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The Role of Action in the Development of Ethical Certainties
In any conscient human action it is always given a motive which leads us to act with one orientation instead of another. This is what, in a certain sense, allows us to say that we choose what we want or what fulfils our expectations in terms of the limits of the given circumstances. There is always the search for a benefit related to what we consider preferable, and this is so called delimited by what it signifies for us. In the end, it has an origin that supports our elections, and give the basis to have reasons for justifying these elections. This line of reflection has to be of use not only to understand the meaning of our actions in order to satisfy our current necessities, but it can also help to clarify the scope and content of the ethical discourse. That is, we orient our behavior on the basis of certain convictions we take for granted, which, in principle, we cannot ignore if maybe we want to make decisions showing our ethical preferences.
An exhaustive analysis of our behavior will have as a result a final point beyond which we cannot go. In a certain sense, we can give reasons for any of our acts, that is, we can justify why we act that way instead of another; we can explain the motives which, from the ethical point of view, lead us to orient our decisions in one sense or another. Nevertheless, if the analysis is rigorous enough, we will reach some propositions the justification of which will not be possible; rather, they are the foundations for any justification. To justify a decision means that one has reasons to specify why he/she did so. Why he/she preferred doing this instead of any other possibility.
The end we reach in the analysis of our behavior is a sort of rocky floor beyond which it is senseless going on. This rocky floor is the basic certainties on which our conduct is structured and grounded. Then, we could ask ourselves about why we call them certainties. It is obvious that to act we need to assume — or take for granted — something to depart from. Their central character resides precisely in that we cannot negate such certainties we assume, given the peculiar relation of them with the rest of our behavior. We say they become the axis around which the rest of the propositions giving shape to our conduct settle. It would be useful to ask if in talking about such certainties we can do it in terms of degrees between them, so showing the difference of those which have a more basic character from the ones which have not. When we speak of basic certainties we are speaking of the statements we cannot give reasons about, from the ethical point of view of our conduct. Besides, precisely because of the special value of these statements we can give justifications of the ones which depend on them, and which have a secondary importance, though this could also be central. Thus, the motive by which we cannot give reasons of these ultimate statements is, so to say, because the only reason to justify them is: we act so. They are present in our decisions, because they are the last instance which gives effect to what must be done. Argumentation and justification always come after them, so that we can call these certainties unquestionable or unshakeable. To discuss them would mean, either they are not so central or we have disassembled completely our behavior, negating its own substance.
A question that could be done in this sense would be how these certainties are settled in our conduct. Their main characteristic is that they are action, they are not due to theoretical learning we could develop at school, at home, in the church, etc.. An ethical lesson can be added to the group of our patterns of action through a convincing reasoned exposition. But in order for that to be so, we need the existence of those certainties previously, the acquisition of which is not the result of reflection or reasonable agreement. They are statements the force of which we do not call into question; they go unnoticed because discussing them is senseless. Not questioning certain things is something that belongs to the logic of our decisions and, in general terms, to our ethical behavior; our behavior concerning Good and Evil.
It is very difficult to explain how we acquire this kind of certainties, but the most coherent response is to say that we do it through training. For training we understand not a ruled sequence of previously fixed patterns, but the learning depending on the influence of, and confidence in, those surrounding us. Confidence is of extreme importance for this issue. We cannot make use of language, develop any behavior without confidence. In primary terms, we find the reference of any possibility for communication in the action of those who surround us closely. To doubt from the beginning is senseless. A radical doubt, a doubt from the roots, is an absurdity, because if something of this sort happened, any possibility to develop and express our conduct would be annulled. To doubt we must begin by accepting something. Doubt comes always after certainty. And this certainty has its origins in the coincidence in action. Such coincidence is not casual but its justification comes, in the first place, from training, for which confidence is an unavoidable element. Where does that confidence come from? Trying to give an answer to this question is like trying to explain why we are human beings and not something else. The very necessity to articulate the behavior leads us to attend irrationally others’ actions. We do not ask why, but we trust. We could presumably say that it is the adaptative answer to the emptiness of the helplessness we bear when we are born.