Friday, April 30, 2010

Which are the moral judgments?

How do were determine which of these are moral judgments?

1) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

2) It is rude to belch after dinner.

3) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

4) Drive on the right side of the road.

5) Don't lie under oath.

6) Buy low, sell high.


Anonymous said...

They are all moral judgments

M. C. Evers said...

I apologize for being rather non-technical in my analysis (or making up my own terminology as I go along!), but here is how I would break those down.

1) Absolutely a moral law, not to mention one that is also codified into the physical universe in the form of Newton's Third Law. Put simply, this is the concept of reciprocity. Other laws descend from this one.

2) This is a cultural norm, not a universal moral law. However, if you are in a nation where this is the norm, it should be followed--not for its own sake, but because of the moral law of respect for others. I say this because I know that there are some countries where the way you show respect for the chef or your hosts is to belch loudly after your meal--in those countries, the belch is a sign that you were satisfied by your meal. If you are in those countries, to stick obstinately to your own norms is disrespect, not respect.

3) This is a physical law: the body requires certain things to be healthy. There is a related moral principle, though, which goes back to respect--and that is the fact that we are to respect the bodies that God gave us, because they are a gift from God, and therefore we ought to pay attention to the physical laws that are in essence our instruction manual for how to respect our bodies, and through that, respect God.

4) Again, a cultural norm. Such norms can vary from country to country without having an impact on that nation's moral status. The individual, however, should heed the norm out of respect towards others--and it is the respect that is the moral law, not the norm.

5) This is a moral law: oathbreaking is a sin and has direct impact upon the status of one's soul. I specify oathbreaking, however, because there may be circumstances where one should withhold information--and as C.S. Lewis pointed out, it is acceptable to lie to a child to get them to take medicine needed to save their life. (And of course there is the violation of the Old Covenant, which contains this as a commandment--do not bear false witness--and that in itself is breaking an oath sworn between God and His people.)

6) This is a physical law again. While it is not to do with the laws of physics, it is a natural, quantifiable system where the favorable and unfavorable results are obvious. (I refer to it as "physical" because it is a thoroughly materialistic law.) There is a related moral law, which is to be a good steward of your finances (and ESPECIALLY those of others) that you may not burden others but have the means to take care of yourself and assist those who are in need with whatever you do not strictly require for your own sustenance (and you just try and get people to distinguish between needs and wants these days!).

BTW, if you could supply the proper terminology for the three categories I've broken out, I'd be most curious. (Moral law, cultural norm, and physical law were the three labels I assigned.) I'm pretty sure it's out there, but it's been a long time since I've studied any sort of philosophy formally (and that was just an intro-level undergrad course).

Joshua Blanchard said...

Some of the sentences have terminological hints, e.g. "rude" in (2). Presumably the evaluative term rude just isn't a moral term, and belongs to another (non-overriding) normative category.

What is most interesting to me are imperatives of the type exemplified in (3). It seems clear to me, and I assume to most readers, that there is something instrumental, or hypothetical, about the statement. But nothing in the imperative itself tells us this. So I take it that sentences like (3) actually could be moral - that is to say, someone could construct (or discover) a moral principle which either entails or is identical with this. The reason why we don't take it to be moral is because we are bringing in significant contextual knowledge.

So I'd say there are two types of knowing whether or not a judgment is moral. The first is some sort of semantic analysis. The second is the use of outside contextual knowledge, perhaps good cultural guess of what someone probably means when they tell you to eat fruits and vegetables. I suppose this second method might boil down to semantic issues, but I'm not scholarly enough to explore this any further.