In the previous article Action Faith Books Press presented a challenge to the topic on http://www.linkedin.com entitled, “The moral guidelines that could change our moral codes” (Source: http://linkd.in/16U1CCF). In this article, the author, Denis Pageau, proposed what he considered as useful guidelines comprised of a “series of questions to make us think and find answers that can then be used as guidelines to help us evaluate if an action is “good” or “bad”. He then presented these guidelines:
“Would this action or practice
– facilitates or impede my/our development?
– facilitates or impede the development of our fellow citizens?
– facilitates or impede my/our interrelations with my/our families and my/our friends?
– facilitates or impede my/our interactions with my/our colleagues and fellow citizens?
– facilitates or impede the functioning of my/our governments?
– creates or maintain an environment where we are free to develop?”
In this article, we will consider Pageau’s premises and conclusions (syllogisms) that make up his argument and how they are faulty and fail.
His first argument can be broken down in the following syllogism:
1. There are problems with moral codes.
2. One main problem with moral codes is that “they do not really make us think.”
3. The conclusion is in the form of two questions: “if these moral codes could make us think before we make a moral decision, that it would help us prevent, solve or manage the different social tensions, frictions and conflicts that naturally arise because we are social beings? Would it help us live in a better world?”
Since the questions are both rhetorical and for the reader, because he prefaces his questions with “Do you agree…?” Then he continues after the questions that his organization “Citizens and Societies proposes such an approach.”
If we can show the premises false, then the conclusion fails. The first premise assumes problems with moral codes without empirical evidence to support his point. It is a hasty generalization logical fallacy. The second premise that moral codes do not really make us think can also be proven faulty as another hasty generalization that defies reality. All humans think about their actions before they act, which is a fact that makes this premise fail. It does not matter if an individual engages a logical argument prior to making a moral decision, that person still thinks and cannot help doing so prior to acting. Such thinking considers choices of right and wrong before making the choice. No one is unthinking. When we refer to someone as not thinking or unthinking, we do so metaphorically, but we do not cease thinking. Since both premises fail, so also does the conclusion. Therefore, the entire approach that follows is based on a faulty syllogism.
There is agreement in part with Pageau’s conclusion: we as humans are naturally inclined to “social tensions, frictions and conflicts.” That all humanity is inclined to badness or evil is another way of expressing what Pageau concludes. If we naturally incline to such tendencies, then the problem of morality (or immorality) is within us rather than something external, such as a moral code. No moral code can compel morality or correct any inclination toward conflict. A moral code is not a living entity with a personality to force morality on individuals. The beginning of a solution is recognizing our natural tendency and its cause. From that point we can determine a solution.
If the source of the problems of social tensions, violations, and conflicts reside within individuals, then any moral code would simply aggravate the internal turmoil of social conflicts: arguments, interpersonal battles, lying, cheating, wars, hatred, prejudice, and many other related attitudes and behaviors. The Apostle Paul say as much in his letter to the Romans,
“For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death…What shall we say then? Is the law [moral code] sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Romans 7:5, 7-9).
The moral code of which Paul spoke was that which God gave to Israel in the Torah. He claimed that nothing was wrong with that moral code, because it came from God. Then why did Paul say that it aroused all kinds of immoral [sinful] passions within him? It simply revealed what actually existed within individuals and described its intensity when the moral code confronted the moral corruption existing within us. He not only brushes aside that the problem of conflict is with any moral code but also with anything else external to us, such as elements in our environment. The problem is within individuals and not in the moral code.
If then the problem of conflict resides in us and not in the moral code, how then do we solve the problem of the tendency of human nature toward conflict and friction with others? How do we solve the problems of prejudice, corruption, and wars? We can deny that they have any association with morality. That denial only wishes away conflict and does not make it disappear. Few if any subscribe to this conclusion. We can accept that people are sufficiently rational to sit down with one another and negotiate over the issues of interpersonal and societal conflicts. However, history is replete with people negotiating without success in the long term. Reason is not sufficient in turning away conflicts that arise in relationships and resolving social issues like racism, greed, envy, hatred, and related attitudes and actions that stir up interpersonal and international conflicts. People continue to violate treaties and covenants. Heated disagreements continue. People continue to lie, steal, cheat, and murder. Courts are filled with people who suffer from personal injuries and wrongful actions. Crime fills our prisons. People bring lawsuits against others for gaining fairness over violations of rights.
We can rename wrongdoings, such as referring to them as not accepting responsibility. However, people still accuse others of human rights violations and racism and cry out about hate crimes. Most point the finger at others over some offense by word or deed. We can also minimize the seriousness of certain conflicts, but such minimization is a form of wishing them away while they swamp us like a tidal wave.
Does evolution offer the reason for interpersonal conflicts and strife between individuals and nations? Did conflict or evil evolve along with us so that we are prone to destructive behaviors. If so, how have we lasted? Why have we not destroyed ourselves by now? Did we somehow during the evolved process recognize that conflicts were not to our benefit, leading us to offer resolutions through negotiations of treaties and covenants? How then does evolution explain how good can arise from the tendency toward evil? Does the incentive toward survival explain it? Murders still occur while dictators throughout history commit genocide. Regulations have increased to control whole populations and for steering people toward the good. A large number of regulations have arisen to check the supposed evil of leaders in large organizations in what some hold as suppression of the helpless worker. Have they worked? They have only led to oppressive regimes and top-heavy corruption. What then is the explanation that good arises from the tendency toward conflict and destruction?
The solution to all of the different conflicts and violations cited above and a reply must be greater than their sum. What is greater than a giant multitude of individual and societal conflicts? If history reveals individuals continually breaking their word and failing to keep promises and if nations violate treaties, what can bring these actions to a halt? Will Pageau’s question sessions have an affect? Will people be willing to accept such “guidelines” as Pageau suggests given their propensity toward conflict? Does the reality of human history show that people attempt to optimize good over evil?
The answer to human misery resulting from the continuation and intensity of conflict between and among individuals, communities, organizations, and nations is not in the environment or in other external sources. Solving environmental issues fails to mitigate conflict. Transfer of wealth does nothing to reduce poverty. Individuals have tried and failed to bring about harmony and peace numerous times in world history without avail. Regardless of how we as humans attempt to manage this condition, it always surfaces like a cancer in turmoil and greater conflict. In the next several articles, we will address an answer that most aligns with reality concerning human nature and the nature of conflict or wrongdoing. This article sought to show that the problem is far greater than Pageau and others throughout history have shown in minimizing or discounting conflict as less than what it is. The next two articles will examine the worldview and ethical position of Pageau’s guidelines and how this ethic and worldview fail to offer an adequate solution. They will show their root in previous ethical positions and how those positions fail to address the problem of the increasing conflict resulting in turmoil and destruction of property and human life.