Let me begin this excursion into ethics by a quote that I ran across from J. L. Mackie's Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong:
"What is the connection between the natural fact that an action is a piece of deliberate cruelty--say, causing pain just for fun--and the moral fact that it is wrong? It cannot be an entailment, a logical or semantic necessity...How much simpler and more comprehensible the situation would be if we could replace the moral quality with some sort of subjective response which would be causally related to the detection of the natural features on which the supposed quality is said to be consequential."
His contention is that calling hurling grenades at children in busses objectively wrong is "queer."--because it supposes "objective values or intrinsically prescriptive entities." Blind! And none so blind as he who through closed eyes cries, "I see! I see!"
The answer to his difficulty, of course, is that facts are not "entities" (objects, properties) at all, but relationships that have a "hook" onto objects by their properties, as we saw in Chapter 6 of Section 5 of the first part 1.5.6. The fact as such does not exist, in the sense that it is not either a body, a part of a body, a spirit, or an activity; but it is a fact nonetheless that objects are related in a certain way. The relation of fatherhood I have with my children is a fact, not an "entity," nor some real "string" connecting me and my children; and my fatherhood as a property can be expressed as a set of differences in me because I am the father of these two people. Those differences exist, of course; but the connection, the fact itself, doesn't.
But this is the case with any fact, including scientific facts such as the earth's belonging to the solar system. There is no "entity" of "belongingness" that can be observed. Hence, if Mackie is trying to find some "entity" called "wrongness" inside the act of deliberate cruelty, he is barking up the wrong tree. It is a fact that the act is wrong; and its wrongness is not a "thing" it has.
And of course the fact in question is that it is inconsistent for a person who doesn't want others torturing him to go about torturing others, as if this notion that he is inviolate from torture were some special privilege he had as an individual and not something we all have just because we are human. Now that's a fact, not an "entity."
But it does raise the issue of why inconsistencies must be avoided, which is the real moral issue. And in this sense, Mackie's wrong-headed approach does hit upon something significant.
That is, when we say "Doing that action is wrong" to someone, we expect that (a) we are informing him of a fact that he might not realize--that the act is inconsistent with him as a human being--and (b) that his knowing this fact will induce him to avoid the act. Mackie couldn't see what we were trying to inform the man of; but the more significant issue is why we expect that if a person knows something is wrong, he knows that he must avoid it.
There are all kinds of inconsistencies that don't seem to carry this imperative along with them. It is grammatically inconsistent, for instance, to use a double superlative; and therefore Shakespeare had to have avoided saying "This is the most unkindest cut of all"? It is logically inconsistent to use a double negative in a negative sense, and therefore Spanish must revise its grammar?
But if something is humanly inconsistent--i.e., if it is something we think is an inhuman way to behave--why do we automatically think, "Therefore it must not be done"? Especially if it is to your advantage to do it.
It is inconsistent to say that something which is to your advantage must not be done by you, because if you say it must not be done, you are clearly not saying that you can't (physically) do it, but appealing to your reason to induce you to avoid choosing the act. But to give a reason for an act is to provide a motive, and a motive is a chosen effect of the act, as we saw in Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.6. But if the act is to your advantage, then how is its inconsistency with your humanity an effect that would make you not do it? That fact would have to make it disadvantageous, in such a way that it outweighs the advantage.
We seem to have an effect here, according to the definition of effect back in Chapter 2 of Section 2 of the first part 1.2.2, and so we have the material for a scientific investigation into ethics.
Obviously, if you have read this far, you know that I think I have a solution to this problem: what the eternal consequences are of making a choice to act inconsistently with yourself. If that theory is upheld, then what is wrong (inconsistent) becomes automatically a disvalue (disadvantageous) if you know that it is wrong and choose it anyway.
But it is my purpose here to table this for the moment, state the basic effect dealing with morality as clearly as possible, and see whether any other hypothesis has a hope of resolving it. If not, then either the theory I advanced is Sherlock Holmes's: "The one remaining, Watson, however improbable, must be the truth"--or the whole area of moral discourse is nonsense, and even Mackie's (and, of course, his father Hume's and that of so many of his brothers and sisters in theory, like A. J. Ayer's) "solution" that we simply express our disapproval is also nonsense, since what business do we have disapproving of what someone else is doing? Not to mention that none of us have any rights, if all we can do is "express personal disapproval" of someone's violating them.
