Monday, July 18, 2011

Should we follow our hearts?



IPPL/WHY? received a very nice email asking a very interesting question that I thought I would post to all of you. Matt (short for Mathieu) wrote the following (and he asks for understanding since French is his native language):

“We hear a lot "Listen to your heart" which is almost the most popular quote of our times. But, it's really rare (if nonexistent) that we hear philosophers saying that. Most of the time, they are actually saying the complete opposite. Who's right & who's wrong: poetic Disney quotes and morals, or unpopular and rational philosopher’s sayings?”

Listen to your heart can mean one of two things in this question. The first is a form of moral intuitionism that claims moral actions are best derived from looking within ourselves. The traditional philosophical response is to point out that listening to one’s inner self is often just obeying norms and habits. Thus, American slave owners, if they listened to their hearts, would have thought that their slaves genuinely deserved to be their property. Nazis, when listening to their hearts, thought Jews were genuinely viruses. (I assume I don’t have to explain why both of these are immoral and incorrect.) In response, an intuitionist might respond that these people simply didn’t listen hard enough, or think deeply enough, and that if they had really thought, and really paid attention, they would have seen the suffering and changed their ways. This position has been held by many different Christian denominations and is the core of meditation and enlightenment in many Eastern traditions.

The second meaning of the question – the more “Disney “ meaning, as Matt references it – is that regarding relationships or goals we hope to achieve, we should follow our deepest passions and desires. In terms of relationships, the difficulty here is that many people have trouble distinguishing love from lust and others repeatedly choose dysfunctional partners. Most people, it could be claimed, simply don’t have the self-knowledge or aren’t healthy enough to follow the paths their hearts want. In terms of our goals, we might ask whether it is responsible to encourage people to pursue those things that they’ll never accomplish. For example, if we have a sixteen-year old, four foot seven child with no athletic ability at all, but who wanted to be a professional basketball player, would it not our responsibility to be pragmatic and discourage him or her? On the flipside, for life to be meaningful, both our relationships and our goals have to be something that is valuable to us; this is what following our hearts must mean.

I don’t want to get much more into it. I would rather ask all of you the question Matt sent and see what your thoughts are. So, please do comment. And when you do, please respond in the comment box below (either the Facebook box or the Blogger comments), because I want everyone to see what you wrote, especially Matt.

Thanks, Matt, for writing, and please, everyone else, feel free to do so as well. Write us at ippl@und.edu or leave a phone message via the link on the left!

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