How Morality is Indispensable to a Social Life


This post had started as a response to one of the comments by Darshan, whose ideas and blog-posts (click) I really enjoy and also recommend to other readers who appreciate critical thinking. The reasons I am publishing this response as a separate blog post are: because the response is too long; I would not like other readers to miss out on ideas earned after hard sessions of thinking, and lastly, because I any way wanted to discuss these issues some times on my blog. It just so happens that now this post will serve as an appropriate launching pad. So ultimately, obviously, this post does not merely remain a response to Darshan’s comments, but is a post with his ideas as the backdrop.
Obviously, since this post is fundamentally a reaction rather than an essay, I am not giving a much elaborate background. Darshan’s comment (click) was as follows:

This might sound irrelevant to you.

First of all, I do not believe in the established concept of morality, which is perfectly human-centered. In my concept of morality stealing, lying, money, robbery and society, these are so petty issues that are not even visible to me. There are much much bigger issues facing existence!

In fact this entire affair is something which does not affect me. It is so HUMAN-SPECIFIC!!! As far as any such thing is concerned, I find myself in the game again. So whatever decisions I take by whim in the game, is neither right nor wrong.

I might save the one who stole in this case, for example; Or I might sometime also think that one human less is good for the planet 😉 Depends on the mood I am in at the moment!

Now I urge readers to exercise restrain in drawing any untoward conclusions about how Darshan as a person is. This discussion between him and me is at an ideological-philosophical level, and his comment must not be construed to think that he reaches decisions in his life exactly in the same fashion as might seem from the comment. In my interactions I have found him to be very agreeable and rational and not at all inclined to hurt someone deliberately. The only reason I am quoting this comment here is to put forth the context in which my post had materialized. As to what he means by a “game” would become clear from his post called – How to attain bliss without being in Himalayas? (click).
I am quoting the lines that I feel are pertinent, but yet I encourage the reader to go through the actual post for two reasons – that there should be no “loss in translation” in my quoting something selectively, and also because the post is a well thought out one and well written.

…Now consider your life as a game. You are the main protagonist in this game. There are innumerable stages in this game like childhood, schooling, adulthood, love, work, marriage, divorce, riches, poverty etc. Through all the stages in the game there are things like making friends and enemies; pain and pleasures; love and hatred. You earn points when you make friends. Lose points when you make enemies. Earned love, earned points. Lost love, lost points. Consider points as a measure of happiness. That’s how a game works. Human life has endless possibilities of occurrences. All the things which happen in your favor add to your points and those occurrences against you reduce the points. When you succeed through the tasks you jump up in happiness with “Whoa!” and “Wow!” and when you lose you throw the joystick with “Oh fuck!” and “Shit!”

But after all, it’s a game, not the real life. What you experience in the “game world” is left behind when you are done playing the game and return in your “real world”. Happenings of the “game world” can not affect your behavior in the “real world”, unless you are so obsessed with the game that you have lost your mind and the realization that the two worlds are different.

Also, my response is not an attempt to contradict or disregard Darshan’s personal views, which I do not share, but do not even disagree with. This is because, in some areas of life, what views we hold are just our personal preferences, possibly based on factors like nurture, genetics, life-experiences, personality, etc., and however hard we try, we cannot justify them on a rational basis. This in turn happens because, the fundamental axioms in life like “what is the purpose of my life?” or “what is the purpose behind the existence of the human race or the Universe?”, etc. cannot be answered in fashion, which we all would agree with. It is how we (especially, in the given case, Darshan and I) answer these questions differently, that have led to the differences in our opinion, and at the outset I wish to clarify that I do not consider either Darshan or my answers to either of the above questions as more correct or less correct, because there is no established or agreed upon standard to gauge their “correctness” against. My frank confession that my views are more of preferences, rather than absolute “correct” manner of looking at the issues would, I hope, be amply visible in my response, which is as follows:

—–

Darshan,

There is no rational reason I could convince you to be more emotionally engaged with humanity and its affairs, or for me to justify my being engaged thus, but what you said was alarming! This is not to offend you, but nor to downplay what I felt reading what you wrote.

It is to your credit, you have made me think something slightly more deeply, making me reach this philosophical conclusion that yet again that there is nothing really very rational that can make me urge one to choose to be moral.

Morality (click) stems from human concepts of ‘ownership’ and ‘rights’ (as in adhikaar). So yes, morality becomes operational only when one accepts a certain framework of these human conceptions of ‘ownership’ and ‘right’. Integrally attached with both the concepts is another human conception of “deserving”, which is the most nebulous, and hence, difficult to define. And that is why we all differ in what one “deserves” – usually, we are most predisposed to feel what we ‘enjoy’, we deserve, and what we do not enjoy, we do not deserve. Which is what introduces the subjectivity and consequent liberal bias in assessing our own motives and actions. And, so it becomes imperative to decide upon certain mutually agreed upon criteria to delineate what is deserved by whom.

