Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Revaluation of All Values

So I'm going to start another series. This one is about morality - how do we think about it? How do we account for it? How does it affect our behavior?. My provisional to the first question: thinking about morality is about finding common ground and respecting difference.

And boy, there's a long of difference to be had. What is morality? There's a long list of standard answers. Some say it's an ontological issue - morality is woven into the fabric of existence. That would be natural law. Others say it is a question of responsibility to an Other, either a natural (people, animals, etc) or a supernatural (God) Other. Others relegate morality to a subsection of practical reason; Ayn Rand objectivists think morality helps us attain material goals. Still others - well, Nietzsche, basically - say morality is a power struggle between the strong and the weak.

How do we choose between moral paths? How do we judge what is "right" and what is "wrong"? Some will say it is an intellectual exercise. You have to figure out what is right. Others will say it is inborn - somewhere within us all, we know what is "right." Others will mix morality with aesthetics, saying that the good is also the beautiful. And then Nietzsche comes along and says it's whatever increases your power.

I think there is one common denominator among every last statement concerning morality - they are all valuations. Everytime someone makes a statement about morality, they are making a value judgment. X is more important/valuable than Y. For example, a certain brand of Christian will argue that every human being has a responsibility to God for their actions. This necessarily includes a valuation - it decides that fulfilling this responsibility is somehow important. The Nietzschean view also involves a valuation - increasing power is important. The other views all have their own versions.

Here's the thing about valuations: they are all personal. Individuals can find value in just about any ridiculous thing, and nearly anything can be insignificant. For example, I could never value the authority of an army officer for its own sake; another person would literally die before violating that authority.

No matter what statements one can make about ontology, their significance to any given individual is governed by how they interact with that person's imago (the "me" I am trying to be). If moral statement X is somehow woven into reality, that is a moot point to a person if this statement does not assist the person pursue or justify their imago.

This in itself is a refutation of the pathetically common apologist claim that there is no "meaning or value" in life without Christianity. The simple and easily observable fact that non-Christians do find satisfaction in life is enough to refute this claim to exclusivity. As I've said before, the only humans that haven't found something to truly value are the ones that commit suicide. To the extent that you aren't considering suicide is the extent that you've found value and significance in life. Even if you can't articulate exactly what it is that you've found, you've still found something.

You can, of course, argue that the things that non-Christians value aren't really valuable. You're welcome to try, but this is just as futile and stupid as telling a comics collector that Action Comics #1 is a rag that should be tossed out. That comic can be sold for ridiculous amounts because someone values it. The fact that others do not value it has no bearing on its value for the collector. It's the same with everything else: just because something is significant to you doesn't mean that it isn't beneath notice for something else.

Even people who claim to discard all morality are still making a valuation; they are valuing their own individuality.

So that's the common denominator of all moral statements. That's just to crack open this issue. More later.

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