A paper prepared for presentation to the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics XVII Washington, D.C. January 25-26, 1996
(The views presented herein are entirely those of the author, and
do not repres ent the official position of the United States Army Logistics
Management Colleg e, the United States Army, or the Department of Defense.)
Visions of Faith
If morality is determined by religion, then to Christians, are Muslims immoral? What about a Baptists moral view of Catholicism, or a Seventh Day Adv entists moral judgment of Presbyterianism? If you are Jewish, what is your moral view of Muslims, and if you are Muslim, lets examine the immorality of Hindu ism. Now, of course, if you are Hindu, just what do those Buddhist's think they are doing...?
The tying of morality to a religious belief or faith has dangerous connotations particularly in a secular, open society. Could a devout member of religion A be subordinate to a believer of religion X if a tenet of A is that followers of X are, at their core, immoral. Pincoffs asserts morality should not lean too heavily on religious belief:
Religious belief is, in an open society, a society that encourages critica l reflection, a notoriously fragile structure. Many reflective persons come to disavow it. But such persons are better off if their realizations that they no longer are believers is not the occasion of a moral crisis--a crisis that arises only if their motivation to be moral arises solely from religious sources.
The linking of morality to religious beliefs creates, by definition, not only moral relativism, but quickly degenerates any discussion into religious relativism. While comparative religion is an interesting topic in its own right, it generally becomes divisive. While a high percentage of Americans respond they have religious faith, the underlying basis of what they believe, much less why, is at best tenuous, and hardly establishes a common ground for constructive inquiry and discussion. It also follows, of course, if morality is an extension of religious belief, it cannot be taught in public schools.
No less worse is basing ethics or morality on ones culture. Cultural relativism can be just as divisive as religion. I can do X, Y, or Z because my culture says I can, appears to becoming the in excuse these days for all types of antisocial behavior: e.g. gang culture or drug culture. This pretext of absolution has even caught the attention of Judith Martin, a.k.a. "Miss Manners". Everything is culture: city culture; small town culture; country culture; African-American culture, Irish-American culture, Asian-American culture; Native-American culture. Everybody these days has their own culture.
One of the most fundamental variables defining a culture is its language. Common communication is essential for a culture. Studies have consistently shown that the United States is one of, if not the most monolingual of developed nations. The majority of people claiming membership to the cultures cited above fail to qualify. They speak American English. They may have a dialect, but they share only one single language. They were born in this country, educated in American schools, learned U.S. history, and have probably never visited the prefix origin of their ______-American culture. Legitimate arguments may be raised, in some instances, for a sub-culture, but a unique, identifiable, segregative culture imbuing the self proclaimed member with unique moral rights?---NO. If morality is so transitory and relative, then the term multicultural society is an oxymoron.
Syndicated columnist, George Will, in his May 1994 commencement address to the College of William and Mary asked, "Why should honor and respect accrue to accidents of birth? Honor should flow to individuals because of their attainments of intellectual and moral excellence---not merely because of any membership in any group." He attacked what he called the "post-modern" idea that facts do not exist apart from the biases and traits of the people who hold them and that no idea or other "cultural product" is more legitimate than any other. He warned that the "virtues of reason and persuasion" are being replaced by politics of "a peculiar and unwholesome kind: identity politics--that people are shaped by their race, ethnicity, sex or class and not by convictions arrived at th rough reason." (emphasis mine).
Emile Durkheim viewed a society as a conscience collective. That is to say its members all share a system of beliefs and sentiments which define how the ir mutual relations ought to be. This conscience collective is internalized by the societys members through values and norms to such an extent that they constitute a moral authority. Such authority, through guilt arousal, conforms the behavior of individuals to those values and norms. Now, while Durkhiem believe d society (strongly influenced by religion) was the source and end of morality, he did recognize a problem with this. Pressures within a complex society may lead to a sense of alienation or anomic uncertainty arising from conflicting expectations. Talcott Parsons focused Durkhiems view on what he calls institutionalized individualism": that a person or persons perceive pressure to be independent, to be greater than the pressure to conform, that they reject normative values essential to a stable society.
