Issues in Ethics
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
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Morality as a Mental State Affiliation and Morality Nature, Aesthetics, Pleasure, and Ethics On Being Human The Encroachment of the Public And Then There Were Too Many Eugenics and the Future of the Human Species The Myth of the Right to Life The Argument for Torture The Aborted Contract In Our Own Image – The Debate about Cloning Ethical Relativism and Absolute Taboos The Merits of Stereotypes The Happiness of Others The Egotistic Friend The Distributive Justice of the Market The Agent-Principal Conundrum Legalizing Crime The Insanity of the Defense The Impeachment of the President The Rights of Animals Just War or a Just War? Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice Euthanasia and the Right to Die The Author About "After the Rain"
Morality as a Mental State
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
INTRODUCTION Moral values, rules, principles, and judgements are often thought of as beliefs or as true beliefs. Those who hold them to be true beliefs also annex to them a warrant or a justification (from the "real world"). Yet, it is far more reasonable to conceive of morality (ethics) as a state of mind, a mental state. It entails belief, but not necessarily true belief, or justification. As a mental state, morality cannot admit the "world" (right and wrong, evidence, goals, or results) into its logical formal definition. The world is never part of the definition of a mental state. Another way of looking at it, though, is that morality cannot be defined in terms of goals and results - because these goals and results ARE morality itself. Such a definition would be tautological. There is no guarantee that we know when we are in a certain mental state. Morality is no exception. An analysis based on the schemata and arguments proposed by Timothy Williamson follows.
Moral Mental State - A Synopsis Morality is the mental state that comprises a series of attitudes to propositions. There are four classes of moral propositions: "It is wrong to...", "It is right to...", (You should) do this...", "(You should) not do this...". The most common moral state of mind is: one adheres to p. Adhering to p has a non-trivial analysis in the more basic terms of (a component of) believing and (a component of) knowing, to be conceptually and metaphysically analysed later. Its conceptual status is questionable because we need to decompose it to obtain the necessary and sufficient conditions for its possession (Peacocke, 1992). It may be a complex (secondary) concept. Adhering to proposition p is not merely believing that p and knowing that p but also that something should be so, if and only if p (moral law). Morality is not a factive attitude. One believes p to be true - but knows p to be contingently true (dependent on epoch, place, and culture). Since knowing is a factive attitude, the truth it relates to is the contingently true nature of moral propositions. Morality relates objects to moral propositions and it is a mental state (for every p, having a moral mental relation to p is a mental state). Adhering to p entails believing p (involves the mental state of belief). In other words, one cannot adhere without believing. Being in a moral mental state is both necessary and sufficient for adhering to p. Since no "truth" is involved - there is no non-mental component of adhering to p.
Adhering to p is a conjunction with each of the conjuncts (believing p and knowing p) a necessary condition - and the conjunction is necessary and sufficient for adhering to p. One doesn't always know if one adheres to p. Many moral rules are generated "on the fly", as a reaction to circumstances and moral dilemmas. It is possible to adhere to p falsely (and behave differently when faced with the harsh test of reality). A sceptic would say that for any moral proposition p - one is in the position to know that one doesn't believe p. Admittedly, it is possible for a moral agent to adhere to p without being in the position to know that one adheres to p, as we illustrated above. One can also fail to adhere to p without knowing that one fails to adhere to p. As Williamson says "transparency (to be in the position to know one's mental state) is false". Naturally, one knows one's mental state better than one knows other people's. There is an observational asymmetry involved. We have non-observational (privileged) access to our mental state and observational access to other people's mental states. Thus, we can say that we know our morality non-observationally (directly) while we are only able to observe other people's morality. One believes moral propositions and knows moral propositions. Whether the belief itself is rational or not, is debatable. But the moral mental state strongly imitates rational belief (which relies on reasoning). In other words, the moral mental state masquerades as a factive attitude, though it is not. The confusion arises from the normative nature of knowing and being rational.
