Forrest Cameranesi Geek of all Trades

On Empowerment, Courage, and Serenity

The structure of philosophy, centered on empowerment

Thus far in these essays, I have argued from my metaphilosophy to my general philosophy of commensurablism, which is any philosophy that is neither dogmatic nor cynical, and neither transcendent nor relativist.

Then I explored the implications of commensurablism on the philosophy of language, including both logic and rhetoric; its implications concerning reality and knowledge, including ontology, mind, epistemology, and education; and its implications concerning morality and justice, including axiology, will, deontology, and governance.

In this essay I will now begin exploring the implications of those subtopics concerning morality and justice on empowerment.

By "empowerment" I mean the inspiration of the will to actively pursue the good, the moral, or the just. Empowerment is the state of the will being (or the process of it becoming) fully free or self-directed. That state of will is a mix of both the courage to do the things that must be done even in the face of fear, and also the serenity to accept failure, without that failure dampening the courage to go on doing what must be done anyway.

We cannot empower someone just by telling them what to do, even if they are asking what to do to be empowered; for empowerment is not a set of actions but rather a mode of operation of the will. We cannot simply tell them to operate their will in that way either, for there is a bootstrapping problem there; they couldn't do that unless they were already empowered to begin with. Instead, we must somehow inspire them to exercise their will, give them (and even more importantly, show them that they have) opportunity and motive to take the initiative of their own accord.

The principle vehicle for inspiring other people to pursue goodness, to empower them, is thus to show them, not merely tell them but actually demonstrate in practice, that achieving goods is actually possible, and thus that there is hope for them if they try to do so themselves. At the same time, we must also show them that achieving goods is not a foregone conclusion that someone else will always handle for them without any action on their own part, because if they thought that was the case they would have no motive to try to act themselves.

So to that end, we need to point out to them how any authorities on justice that they may be tempted to rely on are fallible, and that without their personal action such authorities may fail, not necessarily catastrophically or globally, but in any particular case, in which cases the individuals involved will need to be ready to pick up that slack and stand up to injustice themselves. Likewise, though we can empower people by doing good by them, helping them flourish, we must conversely be sparing in our direct help, lest they come to rely upon us, take our help for granted, and deem it unnecessary for them to try to act themselves.

Instead, we need to help people to help themselves, to require that they take initiative in trying to pursue their own good, but to stand by and hold their hand while they get a bearing for it, to ensure that their early attempts are successful, and build in them the confidence and skill that they will need to continue pursuing goodness on their own. It will of course take much of such inspiration for such empowerment to stick permanently, and the challenges that we help people to overcome to build that empowerment must start out small enough for them to have a chance of success at them even with our help, but as they become increasingly empowered we can continue to help them tackle still greater and greater challenges, eventually building a momentum of achievement that can continue even without our further help.

But doing good not only for oneself, but also for others, can also help to cultivate that feeling of empowerment, the feeling that achieving justice oneself is both possible and necessary. So more than merely helping people to help themselves, we can also enlist them to help us help other people, and then to help those other people to help themselves, and to help those others to help others in turn; all that with the promise that doing so will in turn empower them, help them better learn to help themselves. In doing so we also begin to build the groundwork for the kind of joint, mutual pursuit of goodness necessary to underpin a governmental structure that does not itself violate the kind of liberal deontology I have earlier advocated in the very process of trying to defend it.

An analogous process is also required for inspiring the kind of practices necessary to underpin an academic structure that does not itself violate the kind of critical epistemology I have earlier advocated in the very process of trying to defend that.

Continue to the next essay, On Enlightenment, Curiosity, and Impartiality.