Chapter 17 Moral Knowledge from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

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Chapter 17 Moral Knowledge from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

Chapter 17 Moral Knowledge from WAYS OF KNOWING THROUGH THE REALMS OF MEANING by William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

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  • 1. Copyright © 2011 by William Allan Kritsonis/All Rights Reserved 17 MORAL KNOWLEDGE I NSIGHTS1. The essence of ethical meanings, or of moral knowledge, is right deliberate action, that is, what a person ought voluntarily to do.2. Language is a social invention that has been developed for pur- poses of communication.3. Language meanings are ethically neutral.4. A scientific proposition is true or false or probable. It is not right or wrong in an ethical sense.5. Saying that something is good means, partly, that one approves of it and, partly, that one wants one’s hearers to approve of it as well.6. Ethical language is used to alter feelings and behavior so as to produce the most harmonious satisfaction of desires and inter- ests.7. In ethics acts are done for purposes of participation.8. Moral acts are generally thought to exemplify universal princi- ples of obligation. 111
  • 2. 112 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING9. Everyone is obliged to do right, and if one fails to do so, he in- curs guilt.10. Moral conduct is a universal responsibility.1 1. Art suffers when moral judgments take the place of esthetic cri- teria.12. Moral principles are esthetically irrelevant, and when they are introduced as factors in artistic production and criticism, the works of art are inevitably impoverished and esthetically cor- rupted.13. When morals are assimilated to esthetics, right and obligation disappear altogether, and morals become a matter of taste and style.14. Works of art may quite properly be judged by moral principles to ascertain their effect upon conduct.15. It may even prove desirable to prohibit the making and exhibi - tion of certain works of arton moral grounds.16. Moral judgments have no bearing on the esthetic significance of the works themselves.17. Moral choice has both personal and impersonal elements.18. Ethical meanings also differ from personal knowledge in not having to do with unique person-to-person encounters, but with decisions to which universal claims are attached.19. Ethics differ from personal understanding in respect to the ele- ment of obligation.20. Obligation involves judgment of what is, on the basis of an ide - al.21. Love presupposes unconditional acceptance rather than critical evaluation and action aimed at improvement.22. The realm of ethics, then, is right action.23. The central concept in the realm of ethics is obligation or what ought to be done. The “ought” here is not individual but a uni- versal principle of right.24. Moral conduct is conduct that is deliberately executed as an ex- pression of what one is committed to personally.25. The ethical domain is defined by the fact of its being deliberate and subject to the judgment of right and wrong.26. Ethics is everybody’s business.27. Ethical considerations enter into every department of ordinary life.
  • 3. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 11328. There is no discernible class of persons who are specialists in good conduct.29. There is no road to moral mastery.30. There are acknowledged moral leaders, to whom many look for moral direction and inspiration.31. The conscience of a society is embodied in the traditions of ci- vility by which the common life is governed.32. Certain standards of conduct are taken for granted as the basis of the social system, and a variety of sanctions are used to en- courage adherence to these standards.33. Accepted social standards are intended to provide guidance for conduct.34. The content of the moral tradition covers every aspect of the common life.35. Beliefs about what is right and wrong are the very foundation of culture and civilization.36. The appropriate organization of society from an ethical stand- point is the one which is just that is, which gives each person , what is due him, or what he ought to have.37. The unjust social order is one in which the person is deprived of his basic rights arbitrarily and without justification.38. Ordinary people are the guardians and practitioners of morality, because moral conduct has to do with right action in everyday affairs and with the basic terms for the common life.39. Moral conduct is the source of the common good, for which ev- eryone is responsible.40. Right conduct can be taught, and is continually taught by partic- ipation in the everyday life of society according to the recog- nized standards of that society.41. The language of morals should be ordinary language.42. In the field of ethics common language usage is the basis for the expression of meanings.43. The special value of ethical theory, like theory in all the other realms of meaning, is in guiding, teaching and learning.44. Before a person can know where to go, he needs to understand where he is starting from.45. Conduct is not moral if one acts without due deliberation, does what first comes to mind, follows precedents automatically, or chooses on the basis of accidental factors.
