An important finding for morals is of
course that "Kohlberg
reports that less than 10 percent of his subjects over age 16 show
(...) kind of "clear-principled" Stage 6 thinking (...)".
The general suggestion is that the vast bulk of moral actions, moral
feelings and moral argumentation consists of conformism and
following and defending leaders.
Note 2 :
The difference, which nature has placed
between one man and another, is so wide, and this difference is
still so much farther widened, by education, example, and habit,
that, where the opposite extremes come at once under our
apprehension, there is no scepticism so scrupulous, and scarce any
assurance so determined, as absolutely to deny all distinction
A. As I remarked in the beginning
of the previous note, post-modernists have done so, and have
insisted that "all men are equal", usually with the intent to obtain
advantages for specific groups - women, homosexuals, blacks -
normally by giving some of their prominent members (the feminist or
homosexual or black leaders, as it happens mostly) special advantages to make
them even more equal, and undo discrimination.
Again this stance was posturing and
politics, and far from intellectually or morally sincere, so this
note too is an aside.
This does not mean that these
false, sophistical post-modernist stances about truth, morality and
equality are not practically, politically or morally important, but
it does mean that I don't want to discuss post-modernism while I am
trying to write honest and rational philosophy.
B. In order to have some
terminological clarity, it makes sense to distinguish morals and
ethics as follows.
Morals are systems of ideas, rules, instructions and practices that concern how the
members of a certain
group should behave.
A convenient pair of terms for what should and should not be done according to
a moral system are right and wrong.
It should be noted, to start with, that it makes a lot of sense to
distinguish between morals, as defined, that concerns behavior, and
ethics, that is more
abstract, and concerns ends and addresses the
topics of good and
And indeed, most of the ethics most men profess, are not so much ethical
theories, but moral rules and practices current in their own group or
Thus, morals, as defined, is concerned with more practical matters and
behavior than ethics is, and those who want to
reason about it should be aware that there are a number of real and practical
features of moral norms
that collectively imply that in moral matters things are usually not quite as
they are claimed to be, for sound if 'human-all-too-human' reasons.
Ethics are theories of what
one should and should not do, of what are
what ends are desirable.
As defined, it should
be noted to start with, ethics differs from
morals, that tends to concern standards for
behavior and practices in a social
group rather than the intellectual
foundations of such standards, or abstract questions about
Five general remarks about ethics: Since much in ethics depends on the
ends one desires to further, and on
one's theory of human nature, it makes sense to make five general points:
- I try to look upon ethics
and morals rather in terms of harming and hurting or
suffering than in terms
of more noble and more abstract motives,
since what harms or hurts a human being is fairly evident,
regardless of what one thinks human beings are or should be capable of,
whereas the worst atrocities have been committed in the name of the noblest
- I note the fact that
ethical and moral judgmens tend to include both a factual component
(about what the facts are supposed to be) and a subjective component (about what someone
desires that the facts should be like), and that at least as far as the -
presumed or asserted - facts are concerned that
is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone,
to believe anything upon
- And I hold that
it always makes sense
to try to be rational and reasonable
- since being rational in
theorizing helps one find true or probable ideas, and without these one
cannot hope to succeed in anything, and trying to be reasonable in acting
at least helps to give everyone his due - and also note that both are quite
difficult to do well and consistently.
Since ethics is mostly about
ends, the means to
further these ends, if any, are essential, and I note that most ethical
theories do not give clear plans and proposals about how the proposed ends
could be realized from the situation one is in.
- A considerable part of both ethics and
morals can be derived from the needs to
cooperate if one wants
to achieve anything; to come to agreements about facts, ends,
assumptions and methods if one wants to cooperate; and to keep promises
if one makes agreements to do things.
Meanwhile, having made the
distinction, it makes sense to note that there is a considerable
overlap between ethics and morals as defined, and that Hume normally
speaks of morals.
