Chapter
17.
SOME TOPICS IN DEONTOLOGY

1.
Founding ethics

2.
Ethics concerns the living, thinking, willing

3.
Conscience and conformism

4.
Tai Chi, karma yoga and faith

Deontology
is a vast topic, which we can only touch upon in the present volume. I have
already made scattered remarks on this subject in previous chapters, and in
earlier works
[1];
here some additional comments seem worth making.


 

1. Founding ethics

The term
‘deontology’ may be taken to refer to the theoretical study and foundation
of ethics, without initial preference for any particular ethical system; another
term for this is ‘meta-ethics’. This philosophical discipline is concerned
with the form, rather than the content of ethics – how ethical systems are
structured, the logical forms and arguments used in them, how standards or norms
might be first established (‘axiology’
[2]),
and indeed all ontological and epistemological issues relative to ethical
judgment.

Deontology
will, for instance, emphasize that the concepts of life, consciousness and
volition are central to any ethical claim or system
.

  • Ethical
    discourse can only concern living beings. Inanimate entities (e.g. a table
    or a molecule) have nothing to lose – for their defining boundaries are
    fluid and arbitrarily set. We may break a diamond or disintegrate it – but
    ‘it’ has lost nothing. Living beings, on the other hand, have things to
    lose – their limb and life, which may be harmed or destroyed. A microbe is
    not just a mix of matter; kill it, and the matter remains but it no longer
    behaves as a living cell.
  • Ethical
    discourse is of no use to unconscious organisms, since they have no way to
    gain knowledge of it. We do consider that some things are conducive and
    others are detrimental to plants or microbes – but knowledge of such
    things concerns us, not the plants or microbes. Such knowledge tells us
    humans how to cultivate them, presumably so as to eat them or otherwise use
    them – so it is really a subset of human ethics. Animals can acquire
    knowledge of sorts, and so may conceivably learn facts or behavior (e.g.
    from their parents) that protects and furthers their life.
  • Ethical
    discourse presupposes volition. If the conscious organism has no volition,
    no ethical proposition concerning it is meaningful – since it can do
    nothing other than whatever it happens to be doing in the circumstances
    concerned anyway! Ethics is for organisms with freewill, meaning humans and
    higher animals.

Ultimately,
of course, ethics is the prerogative of humans – who are not only alive and
conscious and volitional, but moreover able to reason about ethics in general,
to formulate and understand particular ethical propositions, and to monitor and
manage their own behavior systematically. There is no point researching and
writing an ethics, if the subject of it is unable to read it or follow it.

Imperatives,
prohibitions, permissions and exemptions – all such statements, whatever their
specific contents, logically presuppose an acceptance that the subject has some
rationality and free will
[3].
It is absurd (self-contradictory) to make or imply statements like: “don’t
refer to the concepts of consciousness or volition in your discourse” –
since to say “do not” implies one has awareness and choice.

Of course,
volition is (as we have seen) something very hard to fully define and prove,
because it is – like consciousness and like feelings – a primary
object of experience. It is not like something else, to which it might be
compared and reduced; it is something sui generis, a basic building block
of experience. There is no logical basis for excluding volition from the realm
of existence, just because it cannot be entirely described in terms of material
or mental phenomena. It suffices to point out that it is something we experience
distinctively (through ‘self-knowledge’, ‘introspective intuition’ or
‘apperception’ – however we choose to call it). We do not, note well,
merely conceive it as a generality – but distinctly experience particular acts
of volition within us.

Most human
propositions and reasoning about causality are really about volition and allied
concepts. Although the world of nature, or causation, is of course of great
daily concern to us – we are also all the time greatly involved in thinking
about our place in that world and in society, as well as our inner world, and
all such thought is essentially to do with volition and allied causal concepts,
including ethical concepts.

