To Avoid Moral Failure, Don’t See People as Sherlock Does

sherlock-holmes

Suspicious minds; William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes (right) and Bruce McRae as Dr John Watson in the play Sherlock Holmes (c1900). Courtesy Wikimedia

Rima Basu | Aeon Ideas

If we’re the kind of people who care both about not being racist, and also about basing our beliefs on the evidence that we have, then the world presents us with a challenge. The world is pretty racist. It shouldn’t be surprising then that sometimes it seems as if the evidence is stacked in favour of some racist belief. For example, it’s racist to assume that someone’s a staff member on the basis of his skin colour. But what if it’s the case that, because of historical patterns of discrimination, the members of staff with whom you interact are predominantly of one race? When the late John Hope Franklin, professor of history at Duke University in North Carolina, hosted a dinner party at his private club in Washington, DC in 1995, he was mistaken as a member of staff. Did the woman who did so do something wrong? Yes. It was indeed racist of her, even though Franklin was, since 1962, that club’s first black member.

To begin with, we don’t relate to people in the same way that we relate to objects. Human beings are different in an important way. In the world, there are things – tables, chairs, desks and other objects that aren’t furniture – and we try our best to understand how this world works. We ask why plants grow when watered, why dogs give birth to dogs and never to cats, and so on. But when it comes to people, ‘we have a different way of going on, though it is hard to capture just what that is’, as Rae Langton, now professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, put it so nicely in 1991.

Once you accept this general intuition, you might begin to wonder how can we capture that different way in which we ought to relate to others. To do this, first we must recognise that, as Langton goes on to write, ‘we don’t simply observe people as we might observe planets, we don’t simply treat them as things to be sought out when they can be of use to us, and avoid when they are a nuisance. We are, as [the British philosopher P F] Strawson says, involved.’

This way of being involved has been played out in many different ways, but here’s the basic thought: being involved is thinking that others’ attitudes and intentions towards us are important in a special way, and that our treatment of others should reflect that importance. We are, each of us, in virtue of being social beings, vulnerable. We depend upon others for our self-esteem and self-respect.

For example, we each think of ourselves as having a variety of more or less stable characteristics, from marginal ones such as being born on a Friday to central ones such as being a philosopher or a spouse. The more central self-descriptions are important to our sense of self-worth, to our self-understanding, and they constitute our sense of identity. When these central self-descriptions are ignored by others in favour of expectations on the basis of our race, gender or sexual orientation, we’re wronged. Perhaps our self-worth shouldn’t be based on something so fragile, but not only are we all-too-human, these self-descriptions also allow us to understand who we are and where we stand in the world.

This thought is echoed in the American sociologist and civil rights activist W E B DuBois’s concept of double consciousness. In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), DuBois notes a common feeling: ‘this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity’.

When you believe that John Hope Franklin must be a staff member rather than a club member, you’ve made predictions of him and observed him in the same way that one might observe the planets. Our private thoughts can wrong other people. When someone forms beliefs about you in this predictive way, they fail to see you, they fail to interact with you as a person. This is not only upsetting. It is a moral failing.

The English philosopher W K Clifford argued in 1877 that we were morally criticisable if our beliefs weren’t formed in the right way. He warned that we have a duty to humanity to never believe on the basis of insufficient evidence because to do so would be to put society at risk. As we look at the world around us and the epistemic crisis in which we find ourselves, we see what happens when Clifford’s imperative is ignored. And if we combine Clifford’s warning with DuBois’s and Langton’s observations, it becomes clear that, for our belief-forming practices, the stakes aren’t just high because we depend on one another for knowledge – the stakes are also high because we depend on one another for respect and dignity.

Consider how upset Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters get with Sherlock Holmes for the beliefs this fictional detective forms about them. Without fail, the people whom Holmes encounters find the way he forms beliefs about others to be insulting. Sometimes it’s because it is a negative belief. Often, however, the belief is mundane: eg, what they ate on the train or which shoe they put on first in the morning. There’s something improper about the way that Holmes relates to other human beings. Holmes’s failure to relate is not just a matter of his actions or his words (though sometimes it is also that), but what really rubs us up the wrong way is that Holmes observes us all as objects to be studied, predicted and managed. He doesn’t relate to us as human beings.

Maybe in an ideal world, what goes on inside our heads wouldn’t matter. But just as the personal is the political, our private thoughts aren’t really only our own. If a man believes of every woman he meets: ‘She’s someone I can sleep with,’ it’s no excuse that he never acts on the belief or reveals the belief to others. He has objectified her and failed to relate to her as a human being, and he has done so in a world in which women are routinely objectified and made to feel less-than.

