Filosofy on Friday – III

Moral Philosophy

Last week’s post under this heading referred to the six emotional facial expressions that are universally recognised across all cultures. There has long been a debate about the universality of morals – the extent to which all societies share a sense of what is good and bad, or right and wrong. The nature of society is that the behaviour of its members is governed by beliefs and values which are encoded within its moral/religious teachings and legal framework, and these of course differ widely across the globe. The history of human conflict can be seen as the clash between these systems as one seeks to dominate another. Nowhere has this been brought into focus more than in the struggles occurring within Islam and between Islam and other faiths.

The stimulus for today’s little foray into philosophy came from what may have been a misheard report about the refugee crisis currently dominating the news. It has been a truly tragic week, with a number of powerful images broadcast across the world that have cut through the political rhetoric and ignited a sense of disgust and outrage. I thought I heard that the Hungarian government were taking such a brutal stance against refugees because to “do otherwise” would undermine their national values. This of course begs the question of what values? But all is not lost, because our own David Cameron stepped into the moral vacuum to declare that as a moral nation we will do “what we have to”. Yet more begged questions. From my days of studying Moral and Social Philosophy, I remember the concept of moral autonomy. This refers to the highest principle of morality, in that one does what is right or good because it is right or good, not because to do otherwise would result in some kind of punishment or censure. In simple terms, one drives within the speed limit because it contributes to the safety of others, not because to not do it will result in a fine. No, I’m not there yet – my behaviour is susceptible to change when there are speed cameras around.

Morality is not chemistry. There is not a simple litmus test to separate the acidic from the alkaline, although many such tests have been proposed (e.g., Bentham’s felicific calculus). A simple test might be to ask if we would like our loved ones to be treated in this way. I am reminded of the story of rescuing people from the river rather than repairing the bridge from which they fell. As in the case of the refugee crisis, we have to do both.

And while I’m on the topic, morality is not a t-shirt. Wearing the slogan metaphorically does not in itself make you morally sound any more than my wearing a number “7” football shirt makes me an ace goal-scorer.


6 thoughts on “Filosofy on Friday – III

  1. The nature of society is that the behaviour of its members is governed by beliefs and values which are encoded within its moral/religious teachings and legal framework, and these of course differ widely across the globe.

    So it is not believed, then, that there is some kind of genetic code inherent in all humankind that steers their behavior in regards to what’s right and wrong?

    1. Mmm, start with the easy questions! Is mankind inherently good? That is the eternal question. I want to believe so, but the evidence is not overwhelming. I think we are driven to become so, but we have to battle with our baser needs and feelings. There are undoubtedly many who achieve this, with great bravery and self-sacrifice, and one hopes that the laws and teachings represent a distillation of all that is good and desirable, but again this is not always evident. A discussion to be had over wine, I think!

      1. it is strange how wine can make things seem clearer and nicer! You strike me as a very spiritual and sensitive woman. I know my writings sometimes come across as cynical, but I believe that goodness in the world still outweighs the bad. Every little good deed we do contributes to the sum total of goodness, another candle in he darkness. Oh, and this is without wine!

      2. Cynical? No, I don’t think so, Derek. I don’t really get that from you. (Though maybe I just haven’t read enough of your posts yet! 🙂 ) It’s just easy to get generally cynical when 99% of what you see on the news and read about in the paper or online is negative. Yet I’ve read of newspapers that have been started with the intention of printing nothing but positive stories and pictures. For the most part they seem to go out of business QUICKLY! Apparently the human race must need all that blood lust (or whatever you want to call it) to survive and thrive. That’s why your piece above interested me.

        I like the candle in the darkness picture. We have a corner cupboard at the bottom landing of our stairs before you go down the basement. At night there is a small lamp that stays lit so we can see to go up and down. If I forget to turn it off during the day, the light gets swallowed up by the daylight. But as darkness descends, that little 4 watt bulb shines bright enough to light up the whole stairwell. Yes, everyone of those little candles are important.

        So what happens when you HAVE wine and wax “filosophical”? 😀

      3. I think the candle imagery comes from the Bible [“better to light a single candle than curse the darkness”]. As for the effects of wine on my filosofical thinking, that’s another story! Enjoy what’s left of the weekend.

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