As we have
seen, the ethical modalities (i.e. imperatives, prohibitions, permissions,
exemptions) have to do with the realm of the possible. What is impossible in any
respect does not belong in the realm of ethics (except to deny responsibility).
With reference to any domain we face (nature, society, our own psyche), the
following truisms are worth keeping in mind:

  • Some
    things are inevitable; some future events are naturally necessary, no matter
    what anyone (except perhaps God) does to avoid them. A contrario,
    some things cannot happen, no matter what anyone does in the attempt to make
    them happen.
  • Some
    things are inevitable (or unfeasible) for some volitional agents, but not so
    for others. Or they are so at one time, but not another. Or under certain
    conditions, but not others.
  • Some
    things are bound to happen, unless we make a determined effort to
    prevent them (e.g. a natural disaster, a war or a nervous breakdown). Some
    things are bound not to happen, unless we act in a timely and
    appropriate manner to make them happen (e.g. a building, a social system or
    a psychological development).
  • To
    prevent dangers from actualizing, it is usually necessary to be aware that
    the things concerned are dangerous, preventable, and likely to occur if not
    acted upon. Similarly, to achieve some positive value, it is usually
    necessary to identify it as such and to believe in the possibility of
    achieving it, as well as to acknowledge the need to make an effort to
    achieve it.

With regard
to “freedom of the will”, this phrase – as already pointed out – refers
more precisely to the freedom of the soul to will, whatever influences to the
contrary accumulate. In a Buddhist perspective, where the ‘soul’ or
‘self’ is radically denied, we might identify the concept of freedom of the
will with that of “the unconditioned” – i.e. it is one’s “Buddha
nature” that is free, and we only attain true freedom by getting to and
abiding in that place within one’s psyche.

Otherwise,
according to Buddhist psychology, we are greatly moved by “desire”. In this
context, it would perhaps be well to draw a distinction between “general
desire” and “particular desire”. The former concept would refer to the
emotional base of desire as such, a diffuse substratum without specific object;
while the latter concept would refer to the application of general desire to a
particular object (e.g. a loved person), often merely on the basis of a random
fantasy or other pretext.
[4]

Many
influences impact on any given act of volition; some facilitate it, others make
it more difficult. As we have seen, influences may be outside factors, which
condition the volitional act through having been perceived or conceived by the
agent. Mental factors of various sorts are also of course often influential to
varying degrees. Some influences are simple, short-lived, ad hoc; while
some seem to be more complex and deeply ingrained. Habits, for instance, are
produced and reinforced by repetition. Obsessions and compulsions involve
complicated hidden factors, which produce inertias unless certain work is done
to overcome them.

We have
seen how impulses and urges – be they physical, mental or spiritual – can be
reconciled with the fact and concept of freewill. We were particularly concerned
to find out why and how some normally volitional aspects of mental life, such as
some thought processes, might sometimes give the impression that they occur
automatically, indeed against our will. We arrived at the conclusion that such
thoughts, although products of consciousness and will, are hard to control
instantaneously, just because a greater and more sustained effort of
consciousness and will is required to rein them in than to let them loose.

Many
actions we label as ‘unconscious’ or ‘involuntary’ are really minimally
conscious or voluntary. Our linguistic habit in that regard should not be
allowed to mislead us into erroneous doctrines. When we have an impulse to do
something, we may immediately (more or less whimsically) ‘follow that
impulse’ and do the thing concerned – or we may restrain ourselves
momentarily, at least long enough to reflect and make a considered decision. The
amount of effort put into that reflection determines how (i.e. to what degree)
‘conscious’ and ‘voluntary’ is our subsequent action or our further
restraint from action. A policy may be instituted for future recurrences of
similar choices, or a habit may be programmed by repeating the same decision.

Through
such formal analyses of psychological factors, we have (I believe) greatly
succeeded in buttressing the concept of volition.

The
development of ethical propositions – and eventually an ethical system –
constitutes an attempt to prepare in advance answers to questions that
naturally and inevitably arise in the course of volition. It is a service the
ethical philosopher seeks to render to fellow volitional agents
[5],
just as the logician seeks to facilitate human pursuit of knowledge or the
physical scientist seeks to facilitate human interactions with nature.

