if you believe in reincarnation.
    I am not sure I like using the exchange of money as a metaphor for morals.
    (see current 'exchanging pollution rights' where companies can buy the right to pollute more and we see the problem with mixing morals and money exchange)

    Could we make the focus more the intent than the building up of credits and debts?
    Original sin
    and Jesus' 'dying for our sins'
    have always struck me as notions of debt
    in this case to God
    and simply burdens.
    I do not want someone I have been nice to
    to view me as the mortgage bill from the bank every time they see me.
     
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  5. coberst Registered Senior Member

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    Many people take the view that we citizens of the US owe a debt of gratitude to those who fight and die in our wars.

    Cognitive science has discovered that “the source domains of our [linguistic] metaphors for morality are typically based on what people over history and across cultures have seen as contributing to their well being”.

    Morality is primarily seen as a concept that focuses upon enhancing the well-being of others. Cognitive analysis revels that we comprehend morality “based on this simple list of elementary aspects of human well-being—health, wealth, strength, balance, protection, nurturance, and so on”.

    “Well-Being is Wealth is not our only metaphorical conception of well-being, but it is a component of one of the most important moral concepts we have. It is the basis for a massive metaphor system by which we understand our moral interactions, obligations, and responsibilities. That system, which we call the Moral Accounting metaphor, combines Well-Being is Wealth with other metaphors and with various accounting schemas.”
     
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