Normative elements exist in belief attributions, too, but, for some reason, are considered "outside the realm of belief". Belief, for instance, entails the grasping of mental content, its rational processing and manipulation, defeasible reaction to new information. We will not go here into the distinction offered by Williamson between "believing truly" (not a mental state, according to him) and "believing". Suffice it to say that adhering to p is a mental state, metaphysically speaking and that "adheres to p" is a (complex or secondary) mental concept. The structure of adheres to p is such that the nonmental concepts are the content clause of the attitude ascription and, thus do not render the concept thus expressed non-mental: adheres to (right and wrong, evidence, goals, or results). Williamson's Mental State Operator calculus is applied. Origin is essential when we strive to fully understand the relations between adhering that p and other moral concepts (right, wrong, justified, etc.). To be in the moral state requires the adoption of specific paths, causes, and behaviour modes. Moral justification and moral judgement are such paths. Knowing, Believing and their Conjunction We said above that: "Adhering to p is a conjunction with each of the conjuncts (believing p and knowing p) a necessary condition - and the conjunction is necessary and sufficient for adhering to p."
Williamson suggests that one believes p if and only if one has an attitude to proposition p indiscriminable from knowing p. Another idea is that to believe p is to treat p as if one knew p. Thus, knowing is central to believing though by no means does it account for the entire spectrum of belief (example: someone who chooses to believe in God even though he doesn't know if God exists). Knowledge does determine what is and is not appropriate to believe, though ("standard of appropriateness"). Evidence helps justify belief. But knowing as a mental state is possible without having a concept of knowing. One can treat propositions in the same way one treats propositions that one knows - even if one lacks concept of knowing. It is possible (and practical) to rely on a proposition as a premise if one has a factive propositional attitude to it. In other words, to treat the proposition as though it is known and then to believe in it. As Williamson says, "believing is a kind of a botched knowing". Knowledge is the aim of belief, its goal.
Affiliation and Morality
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin Also Read: Morality as a Mental State Nature, Aesthetics, Pleasure, and Ethics
What should prevail: the imperative to spare the lives of innocent civilians - or the need to safeguard the lives of fighter pilots? Precision bombing puts such pilots at great risk. Avoiding this risk usually results in civilian casualties ("collateral damage"). This moral dilemma is often "solved" by applying explicitly or implicitly - the principle of "over-riding affiliation". We find the two facets of this principle in Jewish sacred texts: "One is close to oneself" and "Your city's poor denizens come first (with regards to charity)". One's affiliation (to a community, or a fraternity) is determined by one's position and, more so, perhaps, by one's oppositions.
One's sole organic position is the positive statement "I am a human being". All other positions are actually synthetic. They are subsets of the single organic positive statement "I am a human being". They are made of couples of positive and negative statements. The negative members of each couple can be fully derived from (and are entirely dependent on) - and thus fully implied by - the positive members. Not so the positive members. Consider the couple "I am an Israeli" and "I am not an Indian". The positive statement "I am an Israeli" implies about 220 CERTAIN (true) negative statements of the type "I am not ... (a citizen of country X, which is not Israel)", including the statement "I am not an Indian". But it cannot be fully derived from any single true negative statement, or be entirely dependent upon it. The relationship, though, is asymmetrical. The negative statement "I am not an Indian" implies about 220 POSSIBLE positive statements of the type "I am ... (a citizen of country X, which is not India)", including the statement "I am an Israeli". And it can be fully derived from any single (true) positive statement or be entirely dependent upon it (the positive statement "I am an Indian" being, of course, false). Thus, a positive statement about one's affiliation ("I am an Israeli") immediately generates 220 true and certain negative statements (one of which is "I am not an Indian").