It is a
necessary endeavor, because judgments made in the heat of the moment, under the
impact of all sorts of emotional and other influences, are not always as
broad-based and accurate as those made ‘in the ivory tower’. Sometimes,
admittedly, the philosopher on his armchair cannot anticipate all the factors
that the agent in the field actually faces. Sometimes, to be sure, it is better
to act “intuitively” rather than in a “pondered” manner. But more often
than not, it is wise to consider matters with a cool head, and with plenty of
time to reflect and take a maximum number of issues into consideration.

But
whatever ethics proposes, or whatever this or that ethical theory proposes –
and whoever is behind the proposition, oneself or others – such an ethical
proposition is merely one influential factor among others in the act of will
.
It does not remove the responsibility of the agent for his action. It is just an
influence; the volition remains his own.

Even if one
believes the ethics one is following to be of Divine origin (i.e. decreed or
inspired by God, and transmitted by some religion) – one remains responsible.
The act of faith in that religion is itself a volitional act, for which one is
responsible. All subsequent acts performed under the influence of such faith
remain acts of free will.


 

2. Ethics concerns the living,
thinking, willing

Ayn Rand
wrote somewhere
[6],
concerning values – “of value to whom and for what?” – implying that the
term ‘value’ does not stand alone, but is relative to certain subjects and
to certain standards. This is not a mere grammatical observation, but a logical
insight too often ignored.

As we have
said, ethics concerns the living, and in particular organisms with consciousness
and freewill, who have and make choices – i.e. the thinking and willing. This
fact signifies that, whatever content we give to ethics, it must be consistent
with these three basic factors – life, cognition and volition. They are
necessary
conditions for any ethical system. That is, the “to whom” and “for what”
aspects of valuing are ultimately one and the same, or they at least intersect
considerably. By knowing whom we are concerned with, we know what their needs
are.

The
distinction between living and non-living matter is admittedly not easy to make
with final precision, so that the materialist perspective on life continues to
seem equally if not more credible to many people. They argue that life is a
phenomenon essentially like any other in the material world; they define life as
a natural outcome of certain combinations of atoms.

They may be
right – but the issues remain: how come this complex phenomenon was potential
in the building blocks of matter (quarks, or whatever); how come matter evolved
after the Big Bang through elementary particles, atoms, molecules, organic
molecules, till living cells emerged; and how come the latter in turn gave rise
to consciousness and will?

These
questions are difficult to formulate, for it is difficult to express the kind of
answer that is sought through them. We seem to have descriptive answers (i.e.
the process of evolution of matter and life is, let’s say, adequately
described) – but these answers do not answer those questions. The issue is
not, either, epistemological – we do not seek more proof, we do not doubt the
descriptive scenario given. Our questions are, rather, why did these potentials
exist in the original substance of matter; why would matter take so many
different forms, and evolve all the way to life, consciousness and volition? Why
did quarks exist and why did they not remain quarks forever? Why are the ‘laws
of nature’ that made them change (whatever these laws be) inherent in them?

Yes, there
are questions of sorts – so no one, not even the convinced materialist, can
claim to ‘know it all’. We have seen how the concept of natural
‘conatus’, of distinctive quasi-purposiveness in living processes is a
legitimate concept, which does not call for special epistemological
dispensations, but is formed in regular ways. It implies a sort of striving
without consciousness, life relentlessly pursuing more life. Perhaps this
abstract observation is the best definition of life we can propose.

The prime
standard of natural ethics is bound to be Life, since the phenomenon of life is
the core thing that gives meaning to the concept of ethics. That is, of course,
a very vague norm, which biology, physiology, psychology, sociology and kindred
sciences may clarify and enrich for us, telling us not only what furthers life,
but also what gives it its fullest expression. This more precise account would
need to refer not only to life – but also to consciousness and volition. They
too
are underlying standards that all ethical theories have to support,
since ethics is meaningless without them.

With regard
to life, I know that my own readings in biology have greatly affected my
understanding of this standard, shifting its sense from a more self-oriented
“my life” or “the life of my loved ones”, over to a broader interest in
“life as such” or “life in general” or “all life”.

