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A thought inspired by Friday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Sotah 37

A thought inspired by Friday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Sotah 37

Do only our actions define us?

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.

What do you believe? At first glance, this may seem like a straightforward question, but a simplistic response would fail to take into account the complexity of the human brain.

What you believe depends on the exact moment someone asks you the question. The brain is composed of numerous modules, and the configuration of these modules that is currently in control could determine whether you agree with a particular statement. However, even this explanation is overly simplistic, as (i) there are non-verbal beliefs, (ii) some parts of you agree more than others, (iii) there are varying degrees of how strongly you agree, (iv) a statement’s meaning can shift as you contemplate it, (v) you might verbally agree even if your thoughts are less certain, and (vi) everything is context-dependent.

One way to navigate this complexity is to assert that only our actions truly define us. Action is the ultimate test of what you believe. The moment when you translate your internal thought processes into tangible, real-world activities is when you uncover your true identity and values. You can deceive even yourself about what truly matters to you until the moment you manifest your self-image through a specific behavior.

But does focusing solely on actions provide a sufficient answer to the question? Maybe not.

What was your intention when you said or did something? Should only the action be considered, or does the outcome you expected from your action also play a role?

Assume that you have done something good and that your intentions, as far as you can tell, were genuinely good, will you repeat the same action next time? Can others count on you to consistently behave in this manner? Can you count on yourself?

Next, even if we assume that you are consistent and reliable in your actions and that your intentions were pure, does that resolve all the questions? Shouldn’t the consequences of what you did also matter?

We are complex organisms, and our world is even more so. As much as we may need a clear-cut answer to the question of whether our actions solely define us, we might have to accept that there are multiple valid answers – not just one. It will always depend on the angle from which you examine the question.

submitted by /u/eliyah23rd
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