Moral Premises

Before I write any posts regarding emotionally sensitive issues, such as genocide or our perception of death, I feel that I should lay out the idea and importance of regarding moral premises as being non-inherent and transient.

A premise is simply an idea, specifically an idea about an issue from which some conclusion can be drawn.  For an extreme example, which will hopefully have some gravity…

Moral Premise: Human life is invaluable and must be protected.
Moral Premise: Committing murder destroys human life.
Conclusion: Committing murder is impermissible.

For some people, probably most people, these moral premises can be permanently and universally accepted.  Others might need to add the premise that “I wouldn’t want someone to kill me, so I won’t kill anyone else”, but it all falls into the same category of thought: faith leaping.  You need to accept certain foundations of irrationality in order to permanently and/or universally adopt any moral premise; for anyone who desires to be truly free-thinking it is necessary to question them instead.

So to question these example moral premises: why is human life invaluable, and why must it be protected?  We are .05% molecularly different from one another, and only .09% molecularly dissimilar from chimpanzees.  We have overpopulated to the threat of our own species, and we procreate quite easily- it’s even fun.

As far as I have been able to formulate, there is no rational reason for placing some “special” or “sacred” value on human life (in the consideration of ethics, that is.  Obviously societal order requires this).  They certainly have social value, that is to say we feel the social loss of someone we have come to care for, because they will no longer be in our lives.  And there are numerous rational reasons not to kill one another, my personal favourite of which is as follows.

(Rational Premise: Rationality is functional and desirable.  Rational Premise: Arrogance is the defiance of rationality, believing oneself to be better in some way than evidence supports.  Rational Conclusion: We should seek to not be arrogant.)  (Rational Premise: We have no idea of truly understanding the value of a person.  Rational Premise: Murder requires the conclusion that oneself is valuable enough to decide who else is sufficiently inferior so as to exterminate.  Rational Conclusion: Murder requires arrogance.)  (Rational Premise: Murder requires arrogance; it is irrational.  Rational Premise: We should seek to not be arrogant; arrogance is irrational.  Rational Conclusion: We should not commit murder.)

I hope that wasn’t too hard to swallow, it was my explanation of a defense against the act of murder without resorting to emotion, morality or circular arguments.  The point is that when we subscribe to moral premises without thinking, without questioning, we surrender a significant amount of our freedom to various mechanisms of social control.

So the point is that no moral premise, whether that premise is “always brush your teeth before bed” or “don’t hunt your own children for sport” is never automatically defended or intrinsically defensible, and therefore should never be accepted implicitly without skepticism.   At the furthest, we should only adopt premises temporarily in order to consider and experiment with arguments which we could not do without that adoption.

For example… “it seems that most people in the world feel that genocide is significantly worse than simple mass murder… this justifies a movement to develop frameworks and systems of genocide prevention”.  The person making that argument does not need to believe in the premise, because the issue is whether or not genocide prevention is feasible/practical/useful, not whether genocide constitutes some special evil.  You accept the special evil argument to facilitate the debate over the real issue of prevention.

The phrase that so-and-so remembered where they were when so-and-so died has been passed around a lot in society, and it symbolizes what I am trying to talk about here;  moral premises exist in societies as categorical imperatives, which we are expected and compelled to adhere to.  But we don’t need to.  Next time you hear about a massacre of 12 Catholic school children being horribly violated and killed, and on the same day hear about 12 Serbian militants dying of a land mine, as well as 12 senior citizens dying of old age…  Ask yourself why your feelings are different about each case.  In the posts which follow, ask yourself why you mourn, and why genocide is such a horrible thing.  Or don’t.

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Published in: on 11 December 2009 at 10:32 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I highly enjoyed reading your blogpost, keep up making such exciting stuff!!


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