Beyond the
struggle for survival of individuals, groups, species (which is undeniably
fundamental), we may discern the struggle for survival of life per se,
independent of any particular form or genetic content. In the latter
perspective, the various forms of life are but means to the more basic end, that
of life as a whole. The diverse forms may struggle against each other, competing
for limited resources, using each other as well as minerals as natural resources
[7],
but ultimately their efforts can be considered as converging to a common goal,
the continuation of life as such, in some form or other at least, but better
still in as many forms as possible
[8].

One might
thus argue for the ‘unity’ of life, as if we speak of one organism that can
split up into many smaller interacting entities, yet nevertheless remains one.
We, and all animals and all vegetables are not just cousins – we are the same
entity. This “Gaia hypothesis” may have some validity and utility.
Nonetheless, we can conceive of a hierarchy or pyramid of living organisms, from
the simplest to the most complex, at the top of which (at least here on Earth)
we seemingly happen to be in numerous or most respects.

Mankind is
the species (or perhaps the only remaining species on Earth) with the maximum
amount of consciousness and freewill. These powers are found to a lesser degree
in other species, but most in us. Even within the human race, there are
individual variations, some of which are perhaps inherent to a genetic makeup,
while others can be improved on by personal effort. Considering all this as an
outcrop of matter at the Big Bang, it is as if matter strove to see and know
itself, and volitionally act upon itself, going way beyond the blindness and
‘natural law’ determinism (including, here, the mindless indeterminism of
quantum mechanics) of the mineral realm.

These are
speculations, of course; but I ramble on because they seem to have some impact
on the idea of a universal ethical standard. We should also, in this context,
keep in mind the last phases of the biological story – what we call
‘history’. After eons of animal evolution, a weird species called humans
emerged, and at times seemed the crowning achievement of nature, though now
looks more and more like its nemesis. Is evolution collapsing onto itself in a
final flurry of fickle frenzy?

And within
that framework, we need to consider the history of ideas, and in particular the
history of philosophy, to understand the thoughts and behavior of the individual
humans we are today. Ideas and philosophies, from a biological viewpoint, are
just ways and means people have through history responded to changing
environmental, social and psychological challenges. It is a long story of trial
and error, in which those who wrote the most or became most famous were not
necessarily those who understood the most. Looking back, one is at times amazed
at the incompetents philosophy has attracted.

But what is
wonderful about philosophy is that even stupid philosophies are useful to the
development of philosophy, because they encourage other philosophers to distance
themselves from their positions, and explain why. For this reason the history of
philosophy is an integral part of philosophy, because each philosophy in it is
somewhat delimited by all the others.


 

3.
Conscience and conformism

Most
people, perhaps not all, have a functioning conscience. What is that? It
seems to be a reserved ‘part’ of us, which we charge with the task of
supervising the rest. Of course, granting that the soul has no spatial
extension, this description is only a manner of speaking, a mere analogy.
One’s conscience is no other than one’s self behaving in a certain way in
time; it is a volitional function, although it may be habitual to various
degrees, even obsessive-compulsive. Conscience may thus be ‘big’ or
infinitesimally ‘small’.

Conscience
essentially means consciousness (in French, the two words are the same) –
being aware. The role assigned to conscience by us is to critically oversee our
thoughts and actions, and judge whether they fit in with our deepest standards
of what is humanly appropriate in given circumstances. This job may be performed
consciously, or subconsciously; in the latter case, we can induce the implicit
judgments by observing the subject’s patterns of behavior. Conscience is thus
revelatory of effective ethical standards.

Note
that the concept of conscience is also applicable in the more neutral realm of
‘ethics of knowledge’, where we monitor and regulate our cognitive processes
(our intellectual honesty, our will to realism, our efforts of research, the
logic of our inferences, and so forth).

We can, by
observation of a person’s consciousness and volition at work, infer that
person’s underlying ethical standards. Insofar as most people have common
standards, such observations may give rise to a notion of ethics based on
conscience. However, such a doctrine is hard to uphold, as it seems to involve
circularity. Are the deep ethical standards that conscience bases its judgments
on innate? That would seem doubtful, although some could be posited as
instinctive, i.e. as genetically transmitted emotional influences.

