Being the Author of One’s Life

Fortunately, wearing clothes has little bearing upon the significant choices that we make in life. That is to say, wearing clothes hardly inhibits human beings from being the author of their own life.

Alas, a quite interesting fact about some individuals is that they are me more interested in getting approval from others than being the author of their own life. Hence, such individuals will forgo lots and lots of things simply in order to fit-in. I am not at all talking about wearing clothes in public. To be sure, wearing clothes in public certainly constitutes a form of fitting-in. But there is the simple reality that wearing clothes in public reality inhibits individuals from being the author of their own life. Fully clothed, a person can learn how to excel at dancing or singing or painting or teaching.

As far as I can tell, the primary motivation for fitting-in is none other than the desire for approval. That points holds far more nowadays than it did a mere 100 years ago, when fitting-in was non-trivial factor in terms of surviving. And there is an absolutely fundamental difference (a) merely getting approval and (b) being in need of assistance from another. There are sufficiently many people who are not at all in need of assistance from another. Yet, there are desperate for approval from others. As far as I can tell that is a deep form of moral insecurity.

It is my considered judgment that, with rare exception, how we are raised makes all the difference in the world whether we have a deep measure of security or we are very much plagued by insecurity. To be sure, there can be exceptions. But as the saying goes: The exception proves the rule. A person like Frederick Douglass who, though born into slavery, went on to do quite remarkable things was a clear. However, it would be just plain absurd to argue that given Douglass’s success, then surely slavery was not all that bad.

If it is correct to hold that upbringing typically makes a tremendous difference with respect to whether a person has a deep sense of security or does not, two questions naturally present themselves: (1) How can it be brought about that in general individuals are raised to have a deep sense of security. (2) What is the proper way of handling or interacting with people who have a deep sense of insecurity.
Some philosophers have argued in favor licensing parents. And while that may seem obnoxious at first glance, there is a certain gravitas that holds here; for there is clearly something quite inappropriate when unfit adults bring children into the world. Of course, there is the issue of enforcing such a policy. And it is very, very clear that (A) no such enforcement procedure will be easy and that (B) any such enforcement procedure will appear to be an ever so inappropriate imposition.

But does being the author of one’s life entail the right to bring into this world another life? I shall simply say that it is far from obvious that the answer is “Yes”. Suppose at birth, all human beings were born without either the biological capacity to conceive or the biological capacity to impregnate. Requiring that those who want to have the biological capacity to bring a child into this world must to meet certain standards hardly seems inappropriate. So is it really that wrong to ask that those who have the capacity to bring a child into this world provide evidence that they have the wherewithal to exercise that capacity in an acceptable manner? I do not see that it is.

Nowadays, of course, there is the issue of enforcement. But surely the time will come when the enforcement can in effect take place prior to birth. (1) Would it be automatically wrong to exercise that power? (2) If exercising that power would yield quite wonderful results would it still be wrong to exercise that power?

I have asked the questions. I wait for the answers.

© Laurence Thomas, 2017

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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