True Selves: Actions Vs. States

Is the true self the person who is uninhibited due to lack of sleep or excess of alcohol? Or is it the person who censors their self?

One might claim that an action made in haste, without the time and ability to censor one’s self, is the revelation of the “true self”.  This view considers the “true self” to be the person who does not conform to social norms in attempt to cover up or limit their preferences (aka true self).   Is a person who is inebriated and prone to quick expression, despite typical social constraints, and who for the moment observes only their raw emotions revealing who they are?  Or have they retarded a part of their character?

One might say that less voluntary actions are not the “true self”.  The basic argument is that people are multidimensional beings and the ability to deliberate and consider one’s action in advance encompasses forethought.  Only by actions made after full consideration can a person’s values and character be evaluated.  Is there any action which is not lacking in the utmost consideration and weighing of values?  Is the thoughtless action nothing more than the auto-response which nature has imbibed us and for which we are not culpable?

I can empathize with either stance.   The first stance appeals to the individual in isolation; that a person only reveals their self when they must make an undeliberated decision that is made without self-censorship.  The second stance appeals to the idea that people are complex and that impulses are subdued in order to interact socially.  But the decision to subdue those impulses and value the approbation of others is a preference which should be considered. But I think that the “true self” talk is really talking about two different things. Namely, Culpability and Aesthetic taste.

I’m not sure about all this “true self” business.  Mostly because I don’t know what a “true self” is or what it’s supposed to connote.  But I do know what an action is.  And I do know what provokes a judgment of aesthetic taste or propriety.  Although aesthetics may contribute to a judgment of propriety, they need not.  It is similarly the case that something may be unappealing and simultaneously not be blameworthy.  This dividing line might lie between action and states most strikingly.  Only an action can blameworthy, but a persistent descriptive state is merely more or less appealing.  It generally seems much more blameworthy to go without bathing and to smell foul, if one would otherwise be level-headed, than to be an incompetent who is perceived as being less capable of prudent patterns of behavior.  The one is a deviation from demonstrated propriety while the other is both a lamentable and pitiful state of affairs.

But I think that even some actions are a matter of aesthetics and neutral in propriety.  This category of action would include things which are not willfully performed.  We treat these unwilled actions like states of being and we do not feel compelled to assign blame. Maybe all this “true self” talk is trying to get at when something is blameworthy.  And we tend not to blame people for unwilled actions or states of being.

Regardless, the person who is uninhibited reveals what the person really thinks – whether that is characteristic of the ‘true self’ is another, maybe spiritual discussion. I don’t know what a true self is. But I do know agents and actions. People do things. They speak and they think. The uninhibited person is the one who reveals what they think.  They reveal a systemic means of thought and deep biases.  They do not necessarily reveal what they would do and say ‘but for lies and deception’.  The inhibitions reflect one’s value of approbation and opprobrium by others.

Is a person culpable for their thoughts?  No.  Actions are what make people culpable.  Intent matters of course.  But this is only in measuring the propriety of an action.  What people think matters, not for moral reasons, but for revelation of true opinion (if you care about that kind of thing).  This is why people place weight on things which are said that lack careful deliberation.

Intent of an action can be blameworthy.  Whereas thoughts can only be attractive or not to our aesthetic liking.  Blame is an emotion which is most often associated with anger or stern judgment.  Disappointment, on the other hand, is a sadder emotion apart from the anger of blame.  Blame and disappointment can be felt simultaneously, but they are felt toward two different things.  Blame is often felt toward actions, and disappointment is felt toward states.  For example, if a child steals something from a parent and then lies about it, the parent may feel anger toward the child and want to punish the action of lying (not to mention the theft).  But we often hear that a parent isn’t angry so much as they are disappointed.  They aren’t disappointed in the action of the child.  They are saddened because they observe evidence that the child is a person who is willing to steal.  They are saddened because they have learned about the state of their child’s moral fiber or character.  They are angry that their child lied.  They are disappointed that their child is someone who would lie – that their child is a liar.

This adds some clarity to the phrase “adding insult to injury”.  An agent just being someone who would offend a close relation is what harms a friend.  The friend is hurt that the agent “is who they are”; namely, a person of lesser moral fortitude and a person who would be willing to hurt an intimate friend.  What must an agent think of the friend, after all, such that they deem it appropriate to hurt them?  Insult is the cause of anger.  And the cause of insult is the sentiment which a close relation imagines within another person as having been revealed.  The imagined mal-intent which motivated the offending action is what is insulting.  Recognizing  a valued friend’s state of being as a person who would have such mal-intent is what is injurious.

The “true self” talk is missing and therefore failing to recognize the distinction between actions and states which provoke the different sentiments.  States and actions often provoke disparate emotions, neither of which are encompassed by the “true self” vocabulary.  Indeed, the emotions provoked by either can provide evidence of contradictory and opposite ‘selves’.  To speak of a single true self ignores that the affected subject of an action both observes and judges the action and the state of the actor in determination of a sentiment.  To speak of another’s true self is far too general and fails to accurately describe the causes which would incite a verdict.

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