Put another way, it is erroneous to assume the acceptance of the concept of the United States being the Great Melting Pot, creating a stronger whole from the diversity of its members. Not only is it no longer true, but the very opposite seems to be actively occurring: Differences between our citizens, be they real, pseudo-cultural, substantial or insignificant are being used as catalysts to stratify the melting pot. Commonalties of our society are being ignored in favor of differences. Accentuation of diversity over, and at the cost of, commonality is dangerous and destructive to a society, not constructive. George Will concluded his commencement address by warning this very situation could lead to a tribal society where differences become more important than common ideas:
In an interview discussing his new book, Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America's Culture War, sociologist James D. Hunter sees an America increasingly diverse and divided: unable to agree on central definitions of life, family and freedom. Fragmentation is increasing and conflict breeds conflict:
What's at stake are the most basic issues that have to do with life, liberty, and who's part of the community and who isn't.
Hunter's research, conducted through interviews and analysis of national surveys found people rooted in their beliefs (e.g. abortion), but unable to explain the reasoning behind them:
The most striking thing about those conversations is that while people feel very strongly, they don't think very deeply...with the result...people are arguing with phantoms, not over the facts of the legal dispute. So instead of having serious debates, the groups systematically distort each others messages through inflammatory statements and emotional displays...
The media fans the flames: the greater the fractious protest, the more coverage it gets, albeit superficial soundbites. The public shares the fault by failure to demand substantive discussion, especially from its elected leaders. So abundant is sound bite commentary and "info-tainment", the author sees the public overwhelmed and increasingly apathetic:
...our ideals become a shallow democracy, a veneer for power politics. What made the democratic experiment work was a historically contingent set of agreements on the nature of public and private life. But those agreements are falling apart.
Democracy: The worst form of Government...
...Until you look at all the others--- is a familiar quip to students of political science. Given this quip, perhaps our form of representative democracy is really the "worst". Lincoln is credited with stating:
You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people al l of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time..
To "Lincoln's Law", I propose two corollaries:
Seeking and holding an elected office is an expensive proposition. The complexities of modern issues do not lend themselves today's "sound bite" expediency of campaigning. Remember our first corollary : A politician doesn't require the support of "The People": merely one more vote than his rivals on election day is sufficient. Isolate the historical voter, grab for the emotive issues (regardless of substance), take the moral high ground, cast your opponent as immoral, make as few commitments as possible (at least regarding anything you could possibly be held accountable for), raise as much money as possible---and just maybe you'll get elected. Actually, following "election reform", pandering for money and voter support is far easier thanks to political action committees (PACs). Pick the PACs with the money and the votes, follow the above rules and you're off to becoming a politician. To hold office, remember who and what you represent---at least as long as their money and ability to generate votes vis-`-vis others, holds out.
Politics is an ice jam of accusation and obstruction, the hardest vulgarians honored for their cynicism, its good men fleeing to tend private gardens... In the freest country on the planet, democratic political campaigns are a ghas tly joke. The ideal candidate is a cipher, devoid of personal history. The handlers write the scripts, build the drama, concoct the spin, and get famous themselves.
A cynical view of political life? Just remember the level of esteem politicians hold within the general public as measured by opinion poll after opinion poll. Americas political cartoonists appear to reflect the same cynicism. So why does it continue? Perhaps, because the majority of Americans do notvote. Remember our second corollary.
Parties of God
So, who does vote? Does the discipline and commitment to attend church on Sunday (not to mention give monetary contributions) correlate to the discipline and commitment required to vote and financially support political "causes"? Apparently career politicians think so. The religious right is on a roll and many a politician are "re-inventing" themselves to court their favor. At least half of the previously cited Economist article is dedicated to the increasing political influence of religion in America. Particular attention is given to the religious right and their "moral" agenda. The Christian Coalition
...boasts 1.6M members and a dominant voice among Republicans in perhaps 1 8 states. It has money, grassroots lobby power and, whatever its real ability to sway voters, a lot of influence over Republican politics.
The Christian Coalition aided: in the defeat of President Clinton's health care reforms; the Republican victories in November 1994; and spent more than $ 1M to support Speaker Gingrich's "Contract with America". The bill is now being called due. The Coalition has its own "Contract with the
American Family" and has, at least, the support of the new, sixty member Congressional Family Caucus, created to "restore the traditional values of family and faith". Coalition is not, however, synonymous with consensus:
Some 80 representatives of a broad spectrum of religious groups responded to the Christian Coalition's "contract" by signing and delivering to Congress a "Cry for Renewal", which affirmed the desirability of injecting moral direction into the political process but deplored the Coalition's means. "The almost total identification of the Religious Right with the new Republican majority in Washington is a dangerous liaison of religion with political power," they said. "We testify that there are other visions of faith and politics in the land."
