I have been threatening to do this for quite a while…
The point of this exercise is to expose some of my ideas to daylight, in the hope of attracting comment and or criticism; I am very much feeling my own way here. The conclusions I am drawing are pretty unusual, even disturbing, so it is time to get some outside input.
I am going to throw a lot of stuff out here quickly, with only minimal explanation; feel free to ask for help if you get lost.
First of all, Free Will is a POSTULATE, with all of the metaphysical baggage that entails. Without free will, morality is an illusion, and without morality, personal meaning is IMPOSSIBLE. A deterministic universe is a badly told joke in poor taste.
Second, Ontological Morality is an absurdity, in spite of being accepted by (at least) the majority of Americans. By “ontological morality”, I mean the idea that actions have moral significance in isolation from the context around and attitudes behind them. The ends DO justify the means, as long all of the collateral damage is taken into account when describing the ends.
The Paths of Righteousness
Some years ago, I was provoked into howling at the sky: “I reject the bribe of heaven; I reject the threat of hell; I am a free moral agent, and I will walk the paths of righteousness because I have chosen to do so.” (Special honorable mention to anyone who can identify the literary source whence was stolen the phrase, “bribe of heaven”.) I am fond of the image of “the paths of righteousness” for several reasons; foremost among them the closely related (and very Taoist) ideas that the path is NOT singular, and that righteousness is not something you HAVE, it is something you DO.
Now… Why? If your morality is based on fear of punishment, you are a coward. If your morality is based on hope of reward, you are a whore. What is left?
Pride. Vanity may be a deadly sin, but Pride is THE cardinal human virtue. Pride is quite possibly the ONLY truly human virtue, in that it has no analogues in the animal kingdom at all.
So… what is righteousness? And now it gets tricky. I am going to stipulate that righteousness exists solely within the realm of trans-instinctive behavior. That is, within the scope of human intelligence, there is a point at which it becomes possible to question, and even to transcend, one’s instinctive tendencies. And it is only after one has developed an awareness of one’s instincts, and learned to question them, that morality becomes truly possible. (Yes, I am a hideous elitist who is inclined to restrict the appellation “human” to only the most intelligent fifth (if that) of our species. I am not happy about this, but I don’t see any way around it. And at least “sub-human” isn’t nearly as insulting as “sheep”.)
This doesn’t get us much closer to defining righteousness. We have eliminated a second-order infinity of possibilities, but we still have a first-order infinity to deal with.
It gets worse. I once dreamed of presenting a compelling argument for Righteousness, and at this point in my life I strongly suspect that Righteousness may not EXIST as a cohesive concept…
Lets slow down a moment, and take a look at the last step we discarded before things turned to mud: If Righteousness is trans-instinctive virtue, this implies that instinctive virtue exists. Maybe we can identify that.
I can see three things that come to the fore VERY rapidly: Self preservation, preservation of progeny, and “happiness”, which we will define as the relative absence of negative stimuli, and the relative presence of positive stimuli. Generally, I think these are ranked 1, 2, and 3 respectively, though there are certainly situation in which progeny rise to number 1.