I’ve been thinking about how human beings confuse morality with logic. People make what they consider to be logical arguments about the supposed pragmatism of a worldview or life choice but actually they are assessing whether they think it is good or bad.
Deciding moral worth
I find the concept of good and bad (i.e. moral worth) so intriguing because it actually doesn’t exist. The reason I don’t think it exists is because there is no system for measuring goodness or badness, whereas for example in the sciences we can assess whether something has empirically happened, or use mathematics to prove propositions. Even in philosophy, or specifically metaphysics, we can use logic to determine the likely truth or falsehood of a premise.
I think it is logical, for example, that some people would be motivated by their own interests, so pragmatically they might consider other people’s feelings dispensable because they don’t further the goal of personal gain. To find out whether a person’s action has utility for his or herself, we need to look inside their mind and heart to find out what they value or prioritise.
And this is where morality comes in. I think people confuse logic and morality because they are threatened by worldviews that conflict with the comforting stability of their own. Any chance that they might need to expand their mental map is instinctively met with resistance, using a defense that I visualise as a mental blindspot that truth falls into, sadly without you ever knowing it was so close.
And they dismiss interesting and potentially useful ideas as “wrong”.
A sprinkling of logic
I think we can make morality better by consciously infusing a bit of logic.
So, in order to evaluate the worth of propositions that are shrouded in emotion, such as “Are open relationships a good (or workable) idea?” we have to use both our minds and hearts. We have to evaluate what we mean by “good” (is the risk of hurting one another too great, for example) and, “workable” – perhaps we mean, does it foster the personal growth and development of both individuals?
Evaluating this kind of worth is a difficult task, but the criteria I would use in these particular cases, in order to assess an idea’s validity or worth, is: the quality of connection.
I would ask questions such as, does it increase connection between the individual and the world, or decrease it? Is the connection between the two people increased or diminished? There are many more questions like these one could ask, and there is no simple way to answer them.
Logically, more connection (and therefore growth) is better, because it spreads goodness and happiness. But how to measure? What system can we use?
I think we have to evaluate whether an action is speaking from the heart or not.
It’s not easy for anyone to say whether someone else (or even themselves) is speaking from their heart.
I use the idea of open relationships as an example because it is such a divisive issue, threatening one of the very foundation stones of society – the ideal of the romantic relationship. Romantic love is a (very fun) chimera, which is virtually guaranteed to distract society’s members from looking anywhere outside themselves, or beyond their own domestic bliss.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for romance as much as the next person, but all I’m saying is it’s a very good distraction from the deeper issues of life. So I think to debate these kinds of questions, these questions of social worth or validity, we need to familiarise ourselves with a surprisingly unsung concept: the idea of selfhood.
Does the self really exist?
We can conceptualise our physical selves, as the body and the brain and all. Some of us can also see the mind, which is us being aware and perceiving ourselves, others and the environment, as well as metaphysical concepts like ones I’m referencing here. We also have an emotional self, which I think lots of people struggle to understand, and it is characterised by the emotional soup that rolls and heaves with every experience that touches us. The physical is the easiest to perceive because it is really *there* and we can see it.
Altogether, these tripartite notions of self knit together to form “selfhood”, or, if you prefer, personhood. And we need to pay attention to the health of all three segments of the self to build ourselves up as people, and fulfil our potential.
So, to answer a question like “Is an open relationship a good or workable idea?” I would consider whether it would further the goal of developing and nurturing the personhood of both parties. And, in some instances, I think indeed it can. If both people are happy to be co-adventurers of life, without the weight of commitment and ephemeral promises of “forever”, then maybe an open relationship could be a good idea.
Of course it wouldn’t be without its pain, and confusion and upset, but no real relationship would be like that anyway. I feel like you’d be faced with an incredible opportunity to learn so much about yourself and others. Intellect cannot comprehend the worth of this pursuit; only the heart can.
But it’s so hard to get past the conditioning that monogamous romantic love is the highest ideal, that I doubt many people would be open to this idea (haha, ironically). It’s an interesting one to think about.
Catherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, meditating and being in nature.