If remembrance of a deed is going to fade, should you still do it? Does the impermanence of your memory, or that of others, discount the value of an action?
As far as I know, it doesn’t. The philosophy I’ve studied—which is mostly western, and of the Stoic variety—says that actions should be undertaken for the right reasons. And the only right reason for an action is that it is, well, the right thing to do.
This is before we even consider the permanence of the past versus the permanence of personal or cultural memory. The two are different. And the former contains the latter. Personal and cultural memory are but fragments of the past. There have been many billions of people that have lived and died, but our history is focused on a tiny, tiny percentage of these people and their deeds. Similarly, our memory is only a small part of our actual past.
But let’s leave behind the difference between the past and our memories. Back to rightness.
A middle manager of a corporate behemoth decides to expose it’s fraudulent and morally questionable activity. He brings in journalists and the law. The corporation fights back, thrashes, collapses and eventually dies as a result of his actions.
Now, imagine two variants of the above scenario. They are the same in every way except this: in the first the man’s actions remain unknown and anonymous. In the second, the man is a part of the story that journalists tell and is credited for his actions.
Which variant would you prefer to live out? The one where you remain anonymous, or the one where you are credited?
I know which I would choose: the latter. I’d want credit for doing the right thing and taking such a risk.
But I know which I should choose: neither. Choosing either indicates that I’m concerned with the consequences of doing the right thing, the personal outcome. But doing the right thing should be all that matters. So the choice should be completely irrelevant. I should do a thing because it’s right, regardless of the presence or absence of good or bad consequences for myself.