How do we decide things?


funny_road_signMany of us weigh the decisions we make against the consequences that may happen. For instance, a financially desperate person might say, “I need money, but if I rob a bank, I’ll surely get caught.” A person with a more developed sense of morality may instead reason, “I need money, but that money is not mine to take.” Either way, some kind of assessment of right and wrong takes place, or at the very least pragmatics, which is the determined usefulness, or useful outcome of a particular action (like robbing a bank.)

Pragmatics gets down into the everyday choices, and can be the default setting for our choices. It’s like a common denominator. But really it’s not very good ethics that drives those kinds of decisions. Instead it is only the perceived consequences at the wheel, steering the choice. While it may seem practical to decide something based on whether it will help or hurt, or be useful or not useful, there is a glaring flaw in this method.

What is it? Simply put, we can never truly know the actual consequences of our choices, or their ramifications which lay in the future. What may seem helpful, can hurt many, instead of help. Or, sometimes certain people are helped, while others suffer greatly. History is quite full of these sorts of examples, and we continue to repeat them.

We can abandon a foundation of pragmatics, (the consequential, illogical, ad hoc reasoning method of decision making) by choosing from an altogether better starting point. God. It sounds so simple, but I will not say it is. But, what I refer to is the ultimate ideal, outside ourself–perfection. (Think: Socrates’ model)

The reference of God “himself,” and the nature and Standard of our best choices actually resides in and with God. The best values, the best and most perfect way–that is the way of God. More than that, it is how reality is grounded. God is the ultimate reality. Yes, we won’t measure up. In about two seconds we won’t, to be honest. However, this is not the reason to head for pragmatics, and assume The Good is not possible, a worthy choice, or viable for a standard–or at least the aim, of our own choices. It is the goal of each of us to decide to not choose for ourselves, or for the consequence alone, but for what is the ultimate Good.

Weigh-in with your take, or insights. I realize this particular post is a lofty one. Yes, and idealistic!

ALSO-Please help me spread the word about this website. I would love to have more regular readers. Many thanks to those who’ve read today!

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3 responses to “How do we decide things?

  1. Excellent point, Lisa, and well-put. “If we but knew what we do/When we delve and hew,” wrote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his lament over “The Binsey Polars.” But we don’t, and we never can, not fully, no matter what the Enlightenment project would have us believe. Moderns don’t like to be told to take things on authority – we don’t “receive” truth well – but it is humbling to realize how necessary that is.

  2. Addendum: Thought of this while sweeping grass clippings off the front porch: Your insights track with David Hart’s critique in the current edition of “First Things” of the latest buzz-book by Robert Wright, “The Evolution of God.” Hart points out that Wright decides the sociological development of our idea of God is moving in a “good” direction but that, having reduced divinity to a materialistic development in a zero-sum world, he has destroyed the concept of “good” (or “bad”) in advance. He can say that he “likes” the liberal, modern God more than what he thinks is the wrathful older one, but he can’t use a word like “better.”

  3. Interesting insights on relative ethics/perspective (i.e. good, bad, better) from Hart’s critique. Who can surmise an evolving God? What words could truly apply? The standard we could base our language and explanations on, is jolted like a rug that’s been pulled out from under the premise.

    Thanks for this thoughtful contribution, friend.