My main reasons to distinguish the
two are that ethics is the theoretical version of and reflection on
a much more practical moral system, and that if one restricts
oneself to what I called morals most moral and ethical problems are
easily settled, at least in practice: It all depends on the group you are in, for it will
almost always be considered good if you act as the majority and
follow the leaders, and bad if you don't: "If in Rome, do as the
Romans do", and if among cannibals, do as the cannibals do, tends to be
the alpha and omega of moral behaviour in practice, for ordinary
Indeed, by reference to Kohlberg's
moral stages in Note 1 it may be said that what I call ethics
corresponds mostly to Kohlbergs level III stages - and then it
surely must be a relevant consideration, also when thinking of some
other moral facts listed in the previous Note, that 'less
than 10 percent' seems
to take naturally to this level of moral reasoning.
Note 3 :
There has been a controversy started of late, much better
worth examination, concerning the general foundation of Morals;
whether they be derived from Reason, or from Sentiment; whether we
attain the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and induction,
or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense; whether, like
all sound judgement of truth and falsehood, they should be the same
to every rational intelligent being; or whether, like the perception
of beauty and deformity, they be founded entirely on the particular
fabric and constitution of the human species.
These are good questions, but it should be
obvious in which direction the truth is to be sought: Both 'Reason'
and 'Sentiment' are involved in 'Morals',
since morals concerns the question what one should do, and the answer must be
normally in terms of beliefs about what reality is like, and desires about what
it should be made like.
And it makes sense to suppose that there are no
genuine moral or ethical concerns that do not involve both beliefs and desires
about reality. Also, it is important to see that in moral and ethical systems
the beliefs and the desires tend to influence and color each other: What one
believes the world is like depends at least in part on what one desires it
should be like, and what one desires the world should be like depends at least
in part on what one believes it is like.
Few persons are rational in the sense that
their beliefs are independent from their desires.
Also, since we are still at the beginning of a
long series of fairly often long Notes to a philosophical classics about morals,
it may be helpful if I sketch some elementary semantical considerations
concerning the term 'good' and explain a little about supposed ends of society.
What is called morally good tends to be
called so, independently from what the speaker holds to be morally good, by
reference to a fact and to a standard.
The fact is that what is judged to be
morally good, again
independently from what the speaker holds to be
morally good, tends to be different from and regularly opposed to what feels or
may feel pleasurable, both in the short term and the long run. Indeed,
this fact is at the bottom of most moral codes, that tend to exist as moral
codes in order to correct the natural human tendency to do what is or seems
pleasurable here and now.
The standard is that people tend to
judge that so-and-so is morally good (or bad, or indifferent) by reference to
what they hold to be the ends of human society, whatever they believe or
desire these to be, and by reference to what they believe about human nature.
If one thinks about this one realizes that such
ends also ultimately depend on a person's desires, just like his non-moral and
ordinary judgments that such-and-such is or feels good, but with a fairly
important difference if the person who judges is not ignorant about human
society, human history and human nature: That what he holds to be ends of
human society must then have been judged these to be so by reference to what
he believes or knows to be humanly, socially or historically possible and
feasible. And this may and often does fall far short of what the person holds
desirable without such realistic and sobering knowledge of human capacities and
actions. (See Rummel, Muller,
Milgram and Kohlberg.)
Next, here are three well-known examples of
different ends of human society, and two examples of different theories of human
nature. Since my aim here is mostly to clarify in what sense I mean the phrase
ends for society' I will only list the examples
and will not discuss them. But to allow the reader of these notes to correct for
my own biases, I will conclude this note by stating these in the present case.
Three different conceptions of the ends of
society as thought about in Europe since the 18th Century are
socialism, where the last may be subdivided in social-democratic and
And two examples of different conceptions of
human nature are religious
Whether human beings are created by some divine fiat or stand on their own as an
evolved natural kind.
As the reader can find from the links I
provided, my own biases are liberal and naturalistic.
