July 2, 2012
Aim above morality (an attack on morality & ethics in eristic).

It is as easy to aver that morality supports one’s beliefs as to say anything else with the same amount of words; nowadays, the assertion of morality demands neither debate nor definition, but merely acquiescence. It must be noted that morality is a human construct, deontologically peremptory or not, and is not inherent in life, meaning that a logical basis must be established for a system of morality before it is in any way postulated, and moral system which suffices to establish an eristical basis must first be accepted and be tenable in all situations. In order to mount my attack on morality, I will first deconstruct some of the major moral systems, during which it must be noted that any shortcoming in a certain situation wholly negates the validity of the system, as a moral system which cannot make consistent moral judgments is not a moral system at all. 

I will begin with the deontological morality of the religious faiths, which is impossible to follow as primarily one must be asseverated as the bearer of morality above the two others, which, along with even affirming the celestial teapot, is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes. Moreover, if one religion did preponderate, then we would be forced to reconcile, for example, lex talionis, as Christianity and Judaism propound in Exodus 21:24, and Islam propounds in Surah 5:45, with our innate beneficence, which can only, as Mohandas Gandhi platitudinised, render the whole world blind. Such laws raise the question of whether these laws and our vague notion of what is good, being proved by our many attempts as a species at ethical theories, can conciliate.

Abrahamic deontology is further vitiated by the application of the Euthyphro dilemma, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro whether what is moral is moral because the gods declare it so, or if there is something which is morally good which is liked by the gods. If the former is assumed, then, as Bertrand Russell designates in his peerless Why I Am Not A Christian, ‘for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good,’ yet if the latter is assumed, then deontological ethics are nullified because there is clearly a separate moral standard by which God decrees his desiderata. Also, if the latter is fulfilled, then there is clearly a summum bonum in search of which all else can be abandoned, including free will, which would refute the most central religious notion of theodicy. On a more simple and less philosophical issue, the question of how the scriptures, our only idea of God, should be correctly interpreted renders most moral dilemmas insoluble by way of deontological ethics.

To continue, utilitarian ethics, while much less fallibly loquacious than deontological ethics, face their own problems. For one, utilitarianism has no way of enshrining, and does not enshrine, the basic rights of man, such as the right to life, to freedom of speech, to freedom of thought, to freedom of assembly, to freedom of press, and much more. The major problem, the crux of the failure of utilitarianism, is the simple infeasible demand that it makes on one to be knowledgable of, and make a mathematical appraisal of, all of the possible consequences of their actions, and their Bayesian probability, for each of our actions. I shall call this the Raskolnikovian problem, a problem which renders utilitarian ethics impossible on a practical basis, and quite likely impossible on any basis; even if these calculations are codified in the felicific calculus and are reified into hedons and dolors, the calculation itself is practically impossible, even with infinite time and resources, when the possible consequences are infinite. This is exacerbated by the notion that we can be held responsible for the actions of others through the implications of our conduct on theirs, as Ivan Karamazov realises, and therefore we must ascertain the utilitarian morality of all of our most trivial actions, which can have scope beyond their scale.

The reciprocal theory of ethics, often phrased as the Golden Rule (doing unto others what you would wish them to do unto you), is another ethical standard from which many derive their morals. It is also fatally flawed, unfortunately, by the simple quandary of individual desires; while often characterised as the seemingly superficial, even semi–jocular, problem that we would not want a masochist applying this rule, the notion can pose problems on a much larger scale. Reciprocal ethics stumbles also in that it assumes that we know what is best for ourselves (and therefore best for others) when in reality, this assertion is dubious at best. Also, the reciprocal theory of ethics is indifferent to differences in situation; Immanuel Kant’s famous criticism asks if a convicted prisoner could appeal their sentence to the judge and jury, asking if they would wish to be treated in the same way. 

Penultimately, and sequacious to Kant’s last animadversion, Kant’s categorical imperative beseeches us to, as he himself phrased it, act only according to the maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should be a universal law. Most ethical theories that can wholly affirm per se the actions of, for lack of a less clichéd example, Adolf Hitler, must necessarily find themselves in a less than desirable predicament. In other words, the categorical imperative puts all of morality in the hands of the individual, which portends that it isn’t an ethical theory at all, but merely a regress to an amoral state of nature. Moreover, Constant’s criticism, known as the inquiring murderer, impugns the categorical imperative by asking whether, if lying is wrong and is according to the categorical imperative therefore proscribed universally, one should tell a known murderer the location of his quarry. 

As the last of the major ethical constructs, moral relativism is, though previously popular amongst intellectual circles, commonly derided for justification of historical tortfeasance, and, beyond facing the same Hitler problem as Kant’s categorical imperative, faces the issue that in saying that all moral frameworks are relative, it derogates from this in acting as an absolute moral framework, and can only be excused from this if it propounds the decidedly more arbitrary asseveration that all moral frameworks except moral relativism are relative. Another problem with moral relativism is implied in how far we extend the morally relativist philosophy; cultural relativism is questionable in that interceding and holding cultures culpable for their actions would be wrong if on the regnant morality allowed it, but if moral relativism were taken ad absurdum to a logical extreme, would dictate that no individuals could be reprimanded for their actions in any way. 

Having highlighted the issues in these moral systems, it must at this point be asserted that even the aforementioned remonstrances were superfluous, in that until a moral system assumes total precedence above others, beyond establishing credence for itself, the appeal to morality in argument is disingenuously fallacious, and axiomatically invalid. Until that point, no Cartesian provisional ethics can be assumed without evidence of the same standard, and therefore the pursuit of knowledge, studium scientia, is the only way in which to comport oneself with probity and decency. 

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