  • 4. 114 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING46. The improvement of conduct depends upon the habit, in making each decision, of bringing into consciousness a range of differ- ent possibilities from among which a selection can be made.47. Perhaps the major problem in moral decision is in the selection of principles to be used as standards.48. It is said that every person is endowed with a native intuition of the right which, if he attends to it and obeys it, will enable him to know right from wrong.49. Thee are certain principles, such as the duty to keep promises and to tell the truth, which are universally acknowledged.50. There appears to be no sure means of demonstrating what the ideal life really is, so that everyone will agree.51. There continue to be differences in conceptions of the good, just as there are differences in conceptions of the right.52. The distinctive goal of human existence is the realization of meaning.53. The good life consists in the realization of meanings, in all realms. ____________________
  • 5. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 115T he essence of symbolic meanings is formal convention, of empiri -cal meanings factual description and explanation, of esthetic meaningsindividual significant perceptual forms, and of synnoetic meaningsconcrete existential intersubjectivity. The essence of ethical meanings,or moral knowledge, is right deliberate action, that is, what a personought voluntarily to do. The distinctive logic of ethical meanings may be made clear bycomparing and contrasting it with the logic of meanings in each of thefour realms hitherto discussed. COMPARING AND CONTRASTING ETHICS WITH THE LOGIC OF M EANINGS IN S YMBOLICS , E MPIRICS , E STHETICS , AND S YNNOETICSSymbolics Language is a social invention that has been developed for pur-poses of communication. That many different symbolic conventionsare possible is shown by the many different languages actually in ex-istence. It does not make sense to say that one ought to use one lan-guage rather than another, except in a hypothetical way. It is proper toassert that if one is to communicate effectively in a society of English-speaking people, he ought to speak English rather than any other lan-guage. But his hypothetical sense of “ought” is not what is meant bythe moral “ought.” Language meanings are ethically neutral. Symbolicconventions are arbitrary constructions to which the question of moralright and wrong does not properly apply. When we speak of using the“right” word or grammatical construction, we simply mean that theusage in question conforms to customary practice or is accepted bythose who for some reason or other are acknowledged as language au-thorities in the society.Empirics In the empirical realm meanings are factual. Since facts simplyare, it does not make sense to ask whether they are right. A scientificproposition is true or false or probable. It is not right or wrong in anethical sense. An empirical statement may be said to be right in thesense that it is a correct statement of the facts, but this has nothing todo with moral obligation. For example, one may properly ask whether
  • 6. 116 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGa given state of affairs is morally right whether certain existing socialpractices are morally right. The factual statements may be right, in thesense that they truthfully represent the actual situation, but the condi -tions they report may at the same time be morally wrong (or right). This distinction between empirical meanings and ethical mean-ings is of great importance. if it were more clearly understood, muchconfusion about ethical questions would be avoided. David Humemade the distinction clear when he pointed out that one can never cor-rectly make an inference from what is to what ought to be, nor viceversa. Fact and moral obligation are essentially different logical or-ders. From the fact that people actually do behave in a certain way.Similarly, from the assertion that a given kind of action is right, itdoes not follow at all that the action is in fact done by anybody. Hume’s insight was further reinforced by the influential workof G. E. Moore, who argued that all attempts to reduce values to factsare instances of the “naturalistic fallacy.”1 This fallacy is committedwhenever one defines value concepts in factual terms when the state-ment “This is good” is said to mean “This gives me pleasure.” Thefirst statement asserts that something is valuable, or praiseworthy, ordesirable, all of which meanings are logically different in kind fromthe factual importance of the second statement. The statement of valueis logically independent of and incom mensurable with (though notnecessarily inconsistent with) the statement of fact. The relative inde -pendence of ethical and empirical meanings follows from the fact thatit makes sense to ask for any existing state of affairs, whether or not itis a state of affairs that is good or that ought to exist. Thus, “This isgood” cannot mean “This gives me pleasure,” because it is entirely inorder to ask “Well, is it good that gives you pleasure?”— a questionthat would be pointless if the good were properly definable as thepleasant, since a negative answer would then be self-contradictory. The naturalistic fallacy applies not only to definitions of valuein terms of natural facts such as pleasure, happiness, and success, buteven to definitions using transcendent facts, as in some traditional the-ological systems. For example, Moore holds that one commits the nat-uralistic fallacy if he asserts that “right” “what God wills,” for it is notself-contradictory to assert that some command of God is not right,that God ought not to will that action.1 Principia Ethica, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1959.
  • 7. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 117 The rejection of the naturalistic fallacy preserves the logical in-tegrity of ethical meanings by not allowing them to be absorbed intothe empirical realm. One can make ethical valuations of any matter ofact because moral judgments do not occupy the same realm of mean-ing as empirical statements. There are competent theorists who hold that ethical statementsthough not reducible to factual statements, actually do not have anycognitive meanings at all. A. J. Ayer in Language, Truth, and Logic2limits knowledge to empirical, mathematical, and logical meaningsand holds that ethical statements are neither true nor false but merelyexpressions of personal preferences. They are merely disguised imper-atives or ejaculations. Similarly, Charles Stevenson argues that “as aworking model, you might regard ‘this is good’ as meaning ‘I approveof this, do so too’ — for in saying that something is good one means,partly, that one approves of it and, partly, that one wants one’s hearersto approve of it as well.”3 Stephen Toumin 4 takes the position that the difference betweenempirical and ethical meanings is to be understood in terms of theuses or functions of language. Empirical language is used to modifyexpectations, that is, to state predicted consequences. Ethical lan-guage, on the other hand, is used to alter feelings and behavior so as toproduce the most harmonious satisfaction of desires and interests. Fur-thermore, Toulmin holds, ethical concepts are not used, as empiricalconcepts are, to designate properties of things. Instead, they aregerundives, by which is meant that they are based on the idea of wor-thy of. The value-concept “truth” is a gerundive, because it means“worthy of admiration,” and “right,” means “worthy of doing.”Gerundive concepts enter into science and art as well as into ethics,since one ought to believe what is factually true and one ought to ad-mire what is esthetically admirable, just as one ought to do what isright. Moral judgments are directly and exclusively of the gerundivetype. They are only indirectly pertinent to science and art, in whichthe central substantive meanings are concerned with descriptions and2 2n rev. ea., Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1952.Charles L. Stevenson, Ethics and Language, Yale University Press, New Haven,3Conn., 1944, p. 21. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.4 See The Place of Reason in Ethics, Cambridge University Press, New York,1960.