This kind of indifference to the effect one has on others is morally criticisable. It has always struck me as odd that everyone grants that our actions and words are apt for moral critique, but once we enter the realm of thought we’re off the hook. Our beliefs about others matter. We care what others think of us.

When we mistake a person of colour for a staff member, that challenges this person’s central self-descriptions, the descriptions from which he draws his sense of self-worth. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with being a staff member, but if your reason for thinking that someone is staff is tied not only to something he has no control over (his skin colour) but also to a history of oppression (being denied access to more prestigious forms of employment), then that should give you pause.

The facts might not be racist, but the facts that we often rely on can be the result of racism, including racist institutions and policies. So when forming beliefs using evidence that is a result of racist history, we are accountable for failing to show more care and for believing so easily that someone is a staff member. Precisely what is owed can vary along a number of dimensions, but nonetheless we can recognise that some extra care with our beliefs is owed along these lines. We owe each other not only better actions and better words, but also better thoughts.Aeon counter – do not remove


Rima Basu is an assistant professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College in California. Her work has been published in Philosophical Studies, among others.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article here.

Schopenhauer

“In India our religions will never take root. The ancient wisdom of the human race will not be displaced by what happened in Galilee. On the contrary, Indian philosophy streams back to Europe, and will produce a fundamental change in our knowledge and thought.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer

the-world-as-will-and-representation

Full Book (PDF): The World as Will and Representation – Volume IVolume II

Full Book (PDF): On the Basis of Morality

Schopenhauer’s Thought

A key focus of Schopenhauer was his investigation of individual motivation. Before Schopenhauer, Hegel had popularized the concept of Zeitgeist, the idea that society consisted of a collective consciousness that moved in a distinct direction, dictating the actions of its members. Schopenhauer, a reader of both Kant and Hegel, criticized their logical optimism and the belief that individual morality could be determined by society and reason. Schopenhauer believed that humans were motivated by only their own basic desires, or Wille zum Leben (“Will to Live”), which directed all of mankind.

For Schopenhauer, human desire was futile, illogical, directionless, and, by extension, so was all human action in the world. Einstein paraphrased his views as follows: “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants.” In this sense, he adhered to the Fichtean principle of idealism: “The world is for a subject.” This idealism so presented, immediately commits it to an ethical attitude, unlike the purely epistemological concerns of Descartes and Berkeley. To Schopenhauer, the Will is a blind force that controls not only the actions of individual, intelligent agents, but ultimately all observable phenomena—an evil to be terminated via mankind’s duties: asceticism and chastity. He is credited with one of the most famous opening lines of philosophy: “The world is my representation.” Will, for Schopenhauer, is what Kant called the “thing-in-itself”. Friedrich Nietzsche was greatly influenced by this idea of Will, although he eventually rejected it.

For Schopenhauer, human desiring, “willing”, and craving cause suffering or pain. A temporary way to escape this pain is through aesthetic contemplation (a method comparable to Zapffe’s “Sublimation“). Aesthetic contemplation allows one to escape this pain—albeit temporarily—because it stops one perceiving the world as mere presentation. Instead, one no longer perceives the world as an object of perception (therefore as subject to the Principle of Sufficient Grounds; time, space and causality) from which one is separated; rather one becomes one with that perception: “one can thus no longer separate the perceiver from the perception” (The World as Will and Representation, section 34). From this immersion with the world one no longer views oneself as an individual who suffers in the world due to one’s individual will but, rather, becomes a “subject of cognition” to a perception that is “Pure, will-less, timeless” (section 34) where the essence, “ideas”, of the world are shown. Art is the practical consequence of this brief aesthetic contemplation as it attempts to depict one’s immersion with the world, thus tries to depict the essence/pure ideas of the world. Music, for Schopenhauer, was the purest form of art because it was the one that depicted the will itself without it appearing as subject to the Principle of Sufficient Grounds, therefore as an individual object. According to Daniel Albright, “Schopenhauer thought that music was the only art that did not merely copy ideas, but actually embodied the will itself”.

He deemed music a timeless, universal language comprehended everywhere, that can imbue global enthusiasm, if in possession of a significant melody.

