Morality, Ethics and Method

Sun Dec 9 13:18:52 MST 2001

Anthony wrote:

> The idea that morality is a product of social development, not a
>preexisting substance, is consistent both with the basic ideas >of
'classical Marxism', and the game theorists efforts
> at mathematical modeling.

Sid Reply

>If the concept of what is called  'morality' is *solely* "a product  of
>social development, not a pre-existing substance", then how is it possible
>for you and people on this list to have morals that are superior to the
>bourgeois morals since we are presently living under the capitalist mode
>of production?

>How is it possible for certain individuals to rise above the average level
>of morals dictated by the mode of production of their societies?

>What is it that cause human beings to struggle for a better and just world
>than the present one?

>Remember that Marx said that *social* consciousness is determined by
>social being. Marxism does not have the answer for individual
>consciousness; this latter domain is generally out of its sphere of


    Morality and consciousness are complex questions as is say, the question
of value. From the standpoint of Marx, value is the amount of socially
necessary labor embodied in the production of commodities. The "standpoint of
Marx" or "Marxism" is understood to mean the methodology and the principles
of the methodology he articulates to arrive at his general conclusions.

Before Marx, individual economist did not arrive at Marx conclusions
concerning "value," based on their power of observation. Marx conclusion
states that within the capitalist mode of production, the fundamental source
of all profits and wealth is generated by paying people an amount of value -
in the form of wages, below the amount of values they produce in the process
of production. Another principle in the standpoint of Marx is that human
being produce and reproduces life affirming self - activity, in connection
with environment. In seeking to understand life-affirming activity, the
fundamentality of the material elements of production and reproduction is the
starting point of inquiry in contradistinction to seeking conclusions based
on the concept of the "idea" of eternal justice.

    "Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.  In
the first method of approach (emphasis on "method of approach") the starting
point is consciousness taken as the living individual; in the second it is
the real living individuals themselves, as they are in actual life, and
consciousness is considered solely as their consciousness."  (German

    We can endlessly repeat this principle and not go one step further into
understanding the production of ideas and morality, until a specialized field
of study evolves, dedicated to unraveling the mystery of consciousness,
ideology and morality. Such a specialized field exists and has been in
existence for some time. Nevertheless, the principles of the standpoint of
Marx are worth revisiting.

    Just as we come to meet value in our daily life through its expression as
a given set of use-values and exchange-values in the market place, so it
appears to be the same with morality. The genesis of value is human labor,
because value is the amount of socially necessary human labor embodied in the
production of commodities. Human labor makes its appearance before society is
formed and thousands of years before commodity production begins. I
understand morality to conform to this same framework.

Morality is not to be understood as a product of social development. Social
development means societal development. Society presupposes a progression in
human development wherein the elements of collective production is underway.
Before society was formed as such, people lived in pockets or groups that can
be identified as a "community" which lacks any infrastructure development.
This community of humans has a set of behaviors that form the pre-historic
stock of what we generally call morality. The moment the first instrument of
production appears, and become general implements in human maintenance, what
was simply human labor begins its journey into value or rather morality
begins its journey in which it is now expressed as ethics because the
prehistoric stock of behavior begins to operate on a new emerging axis. This
new emerging axis is the mode of production.

    It is not so much a question of superior "morality" on the part of those
dedicated to pursuing "public ownership of the means of production," but
rather the quest for a different - and superior, ethic and societal ethical
behavior that is being sought.

    This issue of morality and ethics, or morality as ethics deepens when the
ideology that articulates ethics is expressed.

>How was it possible for the Asiatic mode of production to produce Buddha
>whose ethics and morals were far, far above, the morals of even the
>modern-day Marxists of this list? For Buddha's compassion (Ahimsa)
>extended to all living beings, not only humans.

    Here is how Engels answers the question above one hundred twenty six
years ago in a letter written to C. Schmidt in Berlin, dated October 27,

    "As to the realm of ideology which soar still higher in the air -
religion, philosophy, etc. - these have a prehistoric stock, found already in
existence by and taken over in the historical period, of what we should today
call bunk. . . . "And even though economic necessity was the main driving
force of the progressive knowledge of nature and has become ever more so, it
would be pedantic to try and find economic causes for all this primitive
nonsense. The history of science is the history of the gradual clearing away
of this nonsense or rather of its replacement by fresh but always less absurd
nonsense. The people who attend to this belong in their turn to special
spheres in the division of labor and appear to themselves to be working in an
independent field. And to the extent that they form an independent group
within the social division of labor, their production, including their
errors, react upon the whole development of society, even on its economic
development. But all the same they themselves are in turn under the
dominating influence of economic development." . . .  "The German philistine
runs through German philosophy from Kant to Hegel, sometimes positively and
sometimes negatively. But as a definite sphere in the division of labor, the
philosophy of every epoch presupposes certain definite thought material
handed down to it by its predecessors, from which it takes its start. And
that is why economically backwards countries can still play first fiddle in
philosophy; France in the eighteenth century as compared with England, on
whose philosophy the French based themselves, and later Germany as compared
with both."  . . . "I consider the ultimate supremacy of economic development
established in these spheres too, but it comes to pass within the limitations
imposed by the particular sphere itself: in philosophy, for instance, by the
operation of economic influences (which again generally act only under
political, etc. disguises) upon the existing philosophic material handed down
by predecessors. Here economy creates nothing anew, but it determines the way
in which the thought material found in existence is altered and further
developed, and that too for the most part indirectly, for it is the
political, legal and moral reflexes which exert the greatest direct influence
on philosophy."