  • 8. 118 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGpresentations, respectively, rather than with statements of obligationto believe or admire.Esthetics Turning next to the esthetic realm. Ethical meanings differ fromesthetic ones in that the ethical arise out of disinterested perception,while the esthetic are concerned with active personal commitment. Inthe arts things are made for purposes of contemplation. In ethics actsare done for purposes of participation. Furthermore, esthetic objectsare unique individual works with their own intrinsic excellence, whilemoral acts are generally thought to exemplify universal principles ofobligation. In this respect ethical meanings are like the principles andgeneralizations of science. The most important difference between esthetic meanings andethical meanings, as between empirics and ethics, is that in the esthet-ic the basic ethical idea of right or obligation is absent. Like a fact, anesthetic object simply is. There is no question of “ought” about it. It ispresented for contemplation, and its perceptible qualities make them -selves felt in the perceiver. One may or may not contemplate the ob-ject and one may or may not respond favorably. One need have nosense of responsibility for artistic production or appreciation and noguilt is incurred in connection with one’s esthetic experiences. in thecase of moral conduct this esthetic neutrality does not apply. Every-one is obliged to do right, and if one fails to do so, he incurs guilt.Moral conduct is a universal responsibility. The requirement to acceptmoral principles is generally considered far more seriously and ur-gently than is the requirement to approve of particular works of art. The relative independence of art and morals rests upon keepingclear the logical distinction between meanings in the two realms.Trouble results when the distinction becomes blurred. Art sufferswhen moral judgments take the place of esthetic criteria. In that eventcensorship flourishes, the expressive freedom of the artist is violated,and works of art become standardized tools of social control. Moralprinciples are esthetically irrelevant, and when they are introduced asfactors in artistic production and criticism, the works of art are in -evitably impoverished and esthetically corrupted. On the other hand,when morals are assimilated to esthetics, right and obligation disap-pear altogether, and morals become a matter of taste and style. Thenan act is regarded as right if it is fitting, pleasing, or satisfying. The
  • 9. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 119test of the good is then taken to be balance or harmony, and it is heldthat there are no universal principles of obligation, but only individualacts whose worth is judged by the intrinsic delight they afford. Sometraditional hedonistic and utilitarian systems of ethics, in which (com -mitting the naturalistic fallacy) the good is defined in terms of plea-sure, harmonizing of interests, and maximizing happiness, illustratethis assimilation of ethics to esthetics. To maintain the relative independence of the esthetic and ethi-cal realms is not to deny the propriety of judgments from one realm tothe other. Works of art may quite properly be judged by moral princi-ples to ascertain their effect upon conduct. Conceivably it may evenprove desirable to prohibit the making and exhibition of certain worksof art on moral ground. But such moral judgments have no bearing onthe esthetic significance of the works themselves. Similarly, it is quitein order to evaluate moral principles from an esthetic standpoint,showing what styles of life ensue and to what degree harmony, bal-ance, and satisfaction are realized, provided it is understood that theselegitimate judgments of taste are not the basis for judging the right-ness of the actions prescribed.
  • 10. 120 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING While it should be very obvious to people that laws are laws and that people must conform to them for the good of society, many people rationalize an excuse to break the “little” laws. What obligation does a teacher have to set an example of totalmoral adherence to students? How should people react to a teacher who sits in the back of the room at a faculty meeting complaining about the students who talk in class while the principal is addressing the faculty?
  • 11. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 121Picture
  • 12. 122 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGSynnoetics We may now compare meanings in the ethical realm withmeanings in the synnoetic realm. Both are realms of decision, com -mitment, and active engagement. While particular moral decisions aremade in concrete existential situations, the moral principles implicit inmaking such decisions are abstract and general. Specifically, moralchoice has both personal and impersonal elements. It is personal inthat the whole being of the person is expressed in the decision to act.It is impersonal in that the morality of the act is not a function of theperson in his singularity, but of the situation. Ethical meanings alsodiffer from personal knowledge in not having to do with unique per-son-to-person encounters, but with decisions to which universalclaims are attached. Above all, ethics differ from personal understanding in respectto the element of obligation. Personal relations, like facts and percep-tual forms, simply are. The relation of one person to another is theawareness of a presence, the I-Thou meeting. Such relationships arenot founded on duty, but on love and communion. Obligation involvesjudgment of what is, on the basis of an ideal. Personal relations areconsum mated in what presently is. Love presupposes unconditionalacceptance rather than critical evaluation and action aimed at im -provement. The autonomy of the ethical realm vis-à-vis the synnoeticrealm of personal awareness and encounter does not render either do -main impervious to the other. While one can properly make moraljudgments about personal relations, the significance of the personalrelations is not determined by moral judgments. Likewise, whilemoral conduct can be criticized from the standpoint of personal rela-tions, the ethical meanings are not determined by synnoetic factors. THE REALM OF ETHICS The realm of ethics, then, is right action. The central concept inthis domain is obligation or what ought to be done. The “ought” hereis not individual but a universal principle of right.
