Chapter 11

Rightness and wrongness

One of the reasons the subjectivity of goodness and badness is fought by most realist philosophers (as well as by large numbers of people of good will) is that it sounds as if this makes morality and immorality just a matter of personal taste.

This cannot be, however, as is shown by the fact that those who hold the position that there is no objective morality become very angry when others interfere with their exercise of their "personal morality." This is perhaps most evident today in the "pro choice" side of the abortion question; they want the "pro lifers" stopped from interfering with women who are exercising their choice--on the grounds that no one must force anyone else to conform to the forcer's moral standards.

But of course, since they would prevent the pro-lifers from--as the pro-life people say--"protecting the unborn," which the pro-lifers think their conscience forces them to do, then the "pro-choice" people are forcing the pro-life side to conform to their moral standard of non-interference, which the pro-lifers obviously don't agree with.

I have never seen any advocate of morality as purely personal who has not in practice advocated non-interference as something that applies to everyone. But non-interference is, of course, a moral imperative, which, if it applies to everyone, means that the one advocating it believes that there are moral standards that at least ought to apply to everyone--which contradicts his position.

Hence, the contradictoriness in practice of the position that says that morality is not objective indicates that there must be something objective about it.

What is the cause of this effect?

Conclusion 14: Moral rightness and wrongness have in themselves nothing to do with goodness and badness.

If you examine what people are talking about when they consider something to be morally wrong, they are referring to an act someone performs which contradicts the one acting in some way.

For instance, the reason "non-interference" is in practice a moral imperative among those who hold that morality is personal is that it is inconsistent with morality's being a personal matter to expect anyone else to behave according to your personal standards.

To discuss this at any length would be to open up the whole field of ethics, which is going to have to wait until toward the end of this treatise. But let me merely say that what I have asserted above is true in all cases, and the reader can test it for himself. What is regarded as "morally evil" by someone always involves what can be called "hypocrisy" or "dishonesty": a deliberate attempt to act as if things aren't as they really are. The differences in actual moral codes come from different understandings of what things "really are" (specifically, of what that person's definition of "to be human" is) in the sense of different understandings of which acts are in fact inconsistent with the real situation of the agent.

For instance, pro-life people regard the fetus as in fact "as much" (as far as rights go) a human being as any other human being, and do not deny the "pro-choice" claim that "a woman has a right to do what she wants with her own body." It's just that they say that when she has an abortion, she's in fact killing someone else. "Pro-choice" people simply do not believe that they're killing someone else, because they don't think it's all right to kill your ten-year-old, but it's okay to kill your fetus as long as he's inside you. The difference between the two sides is on facts, not values. Values, really, have nothing to do with it.

But if moral rightness or wrongness are just the fact of consistency or inconsistency, then why do so many people refer to acts they think are morally wrong (dishonest or hypocritical) as bad? It is almost universally true that the primary meaning of "badness" is "immorality."

The answer is simple. It would be fantastic to assume that people would not expect other people (and themselves, for that matter) to act consistently with themselves; how could anyone expect people to pretend that they aren't what they are? But to fail to live up to expectations is by definition "bad"; and so it is inevitable that moral wrongness should be regarded as bad.

If we add to this the fact that people generally make a distinction between "doing wrong but not realizing it was wrong," which they consider unfortunate but not morally evil, and "deliberately doing what you know is wrong," which they consider evil ("really bad"), then the view above is strengthened.

That is, we can't really expect people to avoid something if they have no idea it should be avoided; and so our expectations (and consequently, "badness" as applied to the act) don't attach to indeliberate acts. This is confirmed by the fact that if someone does something noble (i.e. consistent with being human but difficult) by accident, or while intending to do something wrong (as, accidentally scaring a person into overcoming a paralysis in the course of trying to rob him), we don't call the agent morally "good."

Let me, then, make some definitions which can clear the matter up.

An act is morally right if it is in fact consistent with the agent. The act is morally wrong if it in fact contradicts the agent in some way.

The choice to perform an act is moral if the act to be chosen is thought to be consistent with the agent. The choice to perform an act is immoral if the agent has any evidence which would indicate that the act is morally wrong.