Note 4 :
Truth is disputable; not taste: what exists in the nature
of things is the standard of our judgement; what each man feels within himself
is the standard of sentiment. Propositions in geometry may be proved, systems in
physics may be controverted; but the harmony of verse, the tenderness of
passion, the brilliancy of wit, must give immediate pleasure. No man reasons
concerning another’s beauty; but frequently concerning the justice or injustice
of his actions.
This is well put, and what it shows is a
difference between moral judgments and judgments of taste: Moral
judgments often involve some amount of reasoning, usually about the supposed
facts, whereas judgments of taste are almost always immediate, and indeed tend
to depend on a person's needs, feelings and values, and not on extraneous facts,
apart from such as made the person have the needs, feelings and values by which
he makes judgements of taste.
Note 5 :
The end of all moral speculations is to teach
us our duty; and, by proper representations of the deformity of vice
and beauty of virtue, beget correspondent habits, and engage us to
avoid the one, and embrace the other.
This is a good statement about what
morals is about: To teach people what they should do. But it makes
sense to make a distinction between morals, that aims at
teaching the members of a group how to behave, and ethics,
that aims at explaining what are good and bad, and what ends and
values a human society should adopt. For more, see
Note 2 and Note 3.
Note 6 :
What is honourable, what is fair, what is
becoming, what is noble, what is generous, takes possession of the
heart, and animates us to embrace and maintain it. What is
intelligible, what is evident, what is probable, what is true,
procures only the cool assent of the understanding; and gratifying a
speculative curiosity, puts an end to our researches.
Yes, but moral norms and problems
concern what human beings should and should not do to one another,
and much concerns their interests, needs and desires, and therefore
it is fairly obvious that moral issues do often and easily give rise
to strong feelings.
Note 7 :
These arguments on each side (and many more might be
produced) are so plausible, that I am apt to suspect, they may, the
one as well as the other, be solid and satisfactory, and that
reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral
determinations and conclusions.
Indeed, and see Note 3.
Note 8 :
The final sentence, it is probable, which pronounces
characters and actions amiable or odious, praise-worthy or blameable; that which
stamps on them the mark of honour or infamy, approbation or censure; that which
renders morality an active principle and constitutes virtue our happiness, and
vice our misery: it is probable, I say, that this final sentence depends on some
internal sense or feeling, which nature has made universal in the whole species.
This may suggest that there is an innate moral
sense, and indeed this has often been assumed. In view of the large differences
between moral systems men have practiced- see Hume's
Dialogue for a good
illustration - it seems to me that if there is an innate moral sense, it is at
most like the supposedly innate universal grammar, that allows human beings to
rapidly and easily learn any human language when young, but which is far less
specific than any of the languages of which it facilitates the learning.
In short, if there is an innate moral sense it
probably is one that counsels that it is good to follow one's own multitudes and
leaders, if only out of self-interest, and that it is good to conform to what
one's fellows do and think and want. And indeed a moral sense that is innate is
likely to be one that is zoological rather than human: An instinct that helps
keeping the horde together and cooperating, and that expresses itself in humans naturally as
Yet there is also something which does play an
important role in moral judgments and that is 'universal
in the whole species': Almost every human being assumes, and has been
educated on the basis of the assumption, that other human beings are and feel
and think like oneself, and can be understood in analogy with oneself,
and that in this respect there is a human nature, that is as similar in
needs and feelings and thoughts as human bodies are similar in shape,
construction and functioning.
The assumption of a common human nature
humans share - that allows also for some rather small differences between adults
and children, between men and women, and between the ill and the healthy - is important in
moral reasoning, for no human individual has access to the experiences of any
other human individual except by sympathy and by imagination.
Also, although it is an assumption, that is
forced upon one due to the fact that no one can experience another's
experiences, it is not a large assumption, for it amounts to the belief that all
human beings belong to one species
of which all the individuals react
similarly when placed in similar circumstances, which is easily argued on the
basis of the fargoing similarity of all humans as regards similar bodily structure,
capacities, and similar reactions to food, poison, medicine etc.