One's positive self-definition automatically yields multiple definitions (by negation) of multiple others. Their positive self-definitions, in turn, negate one's positive self-definition. It is possible for more than one person to have the same positive self-definition. A positive self-definition shared by more than one person is what we know as community, fraternity, nation, state, religion - or, in short, affiliation. One's moral obligations towards others who share with him his positive self-definition (i.e., with whom one is affiliated) overrides and supersedes one's moral obligations towards others who don't. As an Israeli, my moral obligation to safeguard the lives of Israeli fighter pilots overrides and supersedes (subordinates) my moral obligation to save the lives of innocent civilians, however numerous, if they are not Israelis. The more numerous the positive self-definitions I share with someone (i.e., the more affiliations) , the larger and more overriding is my moral obligation to him. My moral obligation towards other humans is superseded by my moral obligation towards other Israelis, which, in turn, is superseded by my moral obligation towards the members of my family. But this raises some difficulties.
It would appear that the strength of one's moral obligations towards other people is determined by the number of positive self-definitions he shares with them (i.e., by the number of his affiliations). Moral obligations are, therefore, not transcendent - but contingent and relative. They are the outcomes of interactions with others - but not in the immediate sense, as the personalist philosopher Emmanuel Levinas postulated. Rather, they are the solutions yielded by a moral calculus of shared affiliations. The solutions are best presented as matrices with specific moral values and obligations attached to the numerical strengths of one's affiliations. Some moral obligations are universal and are related to one's organic position as a human being (the "basic affiliation"). These are the "transcendent moral values". Other moral values and obligations arise as the number of shared affiliations increases. These are the "derivative moral values". Yet, moral values and obligations do not accumulate. There is a hierarchy of moral values and obligations. The universal ones - the ones related to one's organic position as a human being - are the WEAKEST. They are overruled by derivative moral values and obligations related to one's affiliations - and are subordinated to them. The imperative "thou shall not kill (another human being)" is easily over-ruled by the moral obligation to kill for one's country. The imperative "though shall not steal" is superseded by one's moral obligation to spy for one's nation. This leads to another startling conclusion:
There is no such thing as a self-consistent moral system. The derivative moral values and obligations often contradict each other and almost always conflict with the universal moral values and obligations. In the examples above, killing (for one's country) and stealing (for one's nation) are moral obligations, the outcomes of the application of derivative moral values. Yet, they contradict the universal moral value of the sanctity of life and the universal moral obligation not to kill.
Nature, Aesthetics, Pleasure, and Ethics
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
The distinction often made between emotions and judgements gives rise to a host of conflicting accounts of morality. Yet, in the same way that the distinction "observer-observed" is false, so is the distinction between emotions and judgements. Emotions contain judgements and judgements are formed by both emotions and the ratio. Emotions are responses to sensa (see "The Manifold of Sense") and inevitably incorporate judgements (and beliefs) about those sensa. Some of these judgements are inherent (the outcome of biological evolution), others cultural, some unconscious, others conscious, and the result of personal experience. Judgements, on the other hand, are not compartmentalized. They vigorously interact with our emotions as they form. The source of this artificial distinction is the confusion between moral and natural laws. We differentiate among four kinds of "right" and "good".
THE NATURAL GOOD There is "right" in the mathematical, physical, or pragmatic sense. It is "right" to do something in a certain way. In other words, it is viable, practical, functional, it coheres with the world. Similarly, we say that it is "good" to do the "right" thing and that we "ought to" do it. It is the kind of "right" and "good" that compel us to act because we "ought to". If we adopt a different course, if we neglect, omit, or refuse to act in the "right" and "good" way, as we "ought to" - we are punished. Nature herself penalizes such violations. The immutable laws of nature are the source of the "rightness" and "goodness" of these courses of action. We are compelled to adopt them because we have no other CHOICE. If we construct a bridge in the "right" and "good" way, as we "ought to" - it will survive. Otherwise, the laws of nature will make it collapse and, thus, punish us. We have no choice in the matter. The laws of nature constrain our moral principles as well. THE MORAL GOOD This lack of choice stands in stark contrast to the "good" and "right" of morality. The laws of morality cannot be compared to the laws of nature - nor are they variants or derivatives thereof. The laws of nature leave us no choice. The laws of morality rely on our choice.