26 February 2012

The Right and the Good

A poster at Yahoo!Answers asked this: "What is morality exactly?" He seemed to have gotten, from somewhere, the answers to certain related questions that went in an obvious circle, the right is defined as the good, the good is defined as the right, so that together they remain meaningless.

I like my own answer well enough to reproduce it here, with some modification and clean-up, here:

It doesn't have to be that circular. It is a good question, though. I'll give you my personal answer, largely derived from my study of the works of William James.

The right is the quality of an action that produces or participates in moral goodness.

What is moral goodness then? That is trickier. It comes in layers, though. On the first, lowest, layer, moral goodness is simply anything that is an object of desire. If you like the feeling of pleasure you get when you hurt a baby then (on this first level!), that is for you a moral good.

But we can't live on that first level. We have to live with one another, in a society, and rules necessarily develop that enable the desires of some while frustrating the desires of others. Moral goodness is a quality not of our actions but of the best possible set of societal rules (not necessarily laws, by the way -- an anarchist society would have to live by rules of some sort, customs or whatever you would call them.)

What, then, is the best possible set of societal rules? That which contributes to the best whole, the most complete reconciliation of all the self-aware beings therein.

We can discover this only through history. Human history is itself the process of finding out how we can manage to reconcile ourselves with each other.

Your demand for defintions, then, can get these answers:

Morality is the ultimate goal of human history, the goal of richness, inclusiveness, and reconciliation.

The right is defined as that which contributes to the good.

The good is that which is desired in the first sense, but in the ultimate sense it is that which is FATED to be desired when we are all reconciled.

No comments:

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.