I yet again concede, I have no rational reason to assert that this framework should be applied only to humans, and why other sentient living beings (especially, mammals that are so similar to how humans are) should be excluded. Partly because, animals cannot talk back to us, as to what they want. No, this is not an excuse to be cruel to them, but the psychological reason why this “we” (humans) v/s “them” (non-humans) kind of communalism (click) operates in our minds.

My feeling greater solidarity for humans as compared to other species, or “nonliving” parts of the “nature”, can be considered a form of communalism, and hence is unjustified. The best possible justification (or rather, my double standards), you could find is here:

Ball of Karma (click). Do read comment #16 onwards if you are short of time, otherwise, I believe the entire debate is entertaining, if not enlightening!

…somehow humans take precedence in deciding upon moral issues. If someone asks me why?, I would say it is a very sophisticated form of herd-mentality. That I feel greater solidarity for those who resemble me than those who do not (this line of argument is extremely risk-fraught when it comes to interhuman interactions, I know!). And animals have never really cared for us humans, or for each other (sounds stupid, but is a valid argument because only sometime back we were talking of putting animals on same pedestal as humans). They have killed us humans for their food or to protect their shelter. So we can do the same to fulfill our ‘needs’.

‘Needs’ is another contentious term. Is the desire to live a fulfilling, happy life a ‘need’? Is the desire to see one of our relatives not die of AIDS/cancer/malaria – a need? Is the desire to not suffer from painful rheumatoid arthritis and debilitating kidney disorders and diabetes – a need? Is the desire to not suffer from irritating common cold – a need?

Please see, in all the 3 examples, there is a gradual downscaling of threat to human life. While very few would disagree that we would be alright with killing of a few thousand animals, if the outcome (cure) for the said disease is able to save millions of human lives. The problem comes when discussing animal experiments for treatment of ’simpler’ disorders, which are not immediately life-threatening. But then the question would arise – what ‘level’ of threat to human life do we use to justify animal experiments?

So well, at least practicality dictates that we must not infringe on others’ (humans’) “rights”, for instance, right to live, because then they can also attempt to do the same, and we all might suffer pain or death. Of course, I myself have stated on your blog that it would not be “bad” in ‘absolute’ terms if the entire human species or the Earth itself are wiped out, but in a ‘subjective’ sense, I want to live, and I am afraid of death! Possibly, this fear is an outcome of natural selection through genetic mutations, but then the fact remains, I am responsive and subservient to such a fear. I am also responsive and subservient to desire to feel happy [differences between ‘happiness’ and ‘contentment’ are hazy; I will have to think a lot about them]. Provisionally, I can define happiness as a mental state I would like to remain in, and not lose. So, talking of the original post that led you here, while everyone prioritizes the (self-assigned) purposes of life differently, directly or indirectly human happiness does figure somewhere at the top of everyone’s ‘agenda’ for life. No other human-assigned purpose would be able to stake that claim – not, living for the country; nor, living for poor; nor, living for endangered species; nor, living for a single (as in, everyone devoting life to a common) religion; nor, living to set exemplary behavior. And even if someone defines something else as the purpose of their life, say, attaining salvation, they do it in belief that salvation will bring them happiness (as defined above).

But since, we humans have to co-exist in space and time, and share the same resources amongst us in our attempts to achieve our purposes (whatever they be), we have to distribute them in most pragmatic fashion possible – such that such distribution minimizes conflicts (which will cause pain, which majority of people want to avoid) and satisfy maximum number of people’s desire to be happy (the way they feel it could be fulfilled). And as I said before, it is the limitation in resources and unavoidable interpersonal interactions that make us define every person’s rights, authority and what they do or do not deserve.

Just as you pointed out, these concepts are merely human constructs, and hence not binding on you, and I agree. But if all actions were to depend on what one’s “mood” is, for instance, what will prevent one from slapping a random person in a bus or raping a random woman in a secluded place? I am sure you must have not done either of the two things, but the questions is what prevented you or will prevent you if you feel like doing it? Or will nothing be able to stop you from doing so once you feel the urge?

