A monk came to Master Banzen and asked, “What can be said of universal moral law?”
Master Banzen replied, “Among the Tyvari of Arlos, all know that borlitude is highly frumful. For a Human of Earth, is quambling borl forbidden, permissible, laudable or obligatory?”
The monk replied, “Mu.”
Master Banzen continued, “Among the Humans of Earth, all know that friendship is highly good. For a Tyvar of Arlos, is making friends forbidden, permissible, laudable or obligatory?”
The monk replied, “Mu,” and asked no more.
Qi’s Commentary: The monk’s failure was one of imagination. His question was not foolish, but it was parochial.
Shouldn’t Banzen’s second question be something like “For a Tyvar of Arlos, is making friends frumful, flobulent, grattic, or slupshy?”?
I don’t really know anything about the Tyvar of Arlos, so I’m pretty confused on this front, but I’m fairly sure you’re relating a Talmudic anecdote, not a Zen one ;-). “Forbidden, permissible, laudable, or obligatory” says to me that we’re contemplating halachah.
I would hope you don’t know anything about them—they were made up on the spot. ^_^
And yes, I suppose the style here might well have been influenced from more than one place.
Sounds to me like the master’s jumping to more conclusions than the student is, here. His response makes sense if he wanted to break a sufficiently specific deontology (at least at interspecies scope), but there are a lot of more general things you could say about morality that aren’t yet ruled out by the student’s question.
How is this a failure of imagination? Why is the question parochial?
Parochial because he mistook a local property of mindspace for a global one; unimaginative because he never thought of frumfulness when considering what things a mind might value. “Good” is no more to a Tyvar than “frumful” to Clippy or “clipful” to a human.
this is silly. Good is a quite useful concept that easily stretches to cover entities with different preferences, but even if it does not, it’s STILL meaningful, and your clippy example shows us exactly why. The meaning of clipful, something like “causes there to be more paperclips” or whatever, is perfectly clear to if not really valued by humankind.
Is “good” what many sorts of intelligent beings strive to do? Then “good” is such things as self-improvement, rationality, survival of one’s values, anti-counterfeiting of value, personal survival, and resource acquisition. For any intelligent being that does not expend energy to survive will be washed away by entropy. And so, “good” is universal. (The sage Omohundro does not call it “good”, though; that is a novice’s word.)
Is “good” the noise that one group of one species of social creatures say when they comfort and praise their tribemates? Then “good” is such things as singing with a regular melody and rhythm, or setting up certain sorts of economic deals among tribemates and others; or leading the tribe’s warriors to dismember the others instead of being dismembered themselves; and it is parochial.
Ah, I see I was unclear. By “is no more to a Tyvar” I meant “is no more significant to a Tyvar” rather than “is no more comprehensible to a Tyvar.” Sorry; my fault.