Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The purpose of moral principles

These days it is strange to hear talk about moral principles at all, let alone any talk that is coherent.  The moral plane is so fluid, so contingent on situation and circumstance that we are effectively living the moral relativity nightmare.  It is perfectly alright to start wars, but don't you dare raise taxes.  Feeding the poor is good, but poor people should murder their children (in utero, not out). 

Policy has replaced principle.  People are no longer defined as moral or just, but "conservative" and "liberal."  Your views on sex are your own, but if you want to increase/decrease government regulations you are either a hero or a villain. 

How did we come to this?  When did someone become defined by what their views were on tax policy or environmental regulations? When did we become a people of "issues"? 

I suspect at heart is the misunderstanding and erosion of the concept of moral principle.  The incoherence and fluid state of mind among the moderns is due to the denial of an objective notion of truth.  Without a firm foundation on the notion of moral truth, we have effectively denied any means by which to judge the character of a person or action.

Moral principles are at heart statements about the nature of man.  They posit the fundamental notions of what man is and how man acts in relation to one another.  As such they establish boundaries about actions that man can take with regard to situations.

Moral principles define in a negative sense the lines which one cannot cross.  They propose absolutes.  Rules to abide by and provide a guidance to right action.  They provide boundaries, and in uncertain situations define what actions cannot be undertaken under any circumstances. 

The modern mind eschews such notions.  The rejection of truth results in the rejection of boundaries on the actions of man.  In doing so the modern man has no direction, no guiding light, no ability to discern what is proper and what is not because he has rejected the notion that forms what is and is not moral.

He justifies this because there are "hard cases."  The principle of "murder is wrong" is generally agreed upon until a difficult situation arises, such as an unplanned pregnancy or one caused through rape or incest.  Thus, the modern mind says under certain circumstances it is ok to murder an unborn child.

But this is not logic.  It is not even common sense.  The principle is not changed because the situation is hard.  In fact that is the point of moral principle.  To guide us when our temptation would have us commit an evil to avoid a hardship.  The principle defines what actions CANNOT be undertaken. 

In this case the right thing to do is not obvious.  But the wrong thing is.  A principle is not invalidated because following it is hard.  Murder is still evil.  It does not become good simply because the real good is difficult. 

Our modern world cannot find good because good is difficult follow.  Thus we prefer evil.  It is not that we cannot decide what is good or bad.  It is simply the case that for most moral dilemmas the good path is hard.  And even where the good path is hard to find the evil path is often identified easily enough.  We only tempt ourselves to choose evil because it is perceived to be easier.

When we choose evil though we only destroy ourselves (and often have victims on our conscience).  When we commit evil we bear witness to a lie, and in doing so erode our ability to do right.  And once we cast off the limits of our actions we can no longer see how our actions relate to any form of truth.  We become lost.  Adrift in our attempts to justify the unjustifiable. 

Until as a society we understand the concept of moral principle in its proper place we will not solve the issues that plague us.  We will continue to argue over relatively meaningless notions of tax policies and proper regulations.  The problem that the modern mind faces is one of the soul.  A deep and abiding true longing for truth.  But we have chosen the easy way.  The way that demands nothing, asks us to sacrifice nothing, but ultimately offers nothing in return.

In order to do this however we must rediscover that there is such a thing as moral principle and it does define who we are and what we can do.  Without that we will continue to drift.

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