One of the problems with ethical theory has been that up until Kant it was asking an objectively unanswerable question: "What is 'the good' for human beings"? Since "the good" is defined by the person's goals, as we saw in Chapter 10 of Section 5 of the first part 1.5.10, Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.6, and Chapter 2 of Section 7 of the fourth part188.8.131.52.6, then, though each person can come up with an answer to the question, the answers will not agree; and furthermore, they are all irrelevant to the issue of rightness and wrongness, which is basically where one draws the line between acts consistent with being human and those inconsistent with it. That is, "the good" deals with the perfection of a person's humanity, its self-defined upper limit, while rightness and wrongness deal with the zero of humanity as far as acts are concerned, where they begin to contradict the given reality of the agent. Even in Scholastic philosophy, which had some very accurate notions of right and wrong, this confusion prevailed, because it illogically supposed you could derive the notion of inconsistency from the alleged purpose of life to reach God. The arguments were ingenious, but in point of fact, ethical injunctions in fact don't tell you how to get to heaven fastest, or how to reach the highest place in it, but how to avoid hell--by stating the minimal characteristics of human nature and showing what was inconsistent with them.
Ayn Rand suffers from a variation of this. Following Aristotle, she takes "the good" as the criterion for morality, and for her "the good" is "what fulfills my objectively true self"--from which she got the idea originally of calling her philosophy "egoism," and later "objectivism." She derives "the purpose" of life from observing that living beings tend to preserve themselves, and therefore have themselves as goals of their actions. Since this is the purpose of life, then it follows that what leads to fulfillment of the purpose ("man's life"--i.e. to self-preservation and development) is good, and what is inconsistent with it is evil.
Much of her philosophy is consistent with what I consider the truth, because in my view what is morally evil is acting as if you aren't what you objectively are, and so the negative aspects of morality are more or less the same. I would deny that you must fulfill yourself to the greatest extent possible (and this is also the quarrel I have with the Scholastics), since it would leave you no freedom whatever (since you are morally obliged to do what is better, even if the alternative is good)--and would leave no room for indifferent actions or saying that heroic actions are "above and beyond the call of duty," as they are universally recognized to be. To be free and not have any moral room to exercise one's freedom is not to be free in practice; and so is itself a contradiction of one's humanity as free.
No, we can do whatever we want, as long as it is not positively self-contradictory, even if there is something "more human" that is open to our activity. If you want to be an auto mechanic, you don't have to fulfill your talent as a mathematician. I mentioned this earlier in discussing the Parable of the Talents.
Rand also has the problem, since she doesn't think that life survives death, of why one should bother avoiding what is morally wrong if perpetrating the act fulfills a more important aspect of oneself. You have to forego living a prosperous, long life if the only way you can get there is by committing treason. And it is no argument to say that you "couldn't live with yourself" in that case, because (a) everyone who has, say, lied and gained something important by it recognizes that it is pretty easy to live with this minor frustration--and consequently, we can learn to live and "put behind us" practically anything if we gained by it; and anyway (b), you can always assuage your guilt by arguing that you have avoided the evil connected with losing whatever it is you gained by the immorality, and that that is greater than the evil you brought on yourself by it. This sort of thing, however, is the same as saying that the end justifies the means, and then "morality" becomes a mere exercise in the abstract, which makes no practical difference. In essence, when a Randian does something that is against his objective self in order to fulfill a subjective goal, the only bad thing that happens to him is that people can say, "You did something wrong." And that, I submit, is no motivation in the area that everyone recognizes as the most serious area of human life.
Rand also says that we must make self-fulfillment the purpose of our lives because, since we are the originator of our actions, we must be also their goal. She dismisses "altruism" as a delusion or a lie; those who think they are acting for someone else rather than themselves don't realize that it's the satisfaction they get in feeling "noble" that is motivating them; and this is selfish.