Will as Noumenon

Schopenhauer accepted Kant’s double-aspect of the universe—the phenomenal (world of experience) and the noumenal (the true world, independent of experience). Some commentators suggest that Schopenhauer claimed that the noumenon, or thing-in-itself, was the basis for Schopenhauer’s concept of the will. Other commentators suggest that Schopenhauer considered will to be only a subset of the “thing-in-itself” class, namely that which we can most directly experience.

Schopenhauer’s identification of the Kantian noumenon (i.e., the actually existing entity) with what he termed “will” deserves some explanation. The noumenon was what Kant called the Ding an sich (the Thing in Itself), the reality that is the foundation of our sensory and mental representations of an external world. In Kantian terms, those sensory and mental representations are mere phenomena. Schopenhauer departed from Kant in his description of the relationship between the phenomenon and the noumenon. According to Kant, things-in-themselves ground the phenomenal representations in our minds; Schopenhauer, on the other hand, believed that phenomena and noumena are two different sides of the same coin. Noumena do not cause phenomena, but rather phenomena are simply the way by which our minds perceive the noumena, according to the principle of sufficient reason.

Schopenhauer’s second major departure from Kant’s epistemology concerns the body. Kant’s philosophy was formulated as a response to the radical philosophical skepticism of David Hume, who claimed that causality could not be observed empirically. Schopenhauer begins by arguing that Kant’s demarcation between external objects, knowable only as phenomena, and the Thing in Itself of noumenon, contains a significant omission. There is, in fact, one physical object we know more intimately than we know any object of sense perception: our own body.

We know our human bodies have boundaries and occupy space, the same way other objects known only through our named senses do. Though we seldom think of our body as a physical object, we know even before reflection that it shares some of an object’s properties. We understand that a watermelon cannot successfully occupy the same space as an oncoming truck; we know that if we tried to repeat the experiment with our own body, we would obtain similar results—we know this even if we do not understand the physics involved.

We know that our consciousness inhabits a physical body, similar to other physical objects only known as phenomena. Yet our consciousness is not commensurate with our body. Most of us possess the power of voluntary motion. We usually are not aware of the breathing of our lungs or the beating of our heart unless somehow our attention is called to them. Our ability to control either is limited. Our kidneys command our attention on their schedule rather than one we choose. Few of us have any idea what our liver is doing right now, though this organ is as needful as lungs, heart, or kidneys. The conscious mind is the servant, not the master, of these and other organs. These organs have an agenda the conscious mind did not choose, and over which it has limited power.

When Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with the desires, needs, and impulses in us that we name “will”, what he is saying is that we participate in the reality of an otherwise unachievable world outside the mind through will. We cannot prove that our mental picture of an outside world corresponds with a reality by reasoning; through will, we know—without thinking—that the world can stimulate us. We suffer fear, or desire: these states arise involuntarily; they arise prior to reflection; they arise even when the conscious mind would prefer to hold them at bay. The rational mind is, for Schopenhauer, a leaf borne along in a stream of pre-reflective and largely unconscious emotion. That stream is will, and through will, if not through logic, we can participate in the underlying reality beyond mere phenomena. It is for this reason that Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with what we call our will.

In his criticism of Kant, Schopenhauer claimed that sensation and understanding are separate and distinct abilities. Yet, for Kant, an object is known through each of them. Kant wrote: “[T]here are two stems of human knowledge … namely, sensibility and understanding, objects being given by the former [sensibility] and thought by the latter [understanding].” Schopenhauer disagreed. He asserted that mere sense impressions, not objects, are given by sensibility. According to Schopenhauer, objects are intuitively perceived by understanding and are discursively thought by reason (Kant had claimed that (1) the understanding thinks objects through concepts and that (2) reason seeks the unconditioned or ultimate answer to “why?”). Schopenhauer said that Kant’s mistake regarding perception resulted in all of the obscurity and difficult confusion that is exhibited in the Transcendental Analytic section of his critique.

Lastly, Schopenhauer departed from Kant in how he interpreted the Platonic ideas. In The World as Will and Representation Schopenhauer explicitly stated:

…Kant used the word [Idea] wrongly as well as illegitimately, although Plato had already taken possession of it, and used it most appropriately.

Instead Schopenhauer relied upon the Neoplatonist interpretation of the biographer Diogenes Laërtius from Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. In reference to Plato’s Ideas, Schopenhauer quotes Laërtius verbatim in an explanatory footnote.

Diogenes Laërtius (III, 12): Plato teaches that the Ideas exist in nature, so to speak, as patterns or prototypes, and that the remainder of things only resemble them, and exist as their copies.