  • 13. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 123Freedom More action presupposes freedom. Ethical meaning does not at-tach to coerced, purely habitual or mechanical, accidental, uncon -scious, or compulsive action. It is conduct that is deliberately executedas an expression of what one is committed to personally. Such actionis self-determined rather than determined by outside factors. In this re-spect, personal knowledge (of the self) is essential to ethical meaningssince personal maturity is the ground of freedom. Being a free personis prerequisite to moral action, but not all free action is moral. Specifi -cally, personal maturity is a necessary but not a sufficient conditionfor right conduct.Voluntary Actions The concept of ethics sketched here clearly goes far beyond therestricted idea of the subject matter of morality as concerned onlywith certain special classes of actions, e.g., sexual relations, propertyrights, and truth-telling. All voluntary actions whatever are properlysubject to moral judgment, regardless of how trivial or important, pub -lic or private, they may be and regardless of any conventions bywhich morality may be limited in ordinary understanding. The ethicaldomain is not defined by what conduct is about, but by the fact of itsbeing deliberate and subject to the judgment of right and wrong.Ethics is Everybody’s Business Like personal insights, ethics is everybody’s business. Ethicalconsiderations enter into every department of ordinary life. As in thecase of personal knowledge, it is difficult to identify the moral expert.There is no discernible class of persons who are specialists in goodconduct, as there are specialists in language, science, and art. Nor isthere any clear road to moral mastery, as there is in these other fields.The ancient Socratic question “Can virtue be taught?” continues to beasked.Acknowledged Moral Leaders On the other hand, there are acknowledged moral leaders, towhom many look for moral direction and inspiration. The great reli-gions of humankind have brought forth their prophets, saints, andseers — M oses, Isaiah, Akhnaton, Gautama Buddha, Confucius, Jesus,Muhammad, Francis of Assisi. National life produces heroes who be-
  • 14. 124 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGcome exemplars of moral courage —Joan of Arc, Robert Bruce, Abra-ham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Mohandas Gandhi. Humanitarians likeElizabeth Fry, William Wilberforce, Robert Owen, Jane Addams, andJacob Riis arise to awaken consciousness of social injustices. Moralphilosophers, too — S ocrates, Marcus Aurelius, St. Augustine, BlaisePascal, John Locke, Im manuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, John Dewey —have made contributions to moral leadership by the articulation andcritical analysis of moral standards.Laws and Customs of Society Important as these leaders are, they are not the principal sourceof moral guidance for the average person. By far the most significantsources of such influence are the laws and customs of society. Theconscience of a society is embodied in the traditions of civility bywhich the common life is governed. Certain standards of conduct aretaken for granted as the basis of the social system, and a variety ofsanctions are used to encourage adherence to these standards. Obedi -ence to laws and customs is not, of course, always right. Nevertheless,accepted social standards are intended to provide guidance for con-duct, and they do embody much well-tested moral wisdom. FIVE MAIN AREAS OF MORAL CONCERNHuman Rights The content of the moral tradition covers every aspect of thecommon life. Beliefs about what is right and wrong are the very foun-dation of culture and civilization. Five main areas of moral concerndeserve special notice. First, there are certain basic human rights,which describe conditions of life that it is believed ought to prevail.For example, the Constitution of the United States acknowledges suchbasic rights as the following: trial of jury, in which the accused is giv-en information on charges and the right to confront witnesses andhave counsel; right of habeas corpus; freedom from ex post factolaws; freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition; rightto bear arms; protection against arbitrary search and seizure; protec-tion against double jeopardy and self incrimination; due process oflaw; and freedom from cruel and unusual punishments. An example ofa more comprehensive statement of rights is found in the “UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights” proposed by the General Assembly of
  • 15. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 125the United Nations in 1948. The fundamental human rights, no matterhow stated, are those that are intended to secure the freedom, integri-ty, and dignity of the person as a person against unjust coercion of anykind.Sex and Family Relations A second area of primary ethical interest is that of sex and fam-ily relations. Since the family is the elemental social institution inwhich persons are born and nurtured, it is essential that the relationsbetween the sexes and among the members of the family be carefullyconsidered and wisely ordered. It is to this end that moral codes deal-ing with these matters are elaborated.Class, Racial, Religious, and Vocational Groups Other social relationships are the subject of a third set of moraltraditions. Included among these are such matters as relationshipsamong and within class, ethnic, racial, religious, and vocationalgroups. Every culture has its distinctive expectations and regulationsabout what is right and wrong in these relationships.Economic and Political Life The fourth and fifth major areas are those of economic and po-litical life. The economic aspect has to do with property rights andwith the equitable distribution of goods and services, that is, with mat-ters of distributive justice. Political life is a matter of the just deploy-ment of power.