The article concludes by noting this is not the first time "religious leaders have ventured controversially into the political breach", but what is unique is "this time religious values themselves are at the heart of the argument" and it threatens to be "extremely divisive":
The people who worry aloud about the country's shortage of moral values are part of the process that will probably ensure that the culture ["religiosity"] continues to thrive. Unless, that is, they go too far and attempt to impose rules based on a certain set of beliefs on everyone. Then the culture of belief clashes with another culture that runs even deeper in America: the culture of freedom.
It would indeed appear that the establishment of "a morality", both within, and for, a diverse society, based on either religious belief or a culture (especially when the term is misused---note its application in the previously cited paragraph alone) is inadvisable. Remember, according to Durkheim, "morality" is a fundamental part of the conscience collective required to have a society. "Morality" today, in our multicultural society, would appear to be a "conscience divisive". Utilizing both Durkeim's and Parson's terminology, the question becomes: How can a conscience collective regarding normative values essential for a stable society be formulated?
Ethics vs. Morality
The construction of ethical rules, codes or principles generated through the power of reason, vice religious instruction, divine revelation, or cultural heritage, is, of course, nothing new. The ability to do so in a universal manner, however, continues to be debated. Whether one is a proponent of ethical reductionism or prefers a nonreductive, virtue approach to ethics, the singular problem of gaining public acceptance still remains. To be effective an ethical system must be a universally understood and adopted public system (within a given society) with primacy over the "moral" systems generated by the "cultures" and religions which make up that society. The terminology constructed thus far in this discussion reduces the justification of ethical primacy over morality to the classic conflict of Reason vs. Faith.
Reason vs. Faith
The arguments of reason vs. faith or philosophy vs. religion have provided a rich history of contemplative discussion. In the Christian tradition, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote to explain the compatibility of philosophy and religion. He held in their appropriate relationship, Man begins with an exercise of reason. Furthermore, Man's relationship to Man is governed by Jus Natural (Natural Law--implanted by the Creator) which is discernible to Man by reason. Ethics is derived by Man's practical reason. This Natural Law Ethic is both universal and general. When it is particularized for different situations, it is Jus Civile. In the Jewish tradition, Maimonides (1135-1204), in his Guide to the Perplexed, wrote similarly that philosophy, properly understood, left room for religion. Ethics requires action in universal terms and reasoning leads to the universal. Imagination, however, is required to relate the universal to the particular.
Leaders of the community, therefore, require the ability to combine reasoning with imagination.
Their arguments are similar. They both were heavily influenced by the works of Aristotle, knowledge of which they did not receive directly from his writing. Both their knowledge of Aristotelian philosophy and the very arguments th ey make came from the translations and interpretations of the great Islamic philosophers Al-Farabi (?-950) and Avicenna (980-1037). Three major religions, at odds through the centuries, all espouse the importance of Man's reasoning ability, and how it is compatible with religion.
All are in agreement, that through the power of reason, man is able to discern some type of natural law ethic. Later philosophers, Thomas Hobbes being one of the most notable, believed that reason provided the only means by which natural law could be derived. Why then does the primacy of an ethics of reason over religious tenets become important? Probably because these religions have been at odds over the centuries, not to mention factions within each persecuti ng and killing each other with equal merry abandon. The history of such fanatical factionalism lead to the doctrine of Erastianism (Thomas Erastus) which held that the state should be supreme in both religious and civil matters. Again, Hobbes, in Leviathan, evokes this doctrine. Contemporarily speaking, lacking the Leviathan of Communism, the Balkans' ignominiously ignited in a fervor of " faithful" fanaticism.
The juxtaposition of two literal raison detres of the United States, clear ly shows both what our founders wanted, and did not want in a government. The Declaration of Independence, evokes the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God", and self evident truths relative to the equality of men and "certain unalienable Rights". The Constitution, on the other hand, expressly states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the fre e exercise thereof". Our country clearly did not seek to establish a "conscience collective" based in religion, but instead, sought the "laws of nature". Pantaetius (180-110 B.C.) saw the development of reason within man an implication of a universal humanism. Can this universal humanism be the foundation of the universal terms of required actions constituting ethics as discussed by Maimonides, the basis of Aquinian natural law, as well as the practical science/philosophy of ethics of Al-Farabi and Avicenna? Can reason alone establish a conscience collective sufficiently universal enough to override cultural and religious bias?
