Morality, Rationality and Impartiality

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Morality as somehow involving rationality and impartiality received classic expression in philosophy of Kant who frankly speaks of "rational and impartial spectator" in contemplating the universal law. The overall aim of this paper is to
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  Morality, Rationality and Impartiality Mahmoud Khatami University of Tehran Abstract:  Morality as somehow involving rationality and impartiality received classic expression in philosophy of Kant who frankly speaks of “rational and impartial spectator” in contemplating the universal law. The overall aim of this paper is to show (1) that the idea of morality implies rationality and this will be reached at in refuting the moral scepticism; but (2) it does not necessarily indicates impartiality, since the justification of the principle of impartiality does not solve the problem of justifying particular moral  principles. I will start with the question “Why should we be moral?” and then turn to moral rationality to refute moral scepticism, finally the relationship between rational morality and the principle of impartiality will be reconsidered.  Keywords:  morality, rationality, impartiality, moral justification. I. The Idea of Morality Consider a person who has discovered a quick and sure way of getting rich. The prospects are great and he is tempted. Yet his conscience says “No, not that way”. He ignores his conscience. But he is prepared to reason with himself. He possesses the common knowledge of right and wrong. He sees that the way of getting rich he is contemplating is morally wrong. And yet his  judging it as morally wrong, by itself, does not provide him with a reason for refraining from pursuing it. Perhaps he is not already committed to living a moral life. He sees the moral point of view but he does not actually look at the world from a moral point of view. It will be an imposition upon him, I think, if we thought that his moral views nevertheless are simply those which ultimately manifest, or regularly show in his practical decisions. (Gert 2005; Gert, 1998) Since he is clearly wondering why one should live a moral life at all. Why should he do what he himself sees as morally right? FALSAFEH  Vol. 37, No. 1, Spring 2009, pp. 91-110    92 Morality, Rationality and Impartiality If morality provided the only way of deciding between right and wrong, then, perhaps there will be some point in saying that a reasonable being should normally do what he sees as right. But there are ways other than moral of judging what is right or wrong. Why should one commit oneself to morality? This question about the justification of morality has puzzled philosophers ever since the time of Plato, although since the time of Prichard’s  Moral Obligations  (1949), the search for an answer seems to have faded away. To the older philosophers the question itself was quite meaningful. (Tännsjö 1990; ch. 1) Their problem was mainly how morality in the end could be shown to be to one’s own advantage. They said, in general terms, what seems natural to say, that one should be moral because that is the way to get on with people. And getting on with people is important because as a member of a human community, happy and successful living requires that one should respect others and their rights, even though at times one is tempted to be ruthless and aggressively self-seeking; or, even better, that God takes morality seriously and although He seems to be a utilitarian in this world, He is most probably a retributivist in the other. What they said was essentially a prudential justification. This kind of justification, however, is thought to be ultimately unsatisfactory for various reasons. One obvious difficulty was to convince a person who believed that it is important to get on with others, but disbelieved that very often he could not get on with others and also get away with damaging their interests. If he were frequently successful in putting on masks and deceiving people in such a way that they did not even realize that they were deceived, he would see no reason to stick to morality. A person who says that he listens to the voice of prudence but not to that of conscience has, I think, to be taken seriously if he is prepared to reason about his position. And this he is, if he raises the question “Why should I be moral?” However, many philosophers have felt that a lot of moral philosophy rested on just this mistake; the older philosophy took the moral sceptic seriously. They think that the sceptic’s demand for a justification of morality is itself unjustified. It is suggested that ultimately there are only two types of reasons that can be given when one is required to justify   Mahmoud Khatami   93 his conduct, A) prudential reason in terms of self-interest, and B) moral reason. Now, the question “Why should I be moral?” cannot be interpreted as “Is being moral in my own interest?” since, as Hume observed, if the question “Is this right?” were the same question as “What is this to be?” it would seem very strange that this quite distinct way of speaking has emerged. Thus the sceptic’s question cannot be about his own interest nor can it be interpreted, for obvious reasons, as “Is there a moral reason for my being moral?” But, it is argued, if there are these two types of reason, the sceptic’s question itself must be illegitimate. (Bair 1995, 303 ff; Sinnott-Armstrong 2006; Superson 2009) Now I do not think that this type of argument is successful; mainly, because  prima facie , it does not seem to be true that there are only these two types of reason that could be given to  justify conduct. There certainly seem to be other types of reason; for instance, religious reason, in terms of a loving obedience to God. And I take it, without arguing for it, that it is to the essence of acting truly on religious reasons, that one should not ask why one should obey the