My Confusion about Moral Philosophy
Something about the academic discussion about moral philosophy always confused me, probably this is a more general point about philosophy as such. Historically people tried to arrive towards truths about objects. One used to ask questions like what is right or wrong. Then one started to ask what the definition of right and wrong could be. One could call that Platonism. There is the idea of truth and the game is won by defining the idea of truth, a chair or a human in a satisfying way. I claim the opposite is true. You can define an object or an idea and the definition of the idea makes the idea to a useful entity which one can develop further. At least this would be the right way to philosophies in my opinion. Something similar is done in mathematics too to my knowledge. Axioms seem to be the beginning. On a few axioms in math all theorems and all sentences seem to be built upon. Change the axioms or subvert them then one would end up with a totally different system of mathematics, with different theorems and sentences most likely. However the main difference in this analogy is that we know of the axioms in mathematics to be true on an intuitive level. That’s the unique difficulty of philosophy. We do not seem to have axioms in philosophy. We could however make a somewhat reasonable assumption that if one of the foundational axioms will prove wrong the system of mathematics might entangle itself in contradictions or at least in some inconsistencies. Historically this did. in fact happen. To give an historical example there was a Fundation crisis of mathematics in the second half of the 19. century and in the early 20. century. Therefore one could argue that the same could happen to philosophy once philosophy is evolved enough. Now I will explain my confusion about moral philosophy.
Moral philosophy seems to me to be a judgement about once own utility function. You can basically choose if you care more about being just to people, maximizing their utility or doing what is regarded as honorable by your peers. You can choose if you want to include animals, plants or just humans in your considerations. There does not seem to be a right answer in the sense that a right answer would have a special pair of attributes. In the usual academic discussion of utilitarianism, deontological ethics or virtue ethics there will always appear something that makes a theory problematic, therefore one will abstain from fully committing to one of the mentioned systems, of which their are of course several different versions. What confuses me a bit is that those problems will change anyone’s mind. A strict utilitarian will necessarily get in conflict with some considerations of justice. That should not surprise someone because if one started deciding to be utilitarian one defined a scope about things one will care and about which things one will not care. The true reasons one might be uncomfortable with the implications of the trolley problem is that one violates his utility function which precisely does not care about the academic discussion of it, but cares about the felling of guilt and shame. Morality is motivated by our feelings and our philosophy about it is just an attempt to make or feelings that evolutionary evolved consistent. The rational way to deal with once morality seems therefore for me to be to just make sure one minimizes guilt, shame and maximizes the pleasure that helping others will give most people. If one assumes that we can not control our moral sentiments or do away with it, we could have a inconsistent moral system without compromising our rationality. Because it’s inconsistency contributes to our moral enjoyment and minimizes our moral suffering.
At the beginning I described mathematics. And I described that it’s foundations relies on Axioms. It seems to me that one could describe a whole school of thought in philosophy on the foundation of rationality. Instead of asking in moral philosophy what is right to do? Which is determined by vague notions of right. One could ask what is rational to do? Rationality is far easier to define and inconsistencies can exist as long a consistency with the idea of rationality is present. This will of course not end the discussion about moral philosophy, but could show that it isn’t as relevant for humans to a certain extent. This mode of thinking could be extended to other fields too. For example to politics. Instead of concerning oneself in political philosophy to such an large extent on legitimation questions one could concern oneself more about what rational legislators or governments should do. Rationality of a government could even play a part in legitimizing it.