Blaise Pascal versus Santa Claus
Since guilt and the feeling of remorse has a good deal to do with why we don’t do evil, would there be anything stopping us being immoral if we somehow grew out feeling guilty, or indeed fearing the consequences of our actions.
Questions have been raised since time began how to instill good morality in children in a way that is itself moral. If you’ve no reason to believe in, say, a God, then you could appeal to Blaise Pascal, for whom since the existence of God can not be proved (or disproved) through reason alone, a person should wager that there is a God on the grounds that eternal damnation (the punishment for not believing) is far worse than all life stopping at death (for which there can be no eternal punishment).
Of course this in itself is a fear of the consequences; it is not belief in God based on revelation to the senses, or indeed reason, but worry that if one is wrong they will be subject to torture for ever more.
In this sense the belief on God could perhaps be an example of the noble lie. In the Republic, Plato conceptualised the noble lie to mean a myth that is maintained by the upper orders to keep social harmony by those among the lower orders. Today it could be applied to a parent who is trying to maintain order among their children. They could apply it one way by saying that if they are not good they will not go to heaven – which would again be instilling fear of the consequences. Conversely they could say heaven is rewarded to those who live the good life, which would at least be toying with the notion that the good life is a good in itself, but it is still conditional on a consequence, and is a telling of the good of the good life with reference to something that cannot be proven – is this moral?
Parents have often used Christmas, and the givings of Santa Claus, as a way of instilling a moral life of good. In the song ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ we are told that in order for us to meet the criteria of Good, as understood by Santa, we:
- better not pout
- better watch out
- better not cry
But Santa, according to the song, needs to know that we have been good for its own sake. Unlike Pascal’s Wager, we can get in to the kingdom of heaven, not because we have been good without fear of consequence, but because we have limited faculties to know the truth within the domain of reason alone, and have to appeal to assessing what is best in eternity, despite no concrete knowledge of the latter. For Santa, we understand through the song that:
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
So between Pascal and Santa, waging hard against the backdrop of Plato’s discussion on whether a person can be moral without fear of the consequences, assuming it is better that a person does good for the sake of good alone, it is Santa who takes first place.