So personally, I do think a lot about these (morals, ethics, justice, etc.) issues, precisely because I do find myself deeply engaged in human affairs. Though I have the option of not doing so, by two possible mechanisms – living in some secluded area totally by myself, and hence doing away with all sort of morality OR by committing suicide. I am afraid of both the options, as I pointed out in my response in the Conflusions-post (click), and moreover I have am enjoying my current mode of living; abiding to moral principles is hardly a challenge for me. So, I choose to live by the standards set by the society (morality) because I am living amidst society. Living amidst society is always following our agreeing to an unwritten contract, and that contract is what morality is. If one chooses to disregard these contracts, they instantly lose the right to live a life dependent on fellow human beings. And hence, either such people have to be removed from society because of their incompatibility in coexisting with others (death sentence) or punished (conviction by courts) or of course, the third option – that they live in some secluded place without interacting with any other human being (exile). But then, that they breach certain clauses (rules and regulations) of the contract with the knowledge that –> doing so invites the consequences they had agreed to –> by way of choosing to live in a manner they would depend on others –> they automatically become deserving of the punishment they had agreed to in the first place by breaching the the terms of the contract. For instance, a person committing rape in India becomes deserving of punishment as defined in the section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (click), because he had consented to be punished the moment he rapes a woman while being a part of India (Indian citizenship). This was all law and justice.

You might but ask, what if someone does not want to enter this contract of interpersonal interactions? Why force someone to enter interpersonal interactions? But the problem is no human being at birth is independent. The moment one accepts nurture from one’s parents, and wears clothes made by another human being, or eats food prepared with another human’s labor, they inadvertently put their seal on the contract of the society called morality. And hence for these “reasons” I do not think it is possible to escape consideration of moral issues.

[With this my response to Darshan practically ends; what follows is the ideas built opon what I just presented]

But of course, the next question could be who gets to decide these set of rules? And more importantly, what are the bases of such rules? It is here, the (supposedly) most widely agreed upon principle of maximizing human happiness and minimizing human pain that comes to fore. We all humans might not always agree as to what constitutes legal, ethical, moral “etiquetted”, etc., but if we define some “minimum possible standards”, we will at least have a rational framework to work within. These could also be termed as “moral axioms”, as in they have no other underlying bases, except that (assuming and hoping) highest number of people in the World agree upon them. I will enlist the most significant moral axioms here:

1. Every human is equal and has same rights at birth.

2. Every human at birth has an equal right to live.

3. Fulfilling the desire to be happy is one of the fundamental goals, and every human at birth has equal right to be happy.

4. Fulfilling the desire to avoid pain is one of the fundamental goals, and every human at birth has equal right to avoid pain.

5. Everyone should try to reach decisions on any issue such that, as far as possible, none of the above principles are violated.

I believe, a large part of what we instinctively think of as moral or immoral (and also, legal, ethical, honorable – or not so) can be accounted for by above principles. Of course, I am no expert in philosophy of ethics, morality and law, but at least this serves as a good starting point. I also believe, if some societal impositions or government-sanctioned laws do not fit into the above framework, then they make a good case for a closer scrutiny. For instance, what in the above framework would make consensual homosexuality immoral/unethical/illegal? Or for that matter, euthanasia? Slightly more contentious would be issues like abortion. Likewise, issue of death penalty would be most contentious. The “at birth”-part finds repeated mention to allow for some other concepts like “deserving” and unequal “ownership” (say, owing to one’s hard work) to apply, which could lead to subsequent inequality. Additionally for instance, if the established law punishes a convict, the punishment might go against their rights to live, be happy and to avoid pain. But to ensure practical functionality of the entire framework, we have to also admit the possibility some people will not honor point number 5, and hence this dishonor makes them eligible for predetermined punishment. And of course, a very touchy issue of what is a “right” as against what is an “opportunity” has not been addressed here. For example in our contemporary society, despite having same rights, do children respectively born to poor and rich parents get equal opportunity to healthy diet and good education? How do we tackle such moral issues? I would be discussing these issues also in one of my subsequent posts, but then they cannot be covered in limited space.

So to end this post, I just want to point out that the instinctive ideas of moral, ethical, and appropriateness of government-sanctioned laws, etc., are very difficult to scrutinize on a firmly rational bases, but the point is they can be! And at least, we have to make an attempt to do so. If we stop looking for “reasons” to regard something as moral v/s immoral, we would be entertaining moral arbitrariness (and hence, “relativism”) as an acceptable criterion. Once that happens, it is only downhill course for the collective human happiness from that point. And also that reason cannot be “someone said so” (scripture-directed morality), because what would be valid reason would not be that someone said so, but the reason as to why someone said what they said. As long as we are living in the human society, it becomes binding upon us to think over moral issues. The moment we lose our commitment to morality, we lose our right to live amidst with other human beings.