  • 16. 126 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING THE MATTER OF BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS Each of the last four areas ultimately refers back to the matterof basic human rights, since the appropriate organization of societyfrom an ethical standpoint is the one which is just that is, which gives ,each person what is due him, or what he ought to have. The unjust so-cial order, whether exemplified in family, vocation, exchange, or civicrelations, is one in which the person is deprived of his basic rights ar-bitrarily and without justification. O RDINARY PEOPLE ARE THE G UARDIANS AND PRACTITIONERS OF M ORALITY Since progress beyond the accepted standards of society de -pends upon criticism and the discovery of new moral possibilities, ad-herence to law and custom is not a sufficient basis for moral conduct.It is essential to recognize the place of tested tradition in ethics, for indoing so the special relevance of the common life (and of the “ordi -nary person”) to moral insight and the normal means of ethical educa-tion can be understood. Ordinary people, rather than a corps of spe-cialists, are the guardians and practitioners of morality, because moralconduct has to do with right action in everyday affairs and with thebasic terms for the common life. Moral conduct is the source of thecommon good, for which everyone, and not a particular group of pro-fessional moralists, is responsible. Specifically, right conduct can betaught, and is continually taught, not by experts who profess the sub-ject of ethics, but by participation in the everyday life of society ac-cording to the recognized standards of that society. Such learning con-stitutes ethical education insofar as the standards engendered by lawand custom are deliberately appropriated as the chosen principles of aperson’s own conduct. L ANGUAGE OF M ORALS S HOULD B E O RDINARY L ANGUAGE Since morality is everyone’s business, it is natural that the lan-guage of morals should be ordinary language. In this realm no specialtechnical concepts are required to express the intended meanings.Contemporary analytic philosophers are making a valuable contribu-tion to ethical clarity in their appeal to ordinary language usage as theclue to ethical meanings. For example, they point out that when a per-son says “This action is right” he clearly does not mean the same as “I
  • 17. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 127enjoy doing this” or “You should do this.” If he meant the latter twoassertions, he would have made them instead of saying what he said,which means something different. In the field of ethics, then, commonlanguage usage is the basis for the expression of meanings. ETHICAL THEORY Despite this emphasis on common understandings in the ethicalrealm, there is still a place for ethical theory, that is, for reflection onwhat ethical understanding is and how it may be improved. Sincemoral judgments are practical rather than theoretical, the person whoknows ethical theory is not on that account more moral than he wouldbe without such knowledge. This contrasts with the case of the scien -tist who in knowing the theory of his subject ipso facto becomes a bet-ter scientist. The ethical case parallels that of the artist and of the per-son in his ability to relate to himself and others in that theory is not ofthe essence of understanding the subject. The same holds for the per-son who is fluent in a language without knowing its theory. The special value of ethical theory, like theory in all the otherrealms of meaning, is in guiding, teaching, and learning. If one knowsprecisely what an ethical meaning is and how moral judgments maybe criticized and justified, reflection may be directed with maximu meffect to developing moral competence. M ORAL DELIBERATION AND M ETHODS OF E THICA L I NQUIRY How, then, should moral deliberation take place? What are themethods of ethical inquiry, either in solitude (where, finally, the moraldecision is formed) or in association with others who may have con-flicting convictions about what ought to be done?
  • 18. 128 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGHave a Clear Understanding of What the Situation is To begin with, since moral conduct has to do with decisions toact in particular situations, wise choice presupposes clear understand-ing of what the situation is. The one who is required to act needs toknow the context of his action —the circumstances and conditions inwhich his decision is to be made. The moral problem is of the form:What ought I to do in this situation? To solve it one has to be clear asto what is given in the setting where choice occurs. In short, before aperson can know where to go, he needs to understand where he isstarting from.Construct in Imagination a Series of Possible Decisions and Cours-es of Action Having defined the situation, the next step in the inquiry is toconstruct in imagination a series of possible decisions to be made andcourses of action to be taken. Conduct is not moral if one acts withoutdue deliberation, does what first comes to mind, follows precedentsautomatically, or chooses on the basis of accidental factors. The im -provement of conduct depends upon the habit, in making each deci -sion, of bringing into consciousness a range of different possibilitiesfrom among which a selection can be made. The imagined courses ofaction can be original constructions, like those of a playwright or nov-elist who invents the plot of his drama, or they make suggestionsdrawn from the actions performed by other persons (or by oneself) inanalogous circumstances. Up to this point no distinctively moral element has entered in.The situation and the possibilities of action are matters of fact, not ofobligation. Now comes the moral question per se: Which of the possi -ble courses of action is the right one for me to take? There are threemain types of ethical theory upon which the decision may proceed,namely, the subjectivist the formalist and the teleological. , ,
  • 19. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 129 THREE TYPES OF ETHICA L THEORY: S UBJECTIVE , F ORMALIST , A ND T ELEOLOGI CA LThe Subjectivist According to the first type, the idea of right is defined in termsof some subjective feeling-state. The right choice is defined as thatwhich gives one the most pleasure or satisfaction. In effect this posi -tion simply dismisses the moral question as meaningless because theidea of right is absorbed into an idea of fact, namely, what pleases orsatisfies wants. The chooser is asked to give up the moral search(which, it is assumed, will inevitably be fruitless) and unashamedlypursue the naturalway of self-interest. This first method of treating the moral problem is open to thecriticism that it contradicts the entire moral experience of humankindand the persistent intuitions of the moral consciousness. As pointedout earlier, about any interest or desire pursued it always seems appro-priate to ask, “But ought I pursue it?” —a question that would bepointless if the subjectivist approach were to be accepted. The other two kinds of approach to the evaluation of the imag-ined possibilities of action presuppose the autonomy and distinctive-ness of the ethical realm. They point to specifically moral resourcesfor guiding choice.The Formalist The second type of theory is formalistic, because the criteria ofrightness are certain formal principles of action. According to this the-ory, there are universal standards of conduct by which decisionsshould be made. The study of these principles and the methods of ap-plying them to particular cases is the subject of casuistry. Examples ofmoral principles are the Golden Rule, Kant’s Categorical Imperative,and the Ten Com mandments. The first two are completely formal inthat they do not refer to the kind of action but only to the demand forreciprocity and universalizability, while the Decalogue deals with cer-tain specific classes of actions that are held to be intrinsically right orwrong. In making decisions on a formalistic basis the various possibili -ties of action are evaluated by means of relevant formal principles.The question of relevance is determined by the kind of action contem -plated. The principle used as a standard must refer to the same kind of