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Moral Theory

Schopenhauer’s moral theory proposed that only compassion can drive moral acts. According to Schopenhauer, compassion alone is the good of the object of the acts, that is, they cannot be inspired by either the prospect of personal utility or the feeling of duty. Mankind can also be guided by egoism and malice. Egotistic acts are those guided by self-interest, desire for pleasure or happiness. Schopenhauer believed most of our deeds belong to this class. Acts of malice are different from egotistic acts. As in the case of acts of compassion, these do not target personal utility. Their aim is to cause damage to others, independently of personal gains. He believed, like Swami Vivekananda in the unity of all with one-self and also believed that ego is the origin of pain and conflicts, that reduction of ego frames the moral principles.

Even though Schopenhauer ended his treatise on the freedom of human will with the postulate of everyone’s responsibility for their character and, consequently, acts—the responsibility following from one’s being the Will as noumenon (from which also all the characters and creations come)—he considered his views incompatible with theism, on grounds of fatalism and, more generally, responsibility for evil. In Schopenhauer’s philosophy the dogmas of Christianity lose their significance, and the “Last Judgment” is no longer preceded by anything—”The world is itself the Last Judgment on it.” Whereas God, if he existed, would be evil.

He named a force within man that he felt took invariable precedence over reason: the Will to Live or Will to Life (Wille zum Leben), defined as an inherent drive within human beings, and indeed all creatures, to stay alive; a force that inveigles us into reproducing.

Schopenhauer refused to conceive of love as either trifling or accidental, but rather understood it as an immensely powerful force that lay unseen within man’s psyche and dramatically shaped the world:

The ultimate aim of all love affairs … is more important than all other aims in man’s life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it. What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation.

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Influence of Eastern Thought

Schopenhauer read the Latin translation of the ancient Hindu texts, The Upanishads, which French writer Anquetil du Perron had translated from the Persian translation of Prince Dara Shikoh entitled Sirre-Akbar (“The Great Secret”). He was so impressed by their philosophy that he called them “the production of the highest human wisdom”, and believed they contained superhuman concepts. The Upanishads was a great source of inspiration to Schopenhauer. Writing about them, he said:

It is the most satisfying and elevating reading (with the exception of the original text) which is possible in the world; it has been the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death.

It is well known that the book Oupnekhat (Upanishad) always lay open on his table, and he invariably studied it before sleeping at night. He called the opening up of Sanskrit literature “the greatest gift of our century”, and predicted that the philosophy and knowledge of the Upanishads would become the cherished faith of the West.

Schopenhauer was first introduced to the 1802 Latin Upanishad translation through Friedrich Majer. They met during the winter of 1813–1814 in Weimar at the home of Schopenhauer’s mother according to the biographer Safranski. Majer was a follower of Herder, and an early Indologist. Schopenhauer did not begin a serious study of the Indic texts, however, until the summer of 1814. Sansfranski maintains that between 1815 and 1817, Schopenhauer had another important cross-pollination with Indian thought in Dresden. This was through his neighbor of two years, Karl Christian Friedrich Krause. Krause was then a minor and rather unorthodox philosopher who attempted to mix his own ideas with that of ancient Indian wisdom. Krause had also mastered Sanskrit, unlike Schopenhauer, and the two developed a professional relationship. It was from Krause that Schopenhauer learned meditation and received the closest thing to expert advice concerning Indian thought.

Most noticeable, in the case of Schopenhauer’s work, was the significance of the Chandogya Upanishad, whose Mahavakya, Tat Tvam Asi is mentioned throughout The World as Will and Representation.

Schopenhauer noted a correspondence between his doctrines and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Similarities centered on the principles that life involves suffering, that suffering is caused by desire (taṇhā), and that the extinction of desire leads to liberation. Thus three of the four “truths of the Buddha” correspond to Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will. In Buddhism, however, while greed and lust are always unskillful, desire is ethically variable – it can be skillful, unskillful, or neutral.

For Schopenhauer, Will had ontological primacy over the intellect; in other words, desire is understood to be prior to thought. Schopenhauer felt this was similar to notions of puruṣārtha or goals of life in Vedānta Hinduism.

In Schopenhauer’s philosophy, denial of the will is attained by either:

  • personal experience of an extremely great suffering that leads to loss of the will to live; or
  • knowledge of the essential nature of life in the world through observation of the suffering of other people.