For the
most part, however, the norms implied by our conscience are acquired and
changeable. For most people, this means mostly reference to the cultural norms
of the social group around them, which are largely conventional, though often
based on the accumulated wisdom of a society or mankind over time. Some people,
to some extent, take a more active part in the formulation of their guiding
norms. A person may start with one set of norms, acquired through education or
by cultural osmosis, and later acquire a somewhat different set, whether by
change of peer group and adoption of a new convention, or through more conscious
and rational efforts.

Most people
function by conformism. In a modern, media-based society, like ours
today, this occurs as conformity to stereotypes – for examples, the stereotype
of the rebellious youth (who, however, wears the right type of clothing and uses
the appropriate language), or the stereotypes of the crusading reporter,
tough-guy lawyer or hotshot investment specialist. Conformism makes things easy:
one does not have to think too much about what to do – and one is easily
classified by others, gaining ready benefits from such identification.

Conformism
is nothing new, but found in all societies, throughout history and geography. It
is not just a matter of external appearance or behavioral patterns, but controls
thought processes. The practice is especially evident in closed religious or
political groups. People in such ideological circles are prone to thinking by
means of clichés, rather than investigation. They tend to cognitively function
by subsuming people and events under preordained categories, rather than
by developing categorizations inductively. A person or event is forced into a
limited number of given labels, with no room for conceptual adaptation.

Even if the
natural sciences are essentially neutral with regard to setting ethical
standards, in the sense that we do not observe ready-made ones in nature, they
still have a constructive function, helping us to identify objective means to
our ends. They also play an eliminative role, helping us to get rid of
ideologies based on false presuppositions. But of course, granting that the
body, in itself or as a vessel for the soul, is important to life, biology is
also informative as to what standards are natural. Science is therefore
important to deontological efforts.

The Kantian
view of ‘duty’, as something that must be done whatever the human cost
[9],
ought to be considered in this context; it appears as the notion of a
stiff-minded extremist. I should add that, although Rabbis have a similar
fundamentalist attitude with regard to certain mitzvoth (commandments),
they do consider that the law has to be tempered occasionally, to save a person
from unnecessary harm or pain. Such avoidance of doctrinal rigidity may be
characterized as ‘humanism’; it is remembering we are concerned with human
beings, not robots.

Also worth
noting here is the observation that people sometimes commit sins (according to
their standards) almost deliberately, in order to rationalize – even if ex
post facto
– their sufferings as punishment for their sins, preferring
this twisted option to the frightening idea that there might be unjustified
suffering in the world! This is another instance of ideology, where one tries to
force experience into preconceived ideas, instead of remaining cognitively
flexible.

Although
ethics is built up primarily around the individual, since individuals are the
ultimate units of its injunctions and inhibitions, its social aspect should not
be underrated. The individual soul has three powers – consciousness (the soul
as subject), volition (the soul as agent) and valuation (which gives rise to the
emotional life). But additionally, the soul has a social dimension, which is not
entirely reducible to the said three powers. This fourth aspect of soul is
fundamental to its nature, although hard to pinpoint.

We do not
exist as isolated entities, but as part of a social fabric. Why else would
people congregate in communities and nations? An unloved baby is as good as dead
psychologically, losing intelligence, the ability to communicate, and so on
[10].
People need each other, not merely as means but as ends. This is a complex issue
that deontology must take pains to integrate.


 

4. Tai Chi, karma yoga and faith

Doing Tai
Chi some years ago, led me to an insight concerning “virtue”.

The
Tai Chi form comprises a great number of incremental individual ‘positions’,
which slowly flow into each other, forming whole ‘moves’, which in turn
naturally succeed each other, resulting in a complete ‘form’.

No
position in or portion of the form is justified by any others, although stringed
together they form a consistent and powerful whole.

Each
incremental Tai Chi position within a move must be experienced as important in
itself, and not merely as a ‘way station’ en route towards the final
position in that move. It is not instrumental, but to be enjoyed and appreciated
as it is, without anticipation of its eventual destination or utility. Every
‘intermediate’ position is a ‘value’ or goal in itself, and not merely a
‘virtue’ in the sense of a means to an end.

