A: One cannot, it will eat up its own container and then set itself loose on the world as a universal plague . . .
By contrast, let us reflect.
Food for thought as we ponder our significance and particularly what it means to find ourselves inescapably under the government of ought.
Let me share a comment I made in discussion at UD this morning:
>>morals and ethics (as well as principles) can be addressed at three levels; here, I cite Clark and Rakestraw:
Principles are broad general guidelines that all persons ought to follow. Morality is the dimension of life related to right conduct. It includes virtuous character and honorable intentions as well as the decisions and actions that grow out of them. Ethics on the other hand, is the [philosophical and theological] study of morality . . . [that is,] a higher order discipline that examines moral living in all its facets . . . . on three levels. The first level, descriptive ethics, simply portrays moral actions or virtues. A second level, normative ethics (also called prescriptive ethics), examines the first level, evaluating actions or virtues as morally right or wrong. A third level, metaethics, analyses the second . . . It clarifies the meaning of ethical terms and assesses the principles of ethical argument . . . . Some think, without reflecting on it, that . . . what people actually do is the standard of what is morally right . . . [But, what] actually happens and what ought to happen are quite different . . . . A half century ago, defenders of positivism routinely argued that descriptive statements are meaningful, but prescriptive statements (including all moral claims) are meaningless . . . In other words, ethical claims give no information about the world; they only reveal something about the emotions of the speaker . . . . Yet ethical statements do seem to say something about the realities to which they point. “That’s unfair!” encourages us to attend to circumstances, events, actions, or relationships in the world. We look for a certain quality in the world (not just the speaker’s mind) that we could properly call unfair . . . .In that context, Holmes has somewhat to say by way of summary of key issues:
Many people today think relativistically. “We live in a pluralistic society,” they say, apparently thinking this proves normative ethical relativism [that is, the theory that contradictory ethical beliefs may both be right, as such beliefs are viewed as only relative to the culture, situation, or individual: perception and feeling, not objective reality]. Others hold that . . . it is necessary to a tolerant society. Absolutists, they argue, encourage intolerance of other views, and this erodes social harmony. Tolerance in society is a benefit produced when people adopt relativism.
Is this inference right? Philosopher J. P. Moreland . . . [argues that] Relativism is true descriptively, but consistently holding to both normative and metaethical relativism is difficult. [That is, it tends to fall into logical inconsistency: arguing that all people ought to become relativists!] Further . . . [true] tolerance is entirely consistent with absolutism. Those who defend tolerance hold that everyone ought to practice tolerance!
[Clark, Davis K & Rakestraw, Robert V, Eds. Readings in Christian Ethics, Vol. 1: Theory and Method. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), pp. 18 – 19.]
However we may define the good, however well we may calculate consequences, to whatever extent we may or may not desire certain consequences, none of this of itself implies any obligation of command. That something is or will be does not imply that we ought to seek it. We can never derive an “ought” from a premised “is” unless the ought is somehow already contained in the premise . . . .In short, principles, morality and ethics are a significant subject that cannot be seriously addressed without proper focus and effort to be clear, accurate, sober-minded and fair. All of which are absolutely riddled with moral import; indeed you will perhaps recall how Plato’s Socrates — challenged to address the seeming uselessness of philosophy and the way many who studied it (read, Alcibiades as exhibit A) turned out to be clever rogues — responded in terms of the pure hearted, diligent and virtuous effort required to be a genuine student as opposed to a dabbler who hoped to gain advantages in being a manipulator of the public.
R. M. Hare . . . raises the same point. Most theories, he argues, simply fail to account for the ought that commands us: subjectivism reduces imperatives to statements about subjective states, egoism and utilitarianism reduce them to statements about consequences, emotivism simply rejects them because they are not empirically verifiable, and determinism reduces them to causes rather than commands . . . .
Elizabeth Anscombe’s point is well made. We have a problem introducing the ought into ethics unless, as she argues, we are morally obligated by law – not a socially imposed law, ultimately, but divine law . . . . This is precisely the problem with modern ethical theory in the West . . . it has lost the binding force of divine commandments . . . .
