Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Uncovering the values of a morality

Modern problems are not only complex but interacting: the sort of family structure we have (or ought to have) is in part a function of the sort of economic structure we have (or ought to have), and vice versa. And education, government, and other aspects of our collective life also have an impact on families. Under such circumstances, one might well doubt the capacity of human beings to fix for all time moral requirements concerning marriage, or to discover that God has done so. But one might also conclude that, without infallibly taught moral norms, moral judgment would be impossible. And the same argument will apply to exception less norms.
A line of thought that has had much influence on the maxim of Christian ethics that has become part of our common moral consciousness is “Judge not, lest you be judged”. This does not mean that we should cease to have moral standards, nor that we should not apply them to one another’s conducts. Nor does it mean that, in cases of dispute, the more permissive interpretation of a rule is always to be favored. But it does bar any inference that the more rigorous position is for that reason alone the more virtuous one, as well as positions that exclude or minimize the possibility of good faith moral error.
The most important implication of the maxim against judging is that it requires a distinction between a person’s deepest intentions and dispositions — which are known to God alone ( that’s where I am drawing the line) — and the behavioral and consequential features of his actions, which for social purposes may (and indeed must) be subjected to scrutiny. And self-examination has an important social dimension.
Hence an approach to moral issues that neglects the behavioral and consequential features of our actions, and focuses entirely on an agent’s orientation of reason and will, either is socially useless or breaches the precept against judging others.
The fact of the matter is that human beings are diverse and complex; so also our philosophy, understanding, perspective and the way we view the world from a different angle and even more so our literature which constantly inform us. Life was not simple in ancient and medieval times, but our awareness of its complexity is in some ways a modern phenomenon — though one recognized by many writers before the coming of the modern age.
For those who are incompetently instructed may rebel against the requirements of morality if too many demands are placed upon them, and they may also regard with contempt a morality that is presented as pliant to their every felt need. In such circumstances the most important distinction is that between justification and excuse — a distinction habitually neglected by those who would go easy on others. But some excuses are agent-relative — inexperience for example — and others, such as duress, involve mitigating circumstances that are sometimes almost as good as justifications.
What is crucial for present purposes is the different ways people react to change. Some embrace it with enthusiasm, and endeavor to drive others, sometimes brutally, “kicking and screaming into the Twentieth Century.” Others seek a refuge from the modern world, secured among other things by stringent moral rules. Still others attempt a more discriminating response.
Chingmei Phonglung


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