The
movement from one such position (or one whole move) to the next is also a moment
of which we should always be firmly aware. The instant of change, of shifting
over into a new position, is also to be felt with great concentration.

By
so treasuring every point and transition in the trajectory of Tai Chi, we
incidentally maintain its full potential towards an infinity of other moves. We
also get a sense of the discontinuity and continuity of time.

A
move has little value if one is not intensely conscious of all the segments
comprising it. For this reason, Tai Chi is considered a meditation and should be
performed as slowly as possible.

Tai Chi
illustrates the Stoic principle that “virtue is its own reward”
[11].
It teaches us how each virtue is a value, and how the expression of many varied
virtues is also a value.

Such a
lesson in living may be valuable even at the time of our death.

Rather than
be afraid of that great unknown, no matter what form our death takes, we could
regard it as a great opportunity! Just as we should go through life
contemplating its course with equanimity, viewing the bad as well as the good as
a great and interesting show – so, when death arrives, we should meditatively
watch it come.

Just think:
your one and only chance to experience this mysterious event first-hand!
It is worthwhile training oneself throughout life to be conscious in all
circumstances. Watching oneself die, if only for a moment, one may at last know
what death is – or what life is.

Another
Oriental discipline that teaches the same concept is “karma yoga”. Karma
yoga is going about your daily work activities without concern for the
advantages they may bring you personally. This is practiced in yoga ashrams and
the like; for example, a Zen monk may sweep the courtyard or do a bit of
gardening every day.

Many people
suffer much in their work life, wondering why they have to perform certain
boring routines to earn their living. Karma yoga teaches: enjoy it! Do the job,
without involving your ego – without ‘selfish motive’. This is of course
an idealization, not a call to or justification of amorality or immorality. It
merely means: concentrate on the job you have undertaken to do; take one thing
at a time, and all tasks eventually get done.

It is
important to realize that faith is an essential building block of all ethical
systems.

Religions,
like Judaism or Buddhism, are ridiculed by some people because of their
requirement of ‘faith’. Such people argue that in an ethic based entirely on
reason and experience, nothing would be assumed worth doing until and unless we first
established
that our proposed actions were bound to or likely to have
certain positive consequences considered worth pursuing – whereas in religious
ethics, we cannot know the truth and value of the goal (God or Nirvana,
as the case may be) in advance of ourselves attaining it, and we must also take
it for granted that the alleged means (suggested to us by the tradition
concerned) lead to that putative goal.

Thus,
religious ethics would seem in principle contrary to reason, since their
defining characteristic is faith – in both the goal and the means. They are
made to appear as a sort of gigantic con game, whereby some future events inaccessible
to
experience or strict inference from experience are forecast (heaven or
hell, or similar notions), and we are told (as a revelation or ‘witnessing’)
that we must do this and that, and abstain from doing so and so, to achieve the
positive consequences and avoid the negative ones.

But though
such arguments have weight, they are not entirely fair and conclusive. In truth,
all purposive action involves faith. For our knowledge of the empirical world
through reason is essentially an inductive, tentative one. It consists mostly of
generalizations and adductive arguments, based on past experience and dependent
for confirmation on future experience – which means, ultimately, it is built
by trial and error. Most propositions we believe are attempts at truth, which we
hope will hold, but which we may need to correct further on.

One may
still contend that, whereas secular ethics make relatively small or at least
discrete demands, religious systems demand we invest our whole life in a
purpose whose validity and value may just be figments of someone’s
imagination, and the efficacy of the means to which is far from evident. But is
that fair criticism? Surely, in common pursuits like raising a child or pursuing
a career, we invest our whole life in purposes without guarantees of success.
Human beings inevitably gamble, whatever their course of action, whatever the
way of life they choose.

So, the
demand of faith by religious ethics should not be viewed as a determining
argument in favor of secular ethics. Concerning religion, Pascal’s Wager comes
into play; for those who totally reject religion, there are still great
uncertainties to cope with. Thus, the deontologist must keep an open mind,
neither rejecting religion offhand, nor (of course) naïvely accepting its
claims.

