What If There’s Nothing You Should Do?

You won’t believe the answer!

You probably think that lying is wrong. According to the philosophical view known as the error theory, this thought ascribes wrongness to lying, but wrongness does not exist. This means that lying is not wrong. You may think that in that case lying is permissible. But according to the error theory, the thought that lying is permissible ascribes permissibility to lying, and permissibility does not exist either. So the error theory says that lying is neither wrong nor permissible. And it says the same thing about anything else you may want to do.

At first glance this theory may seem crazy. But the arguments for the error theory are surprisingly strong. Suppose that you are convinced by these arguments. If so, what should you do? Should you stop believing that lying is wrong? Should you just tell lies whenever you feel like it?

Defenders of the theory give different answers to this question. Some think that you should simply stop believing that lying is wrong. Others agree

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Keith Beasley 10 July 2019

When I saw "Nothing" in the title of this article, I immediately considered a decolonisation approach to the topic and asked myself "what does Eastern philosophy says on such subjects?"

The Tao Te Ching #2 (Addiss & Lombardo translation, 1993), for example, says this:

"Recognise beauty and ugliness is born.
Recognise good and evil is born.

Ku Yu Wu hsiang sheng
Is and Isn't produce each other.

Hard depends on easy,
Long is tested by short,
High is determined by low,
Sound is harmonized by voice,
After is followed by before.

Therefore the sage is devoted to non-action,
. . . . . "

In good Taoist/Zen style I won't attempt to explain, I will just invite you to read carefully and quietly reflect on the above words.