However, Buddhist nirvāṇa is not equivalent to the condition that Schopenhauer described as denial of the will. Nirvāṇa is not the extinguishing of the person as some Western scholars have thought, but only the “extinguishing” (the literal meaning of nirvana) of the flames of greed, hatred, and delusion that assail a person’s character. Occult historian Joscelyn Godwin (1945– ) stated, “It was Buddhism that inspired the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and, through him, attracted Richard Wagner. This Orientalism reflected the struggle of the German Romantics, in the words of Leon Poliakov, to “free themselves from Judeo-Christian fetters”. In contradistinction to Godwin’s claim that Buddhism inspired Schopenhauer, the philosopher himself made the following statement in his discussion of religions:

If I wished to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I should have to concede to Buddhism pre-eminence over the others. In any case, it must be a pleasure to me to see my doctrine in such close agreement with a religion that the majority of men on earth hold as their own, for this numbers far more followers than any other. And this agreement must be yet the more pleasing to me, inasmuch as in my philosophizing I have certainly not been under its influence. For up till 1818, when my work appeared, there was to be found in Europe only a very few accounts of Buddhism.

Buddhist philosopher Nishitani Keiji, however, sought to distance Buddhism from Schopenhauer. While Schopenhauer’s philosophy may sound rather mystical in such a summary, his methodology was resolutely empirical, rather than speculative or transcendental:

Philosophy … is a science, and as such has no articles of faith; accordingly, in it nothing can be assumed as existing except what is either positively given empirically, or demonstrated through indubitable conclusions.

Also note:

This actual world of what is knowable, in which we are and which is in us, remains both the material and the limit of our consideration.

The argument that Buddhism affected Schopenhauer’s philosophy more than any other Dharmic faith loses more credence when viewed in light of the fact that Schopenhauer did not begin a serious study of Buddhism until after the publication of The World as Will and Representation in 1818. Scholars have started to revise earlier views about Schopenhauer’s discovery of Buddhism. Proof of early interest and influence, however, appears in Schopenhauer’s 1815/16 notes (transcribed and translated by Urs App) about Buddhism. They are included in a recent case study that traces Schopenhauer’s interest in Buddhism and documents its influence. Other scholarly work questions how similar Schopenhauer’s philosophy actually is to Buddhism.

Schopenhauer said he was influenced by the Upanishads, Immanuel Kant and Plato. References to Eastern philosophy and religion appear frequently in his writing. As noted above, he appreciated the teachings of the Buddha and even called himself a Buddhist. He said that his philosophy could not have been conceived before these teachings were available.

Concerning the Upanishads and Vedas, he writes in The World as Will and Representation:

If the reader has also received the benefit of the Vedas, the access to which by means of the Upanishads is in my eyes the greatest privilege which this still young century (1818) may claim before all previous centuries, if then the reader, I say, has received his initiation in primeval Indian wisdom, and received it with an open heart, he will be prepared in the very best way for hearing what I have to tell him. It will not sound to him strange, as to many others, much less disagreeable; for I might, if it did not sound conceited, contend that every one of the detached statements which constitute the Upanishads, may be deduced as a necessary result from the fundamental thoughts which I have to enunciate, though those deductions themselves are by no means to be found there.

Among Schopenhauer’s other influences were: Shakespeare, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Thomas Reid, Baruch Spinoza, Matthias Claudius, George Berkeley, David Hume, and René Descartes.

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Schopenhauer’s Influence

Schopenhauer has had a massive influence upon later thinkers, though more so in the arts (especially literature and music) and psychology than in philosophy. His popularity peaked in the early twentieth century, especially during the Modernist era, and waned somewhat thereafter. Nevertheless, a number of recent publications have reinterpreted and modernised the study of Schopenhauer. His theory is also being explored by some modern philosophers as a precursor to evolutionary theory and modern evolutionary psychology.

Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer. After reading Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, Tolstoy gradually became converted to the ascetic morality upheld in that work as the proper spiritual path for the upper classes: “Do you know what this summer has meant for me? Constant raptures over Schopenhauer and a whole series of spiritual delights which I’ve never experienced before. … no student has ever studied so much on his course, and learned so much, as I have this summer”

Richard Wagner, writing in his autobiography, remembered his first impression that Schopenhauer left on him (when he read The World as Will and Representation):

Schopenhauer’s book was never completely out of my mind, and by the following summer I had studied it from cover to cover four times. It had a radical influence on my whole life.

