The Moral Objective
The great majority of those who have rejected the ethical pronouncements of the organized religions and have endeavored to derive ethics from natural sources rather than from authoritative commands have concluded that ethical conduct is characterized by maximization of a sensation that some have called pleasure, others happiness, and still others satisfaction. Some difference of opinion has arisen as to whose happiness is to be the controlling factor. One school of thought, of which Bentham has been the most influential exponent, argues that maximizing one’s own pleasure or happiness is the proper goal. This idea has considerable popular appeal, especially among those who do not want to be bothered with moral issues at all, but it commands little support among modern moralists for the rather obvious reason that it is essentially a negation of morality rather than a basis for morality. Present-day philosophical thought follows mainly along the general lines of the following definition by Bertrand Russell:
I mean by “right” conduct that conduct which will probably produce the greatest balance of satisfaction over dissatisfaction, or the smallest balance of dissatisfaction over satisfaction, and that, in making this estimate, the question as to who enjoys the satisfaction, or suffers the dissatisfaction, is to be considered irrelevant.324
The idea that human beings should be happy and that happiness is therefore the basic moral objective has a strong appeal to those human beings since, as a rule, they want to be happy. Even the religious philosophers, who are committed to the proposition that the moral code is an emanation from the Deity rather than a reflection of human needs and desires, usually contrive to bring the happiness concept into the picture indirectly. William Paley, for instance, tells us that happiness is “an enjoyment which the Deity has annexed to life.”325
When we examine the situation objectively in the light of the factual information developed in the present investigation, we find no support for this position. Happiness, in its broadest sense, is clearly the inverse of suffering, likewise taken in a broad sense, and the two have the same significance in relation to existence in general. As we have seen, suffering is not wrong or evil; it is simply one of the routine accompaniments of life in a space-time universe. Similarly, and for the same reasons, happiness is not right or good, morally speaking. It, too, is just one of the routine accompaniments of life in a space-time universe. Happiness is desirable and unhappiness is undesirable, but in themselves, both are morally neutral. They are part of our inheritance as aggregates of material substances and as products of biological evolution. This was clearly recognized by T. H. Huxley many years ago:
Men agree in one thing, and that is their innate desire to enjoy the pleasures and escape the pain of life… . That is their inheritance (the reality at the bottom of the doctrine of original sin) from the long series of ancestors, human and semi-human and brutal, in whom the strength of this innate tendency to self-assertion was the condition of victory in the struggle for existence.326
Abundant evidence corroborating this theoretical conclusion that emerges from our scientific analysis can be found on every hand. As brought out earlier, most of our physical suffering is due to our physical vulnerability, coupled with the biological emphasis on survival which keeps us under constant attack by enemies great and small. A major part of our happiness is contingent on the largely fortuitous outcome of our efforts to avoid the continual perils of this nature, few of which have any moral implications whatever. Then, too, so much depends on decisions that we make in other-than-moral fields. An individual’s choice of occupation (an economic decision) has a very important bearing on his happiness, and his choice of a wife (a social decision) even more so. Neither of these decisions is easily reversed, and the act of reversal, particularly in the latter case, is itself a source of unhappiness. Nor is it only these major matters that enter into a person’s enjoyment of life; almost every social or economic decision that he makes is a potential source of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Even an unwanted shower of rain can dampen his spirits as well as his clothes.
The mere fact that so much of our happiness depends on factors that have no moral significance is prima facie evidence that there is no moral significance in happiness per se or suffering per se. If we assign a moral value to happiness, then we are faced with the necessity of attributing morality to the agencies that increase or decrease it. We will have to treat the rainstorm as a destroyer of moral values; a patent absurdity. Thus we come back to the conclusion that we have derived theoretically; that is, happiness is merely a feature of life in the physical universe; it has no metaphysical implications and is therefore morally neutral. It is a Sector 2 (biological) objective that is not morally classifiable as either right or wrong.
The entanglements in which the advocates of the various hedonist systems of ethics find themselves when they attempt to apply their calculus of pleasure to specific situations likewise provide abundant evidence contradicting the basic premise of such a system. For instance, if there is no risk of detection, a strict application of the hedonist principle would indicate that a financially profitable dishonest act should be judged right and good, inasmuch as it increases the satisfactions enjoyed by the individual concerned. It cannot be argued that there would be a feeling of guilt or remorse to offset the added pleasures, as no such emotion could be generated unless the action were judged wrong on the basis of some other ethical theory.