Note 9 :
For what else can have an influence of this nature? But in
order to pave the way for such a sentiment, and give a proper discernment of its
object, it is often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede, that
nice distinctions be made, just conclusions drawn, distant comparsions formed,
complicated relations examined, and general facts fixed and ascertained.
This is true, and one important reason for it
is that moral norms and ends require for their application that the world has
certain factual features. Here also enters the distinction between morals and
ethics I made in Note 2, and the consideration of ends and
facts I remarked upon in Note 3.
Note 10 :
But in many orders of beauty, particularly those of the
finer arts, it is requisite to employ much reasoning, in order to feel the
proper sentiment; and a false relish may frequently be corrected by argument and
reflection. There are just grounds to conclude, that moral beauty partakes much
of this latter species, and demands the assistance of our intellectual
faculties, in order to give it a suitable influence on the human mind.
I doubt it - although maybe Hume does not express himself
well, or I misunderstand him. In any case: I agree that both feeling and
reasoning are involved in moral judgments (see Note 3),
but I deny that it requires extensive education to learn to understand that a
man with another color of skin than oneself very probably is hurt to the same
extent by the same measures as oneself would be.
My reasons for this are in
Note 8 where I discuss human nature: It is fairly obvious that creatures who
are so much like ourselves in appearance and in bodily composition also have the
same sort of feelings when in the same circumstances, and that the feeling you
have when your tooth aches is of a very similar kind as mine
if my tooth aches.
And indeed, Hume will argue along these lines in
Section II, that concerns
Note 11 :
In order to attain this purpose, we shall endeavour to
follow a very simple method: we shall analyse that complication of mental
qualities, which form what, in common life, we call Personal Merit: we shall
consider every attribute of the mind, which renders a man an object either of
esteem and affection, or of hatred and contempt; every habit or sentiment or
faculty, which, if ascribed to any person, implies either praise or blame, and
may enter into any panegyric or satire of his character and manners.
This seems a good approach, except that earlier notes - Note
1, 2 and 8 -
make it likely that the general answer in so far as morals are concerned must be
of the form 'Good, in a certain society, is what most of the members or of the
leaders hold to be helpful in maintaining the society'. Thus, among cannibals it
is good to eat human flesh, and among Christians the eating of human flesh is bad, except if it is
the Lord's flesh, in the form of special bread.
In other words: Hume's approach is helpful to
find what most of the members of a given society will praise or blame, but not
very helpful in finding what good and bad are irrespective of a given society,
Note 12 :
The very nature of language guides us almost infallibly in
forming a judgment of this nature; and as every tongue possesses one set of
words which are taken in a good sense, and another in the opposite, the least
acquaintance with the idiom suffices, without any reasoning, to direct us in
collecting and arranging the estimable or blameable qualities of men.
This is true: Very many terms, and also the
tones of voicing terms, indicate at least in part some moral attitude of the
Note 13 :
The other scientific method, where a general abstract
principle is first established, and is afterwards branched out into a variety of
inferences and conclusions, may be more perfect in itself, but suits less the
imperfection of human nature, and is a common source of illusion and mistake in
this as well as in other subjects. Men are now cured of their passion for
hypotheses and systems in natural philosophy, and will hearken to no arguments
but those which are derived from experience. It is full time they should attempt
a like reformation in all moral disquisitions; and reject every system of
ethics, however subtle or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and
For the beginning of this quotation, see Hume's
Enquire concerning Human Understanding and my
Notes to it.
The latter part of this quotation is mostly
Humean wishful thinking, but it does outline his program, which may be quoted
from the sub-title of Hume's 'Treatise of Human Nature' thus: "to introduce the experimental Method of Reasoning
Moral Subjects", and to do so also concerning morals itself.
And this is of considerable importance, given
that a large amount of moral reasoning is indeed 'not
founded on fact and observation' but on
religious speculation and dogma.