Wagner also commented on that “serious mood, which was trying to find ecstatic expression” created by Schopenhauer inspired the conception of Tristan und Isolde.

Friedrich Nietzsche owed the awakening of his philosophical interest to reading The World as Will and Representation and admitted that he was one of the few philosophers that he respected, dedicating to him his essay Schopenhauer als Erzieher one of his Untimely Meditations.

Jorge Luis Borges remarked that the reason he had never attempted to write a systematic account of his world view, despite his penchant for philosophy and metaphysics in particular, was because Schopenhauer had already written it for him.

As a teenager, Ludwig Wittgenstein adopted Schopenhauer’s epistemological idealism. However, after his study of the philosophy of mathematics, he rejected epistemological idealism for Gottlob Frege’s conceptual realism. In later years, Wittgenstein was highly dismissive of Schopenhauer, describing him as an ultimately shallow thinker: “Schopenhauer has quite a crude mind… where real depth starts, his comes to an end.”

The philosopher Gilbert Ryle read Schopenhauer’s works as a student, but later largely forgot them, only to unwittingly recycle ideas from Schopenhauer in his The Concept of Mind (1949).


Further Study

Arthur Schopenhauer (SEP)

Arthur Schopenhauer (IEP)

Schopenhauer’s Works (Project Gutenberg)

Schopenhauer’s Works (Wikisource)

Meta-ethics

Custom represents the experiences of men of earlier times as to what they supposed useful and harmful – but the sense for custom (morality) applies, not to these experiences as such, but to the age, the sanctity, the indiscussability of the custom. And so this feeling is a hindrance to the acquisition of new experiences and the correction of customs: that is to say, morality is a hindrance to the development of new and better customs: it makes stupid.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

ethics-word-cloud

Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God? When you think about morality, what comes to mind? Is it a list of sins to avoid in order to make it into heaven and avoid hellfire? Or perhaps a duty to be fulfilled? A list of virtues to practice in order to develop character? Does it consist of a social contract between men in order to preserve peace and society? Is it as simple as listening to your own conscience? Or maybe it could be a bit of one and the other?

For Kierkegaard, a large part of sin is not wanting to be who you, in fact, are. For Kant, reason alone dictates what is moral: always to treat others as an end and never as a means. For Hume, a descriptive statement about ethics can never lead to a normative statement about ethics. The more I read and the more I think about it, morality seems to me to be nothing more than a social construct. It is the agreed upon correct way of living for a given society, handed down from society at large to parents and their children ad nauseam. Nowadays, the media (including social media) also plays a large role in constructing our ideas about morality. But times change, and so also must morality.

Proceeding from reason alone, I see that any normative moral imperative must by definition be a conditional and teleological statement with regard to consequences, be they physical or mental. That is to say, hypothetical imperatives are meaningful, while categorical imperatives must, at best, be idealistic. In other words, one must place a conditional “if…” at the end of any moral proposition. The logical construction would be as follows:

“Thou shalt (or shalt not) X… if one does (or does not) desire the consequence Y.”

For example, “Thou shalt not [murder, rape, steal, etc.]… if one does desire to live in a peaceful society (or if one does not desire to face the potential consequences).” Any duty to be fulfilled, or any virtue to be developed, or any social contract to be followed must be subject to this type of conditional statement.

To take the ethical ideals of one man and apply them to any other, or to humanity as a whole, is an error (unless we are speaking in the most general sense about laws of nature itself, which Kant thought he was). Morality can be both subjective and intersubjective, but by no means universal (my aversion to the idealization of reason should be clear at this point). That is to say, there are as many moral codes as there are men, and it is not the right of one to judge the other, unless we are assuming some type of social contract.

To be sure, this line of thinking is in direct opposition to “absolute morality” and “divine command theory,” in which “Thou shalt (or shalt not) X” because it is morally right- or wrong-in-itself, or because it is commanded by God. Unless, of course, the statement is formulated as something like, “Thou shalt X, if you wish to enter the kingdom of heaven,” or if one attempts to equate the concepts of God and Good. But this type of moral proposition only serves to raise questions about the value of the consequences (e.g. entering the kingdom of heaven or avoiding hellfire) or the value of the Good itself (cf. Plato). Any notion of an objective right- and wrong-in-itself must be dismissed as meaningless, or at most be taken as a statement of some personal viewpoint attempting to apply itself universally. It is worth mentioning that this opposition includes contemporary secular (atheist) as well as religious moralists.