Those who reject the extreme concepts of hedonism and adhere to a modified form of the theory which takes the effect on others into account, and asserts that the right action is that which produces the greatest total of satisfaction or happiness, will point out that a dishonest act from which one individual profits will ordinarily result in a loss to someone else, and hence there will be no overall gain. But the validity of a theory cannot be judged on the basis of how well it applies to some cases. It does not necessarily follow that anyone will sustain a loss. The dishonest act may simply take advantage of an opportunity that would not otherwise be recognized at all. Even if the circumstances are such that some person does suffer a loss by reason of the act, the dishonest man may so handle the transaction that he makes a much larger gain. Indeed, the act may result in a distinct benefit to the community at large. In any of these cases, hedonism approves the dishonest act. The doctrine that “the King can do no wrong” has long since been abandoned, but here we find it replaced by the doctrine that “the skillful manager can do no wrong.” In these and many other instances of a similar nature, application of the hedonist or utilitarian theories arrives at the absurd result of judging dishonest actions as “right,” and their results as “good.”
The error here is that these ethical theories are trying to put economic values into the balance against moral values. There is only one moral element in any of the variations of the case under consideration. The dishonest act violates the moral code. It therefore has a negative moral value which cannot be counterbalanced by positive values of any other nature, economic or otherwise. The dishonesty can be justified only by showing, if that is possible, that in addition to the dishonest aspect, the act also has one or more morally correct aspects whose positive value is sufficient to outweigh the dishonesty. As expressed by Kant, “happiness and morality are two specifically different elements of the highest good and therefore their combination cannot be known analytically.”327
A very significant weakness of all theories based on maximizing happiness or satisfaction is that unless one aligns himself with the idea that everyone has a moral obligation to maximize his own satisfaction without regard to others, a position that few care to try to justify today, it is necessary to call upon some other moral principle to give the individual a reason why he should follow any moral code. There are those who argue that whatever advantages are gained by unethical conduct are merely transitory and that “moral conduct is in the long-run interest of the individual.”328 Unfortunately, this brave statement is demonstrably false. It is quite true that a society in which no one followed the moral code would be definitely less satisfactory than one in which everyone complied with the code. But an individual is not faced with a choice between these two extremes. He lives in a society in which both courses of action are common, and he must choose his own path. In so doing, he has before him innumerable examples of individuals who habitually violate the code and prosper greatly by so doing—not only temporarily, but as long as they live—whereas moral conduct seldom opens up the “something for nothing” opportunities that are exploited by those without moral scruples.
So why should one embrace principles that restrain him and limit his freedom of action? It is often argued that “social cooperation” is an essential factor in human life and that a moral code is required in order to make such cooperation feasible. Hence compliance with the code is an obligation that one assumes as a participant in organized society. So far as the individual is concerned, however, this does not alter the situation. Such an obligation, if it exists, is still only a moral obligation—the presence of a vast number of persons who ignore the code is proof that it is not a physical requirement—and the advocates of the “maximum happiness” theory cannot give the skeptical person any logical reason why he should recognize any moral obligation. “In the absence of laws and morals and religion,” says Bertrand Russell, “for each individual, the ideal community would be one in which everybody else is honest and he alone is a thief.”329 The successful criminal may lead a very comfortable and happy life.
Here is the greatest obstacle that stands in the way of those who, because they are unwilling to accept the moral edicts of the religious authorities, and because they doubt the validity of moral judgments reached by intuitive processes, have long sought to construct an ethical framework from factual foundations. They have arrived at a number of factual conclusions, such as the necessity of a certain amount of moral behavior in order to make social cooperation possible, but they have not been able to find a legitimate basis on which to make the required transition from such a statement of fact to a normative statement—from an is statement to an ought statement—and the general opinion at present is that such a transition is logically impossible. As expressed by Reichenback, “Knowledge cannot provide the form of ethics because it cannot provide directives.”330
Inasmuch as several modern schools of philosophy deny that anything can exist unless it is founded on empirical facts, this inability to construct an empirically based ethical theory has generated a strong tendency to minimize the significance of ethical principles. Marshall Walker, for instance, tells us that “Ethics is a source of advice regarding behavior… . The origin is human experience… and the reliability is not very great.”331 Certainly this is far removed from the “commandments” of the religious organizations, or the “categorical imperative” of Immanuel Kant. But there are others who go much farther, as can be seen in the statement by A. J. Ayer quoted in Chapter 18, which asserts, unequivocally and without qualifications, that “ethical judgments… have no objective validity whatever.”