  • 20. 130 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGaction as the one being evaluated. In making the application the diffi-culty arises that moral principles are general, while more decisions areparticular. It is necessary to decide whether principles are to be main -tained absolutely and without limitation or whether the particular cir-cumstances alter the demands of the general rule. Sometimes, too,more than one principle applies to a particular situation, and a deci -sion must be made as to which rule to apply and, if both, how theymay be reconciled. Such questions as these fall within the province ofcasuistry. Under the formalist approach the moral inquirer needs an arrayof standards to which he can turn. These are found chiefly in the ac-cepted traditions of the society in which one lives. They are availablein the teachings of the great religious leaders, in sacred literature, andin the writings of moral thinkers. They are to some extent embodied inhistoric charters and constitutions, and their particular applications arecontinually being worked out in the law and the courts.5 Another important source of principles is admired persons whoin their own lives exemplify the meaning of good conduct. Probablyno other influence to good behavior is as powerful as the example of aman who embodies the principles to which he is committed. For ex-ample, when Aristotle set about stating the principles of right conductin his Ethics, he simply described how an Athenian gentleman acts.The good life, he said in effect, is attained in acting the way good menact. In the same way, the Christian community has, for the most part,found its ideal of conduct in “the imitation of Christ” —the principleof action is to act the way Jesus did. The followers of the Buddha andof Muhammad the Prophet have adopted analogous procedures. Useful as the formalist approach to moral decision is, it has itsdifficulties and limitations. One problem has already been suggested,namely, that of application to the particular situation. Formal princi -ples tend to be empty. The morality of the deed may be more a func-tion of what is done, particularly and substantively, than of the formof doing it. One may assent to the principle of loving his neighbor, but5 It is not implied here that the laws of a society are identical with moral princi -ples. To a large extent laws are the rules of practice designed to further the endsof society. They are moral only insofar as the ends to be served are morally con-ceived. The present point is simply that the laws of society are in fact often usedas moral rules in making decisions.
  • 21. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 131still not know what loving concretely means nor who his neighbor isin a given instance. Formalism also tends to degenerate into legalism, that is, me -chanical and literal keeping of rules as ends in themselves. The lawloses its spirit and becomes letter. Obligation becomes the letter of thelaw. Duty for duty’s sake or the sake of the principle is in fact con-trary to the fundamental meaning of morality as action freely chosenfor the sake of the right. Another problem with formalism is that it may provide no crite-ria for judging between possible courses of action to which differentmoral principles are relevant. Each mode of behavior may be judgedas right by its own relevant principle, but still no basis may exist fordeciding which mode to elect. This difficulty may be avoided only ifmoral principles are organized in a hierarchy of increasing generality,so that when two proximately independent kinds of action are at issue,a more general principle comprising both kinds of action can be in-voked. Such comprehensive principles as the Golden Rule providestandards of this broad type allowing discriminations between actionsostensibly different in kind, to which different particular rules apply. The most perplexing difficulty of all with the formalist ap-proach to moral judgments is the problem of the choice and justifica-tion of the principles themselves. Perhaps the major problem in moraldecision is not in testing imagined possibilities against a set of princi -ples, but in the selection of principles to be used as standards. manyoffer themselves as leaders, authorities, and exemplars. Which amongthem are the true authorities? Laws and traditions differ from cultureto culture. Which are worthy of acceptance as moral guides?The Teleological Method Perhaps the best solution to the problems presented by formal-ism is to adopt the third of the basic ethical theories, namely, the tele-ological one. According to this position, the rightness of an act isjudged according to the consequences of doing it. If the consequencesare good, the act is right; if they are evil, the act is wrong. Thus, theprimary category in teleological ethical theory is good instead ofright, which is primary in formalism. Using the teleological method, one makes his choice by consid -ering what the different possible lines of action are likely to lead toand by weighing the relative worth of the several consequences. The
  • 22. 132 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGright action is then the one that produces the best results. This methodis also useful in deciding between moral principles. Those laws orrules are best that, on the whole, yield the best consequences when ap-plied. The teleological method, of course, does not so much solve themoral problem as shift its basis from judgments about right to judg-ments about good. To use the method effectively, one has to be able toevaluate the worth of consequences. Much of the appeal of the teleo-logical approach lies in the fact that many people think they can knowand agree better on what is good than on what they ought to do, andhence that they can resolve the question of right by determining whatcourse of action is the most likely to lead to the agreed good conse-quences. This analysis of means to ends is the basis for the pragmatisttheory of valuation.6 If it is assumed that the good is defined as what gives pleasure,success, or any other state of affairs, then the teleologist commits thenaturalistic fallacy of identifying a fact with a value. To avoid this, themeaning of desirable consequences must be interpreted as an ideal.This concept of ideals is fundamental to teleological ethical theory. Itmeans a state of affairs that is worth brining into being, “A consum -mation devoutly to be hoped for.” An ideal is not an actuality, not afact, but a possibility that ought to be realized, a potentiality it is de-sirable to actualize. From the teleological standpoint, then, moral decision requiresa set of ideals to serve as standards of reference in the evaluation ofconsequences — a realm or kingdom of ends that define what is worthyof effort, sacrifice, and devotion. The sources of these ideals are es-sentially the same as the sources of moral principles earlier suggested.The moral traditions of humankind contain visions of the good lifeand have compelling power on the actions of men. For use in moraldecision, these goods need to be arranged in hierarchical order so thatconflicts among lesser goods may be resolved by reference to goodson a higher level. A THEORY OF CONSCIENCE AND INTUITION One solution to the problem of authority is offered in the theoryof conscience. It is said that every person is endowed with a native in-6 For a classic statement of this position see John Dewey, Theory of Valuation,The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1939.
