Chapter 29 Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Explain that morality is not necessarily an impediment to spontaneity.
Watch this video or scan the QR code to learn more about spontaneous living.
Since many people mistakenly equate having principles with the inability to act spontaneously, I would like to share one way in which spontaneity and principles can coincide. In many cases I see ethics as, in a sense, establishing boundaries of behavior, and it is within those boundaries that one is then free to be spontaneous. It is like childproofing a room or a fenced in yard so that a child may be put into that room or yard to play freely without hurting himself. You have taken out of those places any things that may harm the child, so he may freely do as he wants within those places. It is also like when, knowing that you deserve a peaceful and joyful vacation, you set aside certain “time boundaries” in which you are allowed to have a good time without having to be constantly on guard or in reflection about your otherwise normal occupational obligations.
A couple of examples with regard to ethics:
There are limitations on how much force (and how it is applied) one is allowed in disciplining one’s children. Excesses to this are unwarranted abuse. Yet within those limits one may be free to spank a child if and when the child’s behavior and or attitude warrant it.
A couple may make a correct decision that sexual intercourse is justified for them. This does not mean that upon rationally making that decision they must therefore immediately become sexually active; they may not be in the mood. What the decision means is that (barring any future reason not to have intercourse) they may do so without qualms or hesitation when passion arises. Whereas if a couple correctly believes that it is wrong for them to have intercourse, but not wrong for them to kiss, pet, etc., then they are free to do spontaneously what is right for them within those boundaries.
Being ethical or having principles does not mean one must always be considering justifying those principles. Generally one works out many principles before applicable situations arise. When those situations then do arise, one acts accordingly and spontaneously within those principles and guidelines. Further, doing whatever one feels like at the time without regard to forethought and principles, and then having to accept the consequences for such impulsive behavior later, seems to me no desirable kind of spontaneity anyway if indeed it is any sort of spontaneity at all. Certainly the moth who flies to the flames is not doing so spontaneously but compulsively; likewise in many cases the person who impulsively and compulsively seeks a good time in ways that are unwarrantedly thoughtless and risky to himself or dangerous to others. The spontaneity of a drunk driver who kills himself and/or others on the highway seems a spontaneity better uncultivated. Doing what one’s nature mindlessly compels is no more spontaneous than is always avoiding what one’s nature desires. Spontaneity is only an enviable trait when it makes doing what is right also interesting, fun and desirable, not when it makes a mindless fool a slave to impulse. And ethical principles correctly allow spontaneity when they allow the satisfaction of the right desires, stifle the wrong ones, and when they do not require untimely deliberation that itself destroys the desires when they arise — untimely deliberation that should have been done previously.
Ethics then, instead of being an impediment to spontaneity, can actually make spontaneity more enjoyable by making it less compulsive and by permitting spontaneity that is unlikely to lead to later disaster or regret.
Further, it is not difficult to keep in mind major ethical principles. There are not all that many if the analysis in the previous chapter is anywhere near as correct as I believe it is. The only difficult parts of doing ethics are not so much the moral reasoning part but knowing the factual parts, and having the will power to do what you determine you should on those occasions when your obligations are not in your own self-interest or are not particularly enjoyable. The difficult parts, I think, are (1) trying to get all the facts in a situation to determine what kind of situation it is and thus to know which ethical principles apply, (2) knowing what the actual consequences of different alternative actions are likely to be, (3) knowing, in order to take it into consideration, what other people want or do not want and what pleases them or displeases them, particularly when they are the kind of people who will not or cannot tell you (and who only complain or ignore and reject you afterward, even when you have tried to do what you thought they wanted, let alone when you believed there was reason to override their wishes), and (4) having the courage and/or will power to do those things you should which are not in your own best interest or the best interest of a loved one or which are simply difficult for whatever the reason.
- Ethics can make spontaneity more enjoyable by making it less compulsive and by permitting spontaneous acts less likely to lead to disaster or regret.
- Ethics can establish safe boundaries within which spontaneity can be better enjoyed.
- Spontaneity is only an enviable trait when it makes doing what is right also interesting, fun and desirable, not when it makes a mindless fool a slave to impulse. And ethical principles correctly allow spontaneity when they allow the satisfaction of the right desires, stifle the wrong ones, and when they do not require untimely deliberation that itself destroys the desires when they arise — untimely deliberation that should have been done previously.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: How is ethics not an impediment to spontaneity?
- Question: Does being ethical or having principles mean one must always be considering justifying those principles? Do you have to think long and hard about each and every thing you do before you do it? Wouldn’t that be time-consuming and exhausting?