Religious codes do not have this kind of a problem, as each comes fully equipped with a directive that it must be obeyed. The religious assertion is that both the content of the moral code and the obligation of compliance are as they are because such is the “will of God.” The findings of this present work neither confirm nor deny this assertion, and they are of such a nature that they should be equally relevant whether or not one subscribes to the religious position. These findings define the objective of the moral code; they identify some key provisions of the code and provide methods by which the code can be developed in detail; and they identify the source from which the code originates.
The logical status of these findings is identical with that of discoveries in the physical field. To the non-religious individual, they merely represent additional scientific knowledge. To the religious person, who looks upon both the physical and the non-physical as manifestations of the will of God, these findings are not only additions to the store of scientific knowledge but also represent progress toward clarification of the details of God’s will. The urgent need for such clarification can hardly be questioned in view of the serious differences of opinion as to just what it is that God really wills with respect to many important problems—differences that are all too common not only between religions, but between individuals and groups that presumably draw their inspiration from the same source.
The new knowledge that has been developed in the present investigation makes it evident that the participation of the Deity in human affairs (if a Deity exists and does so participate; questions which have not been addressed in this work) takes place at a more fundamental level than that which is assumed in most religious thought. The prevailing religious view is one of Divine attention to minute detail. “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible,” says Paul the Apostle. Indeed, the great multiplicity of entities and phenomena of which the observed universe is composed, and the manner in which they fit together in a seemingly purposeful fashion, is the basis for one of the most widely accepted arguments for the existence of God: the “argument from design.” As stated by John Stuart Mill:
Certain qualities, it is alleged, are found to be characteristic of such things as are made by an intelligent mind for a purpose. The order of nature, or some considerable parts of it, exhibit these qualities in a remarkable degree. We are entitled, from this great similarity in the effects, to infer similarity in the cause, and to believe that things which it is beyond the power of man to make, but which resemble the works of man in all but power, must also have been made by Intelligence, armed with a power greater than human.332
But the development of the Reciprocal System has demonstrated that the intricate “design” of the universe is not a matter of infinite skill and wisdom in fitting a multitude of parts together in the manner of “things made by an intelligent mind for a purpose.” The physical structure of the universe in all of its complexity is merely a consequence of some very simple properties of the space and time of which the universe is composed, and the enormous number and variety of parts fit together smoothly not because of skillful construction but because they are all derived from space and time, and the relation of these two basic entities: motion, by addition or combination. This means that the argument from design is no longer tenable in its original form. Its claim to validity might still be argued on the basis of a contention that construction of a system wherein all of the complicated and intricate details that make up the universe are necessary consequences of a few basic properties of a single component—motion—is an even greater feat than construction of this kind of a system out of a multitude of parts. But in this case, the force of the analogy is lost, as there is no man-made system that can be considered as analogous to the system that constitutes the physical universe.
In any event, it is now clear that if the physical universe was created by a Deity, or by any other metaphysical agency, what was created was the fundamental entity, a particular kind of motion; that is, motion governed by a specific set of laws and principles. All else in this physical universe is implicitly contained in the fundamental entity, and follows from it. The situation with respect to the moral code is similar. What exists is a general set of rules. It has been established in the preceding discussion that members of the human race are potentially subject to full or partial direction by control units from Sector 3, the sector of the universe independent of space and time, and that Sector 3 is governed by a self-consistent set of laws and principles analogous to, but different from, the laws and principles which govern Sector 2, the biological sector. The appropriate portions of the Sector 3 governing rules are the moral code, and to the extent that an individual is under Sector 3 control—that is, to the extent that he acts as an ethical man rather than as a mere biological organism—he will comply with this code as a matter of course, just as material bodies act in accordance with the physical laws that govern their sector. Ethical man follows the moral code simply because this is the way that ethical men act.