  • 23. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 133tuition of the right which, if he attends to it and obeys it, will enablehim to know right from wrong. Moral principles are simply general-izations of what men had heard with the ear of conscience, and theymay be checked for authenticity by any person who sincerely and per-sistently seeks to know and do what is right. A NATURAL LAW VIEW Other theorists hold to a natural law view of moral principles.According to this view, generalizations about right conduct can bemade on rational grounds; there are certain self-evident truths aboutconduct that can be justified with certainty by rational reflectionalone. Specifically, certain rationalists of the Enlightenment held“these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, thatthey are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, thatamong these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The nat-ural law of morality is believed to be as real and certain as the naturallaw of fact discovered in empirical inquiry, although the natural lawof morality is a law of obligation which may be disobeyed, while em -pirical laws describe what necessarily occurs, without any possibilityof disobedience. The natural moral law is a normative, prescriptivelaw in the domain of freedom. The natural law of science is a factual,descriptive law in the domain of necessity. T HE DOCTRINE OF R EVEL ATION Another answer to the problem of authority is the doctrine ofrevelation, according to which certain principles are authenticated onthe basis of the supernatural circumstances attending their disclosure.If miracles, signs, and wonders are believed to have accompanied thegiving of the law, and if these indications are guaranteed by a power-ful and respected institution with a long and impressive history, theauthority of the revelation is difficult for many people to call intoquestion. C ONSCIENCE , REASON , AND R EVEL ATION ARE NOT A CKNOWLEDGED G UIDES Unfortunately, conscience, reason, and revelation have notproved to be clear, unambiguous, and universally acknowledgedguides. The moral intuitions of the most earnest, reasonable, and well-intentioned people differ, and what are supernatural proofs to one
  • 24. 134 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANINGgroup of believers are considered superstitions by another group. Thefact of persistent disagreement on moral questions is the rock onwhich all claims to infallible authority, whether in intuition, reason, orrevelation, come to grief. CERTAIN PRINCIPLES ARE UNIVERSAL LY ACKNOWLEDGED On the other hand, the problem of disagreement should not beexaggerated to the point where one throws in the sponge with the sub-jectivists and denies that moral claims have any meaning apart frompersonal feeling-states. There are certain principles, such as the dutyto keep promises and to tell the truth, which are universally acknowl-edged. Furthermore, apparent differences in principle may actually bedifferences in application under different circumstances. Moral judg-ments are necessarily relative to situations, and in that sense ethicalrelativism is justified. It can also be argued that because of humanlimitations no one can know that is really right and that different prin-ciples are varying approximations to the right, each with some mea-sure of authenticity but each also limited by the particular biases ofthe persons and groups who accept it. DIFFERENT C ONCEPTIONS OF G OOD A ND R IGHT Unfortunately, there appears to be no sure means of demon -strating what the ideal life really is, so that everyone will agree. Therecontinue to be differences in conceptions of the good, just as there aredifferences in conceptions of the right. Conflicts may be due to thefact that no common basis for values exists, and that the good is sim -ply another name for what people happen to want. If that is so, themoral problem is dismissed as a pseudoproblem. 7 Again, conflictsmay be due to the complexity of the problems of evaluation and theneed for much fuller thought and discussion. The good may be acces-sible to mutual understanding but difficult to establish. I NGRAINED E GO C ENTRICITY IN H UMAN B EINGS The persistence of disagreements may be a result of an in -grained egocentricity in human beings that biases their judgments infavor of their own interests and makes universal agreement difficult orimpossible (in contrast to the field of empirical science, where self-in -7 This is the subjectivist position once more.
  • 25. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 135terest is not involved in the same extent, making consensus possible).This is the position taken by theologians who affirm a doctrine oforiginal sin, or of inveterate self-centeredness.88 See, for example, Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, CharlesScribner’s Sons, New York, vol. 1, 1941.
  • 26. 136 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING Guilt is a normal human emotion. Most people inherently try to do what they believe is right and are consciously aware of it when they donot. When people do wrong and are punished forit, society generally believes they deserved it. If an existing rule is broken and the child is not punished, what does the child learn about society’s moral convictions or about the importance of the rule.
