Moral Law as a Law of Reason

In the previous post I looked at what some philosophers say about how feelings are the ultimate determiners of our setting of aims. Some would go so far as to assert that morality itself depends on the feelings of the person making the moral judgement. Other philosophers react against this, with the view that the moral standard is a law of reason.

If these philosophers are correct, then moral standards are fixed and unchanging. The moral law would then be a law of nature, comparable to, but not identical with, such laws as the law of gravity. One form of this theory is that good actions are necessarily consistent actions. Thus a bad action would be a denial, and a good action an affirmation, of the real state of things.

For example, if a man steals a car and drives away with it, it is a bad action because he is not thinking of the car as being what it is (someone else's car), so he is denying things as they are, and contradicting the law of reason. The thief is affirming a falsehood. Again, they have argued that a man who beats is wife is in a way denying that she is his wife.

Some philosophers go further than this. They agree that it is true that the bad action is one that is inconsistent, but it is inconsistent not with an objective fact but with an ideal. Under this view, stealing is wrong not because it is a denial of an objective fact about the stolen property, but because the action is inconsistent with an ideal relationship between human beings.

The philosopher Kant held that when a person does a bad action, the inconsistency lies in the fact that they are acting according to a principle which they are not willing to allow others to follow as their principle. Under this definition, a person who only performs good actions is one who is at all times prepared to let others act on the same principles.

The philosopher says: In the lower forms of goodness, the actions of an individual form a coherent whole among themselves. In higher forms of goodness, they form a coherent system with the actions of one's own society. In the highest forms of goodness, they form a coherent system with all other acts of willing in the universe.

4 comments:

Praz said...

Good article, throws a lot of questions.
"Moral law as a law of reason."
So, the reasoning of the person who views the car-stealer as a "bad" entity is because the car-stealer is taking someone else's property.

But what if, the car stealer is stealing for necessity, and according to him, its a "good" thing to steal a car, so he can benefit from it?
I find it hard Taking a standpoint on "good things" and "bad things".
Perhaps "good things" are the values that are accepted by the majority of mankind, and "bad things" are the things that are frowned upon by the majority.
Excellent article, Made good reading :)

Sofia said...

Your example is interesting. What could be the necessity that could turn stealing a car into a "good action"?

Let's say that a man has the necessity of rescuing a child from being murdered. He needs to have a car for this action, so he steals one. He might argue, Yes I know that it is wrong to steal a car, but the goodness of the action that was made possible by that bad action, outweighs the bad action of stealing.

You see what I mean? He would still admit stealing to be bad, but he would justify himself by showing that on BALANCE, the outcome was good. But this would not change the fact that stealing the car is a bad action.

He might further point out that if he had had the time to explain to the owner why he needed it, the owner might well have GIVEN him the car to perform his good deed. Here again, though it might be a powerful argument in favour of his justification, it still would not affect the moral category of the theft.

The philosophers in the blog post are arguing that reason tells us that, by definition, a good act is one which affirms things as they are, and a bad act denies them. This would be why the car thief feels guilty, and therefore in need of justification, because he is a rational being.

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Wizard said...

I think moral laws express the ideal people strive towards in their relationships. As long they are created by people they are not "natural" in the sense one cannot deduce them from nature without taking society into account. From the point of view that they exist outside of the individual and are somewhat independent they exist as an objective reality. And "I love Kant" ultimately unite into a universal truth.