There are some who object to any link between morality and metaphysical existence on the ground that, as expressed by Loring, an assertion “that all human goodness comes from a supernatural source… amounts to believing that it is unusual and difficult, if not impossible, to be good ’of our own accord.’”333 The flaw is this viewpoint is that it confuses metaphysical with supernatural. It is impossible for a human being as a part of the physical universe—in his capacity as a biological organism—to be good. The closest he can come to it is to be ethically neutral under circumstances where no moral issue is involved. He can be “good” only in his capacity as a local manifestation of metaphysical existence, just as he can be “alive” only in his capacity as a local manifestation of Sector 2; that is, as an organism under Sector 2 control. Thus, even though one is good “of his own accord,” as he must be if he is good at all, since there is no other way in which it can be accomplished, it is nevertheless true that all human goodness comes from a metaphysical (not supernatural) source: the metaphysical aspect of one’s own existence.
Identification of the moral code as a set of laws analogous to the laws of the physical sciences, laws which specify how the entities to which they apply will behave under specified circumstances, rather than how they ought to behave, complies with the demand of the empiricists that ethical theory have a purely factual basis. On this new basis, ethical judgments do have “objective validity”; they are not merely “advice” of doubtful reliability. Whether or not a particular item of moral significance is “good,” and hence belongs in the moral code, reduces to the factual question as to whether this item is consistent with the laws and principles of Sector 3, a question which is capable of being answered by the methods described in the previous chapters. This disposes of the empiricists’ complaint that the customary use of the word “good” is misleading, inasmuch as the user “contrives to smuggle a normative judgment into what purports to be a statement of fact.”334 Our use of the “good” designation merely identifies the item as part of the moral code. The necessary command or directive is supplied independently.
The clarification of the general nature of the code does not, in itself, provide the directive that we need; it merely brings us back to the original question in somewhat different terms. But it does throw some important new light on the subject. We no longer have to ask why, insofar as we wish to act as ethical men rather than as animals, we should follow the moral code, since we have determined that our choice between these two alternatives automatically fixes our course. We are, however, left with another question: Why should we choose the status of ethical men rather than the status of animals? The immediate emotional response to this question is likely to be that the answer is obvious, but this is mainly an indignant reaction to the idea of being classed with animals. It is by no means self-evident why we should choose to be controlled by one aspect of our nature rather than another.
We can, however, resolve the issue by a consideration of the purpose of human existence. It is true that there is a school of thought which contends that there is no such purpose or, indeed, any meaning at all in human life. But our findings with respect to existence outside the space-time universe now make this hypothesis wholly untenable. As long as the physical universe with which we are in direct contact is considered to represent the whole of existence, and the inhabitants thereof are regarded as mere cogs in a mighty but aimless machine, absence of purpose is a plausible hypothesis. The discovery that the space-time universe is only a part, perhaps only a very small part, of a greater whole, and that human beings are subject to direction by metaphysical agencies cuts the ground out from under any such idea, and implies that there is an underlying purpose of some kind.
The existence of such a purpose can be verified by the same kind of tests that we apply to other information from intuitive sources. The overwhelming majority of human individuals, scientists and non-scientists alike, have always refused to accept the contention that the universe is purposeless, notwithstanding the lack of evidence to support their intuitive position. On the basis of the criteria we have established for judging the validity of intuitive information, this almost universal agreement as to the existence of a purpose is, in itself, practically conclusive proof that this is a valid item of intuitive knowledge. The situation here is essentially the same as that which is encountered in the fundamentals of physical science, where there is almost unanimous agreement, based wholly on intuition, that the physical universe is rational.
Identification of the purpose of existence will be deferred until after some additional background information is developed, but the results of that extension of the study can be anticipated to the extent of stating what is practically self-evident as soon as the existence of a purpose is ascertained; that is, advancement of the human race, or some of the members thereof, from the status of biological organisms to the status of ethical men is essential to the accomplishment of this purpose. This, then, is the moral objective, and here is the origin of the moral imperative. Man ought to contribute toward fulfillment of the purpose for which he exists. In order to do so, he must cease to be merely an animal and must become an ethical man; otherwise his existence is wasted.