First of all, as rational individuals, we can recognize that objectively we are no better or greater than any other human being, and therefore, there is objectively no reason why my actions have to have myself rather than someone else as their goal; the fact that they originate from me is an accident as far as the effect they have is concerned. Further, since the will is motivated by reason, and reason is capable of abstracting, I can abstract from my own fulfillment if I recognize, for instance, that an objectively greater good would be achieved if someone else happens to be the beneficiary of my act. Driving a friend to the hospital to see his dying sister might not be advantageous (might even be slightly inconvenient) to me, but the benefit to the friend and the sister objectively outweighs this by far.
I hasten to say that, as we will see later, it is immoral to choose to do positive damage to oneself for the sake of another's benefit, or even to avoid greater harm to another person. That is the essence of immorality: to choose to contradict oneself. As we will also see, there is a way of keeping a harmful effect of one's actions out of the choice to act (the Principle of the Double Effect), which makes it not immoral to recognize that some (minor) harm will come to me from taking an action that saves someone else from a major harm. Thus, I can donate a kidney to another person who will die if he doesn't get it--because I don't really need two kidneys to live--even though there are risks involved in the operation. Everyone recognizes that we can do something to save ourselves from harm, even if it involves some (unintentional) harm to another (and so contradicts our "social selves," as in defending ourselves from an attack). If this is so, then given the fact that we do not live on a higher level than anyone else, we can also allow harm to ourselves to save others from graver harm.(1)
Rand misinterprets "altruism" as always meaning "doing harm to yourself to benefit others," and when one chooses one's own harm as a means of helping others, this is in fact immoral. But one may be morally altruistic in two ways, as I said: (1) by foregoing a benefit whose deprivation causes no positive damage in order for someone else to receive a greater benefit, and (2) by permitting a harm by an action which simultaneously saves someone else from greater harm.
Finally, Rand is, like most other ethicians, mistaken in taking the "good" or the "purpose of life" as the foundation of ethics, when ethics is really involved in avoiding evil, and doing good is left up to our freedom.
Not surprisingly also, when people like Hume, Ayer, and Mackie try to find "the good," they discover that it is subjective, and so assume that moral rightness and wrongness are also subjective.(2) Hence, to approach the study of ethics from the point of view of "What is 'the good'?" is counterproductive, but even worse, misses the point.
It is much better to start with the following:
Basic effect: Every person thinks that what is wrong according to his own definition of "wrong" is something that he must not do--and in fact, something that no one must do. Yet it may be clearly advantageous to him to do the act, without there being any observable disadvantage.
Now as to the first part of the effect, that every person thinks that what is wrong must be avoided, this is simply an empirical fact. Psychologists tell us that even "pathological" people have some acts, however bizarre to the rest of us, that they think they must avoid--or in other words, there has been no instance of a person who is so pathological that he has no guilt about anything whatever. Most pathological people don't experience guilt at doing (or "see anything wrong with doing"--note how closely the phrase is connected with "feel any obligation to avoid") things that normal people think must not be done, such as killing or lying or stealing; but each has something that is taboo to him.
And anthropologists and sociologists point out that taboos are one of those "cross-cultural constants": things that appear in every culture without exception. Granted, the acts that are considered taboo or forbidden vary (often vastly) from culture to culture; but the fact that there are taboo acts is found in every culture. Let me now add something of my own:
Empirical finding: Every person's notion of what is wrong and therefore must be avoided follows from his notion of what it is to be a human being. The wrong act is recognized as wrong because it is understood to be inhuman, in the sense of inconsistent with what he is as human.
I find this true, not only among cultures and individuals within a culture, but also every ethical theory, even if it repudiates "natural law" ethics, surreptitiously bases itself upon the theorist's notion of what humans are, and therefore what acts are inconsistent with this.
Let me give some examples. Mackie's position, above, is that calling things "objectively" right and wrong is "queer." Now insofar as that theory is just an interesting discussion of how funny we are, it could perhaps stand. But insofar as it implies, "Therefore, we really ought not to act as if moral rightness and wrongness are objective," it (a) contradicts itself, and (b) supposes that since there is nothing objective to base morality on, no human being should act as if there was. If he does, he is mistaken, and if he realizes that there is no objective basis, he should refrain from pretending that there is one. In other words, it is inconsistent with a person who knows that morality has no objective basis to act as if morality had one; and therefore, he shouldn't do this.
