Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Dipping my toe in

ExC's combination of disinterest in and irritation with moralizing is pretty clear. Although I am not a scoundrel in real life, I am personally familiar with the Seven Capital Sins. Being decent and realistic is about as high-minded as I get.
Taking Jonathan Haidt’s theory of the Six Moral Regions which human societies address in creating moral communities, I took a stab at one version. I did not, however, following the implictly liberal ranking that Haidt provides, privileging Harm vs Care as the primary value.

 Value                                       Rule

Loyalty vs Treason
Be loyal to your people

Authority vs Subversion
Honor your ancestors
Fulfill your duties and calling

Sacredness vs Sacrilege
Revere your God.

Do not commit
Harm vs Care
Do not murder

Fairness vs Cheating
Do not envy or steal
Do not lie or defraud

Liberty vs Oppression
(Do not play the tyrant)

The last rule is iffy. I am not sure if "Liberty vs Oppression" really deserves its own category. Haidt only added it to specify differences between conservative concerns about fairness as proportionality vs liberal demands for universal equality.

Finding the right words to make a brief rule about sexual misconduct is hard. As you can see, I think 
it is particularly loaded, touching on three of the regions at once. I first  chose "Lust" as a nod to tradition, but it lacks clarity, By it I mean not sexual desire as such  --you may as well forbid people to be thirsty-- but sexual action that issues in harm, cheating or sacrilege. Maybe forbidding "adultery" is the best language after all. It gets to the heart of the matter: the sanctification and protection of marriage.

By making loyalty to your people the first rule, I am aware that this is not a "universal and global" 
ethic. I don't believe such things are possible. They only serve the destruction of particular culture. Morality creates, and relies on the existence of, distinct moral communities. Unless you buy the Star Trek delusion, which simply projects the inherent tribalism of humanoids out into space, actually undermining its central ethical vision.

The use of the Decalogue as a universal set of moral demands ignores its very particular embeddedness in a particular culture, people and religion. You can transplant it from Judaism to Christianity but not really beyond that without extrapolating it into another realm.

I have ruminated on that, appreciatively, however, elsewhere.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For Liberty vs. Oppression, I would put, "Do not infringe upon your subjects' rights and privileges."

Does "Do not commit adultery" have the implication that extramarital excursions okayed by one's spouse or partner are fine?

It is a wonder that people could hammer out any kind of justice system or society. Obviously, everybody values these virtues in different orders, and how many skulls have been cracked in the course of figuring out which values are most important? Though to be fair, it seems that many societies put at least some of the virtues on equal footing: murder, apostasy, impiety, and treason have all carried harsh sentences in many older cultures. It's a relatively recent development that offending the majority's religious sensibilities has not brought death- or, in certain cases, has brought praise.

I don't know if I would have put Loyalty at the top; Care, I think, would be at the top for me. You need people to be relatively sure their neighbor won't kill them on a whim before you can start demanding that people be loyal to their neighbors. But again, I understand why you would put Loyalty on top. This really is a great litmus test. The clear dichotomy between the Left and Right in their interpretation of the virtues really does show that we're screwed.


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