I have
elsewhere
[12]
attacked the principle of karma, dear to Indian philosophy, pointing out the
epistemological difficulties involved (for us ordinary mortals) in establishing
alleged karmic relations. Similar objections can be raised with regard to claims
of Divine reward or punishment: how could such claims be proved? But here I wish
to point out how even secular ethical principles are often based on mere
suppositions, and do not for all that lose of their power.

If I claim,
in accord with karmic law, that it is best for me not to do some deed harmful to
others, because the same will surely happen to me if I do so – I am
involved in a circular argument of sorts. I can claim this as a generalization
from past bitter experience, but that generalization will not be tested in the
particular case at hand if I believe in it and abstain from the deed, and so it
will somewhat paradoxically remain forever unempirical!

On the
other hand, it would suffice for me to claim more hypothetically that if a
similar harmful deed were done to me, as it well might, I could not then
consistently complain that I was a victim of some cruelty and injustice, having
allowed myself to do the same. In this way, the benefits of karmic principle can
be maintained – the consciousness of reciprocity – without having to prove
actual causal connections.

Another
example: I can pursue the Buddhist ideal of ‘cessation of desire, so as to
avoid rebirth’, just in case there is such a thing as rebirth and on
the supposition that
it is caused by desire. Although these assumptions are
unproved, and we cannot even imagine how they might ever be proved, they may
still legitimately be used as working hypotheses. Similarly, one might argue: in
case
God exists and gave man the Torah, I had better act thus and thus. I
have to do something, so it might as well be that.

In other
words, behavior need not be based on certainties, which are anyway rarely
if ever available, but can be based on frankly conditional judgments. The
conditioning involved may have any mode – not only the natural mode, but also
the extensional and the logical modes. Since human knowledge is inevitably
limited, it is largely uncertain to some degree. Nevertheless, life cannot be
blocked by this truth; volition still needs guidance. Therefore, action based on
hypothetical reasoning has ethical validity.



[1]
See chapters 3.4, 10.3 and 13.2, here; also, chapter 13 in Judaic
Logic
.

[2]
The term axiology is often used in the wide sense I here give to
deontology. I prefer to use the term axiology more specifically with regard
to the issue of norm setting, because of its similarity to the word axiom
(they both have the same Greek root, ‘worth’).

[3]
Immanuel Kant appears to consider that we know of our freedom
indirectly from our ‘sense of duty’ and the logical consideration that
duty is only meaningful to a free agent. This is of course nonsense. The
sense of freewill is, in my view, far more radical than that of duty. Also,
I am not at all sure we have an innate sense of duty – our intuitions of
duty are derivatives, not primaries. Even logically, liberty without duty is
not something inconceivable; in a sense, we consider God as being free even
of duties.

[4]
If the felt emotions are sufficiently distinctive, we might subdivide
general desire into broad (intermediate) categories such as “lust for
sex”, “power lust”, “greed for food”, “greed for money”,
“yearning for fame”, etc. This supposes that not only do we feel vague
‘desire’ before we desire something specific, but also there is an
intermediate stage where general desire first takes shape as vague lust or
greed etc. before it focuses on a particular object of lust or greed etc.

[5]
Of course, such philosophers must be careful to remain modest, and
not imagine they can tell everyone what to do in all circumstances.

[6]
Atlas Shrugged, p. 939.

[7]
Except for the lowest creatures in the food chain, which feed on
minerals only.

[8]
It does not follow, of course, that genetic engineering is in the
long-term favorable to life. Nor does this doctrine condone having sex with
animals!

[9]
For example, one should not lie to someone just to avoid hurting the
person’s feelings.

[10]
A few years ago, when the Rumanian dictator fell, orphanages were
made public, where children were barely cared for at all. They were found to
be horribly underdeveloped, mentally and physically. Interestingly, babies
closer to the door of a dorm were slightly less affected than those farther
away, because they experienced the rare passages of the nurses a bit more
often!

[11]
See earlier discussion of this principle, in chapter 10.3.

[12]
See Buddhist Illogic, chapter 9.

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2016-10-17T04:08:56+00:00