Restoring the Sacred

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ruminations in a Kayak VII

On Making Decisions

Anyone serious about introspection has to have, on many occasions, second-guessed himself about past decisions involving, as Rasselas called it, the Choice of Life, or choice of mate (or even whether to have a mate), and the many other choices made during the course of one’s life. Being alone in a kayak in the ocean is the ideal place for such introspection since one in such a place is, as mentioned earlier, as close to God as one can get on this earth.

Before wondering about whether one has made the right choice regarding anything that demands choosing, one must at least attempt to establish whether there is any validity to the philosophy of Determinism, a good definition of which is provided by the American Heritage Dictionary as: ”the philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs” (often understood as denying the possibility of free will).

It would be very easy to buy into that philosophy and accept the specious defense of “the devil made me do it,” to erase any culpability on one’s part for poor decisions. One could also take the seeming high road and espy the hand of God in every personal decision, good or poor, as an attempt at self-exoneration, but either one is what we today call a cop-out. Foreknowledge of a decision does not necessitate responsibility for that decision, so the fact that God knows what our decision will be even before we know does not (some believe) cancel out the free will that makes us responsible for that decision. St. Augustine, who fought with himself arduously over this and other epistemological problems, never completely satisfied himself regarding Determinism, Free Will, or Predestination, and if the Bishop of Hippo could not find definitive answers to such complex problems, it is easy to say that perhaps we should not waste our time. Time, though, is never wasted by such contemplations, especially when kayaking alone in the ocean.

Those who would avoid responsibility for their own actions, and blame all their misfortune on fate, embrace the idea of Determinism, but on what do those same people blame their good fortune?

So, even if we are unsure about the idea of Determinism, should we blame ourselves for decisions that in retrospect have been determined to be bad ones? Yes, but we get over it and keep going. To quote C. S. Lewis: “What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.”

(On such things does one ruminate while paddling a one-person kayak miles out in the ocean - closer to God.)