Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Blue Cross

Quoth Marco: One of my longest held beliefs has been that there isn't an absolute good. I am hoping that this won't necessarily mean I can't argue (with you) about what ought to be done, but this does explain to me why I have fallen short of saying what ought to be done, especially in regards to abortion law. I do believe in a sense of "relative" good with regards to humanity as a whole. I am not sure how you cope with things that look bad, but actually work towards the greater good. I think that "morally bad" things, that have the consequence of a net "moral good" should be taken into account.

It should be abundantly clear that I am willing that evil should be done in order that a greater good may result: viz. my support for the war in Iraq, my suggestion that the Pope encourage believers to shoot abortionists, and my concession that if the eternal damnation of non-Muslims (for instance) was positively proved, a reasonable moral response would be to destroy our species. If these instances of Menachem Begin’s dictum ‘some ends justify some means’ fall short of the hypothetical you are envisaging, I am a little nervous to think of what you might be contemplating...

In a technical sense, it is true that I would reject ‘the end justifies the means’, if ‘justify’ is meant in the ‘justified by faith’ sense of ‘made perfectly okay’. I think participation in a just war is not without sin. I think it is intrinsically bad to shoot abortionists rather than appeal to their reason. I think wiping out our species would be bad. We can quite easily find ourselves in options where all the options available to us are quite, quite, evil, and picking the best of a bad lot does not make us ‘good’.

I am curious about your belief that there is a relative morality ‘for humanity.’ This would seem to fall short of the strong relativist thesis that good and evil are social constructs. If you reject a morality that is intrinsically ‘true’, like mathematics, are you making the assertion that morality is a biological rather than social construct? That we have, as a species, evolved to consider some things good and some things evil, regardless of our cultural background? This is not implausible. However, I regret that if I believed morality was biologically constructed- and this is only me- I would also believe it was absolutely non-binding and irrelevant to me personally. If we had evolved to consider some things good and some things evil- and this consideration does not correspond to any objective reality- I would consider morality just another irritating fact of human biology to be overcome, like our human addiction to sugar, dependence on eating dead animals, or urge to have sex with lots of people.

But, Allahu akbar, I do not believe any such thing! I will close with the words of Chesterton’s Father Brown:

‘Reason and justice grip the remotest and loneliest star. Look at those stars. Don’t they look as if they were single diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine sapphire. But don’t fancy that all that frantic astronomy would make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct. On plains of opal, under cliffs cut of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, “Thou shalt not steal.”’

4 comments:

Marco said...

It is clear that you believe that evil should be done for the greater good, but that is not quite what I meant. However, I really do want to see where *your* quantitative approach would lead, so if it helps, just assume I've been converted and I do believe in absolute good and bad. We can get to what I contemplate as a hypothetical bad thing that could be for the greater moral good (of humanity) later. Yes, I guess you should be nervous. I was going to put an example, but I couldn't bring myself to, for the moment. Perhaps you would have to reciprocate, and assume for the argument that there wasn't such thing as an absolute good or bad. I would have to turn to the words of Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) in saying that there are a very small percentage of people who are righteous, and a very small percentage of people who are outright felons. The rest of us are in "The Weasel Zone", where the bad things we each do individually are either unavoidable or to work for a greater good.

Dr. Clam said...

You haven't answered my question, you weasel! If good and evil aren't absolute, and aren't social constructs, what do you mean when you say some people are felons and some people are righteous?

Marco said...

I thought that was obvious - I am talking as if I believed in absolute good and evil. I don't think the social construct theory covers it for me. I kind of think the social constructs mask a deeper moral sense which is biological in nature. That deep sense I believe is common to all humans (and also animals, I guess) and is easier to talk about and describe as an absolute because it permeates our subconscious so deeply. Now if that answers it for you enough can we move on? When I was younger, I did think that to describe some people as evil was wrong because their morals were just misunderstood. However, since, I have seen some people who fit the bill completely to my satisfaction.

Dr. Clam said...

Okay- so you think we should pay attention to this biological moral sense, presumably because it gives us some evolutionary advantage?

But enough of this, I will proceed...