This also gives us the answer to the question with which we concluded Chapter 19. An ethical man complies with all of the provisions of the moral code; anything short of full compliance indicates that the transition from animal to ethical man is not yet complete. If an individual’s religion conflicts with any of these provisions, that religion is wrong in these particular respects, and an ethical man will not permit his religion to influence him to violate the moral code. It should be noted in this connection that while full compliance with the code is necessary in order to attain the status of ethical man, whether this is sufficient for the purpose is another question, one that we will consider later.
Bringing the human race into full compliance with the moral code is not a simple or easy undertaking. At the outset, man is in much the same position as the primitive single-celled organism. A long period of growth and development lies ahead in both cases before advanced types of animals or full-fledged ethical men can appear on the scene. There is, however, one significant difference. The biological organism must wait for natural processes to operate, but man can facilitate progress by his own efforts. One of the most important directions that these efforts can take is the acquisition and dissemination of ethical knowledge. It is not enough to have the desire to do right; one must also know what is right; that is, he must know the code of Sector 3. As in the physical field, where scientists keep up a relentless search for the correct formulation of the laws that govern physical processes, those who bear the primary responsibility for the advancement of ethical knowledge, the philosophers and theologians particularly, should be applying their best efforts to discover the correct expression of the moral code. Our finding that such information can be obtained by direct communication from Sector 3 through the process that we call by various names such as intuition, revelation, or insight, now clears the way for a systematic approach to this problem analogous to the procedures of science.
The traditional moral value systems were derived from religious sources, and in view of the revelatory nature of the original religious doctrines, the basic elements of these systems, applying, as they do, to relatively simple ethical issues, should be, for the most part, authentic. Over the years, however, the items derived from the original revelations have been subject to numerous extensions and modifications, and the authentic moral principles have been buried in a mass of ritualistic and secular additions. A growing recognition of the absurdity of much of the present content of the religion-based moral codes has weakened confidence in their validity, and this, together with the general decline of religious influence, is responsible for the value “crisis” in modern society, the term that is now commonly applied to the lack of any generally accepted system of moral values. Now that we have identified the source of the code and the means whereby information concerning its content is transmitted to the human race, and have outlined the methods by which the validity of that information can be tested, the obstacles that have hitherto stood in the way of arriving at definite conclusions on moral issues have been eliminated. We are now in a position not merely to construct a code, but to ascertain the provisions of the code: the rules of Sector 3.
Like the analogous task of developing the details of the physical universe from theoretical premises, the task of developing the moral code in full detail is a colossal undertaking, and it will not be complete for a long time, if ever. But it should be possible, within a reasonable time, to produce a body of ethical knowledge comparable to the existing knowledge in the physical field. This will accomplish all that is currently expected of a system of ethics. To demonstrate this point, let us check the general characteristics of the Sector 3 code, as seen in the light of the discussion in the preceding pages, against those which the philosophers consider essential. The “requirements which traditional ethics as well as its critics have believed it incumbent upon any ethics to adopt” are listed by Evelyn Shirk as follows:
- It must present a single standard or principle in terms of which ethical acts are to be judged.
- The standard must be universal; applicable in all contexts and at any time or place.
- It must be precise and unambiguous.
- It must be acceptable on sight and require no extended justification or defense.
- It must be immune to error.
- Its use must resolve all ethical questions.335
Shirk regards these requirements (condensed from her more elaborate description) as totally unrealistic. She calls requirement (1) a “silly effort to gain simplicity,” and brands the entire set of requirements as “nonsense.” “Burdens so heavy,” she says, “are certain to break the spine of any inquiry into rational practice.” But the code of Sector 3 has all of these characteristics, however “unrealistic” they may seem to those who are baffled in their attempts to derive a moral code from sources within the physical universe. The following statements can be made about the specific items listed by Shirk:
- A single standard, the Sector 3 code, is applicable.
- The standard is universal. It applies at all times and in all places.
- Natural laws are inherently precise and unambiguous, if correctly expressed.
- The statement that ethical man will act in accordance with the natural laws governing the behavior of ethical men requires no further explanation or justification.