Now even if Mackie doesn't (in the name of consistency) precisely draw this conclusion, certainly most of his readers do. It is clear from the tone, if not the explicit statements, of moral relativists that they "disapprove" of moral absolutists, especially when the moral absolutists set about passing laws that "impose their moral standards" on those who don't happen to possess them.
Why would a moral relativist seek to stop an absolutist from passing a law forbidding, say, the reading of pornography, if the absolutist thought it was his moral duty to see to it that no one engaged in this practice? Certainly plenty of anti-pornography people believe they have a positive obligation to prevent anyone from reading pornography. But if the relativist actually wants to stop him from "imposing his moral standards on those who don't share them," then he is imposing the moral standard of non-interference on someone who does not share it, and so is violating his own moral standard (which applies only to himself) in the name of seeing to it that others don't violate it.
That is, the moral relativist who doesn't want interference with his behavior on the part of the "self-righteous" is self-righteously interfering with their following their conscience. He is therefore in practice assuming that his moral prohibition of non-interference is an objective moral standard applicable to everyone.
And why? Because it is inconsistent, on his view, for a person to apply subjective moral standards as if they were objective. Hence, his view is that reasonable people must not act unreasonably (because recognizing inconsistency and avoiding it is reasonable).
The cultural moral relativist is in the same position. He can justify the authority's imposing moral standards on the rest of the culture, insofar as the authority enjoins what those acts that are the basic consensus of right and wrong for that culture; but he gets very hot under the collar when one culture presumes to impose its moral standards on those of another culture.
It happens to be close to the quincentennial of Columbus's discovery of America; and cultural relativists are already saying that we shouldn't be celebrating but deploring the act. I have read vilifications of the Spanish missionaries who came over to the New World and rammed Christianity down the throats of the poor Indians, completely "ruining" a culture which "worked" perfectly well for them, even if it included ritual human sacrifice and so on. Who were the Spaniards to think that their morality was so much "better"?
Well who are these cultural relativists to tell the Spanish missionaries what to do? By whose standards to they say the Spanish "ruined" the Aztec and Inca cultures? By their own standards. The Spaniards thought they improved the cultures. Who are the cultural relativists to think that leaving them alone is so much "better" than not doing so?
That is, the cultural relativists are in fact trying to impose their own standards of non-interference on everyone who would try to export his moral standards beyond his culture; and the fact that they castigate those who interfere, and in fact try to prevent its happening in the present day, show that they are exporting their own standard beyond their own culture, and judging other cultures by it.
And the reason for this, once again, is the idea that morality is supposedly arrived at by social consensus, and it is inconsistent therefore with a society to export its internal standards, and force them on other cultures. Such a thing is inhuman, these people think, and therefore not to be tolerated. Intolerance, in other words, must not be tolerated, because intolerance, on their view, is the one inhuman act (and it's the one inhuman act precisely because they think that there is no such thing as "human nature" that we all possess).
Marx decried "bourgeois morality" as something that was used by the bourgeoisie to keep down the proletariat; and so it would seem that his philosophy had no moral code. But it certainly did, as anyone studying Communism can see, by the fervor by which any action which was to lead to the overthrow of capitalism and the inauguration of the classless society was one that was to be done and every "reactionary" act, however humane it might seem, was to be crushed. And why? Because until the classless society existed, every person was "alienated" from his own humanity--or in other words, was not really human. People would be human only when the classless society existed, and therefore you couldn't do anything inhuman to people as they now existed--except lead them further away from the goal of being human. If you starved a million peasants in Ukraine, this was perfectly all right, because they weren't humans, and this step would (presumably) bring about the classless society faster. It all makes sense on Marx's definition of what it is to be human.
Sartre's notion of "bad faith" (which clearly he thinks is to be avoided) is making an "object" of yourself by refusing to choose (i.e., choosing not to choose) and letting someone else do the choosing for you; and this is clearly inconsistent with the "for itself's" being nothing but nothingness or absolute freedom. With Sartre, it doesn't matter what you choose, and so it would seem that for him nothing is immoral; but you must not choose not to choose. Again, perfectly consistent, if to be human is to be nothing but freedom.
Of course, Heidegger's "inauthenticity" is the same sort of thing. Instead of being dasein, you are acting as if you were just an object in the world when you act inauthentically; and therefore, you are acting inconsistently with what you are as human.
