Saturday 18 June 2022

Life beyond virtue-charades: Watch-out for moral intuition - flying in the face of consequentialism-utilitarianism

The mainstream notion of morality is typically some (vague) idea of what might be termed consequentialism-utilitarianism - meaning that the morally-right decision is that which leads to the best consequences or outcomes; where 'best' is understood in terms of 'utility', or the most-gratification/ least-suffering of those people of most significance (e.g. the majority of people, deserving people, oppressed people, 'victims' or whatever).

(Another term for mainstream morality is expediency - "That is good which is most expedient."... Expediency being defined in terms of the various values of different possible outcomes; these values being reducible to psychological states of ourselves and others - variously weighted. This is just kicking the can down the road - because the moral valuations of these predicted psychological states is taken for granted, but covertly and dishonestly. Thus, it is tacitly implied that being-happy is morally superior to being-miserable, because 'making' someone happy - supposedly - by ones choices, is accorded the highest moral value.) 

But although this kind of moral arguing is mainstream and expected; it is both inadequate and immoral

Inadequate because we cannot know consequences of actions (as illustrated by 'the palantir problem'). Further, we cannot know what provides the greatest utility for other people (especially those remote in time or space, and who we have never met).

And inadequate also because the circle-of-concern of utilitarianism (the conceptual grouping people who 'matter', or who matter the most) is 'arbitrary' - in the sense of being undefined by the assumptions. And it turns out there is not even a stable consensus as to who this group of concern ought to be.  

Immoral; because optimizing happiness/ minimizing suffering (even if we could do it, which we can't) Is Not Morality - but some combination of medicine, psychology - and social engineering. When morality is reducible to valuations of imputed psychological states - we have simply deleted morality - at least, as morality has been traditionally understood, and is still understood by (real) Christians. 

Despite this, people are expected to participate in the frequent public 'virtue charades' by which we pretend to understand the causality of the world, affect to predict alternative futures, and know what other people want and is good for them...

None of this has anything to do with real morality or virtue; so we need to be on the look-out for situations in which the Real Thing is apparent and in conflict with the consequentialist-utilitarian propaganda and waffle. 

Doing the right thing, making the good decision, will tend to come to us in a highly specific fashion - rather than as an instance of following some general rule - and even when virtue can be justified by general rules/ laws/ commandments; there is always the possibility of dispute over the meaning and applicability of the principle. 

We can, in complete contrast (and if we ask for and allow it) sometimes Know what we Ought to think, say, choose or do - and know it in an absolutely specific (here-and-now, this situation, this crux). 

We may know by a direct moral intuition.

As Christians; we may know that moral intuition comes from the divine within us, and/or from direct intuitive contact with eth Holy Ghost without us (and, preferably, both!). 

That is the basis of morality - because it tells us what is right for Me-Here-Now, and not merely in generic terms. 

And if this moral intuition is lacking, then so is the possibility of morality. 

My point is that moral intuition may well conflict with the other forms of morality; and when it does we may find that we cannot 'explain' our decisions - at least not without the inaccuracy of pretending the decision is based on consequentialist-utilitarian considerations, or else is the mere application of some generic and universal rule. 

So be it. After all, most people (especially those in leadership positions) do not really want an explanation from us; except 'rhetorically'; as a way of making us change our decisions and instead do what They want us to do. 

But these moral intuitions are the Real Thing, when it comes to virtue - and if we do not follow them, then we have sinned - regardless of how 'convincingly' our decisions can be justified using general principles, or defended on the basis of expediency ("I had to do it - or else...). 

Note: I found Rudolf Steiner's book The Philosophy of Freedom to be helpful in understanding the nature of a moral intuition; and to distinguish it from generic rule-following. 


Lucinda said...

This lines up with my experience. Especially I found it necessary to get a hold on my conscientious explanation-giving. It is very true that certain people only want an explanation in order to put it aside and to get what they want. Even children will do this if they don't encounter a boundary!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - it's a strange thing to feel this kind of intuitive moral certainty, but to know that it cannot be communicated. With strangers, I usually tell a socially-plausible half truth, a secondary supporting reason; or say something like 'I just am; for reasons I can't explain' (+/- unless you can give me thirty minutes to explain properly). But except for loved ones, it doesn't add much to say that one feels intuitively certain.