Man has been contemplating the nature and application of Ethics for centuries. Approaches vary from discussions of the theoretical nature of good and evil (meta-ethics) to the establishment of systems to aid in making decisions regarding good and evil (normative ethics). An intellectually persuasive normative system is, of course, difficult to construct unless you have grounded it in some type of meta-ethical framework. Therefore many ethical approaches are blends of each. As noted previously, there are many diverse approaches to ethics. Whether one is a proponent of ethical reductionism or prefers a nonreductive, virtue approach to ethics, the singular problem of gaining public acceptance still remains. After all, since "ethics" has been separated from "morality" due to our dichotomy (i.e. it is no longer the "Will of God", or the "Way of Our People") a normative system must be justified.
Edmund L. Pincoffs is an advocate of non-reductionism in ethics. He states:
Ethical theories are commonly supposed to have justificatory powers, to provide alternative ways of showing what is right or wrong, good or bad. If some one has doubts about what to do or approve, theory is ideally not merely helpful but also authoritative. It can guide us firmly to the right answer, and we can rely on its verdict, barring factual uncertainties and mistakes of logic, be cause it starts from principles that we may accept as unshakable. They are, we may say, truisms: to deny them would be in some way absurd or even impossible. What this usually amounts to is that no one who wishes to deny them can at the same time be "rational".
While Pincoffs does not question the existence of "moral truisms", he does question their justificatory usage in advancing ethical theory. If something is a truism, then by definition it requires no justification.
Where is the justification to end but in truisms? But then, how are we to understand the relationship between justificatory ethical theories and these truisms? Do the theories claim to justify the truisms? But how can a truism be justified? Are the truisms from which the theoretical justifications start in some way more fundamental than these truisms? How can that be?
Pincoffs also objects to the "prima facia duties" approach of W. D. Ross : No order or rank to the list is given; where does it end; how many are there?
What is wanted is a common characteristic of morally acceptable actions, policies, and so forth. What we are given is a set of characteristics, with notable of instructions indicating how they are to be related to one another. It is not terribly helpful, it may be felt, to be told that for an action, and, so on, to be morally acceptable it must be just or kind--whatever. Finally we want of a theory is that it give us a formula for determining what to do...
Because of such short comings, Pincoffs proceeds to advance a system of virtue based ethics concentrating on qualities of character. In so doing, however, he seems to side step many of the criticisms he levels at other approaches. While many of his criticisms have validity against the authors he cites, it does not mean a reductionist approach to establish a "bedrock" (his term) foundation of ethics is flawed. Bernard Gert, in perhaps the paradigm of reductionism , develops both an ethical theory and an ethical system. [NOTE: Gert uses the term "moral" as opposed to "ethics". In keeping with the dichotomy of this paper, I (except for direct quotes) will use "ethics" since his system is based on reason, not religion and/or culture]. Gert also addresses and incorporates the concepts of virtues and character addressed by Pincoffs.
Gert's system is well thought out and meticulously developed. He first accomplishes an analysis of ethics, rationality, good and evil, ethical rules and ideals, impartiality as well as demonstrates how these concepts interrelate. Gert then constructs and justifies a system which consists of ethical rules and ideals with a process for determining when it is ethically acceptable to violate an ethical rule as well as explain why people may disagree on ethical judgments.
Morality is a public system that applies to all rational persons insofar as their behavior affects others, its goal is the minimization of evil suffered, and the moral rules form a central part of it. A justified moral system is on e that all impartial rational persons, using only those beliefs that are shared by all rational persons, would advocate adopting as a public system that applies to all rational persons...as a guide to their conduct and as a basis for making judgments on the conduct of others.
Attachment #1 is a partial excerpt of Gert's own summary of his ethical system. What I find interesting is the high degree of commonality between Gert's Moral Rules and the ten "Core Ethical Principles" utilized by the Josephson Institute of Ethics (Attachment #2) and the near identical "Primary Ethical Values" (Attachment #3) found in Chapter 12, Section 5 of The Joint Ethics Regulati on (JER, DoD 5500.7-R). The Core Ethical Principles were not generated through rigorous ratiocination, as were Gert's "Moral Rules", but were instead, generated via consensus by thousands of people through surveys and discussions. I have personally instructed well over a thousand students using a similar methodology with results which also consistently "validate" the acceptance of these core ethical principles.
