Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"i've carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long, dusty path. i'm not carrying it because i like it. the contents are too heavy, and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. i've carried it with me because there was nothing else i was supposed to carry. still, i guess i have grown attached to it. as you might expect."

haruki murakami
what i talk about when i talk about running

i put up a post awhile back that began with a discussion of the fact that we are attached to our particular lives-- generally unwilling, even in theory, to trade them in for better ones-- even when we don't like them much. murakami puts this phenomenon really nicely. and he draws out the deep implicit connection between this attachment we have to our characteristic features, the good and the bad, and the view that our most characteristic behaviors, the good and the bad, are better described as just that-- as expression of our character, rather than than as acts of our will. the above passage is immediately prefaced by a discussion of murakami's "own individual, stubborn, uncooperative, often self-centered nature that still doubts itself":

i didn't start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. just like i didn't becomes a novelist because someone asked me to. one day, out of the blue, i wanted to write a novel. and one day, out of the blue, i started to run-- simply because i wanted to. i've always done whatever i felt like doing in life. people may try to stop me, and convince me i'm wrong, but i won't change.

he neither seems to approve nor disapprove of this fact.

in the comments section of that other post drew claimed that perhaps we ought to bite the bullet and concede that we should be willing to trade in our lives for better ones, regardless of our inclinations-- that it's irrational not to. given my own views on personal identity, to say that we ought to be willing to trade in lives for better ones is to say that we ought to be willing to give up our lives for the greater good-- for the sake of things being better, overall. because there is no us beneath all of those projects and characteristics to survive the loss of the old ones and bear the new. and maybe morality is that kind of thing-- it can demand of us that we give up our lives for the greater good. but to be attached to and to grieve for the loss of the perfect little storm of beliefs and aims and memories that we are, independent of how they stack up against some other, doesn't strike me as being irrational at all, even if the attachment and the loss don't ultimately undermine morality's claim.

i think that the right kinds of views about personal identity can themselves suggest that the best descriptions of our choices and acts will be in terms of expression of character rather than acts of will. i'm not at the point of being able to say it yet the way i'd like to, but i think reductionist views about personal identity and deflationist views about the will and revisionist views about blame and responsibility, while they all get a bad wrap for seeming not to capture the depth of our sense of ourselves and each other, are in fact the only terms in which we'll ultimately be able to do that sense any real justice.

1 comment:

Drew said...

Beautiful. Well-done.