Hume's condemning those who base morality on reason instead of on emotions is based on his view in the Treatise on Human Nature that human beings are so constructed that reason can only understand relationships, and so can do nothing more than tell you whether a given act leads to a given end, and cannot tell you whether the end is desirable, because reason cannot desire. Only "sentiment" can desire. Therefore, as he says, "reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions." [My italics.] It's one thing to say that it is, but when you say it ought to be you are implying, "And don't act as if it weren't." So it is because of his idea of what human nature is that he thinks that morality must not be based on a person's idea of what human nature is.
Kant's view that the moral imperative is "always act so that the maxim behind your action could be made a universal law applicable to everyone" is based on his view that reason is what makes the laws of our experience; and therefore reason demands that at act must be reasonable--because, of course, if it isn't, then this is inconsistent with reason, which is the basis of the action.
The Scholastics' view of what is morally wrong is, as I said, not really based on the possession of God as the purpose of life, but, as I learned it, "You may never fulfill any aspect of yourself when it means violating some other aspect of yourself." In other words, it isn't the fulfillment that forms the obligation but the injunction against inconsistency.
Even St. Augustine's notion that morality is based on love rather than "human nature" comes from this: "You have made us for yourself, Master, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You." And as he spells this out in The City of God, either a person loves himself to the contempt of God (and so sins), or he loves God even to the contempt of himself (and so has the correct orientation of his will: toward God). So the sin is love, but self-love, which is inconsistent with his notion that we were made for God, and therefore God must be first.
You can test any other philosopher you want to name by this criterion, and as soon as he indicates that some act is to be avoided, you will find that this is based on what he thinks is involved with being a human being, and that he thinks this act is inconsistent with this view.
If we step outside philosophy, we also find that the taboos of a culture spell out the culture's view of what acts are inconsistent with its view of what it is to be a human being. Our own culture now does not in fact regard fetuses as human beings, and therefore we permit abortions whenever a woman wants one. Two hundred years ago, Blacks were not thought of as human beings in our culture, and therefore what was the problem with owning them, as long as you weren't cruel to them? (The notion that it is inconsistent with your humanity to be owned by another person actually became clear only with Locke's notion of human rights as inherent in the individual rather than in his relation to society, as I will mention when I come to rights in the next part.) In some cultures, such as what used to prevail among the Eskimos, giving your wife to a guest for the night was considered perfectly all right; and in that culture, women were not considered as really human. Polygamy exists in cultures where women are regarded as not fully human, but as like children and retarded people. Suicide was morally required in Asian cultures like China and Japan; but in those cultures, one wasn't thought to be human in himself (your bodily life was your animal life, not your human life), but by reason of his belonging to his family or his group; and so if he brought disgrace--moral ruin--on the family, he could rectify the wrong by giving up his animal life for it.
That same notion that bodily life was "animal" and social life (one's "reputation") was the "really human" life was what was behind the practice of dueling in the European Middle Ages. If someone insulted you, he destroyed what was human about you; and so to "resurrect" that humanity, so to speak, you had to go to the "field of honor" and put the bestial life you had at risk. The Indians of our culture committed all kinds of atrocities--against those of other tribes. There were two sources of this: first, that bravery was where your humanity lay, and therefore, not running risks was to show yourself inhuman; and secondly, as some tribes' names even showed, "the people," (i.e. the "human beings") were members only of the tribe itself; everyone else was thought of as simply not really human. We hear today about the horrors the Whites perpetrated against the Indians. Certainly there were many; but we are not told that the people the Whites were trying peacefully to live with were people who regarded them as animals (literally) and who liked to show their own humanity by performing outrageous and therefore extremely risky acts. It is also true that those anthropologists who began living with cannibals (talk about running risks!) found to their surprise that when the members of the tribe spoke of outsiders as "dogs" and "pigs," they meant the terms literally. Well, if you can eat a dog or pig, why not a Mandinka or an Englishman? They'd probably be even more nourishing, because they're so close to being human. But you don't eat people (members of the tribe).