I realize that I may be oversimplifying such a nuanced topic as ethics, but at a bare-bones (meta-ethical) level I think that this formula (i.e. hypothetical imperatives) must apply to any possible ethical proposition. Yet I still feel in my own heart, quite distinct from reason alone, that certain actions are morally reprehensible and others praiseworthy – and I cannot avoid feeling this way.

Furthermore, I find no evidence of the “equality of men” in nature, neither in value nor in physical or mental ability. But this does not mean that we cannot still pursue an ideal of equality, if such an ideal is our goal. The similarity of men in nature would be enough to get us going toward such an ideal – and perhaps living in an idealized world would not be so bad.

The social pact, far from destroying natural equality, substitutes, on the contrary, a moral and lawful equality for whatever physical inequality that nature may have imposed on mankind; so that however unequal in strength and intelligence, men become equal by covenant and by right.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau

See Also

Morality is a Culturally Conditioned Response

Beyond Right and Wrong

Irrefutable Ethics

Metaethics (IEP)

Metaethics (SEP)

Tightrope

Papa Roach – Tightrope

My words are weapons in which I murder you with
Please don’t be scared, please do not turn your head
We are the future, the 21st century dyslexic
Glue sniffing cyber sluts
With homicidal minds and handguns
We are insane, nothing will change
We are insane, nothing will change

There is a thin line between what is good and what is evil
And, I will tiptoe down that line, but I will feel unstable
My life is a circus and I am trippin’ down that tightrope
Well, there is nothing to save me now, so I will not look down
And again, and again, and again, and it happens again
And again, and again

There’s no beginning, there is no end
There is only change
Progression backwards, is this where we are heading?
Take back your soul, forget your emptiness

There is a thin line between what is good and what is evil
And, I will tiptoe down that line but I will feel unstable
My life is a circus and I am trippin’ down that tightrope
Well, there is nothing to save me now, I’m fallin’ to the ground
Fallin’ to the ground, down to the ground, yeah

I speak of madness, my heart and soul
I cry for people who ain’t got control
Let’s take our sanity, let’s take compassion
And be responsible for every action
Hell no, no how, no way, no way
No way, no how, no way no how

There is a thin line between what is good and what is evil
And, I will tiptoe down that line, but I will feel unstable
My life is a circus and I am trippin’ down that tightrope
Well, there is nothing to save me now, so I will not look down

There is a thin line between what is good and what is evil
And, I will tiptoe down that line, but I will feel unstable
My life is a circus and I am trippin’ down that tightrope
Well, there is nothing to save me now, I’m falling to the ground
Down to the ground, all the way down, hidden in the dirt

What if Heaven Was Hell and Vice Versa?

Pastor Troy – Vice Versa

Yeah (yeah)
This song is called Goddamn, Vica Versa
(I’m doin’ my best to save my people)
It’s like, (The people & I will rely in God)
Picture everything that you thought was good, was really bad
Everything bad, was really good
(What if Heaven was on Earth nigga)
The whole world, vica versa
(Good is bad)
Vica versa (Bad is good)
(Dear Lord am I the only one?)
This shit here, Goddamn, gon’
Go’n get you a fat blunt of that ‘dro
Smoke that shit
(It’s all vica versa)
Look up in the air nigga
(We rich nigga)
(This is what we doin’, it’s vica versa)
I know all these real niggas gone feel this shit
Vica Versa, Pastor Troy
(Vica Versa)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
What if Heaven was Hell and vica versa
If I told you go to Hell, would you tell I cursed ya?
I reimbursed ya with the truth so you know my fate
And pray I die, I’m that nigga that they love to hate
I wanna make you use yo mind, God has sent a sign
And when you listen to these rhymes, nigga take your time
Again I ask, Heaven was hell and vica versa
Would you start doin’ evil in order to nurture–the spirit man?
Do you understand that there’s a war?
It’s ragin’ on and the devil got some ammo too
Don’t get me wrong, but I put my trust off in the Lord
It’s too corrupt, know that God gon’ help me blow ’em up
I give a fuck, Heaven was hell and vica versa, I have no fear
I done witnessed too much Hell right here, lend me your ear
Recall the beer we had to po’
For all our niggaz hit the Devil with the .44
Payback nigga
My liquor keep me from tryin’ to enter, battle alone
And to deal with all this wickedness, I smoke a zone
Know I’m grown, but I’m still a baby
It’s vica versa so I guess I’ll beg Satan to save me
God I’m confused, the fuse of all these motherfuckers, makin’ me sick
{*Virgin Mary never fucked nobody, but she suck dick*}
With a clique of nasty concubines, and vice-a versa
So she’ll probably do the whole nine, that nasty ho
I don’t know where I’ma go this Christmas, it’s Satan’s birth
I’ma try to smoke a pound of weed, and ease the Earth
While Jesus equiped with angels, the Devil’s equiped with fire
For God so love the world that he blessed the thug with rocks
Won’t stop until they feel me
Protect me Devil, think the Lord is tryin’ to kill me
It’s vica versa
Heaven is below, while this dozier keep me high
To see the Lord almighty nigga, I’m ready to die
My reply for any questions asked, “The Devil made me do it”
Who’s the Devil may I ask?, It’s so polluted
Up-rooted from all this stupid shit
See me cremated, my adaption to the climate
So glad I made it
Elated that they gon’ go to Heaven
But do they know Heaven may not be the place to go
Again I ask, Heaven was Hell and vica versa
The devil’s in me and I’ll be damned if I’m gon let god hurt ya
Follow me…

