Meta-thought, or thinking about the process of thought, is something that is on my mind on a daily basis. It is the process I use to enable my negative habits to be reduced when I am able to consider them. The process of meta-analysis of a thought takes place retroactively, or after I have committed some action or thought. When I’m doing something, I’ll generally ask myself: “Was this the right thing to do?” “Was this a good outcome?” “Was that normal?”. All of these questions, however, are flawed. (You could call this meta-meta-analysis lmao).
“Was this the right thing to do?” What is right? If I mean to say ‘correct’, then, what is correct? That statement makes no sense, as, to assume correctness is to assume that there is a state of affairs with actors involved who can determine some correctness. I believe that there is objective correctness which is grounded in the order of the world, yet that there must simultaneously be (1) the state of affairs and (2) the actors. A state of affairs must be a given circumstance and, yes, there has been a circumstance, so (1) is fulfilled. But (2) is not so easy. Within the set of actors defined in (2) I can denote myself certainly. But now things really, really become tricky. Do I mean actors directly involved, indirectly involved, or both? If I mean directly, I have two sorts of simple circumstances: those where I act alone and those where I act with others. If I mean to include indirect involvement, I have a whole host of qualifiers that I now must involve in the discerning of what I mean when I mean what I mean.
Let’s talk of these qualifiers. ‘Consent of doability’ I’ll define as public admission to an action: some other person or group has said ‘this action is doable’. ‘Consent of approval’ I’ll define as public admission to the goodness of an action. But this qualifier is tricky as well, because to say that some person or group has said that some action is ‘good’ is to circle back to an original question I initially had: “Was this a good outcome?” So, therefore, ‘consent of approval’ denotes that some person or people have said that a thing is ‘good’ for some end. As, when any action is taken, an end is involved. ‘Good’ must be defined as an end-based term, therefore. The crux of the issue with regards to ‘consent of approval’ though, lies in what set I mean to discuss when I talk of ‘good’ for some end, because within the notion of ‘good’ I must further qualify with regards to who or what a thing is exactly ‘good’ for and whose notion of good I mean to speak of.
I could speak of ‘good’ as I myself define it. But this is an issue because, well, how exactly do I define good? Do I determine it based on that which I see around me? If so, there are certainly many sets of competing tendencies and understandings of the world which will necessarily define different notions of ‘good’. To which do I adhere? The one with the greatest ease, freedom, and perfection of living for the greatest number, I suppose. But should I even adhere to that? Then I must ask, ‘to what should I adhere to it for?’ And the answer to that question I can only suppose is ‘expedience’, that is, that the end-good to which I adhere ought to provide the greatest deal of ease in my adherence to it. Suppose doing the greatest good for the greatest number competes negatively with those individuals I see around me. Then, in this case, I have an issue with regards to expedience as, certainly, there will not be ease when individuals see an action performed that they disagree with. Here is an extreme conflict: good vs. expedience. Of course, many people merely believe expedience is the good, but this is not necessarily so. This is what I would term ‘the veil of normalcy’ as in the title, and it, in itself, poses issue because it supposes that the set of actors contained within all actions and ideas given the condition ‘normal’ ought to be the case for their own sake, as is a property of a ‘good’ thing. Such a property flows from that thing defined as ‘good’ which does the greatest ease, freedom, and perfection of living for the greatest number, as a thing which yields ease to as many people as possible makes their lives more enjoyable, a thing which yields freedom makes them more open to more things which may make them more enjoyable, and a thing which is perfect makes said lives more closely aligned with their true nature. Therefore, I’d say that such a thing ought to exist for its own sake. Therefore, said things, because they ought to exist for their own sake, are the supreme things, and in groupspeak, ‘our things’ which are good because they ‘are ours’. I don’t like this much at all, because it implies a certain exclusivity of material within those things which are ours and those which are not. It, further, entails a sort of Venn Diagram like relationship between actors within different sets of definitions of good.
Assuming that those who participate most fully within the set are at the center of a circle, we may call these individuals ‘absolute normalities’. Those who drift toward the edges find intersection with a host of different other intersecting sets of definitions of goods, participating in all of them only to the extent that the outer edges of the circle allow. Now, it ought to be the case that as this process of sublimation of presumed normalcies into the ego is carried out, that is, as the process of meta-thought takes place, the individual more fully becomes himself. He or she is no longer bound to the circumstance within the center of the set, yet, simultaneously, is no longer bound to those of another set. Individuation, then, is the process of finding one’s set of concurrences, his own set of intersections, and participating in them as he sees fit.
