05 July 2006
Sins + Action + Intention
I had this crazy math professor. One time he bought my friends and me some 40s and we drove to Syracuse to go do something. (We [underage] drank them in the car: He had no license or insurance.) We stopped at a Wegman's (grocery store) and we stole some beer from the front of store; I had my first bit of sushi from that grocery store.
Gaspar Porta had some ideas that influenced me deeply, though. He was a strongly principled man who treated us undergraduates as equals. When we let him down he let us know. He was always talking about sins of omission and sins of action. People usually think of the latter primarily as a sin: I slept with your wife, I coveted your grill etc. But how could not acting be a sin? Do not the meek inherit the earth?
A nuanced reading of a situation: Hermeneutics, interpreting the topographical features of another's soul. "The human body is the best picture of the human soul" (Philosophic Investigations, II, iv, 178). How could you say that it isn't a sin to fail to act when you see my soul needs your help? A sin of omission. What does this mean?
You of dreary countenance and hunched frame go about your day. Assume no one intends to hurt other people. By failing to help you, I've committed a sin of omission, the failing to help you. I am not honor bound to help you, necessarily. But by not helping, I'm hurting. (I'm allowing to continue in another person his pain.) If I were a doctor (or even a lay person) and I saw one in need, would I not help? Would I wonder? Even Bill Frist came to the unsolicited aid of a man in need of his help. Bill Frist! When you wonder whether you should help someone, think about that...
In Husserlian terms (my possibly deviant, busted reading): Transcendental intersubjectivity can be said metaphorically to be injured by sins of omission just as much by sins of action. ("Sin is geographical.") To try to bring together Wittgenstein and Husserl: The world of the happy man and the world of the unhappy man are different, and the former must be said to be somehow better; the latter's must be characterized as having been influenced by punishment (toward the end of the TLP). This phenomenon, built-in punishment, i.e., bad actions immediately entailing some form of punishment, has to do with the shrinking of the bad person's world. The limit of my world is the limit of my language. Language is a communicative device (another assumption).
The result of acting badly can be stated in two ways: a) the limits of your world shrink because you do not understand your surrounding Lebensform, or your training was insufficient for your Lebensform. b) you cannot partake in transcendental intersubjectivity because the meanings that you constitute are in a sense private, i.e., those of a madman--escaping normativity. (See Foucault's Madness and Civilization.)
The point: One can say, 'I intended _____.', but a sin of omission is a sin of omission. To say, 'I intended to help, but I thought maybe I'd harm...' is an excuse. Where is this intention to which you point? I can see from your countenance that you know you should have acted. You made a mistake, and you failed to act morally.