Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"The fundamental orientation of the sane"

From an essay commending Samuel Johnson to today's young:
What is the chief motivation for doing good? Some ethicists call this motivation the “practical justification” for a moral system. The answer for Johnson is gratitude. That’s not unusual. You will find the same answer to Why be moral? throughout Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

But young people are often surprised by this response. In most cases, they have never considered the question at all. They are, in fact, in that boundary area between doing or not-doing on the basis of rewards and punishments, and doing or not-doing on the basis of inner convictions about what’s right and wrong. Therefore it’s an apt time to remind the young of gratitude as a motivational basis for doing good.

We are, the mid-century Yale theologian H. Richard Niebuhr said, responsible actors: responding as moral beings to the actions of God and of others around us and upon us. That’s our fundamental moral stance. Therefore if we’ve received much of value, then we overflow with a sense of gratitude: not simply a feeling of thankfulness but rather a steadfast inclination to look out for and to act on behalf of the good of others. Conscience, will, reason, and concrete deeds, not feelings alone, were important to Johnson. Stephen C. Danckert affirms that “Johnson saw gratitude as the fundamental orientation of the sane man and the taproot of being itself.” .... [more]