—–

One recommendation:

Read this extremely well-explained and argued blog-post by Professor McCormick – Open the Floodgates (click), where he demonstrates why exclusively faith cannot be used to believe in the existence of God without committing intellectual dishonesty.

One request:

Kindly visit a copy of this blog I have prepared at WordPress (click). This is just an experiment. I may or may not shift to WordPress. Currently, it is unlikely that I switch over to WordPress because it does not allow customization of CSS of blog-templates. Of course, the only attractive feature of WordPress over Blogger is their comment-system, which might eventually win me over if I get into an ‘aggressive’ mode of blogging. 😉

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8 thoughts on “How Morality is Indispensable to a Social Life

  1. Hi Ketan,

    I know and understand that since, and as long as I am living in the human society I am bound to follow this established concept of morality, or else my existence is in danger. You seem to have made out two ways you can live free of this concept of morality. Either living in seclusion, or suicide. Neither of the two is any bad. But I have found one more way too. And that way is precisely what I call “the game”. Now again, imagine the game. When we are playing a video game there are a lot of things happening in there which do not happen in the real world. Which are not even conceivable and had no value in the real world. But yeah, it’s a part of that game. And if you want to keep playing the game then you have got to do those things. Such is the nature of this moral concept, for me. I do not go on murdering by whim nor rape anyone, but that is not because I consider it immoral. That is because it would be against my survival. And I’ve got enough brains to play my game diligently. But what this state of mind implies is that when I see someone murdering or raping I do not feel anger or aggression towards who’s called “the criminal”. Because fundamentally, for me, those issues are too meager. Besides, they are emerged by the virtue of “human intelligence” which is a gruesome thing to possess on the first place. Yeah, if by some human-effected disaster one species of insects is “endangered” or extinct (in fact, thousands have already been! And as per my morality humanity should already have been slaughtered off by now. Alas!) then that’s an immensely big moral issue for me. You know, it may affect existence in some bad way at least. But human death? Human death can only benefit the existence. If all the insects on earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on earth would disappear. If all humans disappeared, within 50 years all species would flourish as never before. (- Jonas Salk, an American medical researcher and virologist, known for first polio vaccine, born 1914 CE, Russian-Jewish) I am not at all concerned with the fate of the humanity, sorry to say. I feel apathetic towards humankind. And I can live with this state of mind very well. I am in the game. At the same time, I would like to tell you, do not be surprised if I choose to live in Himalayas some day, or even suicide. I am reluctant to do neither of it. My morality’s aim is to sustain the planet and live with contentment. Even if you think there’s no purpose to existence, and that planet is not meant to be forever anyway… you must understand that as long as you have got brains you can not help but assign a purpose to your living. And then in that case the wisest thing would be undeniably the one which advocates sustainable living. Just because something is anyway going to end you can not end it NOW by extracting absurd pleasures off it, and being unjust to other species. Unjust, by your own “established morality” standards! And not only it kills them, it kills humanity too! That’s gross!! If humans still can’t understand this then that’s a shame! It’s nothing but the greed which prevents humanity from taking the right way. Nothing else.

  2. Another thing: You said that in your mind the difference between happiness and contentment is hazy. You are still not sure of it yet. Allow me to try to explain it.

    Consider the difference between contentment and happiness as the one between smile and laughter. Smile indicates serenity. Laughter indicates agitation. Smile is tranquility. Laughter is ripples. If you are in contentment you smile. You laugh if you are in happiness. You know, to smile at someone all you need is to be free of pain. If there’s pain you can “fake” a smile, but not really smile. So, being free of pain and you can go on smiling at anyone you meet. That’s the sign of a contented person. Contentment does not need any “input” from this world. Hence, it completely comes from within. Happiness, on the other hand, requires input from this world. Like, laughter requires a joke be said. That state which requires some input from outside is not only unnecessary, but also undesirable.

    Now, expand. Don’t just stick to the words “smile” and “laughter” for contentment and happiness. Of course, buying a mobile phone also makes you “happy”, though not necessarily you laugh! So, the important words were serenity and agitation. Buying a mobile phone you will feel that agitation inside, won’t you? Mind has lost its tranquility. There are ripples (of excitement) when you have just come to possess some valuable thing. What you feel as happiness is just those ripples. They never last. What is everlasting is tranquility.

    Now think. If I can smile (genuine smile devoid of any pain within me, okay?) anytime of the day and night when I look at someone, would you consider me “happy”? Then between your happiness and my contentment there is no difference. I think in spiritual terminology what is called happiness is just this which I call contentment. I just prefer to call this one contentment because otherwise it creates confusions as to what to call “laughter”. I call “laughter” thing happiness and am against chasing it.

