Recently I read an article by Ruth Chang, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, and then watched her TED talk. The talk had to do with what makes some choices hard; the article was closely related to that but also about being the person you want to be and creating a new you. When she refers to hard choices, she’s talking about decisions we make between two options that are “‘on a par'” or between alternatives that are equal in value and are difficult to choose between because of that. There is no wrong answer, but they may not be equally good either. What she argues is that the choice we make must be something we can stand behind and commit to and thereby turn it into a position of value. To me, the strongest statement she makes in the article is “when we choose between options that are on a par, we make ourselves the authors of our own lives.” This assertion reverberated with me because it sounds very similar to what Ruth tells Al when he’s at loose ends. She tells him in S6E6, “we are the authors of our lives.” (I doubt the writers knew about Ruth Chang. Her TED talk was given on June 18, 2014 and the filming of S6 was over by that time. However, her earliest articles on this subject appeared in 1997 and thereafter she continued to write about this subject regularly.) Like so many interesting issues in human behavior, there are both psychological and philosophical ways to view them.
There are many hard choices confronting Martin and Louisa. We have been discussing the personality traits of these two characters. Presumably these would play a role in how they would go about deciding between the options they must face now. Ruth Chang’s article uses the tradition of making resolutions for the New Year as a starting point and ends by noting: “Our task then is to reflect on what kind of person we can commit to being when making those choices.” I think we can put this to work for the situation at hand, especially because it relates to making changes that can lead to being a different person, and change is what Martin plans for himself.
I’m going to take a stab at some of the hard “on a par” choices Martin and Louisa have to make and see what all of you think about these and what others you come up with.
1. Louisa must decide whether to return to the house. The alternative is to live in Portwenn and be separated (right now she can’t leave because of her recent surgery). This decision would be on a par because Louisa loves Martin and wants to be married and parent JH with his father; however, Louisa knows being married to Martin is difficult and Martin would continue to have a relationship with JH even if they lived apart.
2. Martin must decide whether to confide in Louisa and admit he needs her help. The alternative is to decide that he continues to be unable to have an intimate conversation with Louisa. This decision is on a par because Martin wants to be with Louisa and he recognizes that she has been very disturbed by his secrecy and unwillingness to reach out to her; however, Martin struggles to allow anyone into his inner world and he knows it will be arduous to convert himself into someone who asks for help and shares his thoughts.
3. They must decide whether to seek counseling, marriage or individual or both. The alternative is to try to reconcile on their own, possibly with Ruth’s help. This decision is on a par because both Martin and Louisa are aware that a counselor could be helpful and counseling has been recommended by both Edith and Ruth; however, Martin is skeptical of most counselors and likes to manage his own care, and both of them will want to go to counseling in a location not well-known by Portwenn villagers. Finding a way to budget the time for that may be too much trouble.
I could go on, but I’ll leave it to you to suggest other hard choices. I’d like to consider how this philosophical view can be combined with the psychological traits we’ve been discussing too.
In addition, I’d like to refer you to an article by Ruth Chang titled “Commitments, Reasons, and the Will” in which she discusses internal commitments. On page 78, Chang explains, “a promise to love and to cherish has greater normative significance than that of incurring an obligation through a promise. This is because it is backed by an internal commitment—something the promisor has done all by himself that gives his subsequent promise special significance or meaning.” We know Martin is a moral man, and we consider Louisa moral as well. They have taken the step to get married after having many vacillations in their interaction as a couple. Now that they’ve taken a vow to be together, they have made an internal commitment that Chang makes a strong argument about — it changes who they are and the significance of their relationship. That has to play some sort of role in what they decide to do and in what kind of people they want to commit to being.
Originally posted 2015-01-14 17:16:21.