If we admit that we all equally have the right to be treated as persons, then it follows that we have the duty to respect one another accordingly. Rights bring correlative duties: my rights . . . imply that you ought to respect these rights. [Holmes, Arthur F. Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions. Downers Grove, IL: 1984, pp. 70 – 72, 81.]
That’s a big clue in itself.
As conscience tells us in urging us towards the true and the right, morality cannot be severed from our life of thought and praxis. We find ourselves inescapably under moral government, as even skeptics inadvertently manifest.
A second clue.
Indeed, were the testimony of conscience deemed delusional, that would at once let a bull of grand delusion lose in the china shop of our inner thought-world.
A third clue: dismissing conscience as a delusion that works to get us to somewhat cooperate and enhance survival, ends in self referential incoherence and absurdity.
Undermining the life of the mind.
Impeaching and dismissing conscience as a witness fails, spectacularly.
We have to take conscience seriously and avoid letting bulls loose in the china shop of mindedness.
When we do so, we find a clear testimony that we are valuable, that we are owed duties of care to fairness, truth etc, and that we in turn owe such to our patent metaphysical equals. Which points to key principles such as right to life as the basis on which any other rights or value may exist. Likewise, we find the classic golden rule speaking to us in various ways: mutual responsibility of respect, cherishing, avoiding harm, fulfilling duties of care, not resorting to behaviour that is advantageous precisely because a society cannot live by generally behaving like that (e.g. lying, rubber checks), treating others as valuable in themselves not just tools, toys or means to our own ends, etc. Of which, as Locke quoteth the judicious Hooker, no man is ignorant.
But of course the is and the ought are very different.
How then do we come to a world-understanding in which IS and OUGHT (and our struggle betwixt the two) can be held in due, coherent balance?
Hume gives us a clue (likely, inadvertently) in his guillotine argument:
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason. [Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature (London: John Noon, 1739), p. 335.]As Holmes, 250 years on from Hume notes: “We can never derive an “ought” from a premised “is” unless the ought is somehow already contained in the premise.”
This instantly points to the need to trace to world-roots, and to find there an IS that is inextricably fused with the roots of OUGHT. Something that is a necessary being root of reality capable of properly bearing the weight of a manifestly evident core moral law of our nature that leaves us as responsibly and rationally free, duty-bound, and conscience guided. (Worldviews that undermine such invariably end in letting the bull of grand delusion loose in the china shop of the life of the mind.)
After centuries of debate, there is just one serious candidate: the inherently good creator God, root of reality, a necessary and maximally great being worthy of loyalty and the reasonable responsible service of doing the good in accord with our evident nature.
(If you doubt that, simply provide a serious alternative that will stand comparative difficulties analysis: ___________ )
In that generic ethical theism context, purpose/ goal warranting ought does emerge. In a way connected to the declaration of 1776 that we have a right of pursuit of happiness. Not pleasure or amusement for the proverbially short season, but the satisfaction of stretching ourselves to fulfill our sense of calling, excelling and producing the lasting good.
So, yes, goal-seeking does fit in, where conscience is one of the guiding-lights to those goals.
But unfortunately, such can be warped, hence the need for moral coherence and mutuality.
We are again back to Locke in the 2nd treatise of civil gov’t, citing Hooker who onward refers to Aristotle while pivoting on Moshe, Yeshva d’Nazaret and Paul of Tarsus:
[2nd Treatise on Civil Gov’t, Ch 2 sec. 5:] . . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [This directly echoes St. Paul in Rom 2: “14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them . . . “ and 13: “9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law . . . “ Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [Eccl. Polity ,preface, Bk I, “ch.” 8, p.80, cf. here. Emphasis added.] [Augmented citation, Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, Ch 2 Sect. 5. ]>>
Let us think, and in so doing ponder how darwinism has become a universal acid that eats up everything -- including its containers (our minds). END