Morality

LeoCasey at aol.com LeoCasey at aol.com
Wed Aug 16 20:36:49 MDT 1995


Lisa writes:

>I'm asking for the moral basis for choosing that set of rules over another.

Maybe I misunderstood, or missed when you shifted gears, but this thread
started out with the contention vis-a-vis abortion rights that it was
possible to be outside of moral judgment, and I was still trying to respond
to that fundamental error. My four points were intended to do nothing more
than to outline that argument for the position that moral judgment was
inherent both in human culture and in human individuals who live in and are
socialized by such cultures. If you agree that moral judgment is inescapable,
then we can move onto the far more interesting question of what provides the
basis for moral judgment.

I touched on this question in my last post, responding to your specific
questions. There are basically two general positions here, one which believes
that moral judgments can have an "objective" basis and are discoverable by
Reason through logical argument and one which believes that they are
inherently "subjective" in the sense that they are prior to (and the premises
of) logical arguments.

Let's take an actual historical issue over which great struggles were fought
where the involvement of moral judgment is, in my view, self-evident --
slavery. Many human cultures have bult their wealth upon property in human
beings, justifying this practice by reference to one or another notion of
fundamental inequalities and/or differences among men and women. It is there
in the argument of Aristotle's  _Politics_ that it is in the nature of the
enslaved to need the direction of masters ("There is a principle of rule and
subordination in nature at large... By virtue of {that principle}, the
master, who possesses the rational faculty of the soul, rules the slave, who
possesses only bodily powers and the faculty of understanding the directions
given by another's reason.") And it is present in the argument of the slave
masters in the ante-bellum South that the physical signs of the category race
identified a class of people who were unable to think and care for
themselves, an argument buttressed by religious references to Old Testament
slavery and appeals to the thoroughly racist scientific culture of the time.
Slavery is always accompanied by the assertion of a moral judgment that
natural inequality and natural differences among humans required its
existence.

In this context, abolitionist movements have always insisted upon the
contrary moral value of the fundamental equality and commonality of human
beings. This moral value could be established in many different ways -- for
some, it came out of religious belief ("we are all children of god"), for
some, it was based a philosophical anthropology and reason, such as that
which postulated a state of nature in men were essentially equal, and for
some, it was the conclusion drawn from dissenting scientific traditions.
However, they arrived at that moral value, it was the central premise which
undergirded their opposition to slavery.

For those, from the Hegelians to the Straussians, who believe that moral
values can be established by and through Reason, the premise of all
abolitionist opposition to slavery -- the fundamental equality and
commonality of all men and women -- could be objectively established by
philosophical discourse or scientific logic. I do not accept this view of
moral judgment. On one count, it bears little or no resemblance to the way we
human beings actually arrive at most of our fundamental moral (and political)
stances, and another count, its claims for the scope of reason and logic, as
beyond and above history, are extravagant, to say the least. Moral and
political stances are prior to (as in Kant's "a prioi"s) logical discourse.
They develop historically in a conjuncture of our particular  socialization
(the moral codes in which we have been raised, and our reaction to them), and
our interaction with and involvement in the moral/political struggles of the
day. Thus, as strong as I believe in the moral correctness of my politics,
that I have chosen the side of human freedom and emancipation, and as much as
I am committed to advancing that side, I do not think that it is possible to
establish, in some transcendent sense, the correctness of that moral stance.



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