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A thought inspired by Friday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 73

A thought inspired by Friday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 73

Commitment, Intention and Words.

This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

Three of the fundamental concepts underlying human interaction are commitment, intention, and the use of language.

When I commit to my fellow human beings, I limit my own future options but improve their ability to plan. I enable cooperation between us and everybody is more likely to achieve their own goals in comparison to the state of mistrust. Commitment involves introducing new sub-rules in the shared game we play, which shape our larger game.

We make decisions by predicting alternative futures. We consider how events might unfold if A happens and compare that to what we expect might follow if B happens. These events, A or B, can include our own actions or unforeseen circumstances beyond our control. In each scenario, we consider the possible reactions of ourselves and others.

Our intentions are defined by the behaviors we decide upon in these alternative futures. For example, if I run out of money, I intend to do X. If the baby cries at night, I intend to do Y.

We express these intentions to others using words. By articulating our intentions, we establish the building blocks of collaboration and commitment.

What happens if the future turns out to be like none of the alternatives scenarios we imagined when making a commitment? What if something totally unexpected happens? What if we believed we would succeed at something but were mistaken?

Imagine I say to my colleague, “I will stay here until I finish the job, whatever happens.” Then something unexpected arises, or I can’t seem to complete the task. I explicitly used the phrase “whatever happens,” leaving no room for ambiguity. It implies that there is no possible alternative that can change my commitment to finish.

In today’s world, guilt is often less valued than in past cultures, and most moral systems are not considered absolute truths. However, the notion that we are obligated to abide by the rules we agreed upon has not lost its significance. It is said that even the most murderous criminals consider keeping their word as sacred.

So how can we justify forgiving a failure to uphold commitments due to unforeseen circumstances, even if there is no interpretation of our words that would justify this?

One answer is that words carry more meaning than their surface interpretation. Even when we say “whatever happens,” it actually means “whatever might reasonably happen.”

Another answer is that these failures are simply logical shortcomings. We use indefinite pronouns like “all,” “none,” “never,” “whenever,” or “any” as alternatives to describing every possibility. However, we can never truly consider every possibility due to our limited imagination or time. In the world of computer programming, these are known as “bugs.” We live with these bugs in our speech.

On one hand, reneging on commitments without cause is universally seen as morally wrong. On the other hand, it is unreasonable to never allow for the extremely unlikely. In reality, this is likely a spectrum, with our behavior falling somewhere between the two extremes.

The challenge lies in determining where the current situation falls on that spectrum. We often put a thumb on the scale. Who are we really? Who do we want to become?

submitted by /u/eliyah23rd
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Source: Reditt

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