The breadth and scope of the "Moral Rules" are often narrower than the Core Ethical Principles (Caring/Compassion; Respect for Others and particularly Pursuit of Excellence could be interpreted as "Ideals" within Gert's system). However, I believe the "Moral Rules" succeed in forming Pincoffs' elusive "bedrock" upon which the Core Ethical Principles can be firmly constructed. Attachment #4 illustrates my correlation's. Only the Pursuit of Excellence principle lacks a clear correlation. Given the apparent "face validity" (acceptance through consensus by samples of the general public) combined with their firm grounding (9 of 10) in an ethics based in reason as opposed to culture or religion, I suggest that the nine Core Ethical Principles which correlate to Gert's Moral Rules can be used to establish a conscience collective upon which normative values essential for a stable society can be created.
Unity, Commonality, & Limited Tolerance
To create a universal ethic, "the great need is consensus, not acrimony." As stated, these ethical principles have already demonstrated an acceptability consensus. As principles, they offer little a rational citizen could object to: they violate no religious or cultural tenet of which I am aware. In fact, as principles, they are espoused by the major religions I have, albeit by no means exhaustively, studied. Now, these religions, particularly their fundamental sects, may choose to add to the list, but this would defeat the purpose. As principles, they establish a general baseline of agreement from which the ethical propriety of actions, conduct, policy, programs, plans, etc., can be intelligently/rationally discussed. As principles, they succeed in obtaining universal "buy-in" from the general public.
Tolerance of diverse views under this ethical system is not, however, universal or unlimited. Actions which are not in accordance, i.e. violate any principle of this system or its guide of implementation, cannot be tolerated. It is the conscience of the collective society which will ultimately decide the acceptability of violations done by the individual. The individual, in accordance with the principle of Accountability, must publicly allow his decision/action to be so judged and willingly accept the consequences. Exceptions based upon a religious or cultural practice or belief may not be a justified excuse.
Saint Aquinas wrote that reason can take some men further than others. What one man can reason, others will have to take on faith. The Core Ethical Principles are an example of this statement. Some people can derive and/or understand their derivation by reasoning--others can not, or could care less. For them, their acceptance, through consensus, of the principles is sufficient. But, in moving from general acceptance to particular application, imagination is required. Remembering Maimonides, leaders require the ability to combine reasoning with imagination.
Leaders, simply put, are people who lead, not divide. Today, we have public figures/officials occupying positions of leadership who are dividers, not leaders. Face it, it is easier to divide and conquer: to pit group against group for personal power and aggrandizement. Far more difficult is the path which seeks to unite the diverse into a common whole: e pluribus unum, from the many, one. Yet, this is the way of true leadership.
True leaders require the imaginative reasoning skills to use the ethical principles as both a tempering agent and catalyst: a tempering agent which melds and forges constructive differences into an alloy far stronger than any singl e element and as a catalyst to remove divisive impurities of self-interest, sectarianism, bigotry and hatred which weaken the common bonds of community.
There is nothing special to leadership---essentially it is a matter of controlling the evils of biased information and autocracy. Do not just go by whatever is said to you first---then the obsequities of petty people seeking favor will not be able to confuse you.
After all, the feelings of a group of people are not one, and objective reason is hard to see. You should investigate something to see its benefit or harm, examine whether it is appropriate and suitable or not; then after that you may carry it out.
Zen Master Caotang Song Dynasty
If the leader honors virtue, the students will value reverence and respect. If the leader acts properly, the students will be ashamed to be greedy and competitive. If the leader is lax and thereby loses face, then the students will become scornful and rowdy, an impediment...If the leader gets into a dispute and lose s composure, then the students will be quarrelsome, a calamity...leaders cause people who behold them to be transformed without even being instructed.Zen Master Goan Song Dynasty
Wisdom, benevolence and courage: these are the three universal virtues. Confucius A true leader requires:
--to have reasoned recognition of the transcendent nature of the core ethical principles to all other personally held beliefs regarding human i nteraction;
--to have the imagination required to fairly and consistently applied