Drawing a Line or Walking the Other Way?

Multiple times this semester, Oscar Wilde’s stance on morality has come up, “Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.”  I agree with his position to a point.  We must have clear moral standards or we will have none at all.

Yet in my mind, the idea of a moral line is scary.  It is far too easy to creep up to that line, maybe even to peer across to the other side.  While I may remain in “good moral standing” according to my line, I am too close to temptation for comfort.  Standing next to the line, I can easily fall across or perhaps even be pushed over.  I think the metaphor of a moral line can encourage an attitude in which I ask myself, “How close can I get?  How far can I go without doing wrong?”  If this is the wrong attitude, what is the solution?

One solution might be to draw my practical moral line “a long way back,” metaphorically,  from my true moral line.  While this solution might keep me from wrong, it doesn’t fix the underlying attitude.  A better solution is to flee from the evil, or more plainly, just to walk the other way.  Pursue good behavior.  As the book Yanna reviewed advised, cultivate good moral habits.  In short, the best path to take is the one that leads away from the line between right and wrong, the one that scraps the whole idea of trying to get away with as much as I can without doing wrong.  In order to walk the other way, we need to hone our moral lens.  To put it another way, we must strive to intentionally deepen our worldview, rather than passively letting the world shape us.

I’ve found that reading good and varied books is one excellent way of shaping my worldview.  We’ve been given many great suggestions of books to read in this class that can expand our thinking on ethics and our interaction with the world as scientists.  One particularly formative book for me was The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View by Walsh and Middleton.  Obviously written from a Christian perspective, this book won’t appeal to everyone.  However, the authors present a wonderful resource at the end that I believe may be useful to us all. They provide recommended reading lists for people working in nearly every academic discipline.  I would like to highlight two of the books they recommend for engineers.

Small is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher – Considered by some among the top 100 most influential books of the past century, Schumacher artfully shows how economics, science, and technology can be carried out in ways that respect people – realizing that they matter.  It really opened my eyes to the alternatives that exist to our current economic system that generally disregards people.

The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul – (I have to admit that I make it through all of this one.  It is not a light read.)  Ellul calls into question modern society’s deference to science and technology as ultimate things.  He points out how easily humans become subservient to technology rather than using it within proper bounds.  He helps to raise, and maybe answer, the question of whether we should do things in science and technology just because we can.  Is our humanity being sacrificed at the altar of technology?

1 thought on “Drawing a Line or Walking the Other Way?

  1. “…we must strive to intentionally deepen our worldview, rather than passively letting the world shape us” — I found this statement profound. Although I wonder if deepening one’s worldview can happen in isolation, without “conversing” with the world in one way or another, I also have the sense that articulating one’s morals (even to oneself) — especially in the face of serious dilemmas — is one of the most-introspective and loneliest experiences a human being can have. I just saw this fantastic documentary called “Soldiers of Conscience” (http://www.soldiers-themovie.com/) and have to say that watching the young men featured explain the morality that led them to reject the system made me feel like I was watching something sacred — almost like a birth or a death. Thanks for the book recommendations. They sound great!

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