If there is a subject that has kept philosophers of all venues talking for centuries on end, it is the realm of ethics, particularly moral philosophy, metaethics, so on and so forth. In terms more conventional, moral ethics attaches inherent value to the question “What is good and evil?”. Metaethics instead asks the question: “What should ethics be about?” – Theoreticians of the field would probably ask me to clarify on this, and so I shall. Using the Internet Encyclopedia, I shall now quote what specialists on the field have to say about it:
The term “meta” means after or beyond, and, consequently, the notion of metaethics involves a removed, or bird’s eye view of the entire project of ethics. We may define metaethics as the study of the origin and meaning of ethical concepts. When compared to normative ethics and applied ethics, the field of metaethics is the least precisely defined area of moral philosophy. It covers issues from moral semantics to moral epistemology. Two issues, though, are prominent: (1)metaphysical issues concerning whether morality exists independently of humans, and (2)psychological issues concerning the underlying mental basis of our moral judgments and conduct.
Let’s tackle the first of the two issues displayed here, and I shall use nothing but my powers of rational conjecture to do so. This should prove amusing.
- Morality has long since the playground of traditional morality. In moral philosophy, traditional morality is taken as an example that we can issue an all-encompassing set of rules of conduct for an entire society. This can be done in such a way, that everyone agrees to act according to that code, even if it is contrary to their own nature. The arguments from traditional morality are normally oriented in two directions.
- Divine Morality: Easily the easiest to grind our teeth on, as it calls upon the will of God, to ensure that we follow His guidelines and that we do not step out of line (or else!). Most moral philosophers tend to easily backhand this notion, not out of dogma, but because God has had so many different cultural and spiritual origins, historically and sociologically, that it seems improbable that one out of all the many systems of belief has the right answer. Rather, it becomes an ontological issue (defining reality) of whether we live in a world dictated by one or multiple divinities. Thought experiments galore, in that area, and thus not for the purpose of this article in particular. I shall summarize by stating that it would be foolish to presume that our sense of good and evil comes from a Divine authority. Rather, we as human beings understand ethics far better than we do morality.
- Peer pressure: If I act in a certain way, society will reject me. This exists to this day via legal systems. It is understood that heinous crimes or behaviors not accepted by the justice system will be grounds for objective judgement from a court. A judge therefore represents the State and thus, society, when he condemns a citizen to x or y sentence, depending on the gravity of his crime. Over the millenia, the sentences for the same crimes have varied wildly. At one point, one could be put to death for it, then one would be fined and now one can simply do it without being arrested. Meanwhile, things that used to be fine in the past have become criminal or rather, what used to be everyday normal stuff in tribal communities, has become gross indecency to our modern civilizations. The greatest weakness to peer pressure is that it presumes that the democratic principles of right and wrong prevail at all costs; thankfully, history teaches us otherwise.
- The meat of the argument for ethics and therefore morality, lies now in psychology. Philosophy and psychology have been tied together for the longest amount of time, and even psychologists to this day take back from philosophical notions, to help them in guiding their research. Of course, what psychology, neuropsychology finds has left the realm of philosophical inquiry. Let’s consider simply the following ethical arguments.
- If I know a crime to be an endemic issue in my society, would it be wiser to prevent the behavior, through larger threats of violence or via therapeutic prevention? (such as CBT) My opinion is definitely on the side of psychology, as I think we’ve been shown that the war on drugs started by Ronald Reagan has yielded more negative than positive results. All of this in reaction to an epidemic of drug consumption? Ethics helps us decide what is the most effective action to take, not the most morally justifiable. Because it is simply superstitious to claim that the morality of an action makes it a superior one. As it has been stated above, morality changes hands across history, and making a moral decision now, can impact the ethical dilemmas of tomorrow. Science is therefore called for here, to indicate what behaviors should be privileged by society. I think you’ll find that research supports therapy much more than harsher prison sentences.
- Developping areas of research, such as psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuropsychology, behavioral biology, all yield different types of results that help us be more informed as to what causes different types of behaviors. Science has known for many decades that violence in teenagers and adults can be prevented by a properly suited entourage, during childhood. Indeed, children that are given a nurturing education and well-grounded family, are less likely to grow up into violent thugs. They will also be less likely to seek out abusive spouses, unbeknownst to themselves, as hurt children attract others of the same kind. I ask then, is it wise, once more, to ask parents to be more punitive toward unruly children, rather than provide them with the tools necessary to grow into functional adults?
The evidence has spoken for itself, although I am quite certain different types of virtue-signaling parents will claim that hitting their children has done them good, to respect authority. That is an inherent part of the issue, in my view, as you do not fix a behavior, you make it worse by repressing it. The Orlando shooting a few weeks ago, should remind us that bad parentage is as much responsible for violence in children as it is for violence in adults. If Omar Mateen had not been raised to repress his actual sexual orientation, he would most likely have not committed this act, having understood it to be normal and acceptable. At that, we know that less than half a century ago, we used to provide shock therapy for autistic and homosexual individuals, to “fix” them. Peer pressure is thus as guilty of the potentiality of rusty morality as is divine morality, because, had it not been for us considering these people “obscene” and “too weird”, we wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to “normalize” them forcefully.
I’ll advise my readership to take heed to not believe me on my word and actually go themselves find the evidence, via Google Scholar. I assure you, you will find plenty of evidence to point out that early childhood traumas lead “wounded children” to be miserable humans in one way or another. Some among you may already know this through firsthand or secondhand experience. Had we the sensibility and the humanity to understand before we judge, this would not be an issue and moral philosophy would have ceased to exist.
