Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Concerning A-Moral Situations

   Most situations in life lack a clear moral imperative.  Do you feel a moral compulsion regarding the manner with which you walk down the street, or is it clear what you ought to do with yourself during an elevator ride?  These a-moral situations can be easily overlooked concerning the possibility of their acquiring a moral character, and perhaps this is a problem.  I want to simply reflect on this and draw some implications that I think are interesting.
   It is possible for any situation to acquire a moral character.  We cannot predict what filling the gaps in our understanding will do to how we see situations.  However, granting that any situation may eventually be understood as moral, is there some reason why we should seek to uncover the moral character of every situation?  Before considering this more, I would like to consider just the matter of a situation acquiring a different moral character.
   My most often used example of a sudden shift in the moral character of situation is as follows: imagine a murder in progress which you feel you feel compelled to prevent by a sense of duty (we can ignore whether or not you decide to take action).  Now, imagine you hear, "Cut, cut, cut! What do you think you're doing here?  We're in the middle of a shoot!"  Clearly, you will have realized that the situation was not what you originally supposed, and while you will still feel that you should help people out when an injustice is being done to them, this was not actually a case of injustice, but acting.
   For a long time, situations like this have led me to consider some possible implications concerning the relationship between our theoretical and practical characters.  The moral character of a situation is not discovered like theoretical characters which appear, but emerge as a moral feeling in relation to the understanding of the situation (in a manner well described by Kant's Categorical Imperative).  Our duty itself is never questionable, but our understanding of the situation necessarily is unless we grant ourselves omniscience; because of this, we must ask: does a recognition of our theoretical limitations throw our determinations of duty into doubt, not because we judge incorrectly from a moral standpoint, but because we do not understand the world well enough?  Does this lead to a requirement to understand the world better?
   From the perspective of Kant's critical philosophy, this practical-theoretical feedback loop, which we are all familiar with from experience, can help us to illustrate some of Kant's picture of the relationship between our judgments more acutely.  However, from the perspective of our lives there are different difficulties we face, since we cannot wait until we omniscient before acting from fear of doing something wrong - even pursuing knowledge requires action.  
   When we expand our consideration from shifts in our moral understanding to cases that are currently without a moral determination, we have a question if we should be trying to find out the moral implications involved, and in what order and with what procedure we should go about it (if we should take any special action at all).  
   There are places in the history of philosophy that may be able to be cleared up by considering this further: Plato's determination (and Aristotle's agreement) that all things go towards the good; Descartes, in the Fourth Meditation, discussing how it would be best for every situation to be morally determined; Leibniz' determination of everything actual as being brought into its actuality by the ultimate determination of Goodness.  These things won't all be clarified in the same way, and to the same end, but considering what possible moral determination everything may potentially have, and seeing if we are constrained to feel they all do and why can shed a lot of light here.

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