Friday, July 3, 2009

Objective Morality and the Categorical "ought"

Here's another example of misunderstanding objective morality: The Is-Ought False Dichotomy, by Francois Tremblay .

Mr. Tremblay writes:
In short, we can refute the is-ought false dichotomy in this way: (1) Actions have consequences.
(2) These consequences are within the province of causality, since they are material.
(3) Therefore, the relation between actions and consequences is objective.

To be sure, this doesn’t refute anything, it leaves it hypothetical and begs the question: given that certain actions lead to certain consequences, why ought I to desire a given consequence, and thus choose to perform a given action? For instance, Mr. Tremblay says, “If we eat and drink proper foods and in moderate quantity, we will survive”, but why ought we want to survive? Survival is not an end in itself (people die for higher ends, so survival is a means), thus, as it stands, we are confined to the subjunctive mood, and must begin, “*if* we want to survive, then we ought to ‘eat and drink in moderate quantity.’” As C.S. Lewis said, you cannot go from, “this will preserve society… to [you ought to] do this,”; as I said, you can only say *if*, which is hypothetical.

Objective morality, however, must be premised on a categorical *since*, thus leading to a categorical ought, not a hypothetical *if* producing a hypothetical ought. To be imperative it must be indicative, and since we cannot find anything in “observation attached from desire” to make it so, then we must find it in desire itself – or bust. This means, therefore, that there must be an end in itself that we desire, to which certain actions and consequences are then a necessary means. But where is this end in itself to be found? It is found in the intuition of the good. Since this is an intuition, it is therefore the basis of demonstration; it cannot itself directly be demonstrated. However, like any other intuition (for instance, the law of contradiction) we can indirectly demonstrate its truth; in this case we can do so by noting, as Mortimer Adler put it, our inability to finish the proposition, we want happiness because… The fact is, we simply do, and for no other reason than itself, so that that which really, as opposed to apparently, leads to it is what we’d call the really good. That being the case we can go on to say, *since* I desire happiness for the sake of itself alone therefore I ought to choose only what is really good, that is, really the means to happiness.

Once this categorical ought is established, which requires the inclusion of our subjective point of view (as does knowledge), then we can go on to include objective facts about human nature that can give us a “moral system,” that is, a system of consequences based on given actions. Now, precisely because this ought is categorical - as I cannot think it’s opposite - then I know it applies, universally, to all rational beings; because it applies to all rational beings then I must include all rational human beings as ends in themselves (a Kingdom of ends, as Kant called it), meaning our ends include each other. This interrelation between myself and all other rational beings forms the relation called justice, and answers the Ring of Gyges dilemma posed by Plato so long ago - A magic ring cannot erase your rational and personal relationship to others, the infringement of which frustrates the fulfillment of a potential our nature needs as a means to the attainment of happiness.

How does God relate to all of this? In two ways. First, he meets a transcendent desire (described so well by C.S. Lewis), which is a descriptive property inherent to happiness (the fulfillment of all desire). Second, He serves as the Ground “saving the appearances” by preventing a contradiction for the scientific method. In other words, the self-evident fact of first person experience that, as subjects, we cannot deny we desire an end for the sake of itself and nothing else is contradicted by a third person account of those same subjects which views them apart from an eternal Ground (as the cause of that unchanging end). Moreover, a pure third person account is a pure fiction, for it's always the subject in the first person using the third person; that is, you cannot escape the rational "I", with it's basic intuitions (including goodness), to view it "from nowhere", it is a precondition, it is logically prior, to any and all perspectives.