An act or a choice is morally good if it lives up to the ideal a person has for human activities or human choices. An act or a choice is morally bad or evil if it fails to live up to the evaluator's ideal for human activities.

Conclusion 15: Moral rightness and wrongness are simply facts about the act in its relation to the agent. Moral rightness and wrongness are totally objective, and depend on no one's standards or even knowledge.

Thus, an act may be in fact morally wrong and no one may be aware of this. The act is in fact inconsistent with the agent who performs it; but as yet no one has discovered the inconsistency. I think, for instance, that I can make out a very strong case that it is morally wrong for a physician to make himself rich from his service; but very, very few people see the inconsistency here, and I am certainly not accusing most physicians of being dishonest or immoral or bad people. Nevertheless, if my analysis of the difference between values and necessities (which will come much later) is correct, then what they are doing is objectively wrong.

The point here is that moral rightness and wrongness, far from being values and therefore subjective, are even more objective than truth is; because they are simple facts and are what they are whether they are ever known as facts or not. Truth only occurs when the fact is known to be what it is; but the act is right even if no one ever knows it to be. Moral rightness and wrongness, then, are "sitting out there waiting to be discovered."

Morality and immorality, on the other hand, are objective in the sense that truth is. Since (as we will see later, in studying life and choice) the choice depends only on the judgments of understanding which you have (the factual knowledge) about the relation of consistency or inconsistency between the act and yourself, then this knowledge is either true or mistaken.

Interestingly enough, however, if the knowledge is mistaken, this does not necessarily absolve you from immorality. If you (mistakenly) judge that the act is morally wrong (inconsistent), your choice to do it is immoral.

Hence, there is a certain fallibility connected with morality and immorality, rather than a subjectivity strictly so-called. You cannot declare a known wrong act to be right and make a moral choice to perform it; if you think it is wrong, then (whether you are mistaken or not), your choice to do it will be immoral; and if you think there is nothing wrong with it, your choice will be moral. But the point here is that it is your judgment of what the objective facts are that determines the morality or immorality of your choice.

Finally, moral goodness and badness are, of course, subjective; all moral values are subjective, because "values" are the results of evaluative judgments, not judgments of understanding.

And, in fact many morally wrong acts are evaluated as good by people (even, in a sense, morally good) who may even recognize that there is something wrong about them. Who has not heard people defending lying when to tell the truth causes pain and a lie can prevent it? Who has not heard prostitutes or drug pushers defend themselves on the grounds that they are performing a service?

It is this "utilitarian" calculus of "assessing the greater good that comes from the act" that has made such a shambles of morality--and which has led, as my theory would predict it necessarily must lead--to complete moral relativism.

Utilitarianism tries to base morals on goodness and badness, not on the fact of consistency or inconsistency. Moral goodness and badness, since they depend on ideals, will necessarily be subjective; and one person's ideal of the "morally good" or "morally noble" act will only by coincidence agree with anyone else's. This was perhaps not so much of a problem in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, when people "taught" standards as if they were in fact something objective, and so people, having learned "what was really good," tended to agree.

But once the objectivity of goodness was called into question, then--since goodness in fact is not objective--Pandora's box was opened; and now there is no way at all to come to a consensus on what is good, morally speaking. So we have enshrined and are proceeding to enforce the subjectivity of morals.

But since moral rightness and wrongness are objective and people can't help recognizing that dishonesty and hypocrisy are wrong, we are in that really stupid position of saying that it is wrong to try to make people avoid doing what is wrong--because we think that "wrong" means "bad." But since this position means that the only wrong act is "interference with moral freedom," we are watching helplessly as people do all sorts of horrible things and destroy themselves and others (we have since 1972 killed more than 30 million helpless human beings in the most hideous and painful way in this country in the name of "non-interference with choice"). We know that there's something very wrong here; but we don't know what or how to prevent it.