  • 27. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 137Picture
  • 28. 138 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING APPEAL TO ESSENTIAL HUMAN NATURE AS THE ULTIMATE C RITERION OF THE G OOD The goal of universal consensus is itself an ideal deeply rootedin the moral consciousness. It is this ideal that persistently stands inthe way of surrendering to an easy subjectivism — a toleration of allvalues as personal preferences, not subject to moral judgment. Oneway of establishing an ideal of the good that can be universally ac-knowledged and used to counteract the egocentric bias is to appeal toessential human nature as the ultimate criterion of the good. This ap-proach is in effect a species of natural law ethical theory, applied toends rather than to kinds of action. The highest good for man is takenas the maximu m fulfillment of human potentialities, or as realizingwhat is deepest and most essential in human existence. 9It might seem, and it is frequently so argued, that referring the good tothe nature of man opens the possibility of an empirical ethical theory,since human nature is a matter of fact. This conclusion is erroneousbecause the standard here is not actual empirical human nature, but“ideal” or “essential” human nature. These terms, and ones like “max-imum fulfillment” and “deepest,” do not refer to facts, but to values.They are gerundives rather than descriptions. “Essential human na-ture” is not a natural fact but an ideal that is appropriate to human be-ings. T HE G OOD L IFE C ONSISTS IN THE R EALIZATION O F M EANING IN A LL THE R EALMS The present study suggests a basis for articulating an ideal ofhuman nature. It has been indicated throughout that the distinctivegoal of human existence is the realization of meaning. The good lifeconsists in the realization of meanings, in all realms: in the ability tocommunicate intelligibly and forcefully, to organize the experience ofsense into significant generalizations and theories with predictivepower, to express the inner life in moving esthetic constructions, to re-late with others and with oneself in acceptance and love, to act withdeliberate responsibility, and to coordinate these meanings into an in-tegrated vision and commitment. PERFECTING H UMAN L IFE T HROUGH9 This is the approach used by certain ethically oriented psychologist like ErichFromm and Abraham H. Maslow.
  • 29. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 139 THE REALMS OF MEANING Such an ideal of what human life can be and ought to be is con-sistent with the facts of human experience and with the persistent vi-sions of universality, truth, beauty, love, duty, and integrity that havecome down in the moral traditions of humankind. It states a goal,based on the study of human potentialities, by which the conse-quences of actions may be assessed, and consequently provides a solidground for moral decisions. On this foundation a defensible and pro-ductive theory of morals can be established — a theory according towhich the entire educative endeavor is seen as a moral enterpriseaimed at the consum mation of human life through the increase inmeaning in all its realms. W AYS O F K NOWING1. Why are language meanings ethically neutral?2. How are face and moral obligation essentially different logical orders?3. What is meant when a person says, “This is good?”4. What does the term “naturalistic fallacy: mean?5. How does rejecting the naturalistic fallacy preserve the logical integrity of ethical meanings?6. How are ethical statements merely expressions of personal pref- erence?7. What are gerundives?8. What is truth?9. What does “excellent” mean?10. What does “beautiful” mean?1 1. What does “worthy of admiration” mean?12. What does “right” mean?13. How do ethical meanings differ from esthetic meanings?14. What is the most important difference between ethical mean- ings and esthetic meanings?15. Why is it important to keep clear the logical distinctions be- tween meanings in the two realms of esthetics and ethics?16. How does moral choice have both personal and impersonal ele- ments?17. How do ethical meanings differ from personal knowledge?
  • 30. 140 PART TWO: FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF MEANING18. How does ethics differ from personal understanding in respect to the element of obligation?19. What is the centralconcept in the realm of ethics?20. Why is ethics everybody’s business?21. Can you add several names to the list of moral leaders identi- fied in the book?22. How are the laws and customs of society significant sources for moral guidance?23. What are human rights?24. Why is it essential the relations between the sexes and among members of the family be carefully considered and wisely or- dered?25. Why does every culture have its distinctive expectations and regulations about what is right and wrong?26. Why are economic life and political life important to the matter of basic human rights?27. What is important to remember about basic human rights?28. How are ordinary people the guardians and practitioners of morality?29. Why should the language of morals be ordinary language?30. Why is there still a place for ethical theory in the ethical realm?31. How should moral deliberation take place?32. What are the methods of inquiry in moral deliberation?33. Why is conduct not moral if one acts without due deliberation?34. How do you put into practice or action the three main types of ethical theory upon which decisions may proceed, namely, the subjectivist, the formalist, and the teleological?35. What is the subjectivist approach?36. What is the formalist approach?37. What is the teleological approach?38. What are some inherent problems in using the formalistic ap- proach?39. What is the theory of conscience?40. What is native intuition?41. What are naturallaw principles?42. What is the doctrine of revelation?43. Why aren’t conscience, reason, and revelation acknowledged guides for ethical behavior?
  • 31. MORAL KNOWLEDGE 14144. What useful principles are universally acknowledged for guid - ing ethical behavior?45. Why are there conflicts between differences in conceptions of good and right?46. Why are disagreements perhaps the result of ingrained egocen- tricity in human beings?47. How can appealing to essential human nature as the ultimate criterion of the good help to counteract the egocentric bias of human beings?48. According to the book, what does the good life consist of?49. How can a defensible and productive theory of morals be estab- lished in the educative endeavor?50. How does one perfect life through the realms of meaning?