If there ever was a man in possession of a “pure” reason, it has to be Socrates: it only spoke to him once, saying all it could ever say: “I know that I know nothing”. Ask a computer a moral question, or, to be really cliché, the meaning of life, and it will use its only tool, logic, to give the most reasonable answer thinkable: silence.
Giving reason a decisive part illuminators (and especially Kant, as the last spark of the dying era) have condemned philosophy to be locked inside the artificial concepts, which do not exist but in the “program code” of such a subtle though imperfect and unexplored machine as human brain, linked not only with chemistry of the body, but also with mental viruses of society. “The pure reason” was never more than an ideal, and today it is a lie, and it cannot be any more than this. The result is laughable: we claim to be rational without any conscientious effort to use our reason. It does not transcend our nature; it is part of our nature – and only a part.
In trying to fit – or should I say cram – everything into the domain of reason, we make the concepts vulgar and unappealing, but our reason is no connoisseur – it will eat the ugliest things. When attempting to develop, prove and express right and wrong by reason, one has added something which was never there, and removed the whole essence which one’s reason cannot touch. Lofty ideas of justice, good, evil and duty belong to the courtroom – or the classroom – not to the individual; their basis come from a different source than reason. We have misunderstood the order; such ideas are not part of the domain of reason – it is the other way around.
Be honest: when helping a person who fell in front of you, is it not automatic – or some pressing sense that you have to do it? When not giving a rude person a proper smack in the face, is it not from some inexplicable restraint within – some feeling that you cannot do it, just because it is wrong? – There is no categorical imperative, no methodical proof by logic and reasoning that this is what you should do. “If killing is allowed, society will degenerate and disintegrate, and there will be nothing keeping anyone from killing you, and this outcome is not desirable. Therefore killing should not be allowed”. Is it not rude and crude, a direct insult and lie, to claim that there is such a procedure preceding every, indeed any, action of Man, belonging to a moral choice? Kant’s famous ‘proof’ that lying is wrong, is a proof of nothing more than how far removed the rationalistic view of morality is from the actual nature of our judgment and action. Ecce machina.
Most of our endeavours into this abstract realm has been backwards: we have the conclusion and the conviction, and we seek to justify them by reason, but our reason works on the foundation from which our conviction comes from – from the conviction itself. The result: “Why does opium cause sleep? – because of its soporific power”. To repeat myself: we already have the conviction, it lies far deeper than our reason – beyond our reason – and we do not care to change it, disprove it or remove it; it is far too ingrained and obvious to be put into words, too be seen; it does not belong to these senses. All we want, since we are “rational” beings, is to find some justification, some explanation – any and all. Our reason will eat the ugliest things.
Illustrations are always simplification, and I’ll make no exception to the rule. I once observed a discussion on capital punishment. A woman argued that capital punishment is wrong because it is wrong to kill. The man argued that capital punishment can be necessary and is tolerable because it can be morally acceptable to kill in certain cases. Suffice to say the discussion did not go very well for each side thought the other irrational: if killing is always wrong, the only rational conclusion is that capital punishment is wrong; if killing can be acceptable under some circumstances, one may argue that capital punishment may be allowed. The foundation from which their reason worked did not correspond, and so they could never agree – and this foundation was never touched upon. Here the foundation was clear, but this is rarely the case – but even when it is in plain sight, we fail to see it.
When the moral choice does not proceed by automatism, and we have to think; to ask our reason, what does it say? “It is wrong to do it”, “it is wrong not to do it”. It only refers to a basis which it does not question; which most individuals hardly can imagine questioning; which they cannot fathom being questionable – reason works from this basis much like the mathematician works from axioms and definitions. This is why two perfectly reasonable, by common standards (that is, completely unreasonable), individuals can be utterly unable to comprehend each other – the foundation from which they work do not correspond, and from one’s foundation the other’s opinion will be completely irrational and illogical, and vice-versa, and for each, the foundation is so ‘natural’ that it does not even occur to their consciousness.
What else could reason work from than this ‘foundation’? Already with Hume did it become clear that one cannot rationally, with logic, make any statement of the morality of any action – indeed any statement about morality at all. Having given the most reasonable answer possible, he could unfortunately not leave the matter at nothing, and had to remark that this does not really matter, since we seem to be endowed by nature with a sense of morality, which we follow.
Here Hume, and all who has thought like him – they are many – made a huge misstep! The nature of Man is dynamic. The ant is born with a full set of instincts regarding his whole behaviour, and does everything according to this set of rules from day one. The instincts of human are of a different kind; not only are we born with some personal, dynamic, sense of morality and behaviour, but also with an instinct to form society, and primarily to conform – an instinct of society.
But society is also dynamic, for Man possesses tools with which to shape it – intelligence and creation. It is from these two dynamic sources, both society and the personal sense of behaviour, none of them as fixed as the ants’, that morality comes from. The previous and current societies have suppressed the personal source – and herein lies their biggest flaw. There are two elements of Man, individual and social – this is clear, for no two people are completely the same in mindset, while at the same time each society is greatly homogenous. The aforementioned foundation differs at some levels from society to society, and so these parts rarely belongs to the individual – and certainly not to reason. In the personal scale reason is also a secondary point – for the main part of individual is subconscious and the only role or reason is its extraction.
The rights and wrongs that seem common to all humans and are thus taken to be part of our nature, or in other words a common part of the personal source, like “thou shalt not kill”, cannot they be equally well explained as coming from society? Indeed, history and present provides ample examples of killing being considered less wrong, or even right, if the victim does not belong to the society. How could there possibly have developed a society in which the mindset of the individuals allowed indiscriminate killing and rampant theft and vandalism? Such a society would collapse even before it formed.
An essential feature of all morality that truly is common to all humans that it is a necessity for the existence of the society. It is not until modern time that killing itself has been wrong: usually it was only the killing of certain people, the proper citizens of the society. And indeed, the idea of the intrinsic value of human life regardless of race, society and culture is just part of the mindset of some societies. It is an idea that has slowly developed over time, and still most people differentiate between people of different societies and races, even if this differentiation is not conscious and does not exist as an idea: it exists as a psychological phenomenon.
The rights and wrongs of the personal source therefore remains to some extent a mystery, since societies have been so suppressing of it. The only criteria of the personal verity is personal actualisation – and does not the latter manifest through the reason, but not by it? Can the morality then not also be verified on the personal level, if only we could put the omnipresent reason in its initial place? For morality should not be the bound of either individual or social freedom, but the point where the both are free. It is a worthy question then, if and how one can combine these two sources to achieve both the structural safety of society and true individual freedom.
Nowadays the concept of morality is completely blown away and exists only as a battlefield of theists and atheists. Theistic “morality” has failed being unable to speak to human’s mind in the reason’s language. “Morality” of atheists can not by definition answer the moral questions because of its artificial foundation, based on non-existent idea of the “pure reason”. The proper function of morality, as a mean of connection between individual and society, has disappeared, and nobody can give any reasonable definition of “right” or “wrong”. A computer can only make the limited quantity of logical operations, but, properly used, it can give amazing results – if only one remembers what is behind the code: nobody expects the laptop to work in absentia of the user.