All of this is well and good, and it leaves us with a process that may be carried out when determining answers to the basic questions asked at the beginning. If the question is “Was this action right?” some parameters must be determined. First. Who is directly involved in the action, who is witness to the action, and who is impacted by the action? Second. Those who are directly involved, what good-definition-sets do they participate in, and how would such a good-definition treat this scenario? Those who are witness, the same? Those who are impacted, the same? That is, how are the consents of doability and consents of approval involved?
With these questions answered, one must be sure account for their own objective metrics for determining prospectively what course of action should be taken or retrospectively whether an action that was taken was good. They must compare their own internal ideas to those ideas they have uncovered while answering the questions within the parameters mentioned earlier. That is, one cannot truly uncover some sort of ethical outcome without first breaking the veil of normalcy. Within the veil of normalcy is peace, contentment, and certainty. In a word, the world makes a good deal of sense. People do what they do because that’s what they do. Particularly, your parents with their scheduling and organizing, jobs, participations in the numerous different sets of value-definitions, and networks of relationships are all solid. That truly is the veil of normalcy, the solid state in which the observable world is but a thing that merely is independent of the self. To break this veil is to realize that this independence is not only not real, but, rather, that the world is much the opposite. That the self is a participant in the world, and that it may shape it. It is the jump from seeing one’s father run errands while a child to doing them yourself, the realization that such errands are not matters of fact set in stones, but organic outcomes of states of affairs intimately connected to your person in a manner that could not be recognized during your youth.
Within ethics, meta-thought enables the same sort of thing. The notion that others do not make value-judgements merely because they make them but that, like you, they are active participants in a global network of relationships, with others and with the material objects. Outside of the veil of normalcy is, at first, mere chaos. Outside, the mind is initially confused. The certainty of the past is quickly replaced with a seemingly infinite array of questions that cannot be solved.
That is, of course, until they are. When the mind begins to answer such questions and make of himself, himself, that mind becomes itself. Normalcy no longer becomes a veil, but is the reality of the scenario. The mystery of all things becomes understood in terms the mind can grasp, slowly but surely. Before the knower knows it, he has made himself his own normalcy to be impressed upon his own child, and the cycle repeats. He, like his parent before him, becomes an “inculcater of norm.”
2 thoughts on “Ethical Meta-Thought”
I think your discussion on meta-thought is fascinating – though I do have one curiosity. First, allow me to preface by stating Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory. Lacan’s psychoanalysis discusses the concept of the ‘Imaginary Order’, the state of being post-birth, where one is but a consciousness among a chaotic world with no identifiable self, unable to make reason and is merely delegated to making interpretations through experience and not language. 6-18 months after birth, humans should gain the grasp of self-identity in the ‘Symbolic Order’. This is where a human’s intelligence surpasses that of an animal. Lacan compares this to a toddler looking at themselves in the mirror and acknowledging their reflection as being themselves.
To cut to the chase – you seem to dictate that ethical meta-thought requires an acknowledgement of one’s self to exist. However, in the Imaginary Order, the individual is incapable of acknowledging their own self. Hence, would you believe that a baby is incapable of grasping ethical meta-thought, or simply ‘good’? Hence, is a baby only able to comprehend ‘expedience’, a catalyst for the irrational and ‘selfish’ actions and behaviour present in an infant?
Not everyone has to agree with Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, and I have no issue if you do. Regardless, I am merely curious to hear your thoughts on such an idea. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your concept of ethical meta-theory, and I look forward to you posting again :).
LikeLiked by 1 person
I quite like the idea of self as a product of a “Symbolic Order” and I think that’s exactly how I’d describe it. Meta-thought is the process of breaking down symbols, really: what do I mean when I say that I am meaning to mean something? But in breaking down, though one may fear we re-establish the “Imaginary Order” we instead sublime a new iteration of the Symbolic Order altogether, one which retains the goods generated in the initial iteration combined with the “freedom” so to speak of the “Imaginary Order”. This idea of “returning unto constituents” with those things learned while in states of relative privation is a Hegelian concept, if you’d like to look into it more.
In any case, a baby is incapable of grasping ethical meta-thought or the good. Good is a prime example of a product of the Symbolic Order. The referent of “good” being that thing which exists for its own sake, such a thing does not exist in any objective way without its recognition by the human knower. “Good” is a symbol: a symbol of and for humanity, its rationality, and its intrinsic self-ness. Hence why, for example, we’d describe virtue as one of the greatest goods: it is man’s discipline of his passions for the sake of social cohesion. An ego can only know this symbol when he or she knows that they are a participant in the greater whole, meaning they must know themselves.