Morality, Norms and after midnight hallucinations!


It’s been a while when I started the search for the Morality question that lead me in a way or another to norms. As a starter, it was hard for me to accept that right and wrong can be subjective, relative and contextualized. That Einstein’s relativity law can be applied to something like morals! Or as Roger Scruton says: “In argument about moral problems, relativism is the first refuge of the scoundrel.

In the ancient Greek methodology, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to Artemis in order to allow his ships to sail to Troy. A man would throw himself into fire to rescue a child or a cat, or more common in our context, an activist would defy the authorities and go against all odds for an idea or a principle he believes in and think it is right! Can such acts be analyzed using reason!

Voltaire said “I hate what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. One would argue that the society is built on the self-interest of individual people, that social norms is that silent code of conduct that everyone agrees to as long as it is aligned with their interests. That this collective good is made sometimes against self-interest but with the illusion that it was made for the major good, or based on Bentham’s utilitarianism that based on the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.

Now is this utilitarianism or the collective good is the right and moral thing? Back to the relativism question, this collective good can never have a full consensus from people not to mention that it will not always reflect the interest of the majority. The history is filled with stories about how this can be imposed by certain authorities like the communists who valued the police state and controlled every aspect of their people’s lives or when they creating the individual infallible leader image that was imitated by our Arab countries! The imperialists who invaded other countries and conquered it by force and violence under the name of spreading democracy and social justice! To name less of course.

In Dostoyevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment”, was guilt and regret the reason Raskolnikov confessed his murder! Was it his conscience that couldn’t hold the weight of his actions! Was it the delusion of the unusual person that he failed to maintain what made him end up in Siberia! Mere conscience would not lead a moral man to do good, to go against the mind and choose the right thing without any calculations. It is what makes violent murderers in jails maintain high values and morals where they can’t betray each other’s trust and be courageous and never cheat!

So talking about moral obligation, what makes us do right things, sacrifice and go against reason and mere logic! Is it our selfishness, the need to be perfect, to achieve self-values and idealizations? Henri Bergson starts his argument with “Why did we obey?” rather than “Why should we obey? According to him one source of moral obligation is social pressure and therefore, social morality is at best is a pressure!

I do believe that Morals are an internal act as Ali Izzat Bigovic stated in his book “Islam between East and West” and I would disagree with John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism that argues that morality has two sources that are internal from what is called “conscience” or “super ego” or “Nafs ul Lawwaama” or from being raised in a high moral family and an external act that is enforced by law. Was Bergson correct at least with that assumption? I believe as Bigovic said that enforcement is against freedom and freedom is an essential part of morality. Without freedom there is no moral act, it’s just a social code of conduct and traditions that been practiced over the years and formed our culture.

So the question is still up, what defines moral acts, what gives it its virtue and collective consensus that is the right thing to do! To be continued in another hallucinations!

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