Even Robert Sapolsky, an eminent scientist in neuropsychology recognizes that there is still much work to be done, and some questions cannot be fixed directly by science and require philosophical inquiry. I shall link you to a wonderful conversation he had with Alan Alda, that was recorded and put on the Brains on Trial video channel. It will provide you with a lot of advanced notions of how science has been able to put us ever closer to understanding our behaviors, and how to correct them via proper therapy. (none of those zappy things, please)
With that being said, where does philosophy come through, here? Well, I think at this point, philosophy needs to question what it is we consider to be moral and immoral and whether such notions are still valuable to this day. We’ve toyed around with “good and evil” so much, that it has become quite evident that not one person has a definition of it that everyone on Earth can agree with. Except perhaps murdering babies? Well, I guess not, some people might be able to justify killing one via some form of sick ethical dilemma that none of us will ever be subjected to. I can also imagine certain types of extremist terrorists being capable to justify this. After all, it was Herod the Great who ordered so many countless innocent children to be put to death, in the Bible. (Matthew 2, fictitous, as per Adam Kolman Marshak, page xiii of his book “The Many Faces of Herod”)
Therefore, if we wish to define what is morally good, we must cast out morality as the evil tool it is. You will forgive the irony, I hope. Ethics have been shown to be at least more rationally embedded into the reality of societal norms. As such, secular legal systems have been capable of remaining into power for a much longer time than most before them. That is to say, it does not make mass-punishment an ethically justifiable solution to widespread crime. The problem must be rid of at the source, and if it makes sense to punish those who do commit crimes, by putting them away, we should work not at making the legal system more ruthless, but by seeking out what causes these issues.
Primarily, poverty is at the root of many, many different crime figures. Children that succumb to the school-to-prison pipeline were born in poverty and are thus destined by society to die in poverty. Namely because we all know how background checks work, and if you have a grand-theft accusation or you’ve robbed a drugstore because you simply had no choice left or you knew of no other alternative, then you are stuck doing dead-end jobs for the rest of your life or at least until you are given pardon. Even then, the process by which this can be done is bogged down by bureaucracy, which means you will most likely be in a situation where you will commit crime once again, just so you can breathe a little, financially speaking.
So, in a way, the legal system is as guilty as its citizens of gross negligence, when it prefers to legislate for harsher laws and punishment, rather than prevention and education. That is something that I would honestly feel capable of calling evil, although I recognize that this might be a bit of an emotional response, I can still stipulate in a more objecive manner that this is highly unethical, and whoever is in charge needs to reconsider.
Let me put this in simple terms, so that I can reach out to as many people:
Say your child does something you do not like. You take them by the hand and slap them upside the wrist: “Don’t do that!” you yell, glaring angrily into their eyes, as they scamper off, humiliated. Now, you look at your friends and spouse, and you think to yourself: “That’ll teach him.” Well, see… What this really does is that you tell your child that if he does this again, he will get another slap on the wrist, maybe worse. Do you do this out of consideration for your child? Of course, you will say you do. After all, the parent knows best, right?
Well, what if I tell you that this is ingrained into his brain that he should do this action when you aren’t looking? Because he hasn’t understood right off the bat that he shouldn’t do this. All he understands, in his confused little mind, is that you will hit him if he does it. He doesn’t understand that it’s right or wrong! He understands that you’ll be a big, bad, monstrous parent for a split-second, and brutalize him if he does it again.
Say you decided to hit every single person that accidentally runs into you, on the sidewalk, as if to hammer the point home that you don’t like it when people run into you. Well, you’ll make everyone aware that YOU personally hate it so much that you’re ready to come down to fisticuffs, but no one is going to understand that it’s wrong, because you’ve made it an arbitrary position of yours, that if I run into you, I deserve to get punched.
Let me use another example: If I were a child raised in such an environment, that whenever I step out of line, I get the belt or a boot up my ass, so much so that I dread these behaviors more than I understand them, what will that tell about me, if I simply choose to avoid them? I will repress every single one of them and live my life constantly fearing consequence for these acts, and rather than understand what’s wrong with them, I will simply repeat them on my children, perpetuating it for generations to come, because I feel that this is the way children should be raised, because my dad did it to me. Now, look at me. I own my own business and I make a lot of money.
Yet, when I sit down by my lonesome, and I contemplate all these things that have happened to me, I cry and I don’t know why, because I still want to do these things I was told not to do, but I was forcefully conditioned to not do them, because I fear the rod so much that I do not wish to even reason with it. How can I reason with violence?
And now, if you understand properly where I am going with this analogy: You will not raise children capable to decide right from wrong, if the only example you provide to them of what that is, is a kick in the ass and 15 minutes in the corner every time they do something YOU personally disapprove of. That raises a lot more problem than it fixes them. Oh it may seem like they are fixed, once you are done with them, but really, all you’ve ever done is you’ve acted like the legal system: You’ve swept your children’s behaviors under the rug, kept them locked away, only to have them resurface when they will be alone with their wives and children.
And the kicker? They won’t ever confront you about them, because they are scared shitless of your reaction. Even if they own a business, even if they have strong careers as police officers. There will still be the boogeyman, the one person they cannot reason with, because of the things you’ve done to them.
Now, continue telling them about how morally superior you are.