Two Sticks with Big Implications


Nathan Richardson

I began the introduction to this series with a quote by Gerald Lund.

Whether he recognizes it or not, every person holds to a metaphysical position, trusts in at least one system of epistemology, and holds a personal axiology or set of values and ethics. Furthermore, these three areas of our own philosophy are interrelated. Our metaphysics (our view of reality) influences our epistemology (the way we gain knowledge), and together the two determine our axiology (our values).1

In other words, you can’t pick up one end of a stick without picking up the other end, too. Therefore, before we adopt a certain idea, we should be aware of the implications we are adopting with it. In her masters thesis,2 Renée Beckwith gives an example of two competing assumptions that each carry with them a whole 2×4 of implications. These two conflicting currents in psychology are called by several names, but I will call them Self-interest and Other-interest. They can be traced back to a set of initial assumptions and their implications, which I have examined in this series of articles, and which I have summarized in the following chart.


Implication Paradigm 1
Paradigm 2

Nature of self
The self is defined by separation. Selves are not related to each other in any intrinsic way or inextricable ways. The self is undistinguished until it encounters another self. Because the self is created by the existence of other selves, they are inextricably related and connected.
Ways of knowing
Because selves are inherently separate, knowledge is obtained through detachment and objectivity. One needs to be disconnected from the object in order to see it clearly. Emotion connects us and thus is an obstacle to understanding. Because selves are inherently connected, attempting to detach oneself distorts the reality one is trying to understand. One needs to acknowledge and fulfill their connections in order to see clearly. Thus love is essential, and one must forget self and self-interests in order to see things as they really are.
Agency and freedom
Agency is the capacity to choose independent of any other sources or influences. Freedom is to be separate or detached, with no external obligations or demands outside of what the individual chooses. Agency is created by the presence of the other; other selves provide the influences and possibilities to which we subject ourselves. Detachment is impossible for agents, so freedom is a way of being in relation to others. Freedom is to be in the relationships truthfully.
No universal morality or truth exists because they would produce obligations, limiting our freedom to choose without being influenced. Separate individuals choose their own relative values. Each individual determines consciously and rationally what is right for himself. A universal morality exists because we are all connected. The needs of the other define what is moral or good, and all individuals decide whether to act on the same universal virtues. The other’s needs press upon the self and “call” him to act morally, often intuitively and without rational understanding.
Intent of existence
The self is in competition with others; it defends individual rights and seeks to pursue self-interest. Others are seen as objects that either facilitate or hinder one’s own objectives. The self is connected with others; one acts for the well-being of the other, but the self is simultaneously benefited. One must forget self and self-interest in order to act for the well-being of the other.


Purposes of This Comparison

I want to clarify the purpose of this series. I will give three reasons in particular.

1. We have a unique advantage. My purpose is not to show how I have explained the gospel or justified faith and morality through reason and logic. Indeed, a major difference between these two paradigms is that in the second paradigm, we intuit our moral choices long before we can articulate them or explain them rationally. To borrow from Richard Williams,

The point of this discussion is not to defend the truth of the restored gospel based on intellectual argument. The gospel is true despite all such arguments. It is true even if this analysis is fatally flawed. My point is, rather, to suggest that Latter-day Saints are uniquely empowered, and should be uniquely motivated to defend agency,

as well as other vital principles. Thus, I hope I have illustrated what a unique advantage the gospel gives us in analyzing ideas in the world.

2. Watch for implications. Like Elder Lund, I want to warn that ideas have consequences. We sometimes accept false ideas that seem unrelated to living and understanding the gospel, but if we examine the implications of some of our assumptions, we may be surprised at the notions we would be obliged to accept along with those assumptions. Thus, the gospel should permeate every aspect of how we view the world.

3. Ask questions while on your feet. I want to illustrate that, while revealed truth can often be rendered reasonable, we should not wait until then to obey it. Many times, especially in the framework of worldly notions, the doctrines of salvation don’t make sense until after we have pondered them for a long time, such as “Men are agents unto themselves,” or, “Wickedness never was happiness.” Eventually we see the reasons why Heavenly Father commands certain things. But if we were to say, “I will obey once I understand,” we might be waiting a long time—for one thing, because our mortal minds can only comprehend so much, and for another thing, because truth is comprehended quicker when it is obeyed. And if we waited to obey until we fully understood the reasons behind revelations, we would deprive ourselves of the blessings of righteousness in the interim. Far better to exercise faith in the present, gain understanding in the future, and end up with the best of both worlds in the end.


1. Gerald N. Lund, “Countering Korihor’s Philosophy,” Ensign, Jul. 1992, p. 16.

2. Renée Beckwith, “Exploring Maternal Ambivalence: Comparing Findings with Two Opposing Paradigms of Intent,” master’s thesis (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2003). This table has been adapted from page 31 of her thesis.

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