The Moral Code of LAS
Written by: Bryant Dawson
It was not until my freshman year at Butler that my morals were
strewn into the inferno - and quite deliberately, in a seminar
class titled, "Faith, Doubt, and Reason." Despite the burn, I
emerged with a clearer understanding of right and wrong. The class
was the spark I needed to step outside my conservative comfort zone
of Southern Indiana and into reality. What I have discovered
throughout my subsequent liberal arts studies at Butler University
is that this reality is incredibly situational, but it can offer
great insight into what is right and wrong when approached through
a certain lens.
"Faith, Doubt and Reason" first exposed me to strong arguments
challenging my method of thinking. An argument made by Paul Tillich
in his book Dynamics of Faith states that "Science has no right and
no power to interfere with faith and faith has no power to
interfere with science" (Tillich 94). Tillich's philosophy rocked
my way of seeing the world. "How is it that two items intended to
improve human life and direct behavior for the masses could
possibly ever be completely compartmentalized?" I thought. The
questions inspired by this first class at Butler convinced me to
change my major from Biology to the emerging field of Science,
Technology, and Society. This has allowed me to broaden my
perspective on a variety of social issues, ultimately making me a
more accepting person.
In the major, abbreviated as "STS," I have found that I can
continue asking the same philosophical questions that were so
interesting to me as a freshman. Philosophy, however, is a
paradoxical subject. The Greeks defined it as "the love of wisdom,"
yet most writers seek to exclude some ideology, preaching a
one-sided argument. Maybe somewhere during the past 2,500 years we
have lost the meaning of wisdom. Certainly excluding ideas is not
This is exactly where I feel my Butler education has led me. Above
all, an open mind is necessary to understand morals. Decisions
about good and bad are relative, a lesson I have learned from
observations of other cultures. Last summer I received my core
community requirement volunteering with a medical brigade in
Guatemala through Butler's Timmy Global Health chapter. During the
trip I met a midwife name Maria Louisa, one of the community women
helping bridge the language barriers between our American medical
brigade and the rural Guatemalan community of Mayan descent. All
day long, she had a blanket strapped around her back carrying a
sleepy toddler. He eventually became restless and wiggled free to
the ground, exploring what I assume was the newly discovered art of
running. The Butler volunteers and I were enjoying his new found
freedom until Maria Louisa caught up, snagged him by one arm, and
lifted him up, giving him several resounding spanks on the rear
end. The boy did not cry, but I wanted to. The scene was hard to
watch and seemed unjust.
The act to me seemed morally wrong. "Can't spanking so frequently
condition children to answer anger with physicality?" I thought I
had read that somewhere, and it is certainly not what the world
needs. Later that night, however, I learned the Church in Guatemala
encourages women to spank to teach obedience. Maria Louisa was a
single mother and she had never read a psychological study about
the affects of spanking to make her question the action. What other
authority did she have to listen to if not the word of the Church?
How can I say that she was wrong?
While I experienced the situational nature of right and wrong in
Guatemala, I also discovered the necessity of perspective in
decision making during my semester abroad in Spain. I spent fall of
2013 on a Butler Spanish immersion program in Alcalá de Henares, a
suburb of Madrid. As the semester progressed, I slowly learned
about the city's most famous hero, Miguel de Cervantes, author of
Don Quixote. The book portrays the idea that perception is the key
to understanding reality. In the book, Don Quixote's perception is
so limited by the countless fantasies he reads that he is
disconnected from reality. He famously mistakes windmills for
giants and attempts to slay them. Regarding moral decisions, we
need to be careful not to find ourselves caught in a fantasy. What
Don Quixote needs, what society needs, and more specifically, what
I need, is to be widely informed to make decisions about what is
right and wrong.
Yes, moral decisions are incredibly difficult. Yes, we often do
the wrong things. What can we expect from the first beings on Earth
to try to understand decisions as being somehow right or wrong?
Only sharing ideas, the "love of wisdom," can help us understand
the puzzle of morality. Right or wrong cannot exist unless many
options are known and understood so that choices exist. I know now
that I was wrong to think Maria Louisa should not spank her child.
She has no other choice.
I have learned right from wrong not from being told by my parents,
or by discovering the answer in a single scientific experiment. It
was obtained through the places I have been, the languages I have
spoken, and the experiences I have had. The distinction between
what is right and wrong is certainly a matter of perspective. It
can be very situational, but the more informed we are about all
ideas, the better adapted we are to judge right versus wrong. I am
convinced that the true value of my liberal arts education is the
exposure it has given me to other people, places and ideas.