    You might also now understand how it is said that happiness comes from within. The same thing I call contentment. Happiness, for me, is but temporary insanity. No need for that, sure!

    Try to understand me, there. Hope you will.

  3. Once you have mentioned that your new “confusion” was/is to decide whether the purpose of life is then attaining happiness or saving the planet. Now I want to tell you, if humanity would understand that happiness, as I mean it, is really unnecessary and contentment, as I mean it, is the real thing and abides by it then there’s no need to save the planet. It will automatically be in the right state then. Because all the destruction is being effected out of the blind pursuit of “happiness” itself. Technology, why? Happiness. Sophistication, why? Happiness. Economy, why? Happiness. Luxuries, why? Happiness. All science, why? Happiness. So much humans have done for this so-called happiness but are they any more happy then those humans who lived 20000 years ago?? What is happiness then? Ripples. Keep throwing stones and experience the ripples for some time. What needs to be seen is that each stone thrown destroys the world gradually.

  4. no philosophy written by one man can completely fit another.in parts it may but never in full.its the same with morality.a general code of morality or the one that the system gives is got from various sources.what matters is deciding if the said event comes under morality for a person or not.doing something the same person calls immoral is sin.otherwise we might sit and debate with no results.free

  5. Darshan,

    Firstly, I have not yet been able to understand what you mean by the “real world”. If you mean, the absolute reality, then I have told, even if the Planet vanishes, it does not make any difference in the real world. Because real world does not have emotions the way we do. Nor do insects have emotions. I have not seen a mosquito moaning after a fellow mosquito dies.

    But anyway, even if you consider your sociale, humane life merely a game, then even that game has targets and methods. Within the framework of that game, you are required to take that decision. And that framework is morality. So, in simple words, the original question was, keeping in with your goals and methods of playing “in the game”, would you lie or tell the truth?

    Plus, you could never tell if your helping the girl would be better for the environment or the corrupt person. For all you know, the corrupt person using that money could buy insecticides and kill mosquitoes!! 😛

    Anyway, what Salk said could be true. BTW, he is a very prominent person in medical field. The vaccine he developed was the first one to be developed for poliomyelitis. And if my memory is not failing me, it was probably in 1954. But the problem is insects are not so easy to destroy.

    Also, you might have not realized, a few hundred species getting extinct is actually no big deal. What is the harm that was caused becasue of extinction of dodo? What really would be the harm if the tiger goes extinct?

    In fact in evolution, 99% of species that had ever come into existence are now extinct. Much before even humans had evolved.
    And for every species that goes extinct, new species or varieties develop, which are better adapted to co-exist with humans, so again that’s no big deal.

    The biomass remains constant.

    Well yes, greed has bad effects. It can be tackled by various means. But even animals are greedy. I know bullocks – if you place fodder before them, they keep on eating it as long as you keep it!

    With regard to happiness, I am extremely sure I am unimaginably happier than those living 20 thousand years back.
    Because what you have not factored in what you call mere comfort is lack of pain. Pain devoids humans of happiness. To give a whacky example. If someone is having orgasm, but on other hand you are cutting his/her thumb, the person won’t be able to feel happiness. Likewise, if someone has hunted a rabbit and is eating it, and besides him his son’s dead body is rotting because he died of malaria, that person would not be able to feel happiness. This sorrow felt on a near and dear one’s dying is inbuilt in birds and mammals. And because of science people are now dying much less frequently.

    Thanks for the elaborate comment and your distinction between happiness and content!

    Take care.

    soin,

    I think any of our decision or action, if it affects any other person directly or indirectly, falls under the purview of morality.

    And I do not think moralilty cannot be laid down in terms of principles and the bases behind them. Of course, one cannot draft a flow chart, but we do not need a flowchart! Yes, it’s a different matter that people might not be able to see the logic behind morality or might disagree on some of the principles. But if you see, major religions have had outrightly condemned a few common acts as immoral. So, there indeed is something very fundamental to morality, and that is human happiness.

    And am afraid, I couldn’t get your comment in entirety. Thanks! TC.

  6. Only one sentence and I am completely disinclined to say anything –

    With regard to happiness, I am extremely sure I am unimaginably happier than those living 20 thousand years back.

    Really think so?

  7. Yes Darshan, I really think so. 🙂 Why would I answer frivolously to question that I know is very significant in light of its impact on how I would like to live my life? So yes, though my answer is contradictory to what is correct according to you, I do think I am much, much, much happier than people of the past.

  8. Pingback: My first tag! « Neglected Serendipity

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