Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Golden Rule of the Imago Dei

By Michael David Rawlings

The obvious universality of human morality needs to be explained. Some observe the anecdotal or superficial differences in values from culture to culture and argue that there's no universality or inherent aspect of human morality at all. Nonsense. The exact opposite is clearly true. The differences pale in comparison to the avalanche of similarities, and one need only observe the logically contradictory and self-negating assertions of nihilism and relativism to dismiss them before moving on to the growing evidence for a genetic basis of one kind or another for this universality.

In the meantime, allow me to set the record straight once again in the face of yet another chapter in the continuing saga of the obtuse and irrational. . . .

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Captain Adverse of a national political forum writes:
First of all, please do not try to categorize me by tying my views to any particular philosopher. I am a moral nihilist, although my arguments appear to be based upon descriptive moral relativism. That’s because, although morality is a construct without universal or even relative truth, once a culture constructs a moral code they defend the tenets based upon to the traditions, convictions, or practices developed by the group.
I garnered this position partly from empirical evidence and partly from a study of history. Through personal experiences, observations of children at all stages of development, and observations of animals in a state of nature, I've come to find arguments about innate morality rather silly.
I have never observed developing children act within innate moral codes when dealing with each other unless they have some prior experience with moral coding. I have seen bullied children consider this "unfair" but still bully others, but conversely the experience might teach them a "moral lesson" against the "rightness" of bullying. Usually it appears that morality starts to truly develop after adults have either seen a child act out, then explained and stressed "right and wrong" action, or the child has already observed some adult demonstrating how to act in each circumstance. In either case children begin to emulate what adults or personal experiences have taught and reinforced in them, thus maintaining and passing on to their children the mores of that particular cultural group.

Human history, which shows varying cultural groups displaying the whole gamut of conflicting moral codes, also seem to bear me out.

Now until you can point out where within the human genetic code there is a specific sequence identifiable as "morality markers" that provide this innate characteristic to our species, you will have no foundation upon which to ever start convincing me otherwise.

And again:

But I am not arguing against the existence of morality, that is self-evident. It's "innate" origins? That's not only less evident outside a social context, it flies in the face of reason unless (to my mind at least) you are positing pre-programming by a higher power. That is based upon faith, and I can have "faith" in such irrational beliefs depending on my religious background because I cannot prove a higher power does not exist. Establishing this as a fact however, has not been proven either. 

Though this post may be of no interest to you given your skepticism of religious philosophy, I find your talk about identifying a specific genetic sequence of morality astonishing, as a universal code of morality would not necessarily hinge on such a thing, and to my knowledge the only system of Western thought that arguably holds that a specific moral code is imprinted on the minds of humans at birth is Platonic Idealism. Certainly Judeo-Christianity holds to no such foolishness. You're beating on a strawman, while that which is innate and that which is consequently universal are staring you right in the face.
(By the way, the rationalist-empiricist dichotomy is a false alternative, and Judeo-Christianity's epistemology is akin to a synthesis of the two.) 
What is innate are the rational forms and logical categories of human consciousness, which include the laws of logical contradiction, the fundamental operations of human apprehension (the analogous, the univocal, the metaphoric) and the ontological imperatives of origin.
These are universally self-evident, but typically one doesn't become fully or actively conscious of their ramifications until one's early teens, albeit, varying from person to person. In other words, we're not only genetically programmed for language and mathematics, but for the recognition of the universal code of justice and liberty, among other things, as a matter of will.
As for the latter, I don't know why you keep saying there is no such thing, when, as we shall see, there most certainly is. And while we need not appeal to Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph's work1, as the matter is infinitely simpler and more obvious than their set of five values, ashurbanipal is absolutely right to argue that "[c]ertain ideals are nearly universal among human beings." Indeed, I would argue that the only human beings who may not, after a fashion, be capable of appreciating the ramifications of certain imperatives are the congenitally retarded, dishonest, psychopathic, masochistic or suicidal; for ultimately, the distinction between right and wrong for humans goes to self-preservation, empathy and logical consistency.
The notion that "morality is a construct without universal or even relative truth" entails an indemonstrable transcendental claim, and you simply ignore the underlying continuity of morality that clearly persists from culture to culture. Notwithstanding, the innate universality of something would not necessarily hinge as you seem to think on man's universal acquiescence to the same. It would hinge on man's universal apprehension of the same.
(By the way, the recognition that God is or must be is not based on faith at all, but reason; and God, by definition, is not a material being Whose existence is subject to the rigors of empirical proof, but a transcendent being of revelation Whose claims are subject to the rigors of logical and prophetic consistency.)
Apparently, you reject "the existence of a higher power who instill[s] us with a code we then have the free will to alter to our success or detriment". 
According to Judeo-Christianity, God does not instill us with a moral code as such; rather, once again, the rational forms and logical categories of human consciousness are universal, genetically hardwired. It's from these that humans derive by reason certain moral/ethical values that are universal. This is a subtle but real distinction. And this notion is not incompatible with the Aristotelian or Lockean notion of a blank slate.
"[T]o our success or detriment"?
Hmm. I think Burke's adage is self-evident, on the very face of it and from history:
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Still not convinced?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them are the right to life, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness.
Of course, Jefferson's "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is a paraphrase of Locke's triadic construct regarding the sacrosanct concerns of human life, liberty and private property under the natural law of self-preservation, empathy and logical consistency in terms of the rational forms and logical categories of human consciousness.
Make no mistake about it. Locke the empiricist of the tabula rasa and the Founders are talking about a universal moral code of conduct touching on the common and political affairs of man, and Locke in the Augustinian tradition extrapolated his theory of natural law from the socio-political ramifications of Judeo-Christianity's ethical system of thought, which is premised on the above construct of a universal structure of rational apprehension.
The Imago Dei.
We're not born knowing right from wrong in any sense nobler than our inherent aversion to pain and deprivation. We come to apprehend the universal moral code of justice and liberty, which amounts to the Golden Rule and the recognition that we are our brother's keeper, after a period of neurological, emotional and intellectual maturation, upon experience and reflection. Hence, Judeo-Christianity's exegesis of the age of accountability
More to the point. . . .
I'm bemused by the debate over the nuts and bolts of innate knowledge, its nature and particulars. Judeo-Christianity resolved the matter centuries ago beyond dispute in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But I need not appeal to God.
Obviously, every normal human being of maturity knows that he's subject to the lose of life or limb should he violate that which he would have no other human being violate of his (life, liberty, property). Those who violate the fundamental rights of others know they must fight or flee, for such behavior and the imperatives of justice necessarily entail force. Moral renegades don't stand around twiddling their thumbs, expecting peace. Every culture throughout recorded history has held that murder and theft and the like are morally wrong and punishable by the sword of the wronged or by that of the state.
It's really not all that complicated, but I guess some folks never tire of reinventing the wheel.
Locke never flinched, and the Founders didn't pussyfoot around in the remonstration of the socio-political philosophy on which they founded a great nation as if its particulars were irrational, indemonstrable or untenable simply because they were premised on Providence. Pffft! Indeed, they held, and rightly so, that the denial of God as the only unimpeachable Source and Guarantor of human liberty defaulted to a tyrannical state arbitrarily granting and revoking rights.

1Intuitive ethics:  how innately prepared intuitions generate culturally variable virtues  (Fall, 2004).

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