And so on. Whenever something is forbidden in a culture, with the culture's mores, its taboos, as opposed to its folkways or rules of etiquette, you will find that that prohibition is a logical consequence of the culture's notion of what it means to be a human being. So I am going to take this as empirically established.
Given that, we are now in a position to define conduct as opposed to behavior.
Human behavior is any overt act that a human being chooses to perform. That is, it is any act that a human being can either perform or not perform by choosing one way or the other: an act under the control of choice.
Human conduct is human behavior looked at from a moral point of view, as to whether the behavior is consistent or inconsistent with being a human being.
But human conduct is simply the moral way of considering human behavior; and, as I said in Chapter 6 of Section 3 of the third part 3.3.6, since sometimes we can do something which normally would have followed from a choice by having our action taken over by instinct; and sometimes we can do things that are different from what we chose to do because of neurosis--or even choose to do something because of a delusion caused by ignorance or psychosis--there have to be some further distinctions that I made in discussing the difference between morals and values in Chapter 1 of Section 7 of the fourth part 4.7.1.
An act (i.e. an instance of conduct) is morally right if it is consistent with the reality of the agent. This is something objective, and does not depend on whether the agent (or anyone else) knows it or not.
An act is morally wrong if it is inconsistent with the reality of the agent. Again, this is simply a fact about the act, and need not be known.
A choice is moral if it is a choice to do an act known to be morally right. In order for a choice to be moral, there must be no evidence that it is wrong. I will discuss this later; but I want to refresh your mind about the term now.
A choice is immoral if it is a choice to do an act for which there is any factual evidence of its moral wrongness.
So only choices are moral or immoral, strictly speaking. Morally wrong acts can be called "immoral" by analogy, because they are the kind of act which you can't choose to do (if you know what you're doing) without making an immoral choice. But the act in itself is morally neutral; if you do it without choosing it (as when you are asleep or insane), or if you choose it without realizing that it is wrong, you are not guilty of immorality. The act is still wrong, morally; but there was no violation of morality in its performance, because it was not deliberate.
With that distinction, we can have some clarity in talking of conduct. I will use "right" and "wrong" to refer to acts without intending to impute blame or culpability in those who perform them, because I am not assuming that those who perform the acts know that they are wrong or can prevent what they are doing. I am simply, by calling something morally wrong, stating that as far as I can see, it is an act which is objectively inconsistent with the reality of the agent.
On the other hand, when I say that something is immoral, I will be referring to the choice itself, and not necessarily to the act (because you can choose to do something and not be able to carry out your choice in action). I will be supposing, in saying that something is immoral, that the person in question knows or at least has reason to believe that the act he is choosing is wrong (whether in fact it is or not) and chooses to perform it anyway.
But I will, as I say, discuss this below at some length. Let this suffice for reminding you of the language I am using to refer to human conduct.
Now then, let us make a little closer observation about this sense that what is wrong (however defined) is forbidden. When we do, we find the following characteristics:
1. The "command" or imperative invariably deals with what is forbidden or "bad" in the culture or person, and only includes those "good" acts whose omission is the practical equivalent of doing something forbidden. That is, the taboos set minimum standards of conduct (the definition of basically which acts or omissions are wrong, if you use my terminology), and leave without any command the acts considered "morally good" or even "morally heroic." The best moral acts are regarded in every culture as "over and above the call of duty," meaning that the culture does not think that they have to be done.
This in itself is a sub-effect of our basic effect. Why do only some cases of conduct have an imperative attached to them? If people tend to think that morality deals with what is "good" for human beings, why don't the best acts carry any obligation with them at all, and why is it only the most reprehensible of them that have an obligation attached to them?
2. Every person or culture surreptitiously thinks that what is forbidden for him is "really" forbidden for everyone. This is true, as I tried to show, even for those cultures or people which embrace cultural or personal moral relativism. They think that people who try to impose their standards on others shouldn't do it, and (a) should be enlightened as to the wrongness of what they are doing and/or (b) should be prevented from doing it if they are so perverse as to insist on it in spite of persuasion. The fact that those the contents of whose taboo forbids imposing standards actually try very hard to impose the standard of non-interference on others is an indication of how universal this view is.