will of God, even though religious preachers untiringly go on telling you that acting according to the precepts of religion is really to one’s own advantage. But even if one accepts that, as a matter of fact, we are aware only of two types of reason, it does not seem to follow that there cannot be any other type of reason. To think that it did would involve the simple fallacy of supposing that if we do not know of any other kind of reason then we do know that there cannot be any other kind of reason, for if there can be other kinds of reason why do we not know them? Surely one must allow for the possibility that entirely new concepts rnay be born to mankind. New sources of reason, new modes of thought can emerge and vanish from human consciousness. Even what passes in the name of moral reasons can be distinguished as belonging to different types of reason. One may look at the history of ideas to get support for this contention. For instance in the society reflected in the Homeric poems, as McIntyrel observes, the most important judgements that can be passed upon a man concern the way in which he discharges his allotted social function. Thus  94 Morality, Rationality and Impartiality for a Homeric nobleman to be agathos or good is to be brave and skilful, and to possess the wealth and leisure to develop these skills, etc. So, he is, in ordinary English use of good, “good, but not kingly, courageous, or cunning”. This makes perfectly good sense; but in Homer, “agathos” but not “kingly, courageous, or clever” would not even be a morally eccentric form of judgement, but as it stands simply an unintelligible contradiction. ( McIntyre, 1968, pp. 5-6) This observation is correct and what it amounts to is that for the Homeric nobleman the concept of morality was not a source of the same type of reasons as it is. Furthermore, I am not convinced that the question “Why should I be moral?” cannot be legitimately interpreted as “Does being moral pay? Prichard suggests that those, such as Plato, who thought that morality should be justified in this way, wrongly believed that advantageousness is a criterion of moral behaviour. (Prichard, 1968) But asking for the kind of justification in question does not necessarily require that morality itself should be conceived as being advantageous to the agent. What is being asked here is simply whether, as a matter of fact, being moral always or in the long run turns out to be, in some or other way, good for the agent. To give the criterion of moral behaviour itself will be to explain that form of behaviour, it will not necessarily justify it. However, the requirement of advantageousness is supposed to furnish the criterion which justifies to oneself one’s commitment to being moral. This is well expressed by Butler in his famous “cool hour” passage where he says that though virtue and moral rectitude is indeed founded on the conscience yet in a cool hour, when one reflects, one cannot justify to oneself acting in a way which is at least not contrary to one’s interests. The sceptic need not maintain that moral behaviour is directly aimed at the furtherance of self-interest, he only quires a justification of moral behaviour in terms of the satisfaction of self-interest. He would be satisfied if the answer were in the affirmative. But, it is argued, how could there be such a justification? For it is obvious that acting morally does not necessarily bring returns. Now, it is not clear to me how this shows that the demand for  justification itself is illegitimate.   Mahmoud Khatami   95 That there cannot be a prudential justification of morality need not worry the sceptic. He may reply: “indeed there cannot be such a justification. So you can’t really justify morality. Your answer to my question can only be, “you mostly ought to act morally, since that is the way to exist in a human society, but not always”. To this, however, it may be objected, as Griffiths(1957-58) does, that ‘to ask such a prudential question, and get such an answer, need disturb no one; it can throw no doubt on any moral principle”. Why? Because, to give a prudential answer “seems to contradict what we would say from a moral point of view. But of course it does not, since it is not a moral observation”. (Bittner & Talbot 1989, ch. 1) Now, the sceptic might admit this. Indeed the prudential answer is not a moral observation, since it is not an answer from a moral point of view. But his question is precisely why should he adopt the moral point of view? How is he bound to act for moral reasons? There cannot be moral reasons for adopting the moral point of view and prudential reasons are not compelling enough. So there aren’t any good reasons. But perhaps this does not sufficiently represent the force of Griffiths” argument. Perhaps the force of his argument rests in emphasizing the question “What sort of question is an egoist asking, when he asks why be moral?” If he asks a prudential question he gets a prudential answer. And it is not surprising that it does not satisfy him. But, Griffiths writes, “If the question is not prudential: if the questioner accepts some rules of behaviour other than prudential: then what sort of question is it? What sort of rules does the questioner accept? What kind of reasoning would satisfy him? Unless the questioner can give us the answer he is demanding, give us examples of the kind of reasoning he is asking us to produce, then his question is empty, pointless and meaningless. It has no use (for him)”. This argument is powerful, but is it convincing? It seems to me doubtful that the egoist who asks for a good reason for being moral must know what kind of reasoning would satisfy him. The egoist’s enquiry is innocent not rhetorical. One cannot simply reply to him: “if you do not know what kind of reasoning would satisfy you then I do not know how to answer you”. One cannot let the matter rest at that, for the ignorance of two put together
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