    "The Asiatic mode of production . . . (did not) produce Buddha."
Buddha's parents produced him through sexual intercourse. The "Asiatic mode
of production" (which can be defined more specifically using the positive
results of modern studies) represented an evolutionary development whose
genesis resides in the prehistoric stock from which societal infrastructure
and productive activity evolves. Buddha was birthed and lived within a
specific time frame with a definable mode of production in operation. Mode of
production does not give birth to morality but rather becomes the framework
in which ethical behavior is reshaped - sublated. The quest for peace,
justice and prosperity runs throughout all written history, and is
continuously reformulated and conceptualized based on material conditions in
existence. Buddha's professed respect for all organic life finds
correspondence in the collective prehistoric imagination and is expressed in
the biblical tale of Adam and Eve.

What of the morality of the biblical tale of Cain and Able and the monumental
"first question" that symbolize the transition from the prehistoric to
history - "am I my brothers keeper?"  This moral question becomes a political
question of ethical relations with the emergence of classes and the state.
Students of social change are driven by the same question (thinking) today in
a radically different infrastructure framework.

It is true that Marx and Engels insisted that social being determines social
consciousness. This formulation (principle) includes the prehistoric stock
from which the various layers of social being and consciousness are
constituted. Social consciousness or societal consciousness are abstractions
used by Marx and Engels to show a living connection between the ruling class
of an epoch and the leading ideas that characterize and take shape under
various relations of production; and the relationship between being and
thinking and the fundamentality of existence.

Societal consciousness should not be reduced to a one to one ratio with the
individual and every change in the productivity infrastructure that serves as
the framework in which society is constituted - although stating this does
not imply Sid asserted this in any manner. Societal consciousness as behavior
(being) is extremely prehistoric and interactive - dialectical. Being and
consciousness express a singular process of existence. Man came into being
with the ability of cognitive functioning, expressed as the power of
observation. What man observed, how he understood that, which was observed
and then its articulation expresses and embody material conditions of
existence. This is a general formula - principle, created in the context of a
societal awareness that did not connect the fundamentality of material
existence with ideas of being.

Consciousness as such - in my generalized estimation, deals with the
biological processes that endow man with the capacity for awareness and the
power of observation. Individuals and society encounter this awareness and
power of observation in material acts. Consciousness is viewed from the same
standpoint as value and morality, although this general principle does not
and cannot exhaust the study of epistemology as a distinct field.

"Conscious existence" and "class consciousness" - different concepts, are
generally discussed within the context of the economics and politics of a
historical framework in operation. Conscious existence is understood to mean
the actual life process as distinct from how this process is understood and
articulated. The problem is that the power of observation and the depth of
perception that describes "actual life process" are governed by a law system,
conditioned or operating within a specific context. The law system that
governs power of observation and depth of perception is to be sought based on
the fundamentality of the material as opposed to the conception of God or
"the Idea." Specifically this means the biological organism from which
consciousness "erupts" or rather, is indigenousness to, would be the starting
point of inquiry into the epistemology of knowledge, in its evolution up to
and on the basis of the emergence of mode of production.

Class-consciousness is another wonderful concept in the treasure house of
Marx. Class consciousness is not consciousness as such, but understood to
mean awareness of the political striving of sociological/economic groups
(classes), their mutual interaction, how and why ownership of property
produces distinct and overlapping interest in mans actual life process.
"Actual life process" is a process. Processes are series of events whose
repetition allows us to develop an understanding - to divine, the essence,
internal movement that distinguish one thing from another. The above
categories are created in an attempt to derived fuller understanding of the
multiplicity of interaction - conscious existence.

    From the standpoint of Marx, (as I understand matters) societal
consciousness is not consciousness as such, but behavior - actual life
process, manifesting awareness and articulation of ideology - faith and the
professing of ideas, and operates on a law system peculiar to what we call
ideology. Everyday we grapple with an "American ideology" which elevates
ownership of property by individuals as the axis of human rights and then
define human rights as property rights and the politics of protecting
property rights. The fundamentality of this ideology is prehistoric in its
origins and stabilized through an array of institutions, buttressed on the
basis of maintaining "standard of living."  Societal consciousness as a
specialized field of study seeks to unravel the interactivity of prehistoric
stock with current frameworks of operations, their tradition, evolution and
the multiplicity of manifestations.

    Within what could be called "the collective imagination of the standpoint
of Marx," exists a conception of the emergence of a "human morality" that is
distinguished by the absence of commodity exchange relations as a framework -
infrastructure, of ethical behavior. A thousand years from now, being "fair"
with one another will still have meaning that is rooted in prehistoric stock,
and has evolved through the various stages of market exchange and no longer
operates within the confines of exchange relations between individuals. The
actual life process of distant generations will give life and force to
"morality," which from the standpoint of our present era will be devoid of
ethics (market behavior occurring within and driven by exchange relations)
and is the field of study for generations to come.

    I do not believe that aspiring to apply "the standpoint of Marx" endows
me with a superior morality. I do believe that this application of Marx
standpoint gives a general framework for striving for an ethic of behavior
superior to that which characterize our current market relations. Before I
ever heard of Marx and Engels I had inherited a portion of the prehistoric
bunk that articulated the idea, "I am my brothers keeper."


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