Note that it does not apply to what a person or culture thinks is permitted to it, morally. People who think that a given act is morally permitted can be quite comfortable with others who think that the act is forbidden and refuse to do it, as long as those others don't try to make them stop. For instance, the reason pro-abortionists like to call themselves "pro choice" is that, whether they would have an abortion themselves or not, they think that abortion is permitted morally. And they don't have any problem with other people who think that it is forbidden morally, as long as those other people apply this only to themselves. On the other hand, since many of these people are ethical relativists, they will try to stop the pro-life people from passing laws against abortion, even if they (the pro-choice people) have no intention of ever actually getting one--because for them interference in conduct is forbidden, and therefore forbidden for everyone. I was amused during the Vietnam War by seeing the same people who were yelling at the "prudes" for imposing their moral standards on others were simultaneously picketing the Pentagon and trying to get the killing in Vietnam stopped--thereby imposing their moral standards against war on the the people they didn't want imposing sexual standards on them.
This fact, of course, is another sub-effect. Why, when it is so manifest that there actually are many different moral codes, do people persist in thinking that what is their own moral code is, as far as the prohibitions are concerned, the "really right" one?
3. The moral prohibition--the one that is connected with acting "inhumanly"--is regarded as the most serious one of all. All other prohibitions are thought to yield to this one, and it only yields to a "more serious" moral taboo. For instance, a person who thinks that a civil law commands an immoral act automatically thinks he cannot obey the law--as many of the draft evaders in Vietnam thought. It is universally held that one must suffer torture and even death rather than violate the moral prohibition, whatever it is thought to be.
The sub-effect connected with this, of course, is that its being "better" to die than to be immoral certainly on the face of it cannot be thought of as advantageous in this life. While there are some who might consider it worse than death to live in disgrace, why must we all look on things this way? Even Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) says, "A live dog is better than a dead lion."
Another sub-effect connected with the seriousness is the almost universal experience of at some time actually doing what is regarded as forbidden and getting away with it. You lie, and are believed, and the earth doesn't open and swallow you up; and in fact no one finds out. You steal something and are not caught, and keep what you stole and use it just as if it were yours. The reason this is a sub-effect is that, having had this experience, you don't immediately say, "Oh, I was wrong; it isn't forbidden to lie" or steal or whatever; you feel, "Well, I got away with it that time--I think; but I'd better not do it again." It isn't until you've had a lot of practice in doing the act that you begin not to worry about the consequences. But why worry about the consequences at all if there are none?
4. The moral prohibition is thought, if not universally, still in almost every culture throughout the world and throughout history, to have come somehow from some divinity, who will take care of the punishment associated with it.
The sub-effect connected with this is that not all the cultures (in fact few of them) that believe this also believe that there is an afterlife with a reward and punishment that would make virtuous conduct better than vicious. Odysseus meets, for instance, the shade of Heracles, I believe it was, in Elysium, and Heracles tells him he would give up his whole existence here (in the Greek heaven) for one more day of life on earth. Even the Hebrew people, when Qoheleth wrote, believed that after death everyone was the same.
The question, then, before us is to devise some theory of morality which can explain why for practical purposes every person finds a prohibition attached to his notion of acting inhumanly--a prohibition with the four characteristics above.Next
1. Thus, Jesus could decide to allow himself to undergo the crucifixion, if he recognized that every other human being would suffer eternal damnation if he was not crucified. He could not deliberately crucify himself, but he could permit it to be done to him because of the greater harm that was objectively avoided by it. Note that Jesus did speak in his own defense at his trials, so that he gave the accusers (including Pilate) reasons for acquitting him; it was they, not he, who actively chose his harm.
2. Rand also has some pretty subjective ideas about what "the objective good" is. For instance, after defining "man's life" as the objective goal of one's actions (and therefore of morality), she points out that someone in an intolerable situation (as in the Gulag) can commit suicide, on the grounds that the life he is living is not "man's" life. But she based her notion of the objective purpose of life on the fact that all living beings tend to preserve themselves (i.e. stay alive), and so it is the fact of being alive, not some type of life that is the "man's life" that logically should be the purpose of life,. and therefore the objective good. Similarly, she chooses to say that the fetus is "not yet" living "man's life," because, basically, he can't think yet. But then does one lose "man's life" whenever he goes to sleep or is knocked out and can't think? But enough of Rand.