[Peter the Disciple]
If it was vica versa, I’d be and angel, ’cause I’m a devil
A Down South Georgia Rebel, a whole ‘nother fuckin’ level
Remenisin’ on all the good and the bad that I did
Bustin’ caps and splittin’ wigs
And servin’ nicks and talkin’ shit
This is vica versa no fuckin’ commercial
Heaven or Hell, where do we go?
When we die, eternal fire or the street of gold
Only God knows, vica versa

The Urban Vote is In

From Urban Dictionary:

  1. God 19684 up, 7639 down

A guy who talked to some Jewish guys, some Christian guys, and some Islam guys, and accidentally caused more people to die than anyone else in human history.

“And people wonder why he doesn’t talk much to us anymore.”

  1. God 10093 up, 5514 down

The reason I passed math.

“Bless the lord! For I got a 65!”

  1. god 9182 up, 4677 down

The universal scapegoat for forces yet to be explained, originating back to when man thought the wind was Satan farting.

“Uuhhhmmmm… God did it?”

  1. God 10167 up, 7329 down

The main character in the fiction work “The Bible.”

“And God replied: I am Who Am.

And Moses quickly corrected him saying that it should be I am Who Is.

But God never was any good at grammar.”

  1. god 5528 up, 2876 down

the most popular star in human history. loved, hated, or talked about by almost every person ever walked on earth.

theist: ‘i love god, i think he’s cool.’

atheist: ‘god is a ridiculous idea, he doesn’t even really exist.’

  1. Jesus 16154 up, 6119 down

Man who was nailed to a plank for saying how nice it would be if everyone was nice to each other. Had his message misinterpreted by millions who now think it is their job to persecute certain groups of people (christians).

“Jesus: Be nice to others.”

  1. Jesus 14290 up, 6456 down

The dude who mows my lawn.

“Jesus, you missed a spot.”

  1. Morality 103 up, 44 down

A method by which an act can be labeled “right” or “wrong” or “neither”. Many moral philosophies exist.

Egoism: “Drinking is wrong because it is bad for me.”

Hedonism: “Drinking is right because it makes me feel good.”

Utilitarianism: “Drinking is right because it brings about more good than evil.”

Libertarianism: “Drinking is not wrong since it does not infringe on anyone elses liberty. It is not right since I am also at liberty to NOT drink.”

Divine Command Theory: “Let’s burn witches! the Bible says we should.”

“Christian morality requires that you kill your disobedient children.”

  1. morality 79 up, 28 down

the logic used to justify character assassination.

“I guess your decision is one that deals with morality. The question is which path are you going to take.”

—————————————

GOD AS GONE OR A NICE IDEA THAT POSSIBLY HELPS WITH TRIVIAL THINGS SUCH AS A MATH QUIZ.

JESUS AS HUMAN AND LAWN MOWER.

MORALITY AS THE LOGIC USED TO JUSTIFY CHARACTER ASSASSINATION.

On Liberty

One day, I came upon a man urinating in a bus station. When I confronted him about his action, he turned to me, without stopping, and said:

“Keep in mind that since the universe is in constant flux, nothing that occurs one moment has any relevance to anything else. Everything you believe, feel or think is based on the false assumption that truth exists. Thus, you are free to do any action which brings you pleasure. That humanity feels constrained by morals is one of the funniest jokes I’ve ever heard.”

So I beat the shit out of him and took his wallet.