Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Guest Post: Re: The Moral "das Ding"

Here it is in the rough;

The dichotomy seems to be between, in my estimation a false one, a priori notions or levels of productivity. A priori notions; which relate to concepts like the categorical imperative. Then questions of productivity (Social, economic, otherwise) relating to utilitarian or consequentialism, which still exist with abstractions filled in with a priori assumptions.

If we are to assume that the axiomatical understandings of moral structures exist under the pretext of economic productivity, for example, it is unhealthy for the economy of a civil society to create a general distrust amongst all the people by allowing murder to go unrecognized, this would undoubtedly cause a massive rupture in the fluidity of productive forces; no one is going to go to work and produce things if there exists a very real fear of getting killed the second they leave their home. But what if we turn this on its head? What if the threat of violence serves as the productive element of society? PRC serves as an example of this, if we are to assume a functioning and, for the most part, legitimate government structure is necessary to mediate the material relations between people; that a working economy cannot exist without a working government, can it not be stated that if we are to have at the foundation of any moral structure the issue of its productive and economic impacts, we then cannot condemn exploitation, state violence, corporate violence, corruption, etc. on moral grounds. The condemnation only exists within its speculative productive impacts, so were we to see that, in certain places, under certain regimes, where heavy exploitation brings in massive amounts of foreign capitol, we then are stripped of a moral argument against this practice because morality serves productivity.

It seems impossible to avoid filling in the spaces of abstraction without resorting to simplistic a priori estimations. A little something inside you that just tells you this is wrong or this is right. It is also seems impossible to avoid, without a God, to avoid postmodern speculations about how you define "good" and "bad". Hitchens I've noticed tends to fall into this trap, the only time when he debates theologians and his argument crumbles, when he makes a very categorical statement, "this behavior is evil!" to which the theologian then replies "Where do you draw your conclusion of what is evil and good without a God to lay out the very definitions for both?" Other than simply stating the source of it comes from a priori subjectivity, where do we have grounds to make such assumptions about the validity of moral statements (or indignations)? The Kantian notion of "duty" and the categorical imperative become the obvious and all too easy reply. Which, in my opinion, crumbles the instant someone recognizes that their categorical "duty" will undeniably lead to something destructive, that occasionally a space opens up where to lie seems completely morally justifiable. Thus, confusing the importance of which to attach ones moral compass to, "duty" or consequence, does morality lie in ones behavior and acts in accordance to duty or is it contingent on the outcome of amoral actions directed towards a moral outcome?

But similarly, consequentialism seems to require a level of immediacy. If the ends justify the means, and since there is no specific "duty" or categorical imperative which insures one is going to make the most utilitarian judgment, then it seems to me that the individual would then need a certain closeness to the outcome of the particularly morally driven behavior. A visible consequent of the action. Though, as the space expands; with the action driven by utilitarian speculation as the epicenter of this space, and the effects of this action go beyond the visible, unseen consequences of otherwise immoral behavior go unnoticed. Purchasing clothes that were made in sweatshops because you not purchasing it is not going to close the sweatshops anyways and it is economically smart on your part. The lack of a categorical imperative here rings loudly. If morality existed in action and not outcome, then duty dictates the behavior.

The trouble with the above is not the lack of understanding of morality, drawing from good ol' Witty here, but paradox in the human "understanding" or morality. It is a metaphysic, its understanding seems to be nothing more than a dialectic without a rational synthesis, its validity seems to lie in the capricious behavior of human beings. Part of it seems to me that Zizek's "materialist theology", while not satisfactory by any means, provides us enough space to say "genocide is wrong" "rape is wrong". We must engage with each other as if such a thing like morality actually did exist, while recognizing the subjectivity of it.

Beyond that, as unsatisfying and open-ended as all that was, my ideas of "morality" get stuck there, and I can't seem to push past it.



DebonairDingo said...

I'm trying to formulate a concise response to this, but find it difficult. A lot was said here. (Not saying that's bad.) So anyway, here it goes:

One question that is begged here is, if Christopher Hitchens falls into a trap by making a moral assertion, how do you avoid the trap? Denying any concept of good (or evil) at all? You seem to have detracted any other possible foundation for morality, so what's left? (Okay those were three questions.)

It is my belief that morality is not as abstract as one would make it out to be. One just needs to make sense of it. For the same reason I believe that some things metaphysical may one day be proven scientifically, I believe morality can be reconciled with scientific thinking.

I would argue that despite the great differences, underneath it all, most traditional cultures have commonalities in the concept of right and wrong. And since humanity all originates from a common ancestor, a proto civilization, (be it the Biblical Adam and Eve or the scientific Mitochondrial Eve,) I believe it is no coincidence. There is a root moral code, whether it is cosmically ordained "in nature," or if it was developed early on in human existence. (All references to bonobos should result in an ip ban from this blog lol.)

When you strip away all the superficialities, ie. customs, myths, and more complex mores, there is a basic substrate. Everyone in the world agrees that murder is wrong; everyone agrees that theft is wrong; everyone seems to agree that ill-gotten gains are wrong; that cheating is wrong. You get the point.

Where cultures diverge is on how precisely you define the sin of murder, theft, etc. That's where subjectivity comes in. But that in itself does not deny the objectivity of the basic concept. It's just a matter of someone filling in a coloring book with teal or forest when the section calls for a simple "green."

Cultures can develop some rather boorish and downright wicked mores. Think child circumcision (both female and male.) Think heavenly ordained genocide. What makes those so evil, is that they are in direct conflict of the basic human code. Why do these anti-morals exist if morality is universal? The answer is that moral interpretation gets confused. In order to stop the greater evil of genital filthiness, the lesser evil of circumcision is forced on boys. Modern science now proves that it is a myth that masturbation is harmful and that there are no deleterious effects by having an intact foreskin, but the ancient Hebrews and Africans did not know this. Do a lesser evil to avoid a greater one.

This is why I love the words of Jesus of Nazareth, the greatest moral arbiter of history, (whether he is a mere figure of history or something else,) when he says "let us not do evil that good may come of it."

And with that, I close. Perhaps not entirely on point or topic, but that's the best I can come up with at 4:30 am.

(That is it was at 4:30 am but I had to go through hell signing up for Blogger to post this. Eff you Google.)

DebonairDingo said...

One more probably inadequate comment:

You get stuck because you deny that morality -- the most timeless axiom of all -- exists, until you can prove otherwise. Newton did not deny that gravity existed before the apple hit him, most likely he accepted this as an unexplained (probably metaphysical) axiom. How about accepting that morality does exist, and set out to show how it does? That seems to be a more constructive approach.