Exactly. There is something very wrong here. Not very bad, very wrong. That is an objective fact. And the source is the confusion between right/wrong, moral/immoral, and good/bad. And I think this view unmixes what has been mixed ever since the beginning of philosophy; and I predict that if my view ever gets disseminated, we will be able to straighten out the mess--and not before. As long as morality is thought of in terms of "good" and "bad," which are only incidental evaluative adjuncts to it, there is no hope for a solution. Values simply won't work to right what is wrong.

Thus, the controversial Blairian issue of the subjectivity of goodness and badness does not reinforce moral relativism; it reestablishes the objectivity of morality, while at the same time recognizing the truth of the subjectivity of value judgments. This just goes to show that if you are to be a philosopher, you must not be afraid to go where the facts lead you, on the grounds that you might reach a conclusion that you don't like. If you reach a conclusion that is false, then clearly there is something wrong with the theory, and you scrap it--as I have done several times, not least with the traditional Scholastic ethics I had to give up (based on the Aristotelian equation of "the good" with "the end") because it didn't seem consistent with the facts, however noble the search for the "possession of God as infinite happiness" was.

Now that we have got a reasonable notion of morality, let us look at God, and see if we can say anything about his morality. First of all, since God is infinite activity, no act he performs can be inconsistent with him as agent (because an inconsistent act, if you analyze it--as we will much later--would be an act which pretends to surpass the limits that the agent has on his actions). To be infinitely active obviously means to do anything "doable." The only acts God couldn't perform would be some act which absolutely wasn't what it was--something that wasn't an effect, but a complete contradiction. There's no such thing as such an "act," and so "it" couldn't be done.

Interestingly, we can formulate such an act, and make God seem incapable of doing something: For instance, God can't make a human being who is inhuman in the respect in which he is human. But anybody who knows the Principle of Contradiction knows that such a "human" is just nonsense, and not something that "could" be made if only God were "powerful enough."


Conclusion 16: Every act of God is morally right.

I am speaking here of "every act" as if God performed more than one act, which, of course he does not. But God's creative activity results in more than one finite existence; and so we can take into consideration the possibility of the act's being a kind of "multiple reduplication" of itself as "causing this" and "causing that."

But even in this case, since these many "reduplications" of the act are in fact one and the same act, and if God knows his act (as he must, as we will see much later), then obviously "they" are one and the same with his act knowing all of "them," in which case God knows what he is doing and that it is necessarily morally right. Hence,

Conclusion 17: Every act of God is moral.

God obviously can't deliberately do anything that is inconsistent with himself, because there isn't anything that is inconsistent with himself --even if he were to destroy by torturing all the beings he has created. If it is possible to do this, then it is not inconsistent with an infinite being to do it, any more than it is inconsistent with me to delete the file that contains these words once having written them. Can the clay talk back to the potter?


Conclusion 18: It is not necessarily the case that God or his acts are good.

What? God can be bad? Even morally bad? Yes. And in fact, there are many people who consider God to be bad--though they generally end up not believing in a God at all, because they can't "believe that a totally good God could do such a thing to me" or to the world. Albert Camus was a very honest person who held something like this.

But how could God, who is infinite, fall short of what people would expect of him? Very easily. The "intensity of internal energy" is not necessarily what people look to in evaluating whether something is good or not. People's preconceived notions about any object can be based on anything.

It is quite possible, for instance, to reason this way: "A morally good human person will not bring damage on another person; but God, who crippled me at age two by that earthquake which he could have prevented but which involved no fault of mine or any other human being, did not do what the most minimally moral human being would have done--especially since it would have cost him no trouble at all to prevent the earthquake. And he knew what he was doing. Therefore, he is evil; he deliberately did harm. --Or put it this way; if you can prove that technically, what he did was moral, I will have none of that. He should have left me intact; he is evil for not doing so."

Dmitri Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov reasons exactly this way; even if the suffering of the little girl locked in the closet brings about enormous good, it is not worth the price. His evaluation of the act is that it is bad, and that therefore God, who "allowed" it, is evil, even if he allowed it "that greater good come from it."

Then is he mistaken? No. Ideals are subjective, and obviously he has ideal of what God "ought" to be which does not correspond to the God that exists.