- The code is never wrong, but we have a great deal of work to do before we will know it in detail.
- Since the moral objective is total compliance with the Sector 3 code, a full knowledge of this code is all that is necessary in order to arrive at the proper action in any situation that may arise.
The true basis of ethics, then, is just the kind of a thing that “traditional ethics and its critics” have always insisted that it must be. The individuals so described have had an intuitive understanding of the true situation that has caused them to hold fast to their viewpoint in spite of its lack of empirical support. Intuition, or insight, not only gives us the answers to most of our simple ethical problems but also, as these ethicists have demonstrated, defines the general nature of the moral code upon which these answers are based. What this present work has added is the identification of the code as the set of natural laws and principles that governs Sector 3 of existence as a whole.
The fallacy of the position taken by Shirk can best be seen in her comments on requirement (5). “In order to be a worthy and acceptable standard at all,” she says, “its very possession must render the ethical agent infallible. Perhaps this is one of the most onerous burdens ever proposed (tacitly or not) for any standard.” But, in fact, this is the requirement that we apply to every natural law. We recognize, for instance, that the “code” of physical science, the set of natural laws applying to the physical universe, is infallible. It is capable of providing the correct answers to all physical problems. These answers are not all available to us at present, but this is not because of any imperfection in the physical laws; it is because we do not, as yet, have a full understanding of them. The same kind of a situation exists in the ethical field. The moral code itself is complete and correct, and it is capable of providing the answers to all of our moral problems. But we are still in the early stages of developing an adequate understanding of the natural laws that constitute the code, a development that necessarily proceeds slowly while we have to contend with those like the author quoted, and the various schools of philosophical thought such as the positivists and the ethical relativists, who deny the existence of a fixed moral code.
“Morality… is not a body of factual knowledge, such as might be presented in a first-year history course,”336 say Michael Walzer of Harvard University in a recent article. Our findings are in direct conflict with this dictum. Morality is such a body of factual knowledge. In its entirety, it is beyond the scope of a one-year college course, but instruction in its essential elements certainly belongs in the college curricula. Walzer notes that the academic community is currently experiencing a revival of interest in ethical subjects. One of the best ways of insuring a continuation of this interest is to emphasize the fact that the moral laws are no different from the physical laws in anything but their subject matter, and they are equally susceptible to precise definition.
The continuing development of the details of the true moral code that is now possible because of the clarification of the nature and basis of the code will ultimately have some very significant effects. It should sooner or later result in purging the religious regulations of the non-moral additions and embellishments that have been accumulated over the years, or at least clarify the status of these items enough to deprive them of their mandatory character. As matters now stand, a vast amount of unnecessary distress is caused by conflicts in which individuals are torn between following a course that they believe is right and obeying an injunction of their church that prohibits it. Elimination of the non-moral items from the religious regulations will go a long way toward minimizing these conflicts. Inasmuch as these non-moral rules are the ones that are most commonly broken or disregarded, their elimination from the religious codes will also tend to enhance the authority and increase the observance of the genuinely moral regulations that remain in effect. It should also help to counteract the widespread belief that living a moral life is an arduous and disagreeable task. Aldous Huxley, for instance, tells us that “Being virtuous is, for him [the ordinary man], a most tedious and distressing process.”337 Kurt Baier states the case in even stronger terms:
Adopting the moral point of view involves acting on principle. It involves conforming to rules even when doing so is unpleasant, painful, costly, or ruinous to oneself.338
Many of the organized religions reinforce this impression by portraying conformity with their directives as religious “labor” for which recompense of some kind will ultimately be received. But these organizations do not distinguish between moral directives and directives of other kinds, and it is doubtful if any substantial number of those “painful” or “ruinous” consequences mentioned by Baier have resulted from tenacity in upholding moral principles. The martyrs in all ages have suffered for their religious or political views, not their moral views. The “holy wars” and schisms that create so much turmoil in the world are concerned with doctrinal issues, not moral issues. Unless a person takes a fanatical stand on some particular moral point, and insists that his interpretation of this point must take precedence over all other considerations (an attitude that is, in itself, a violation of the moral code), it is not likely that he will have to pay any price for the inner peace that accompanies the knowledge that he has done the right thing. Perhaps he may have to pass up some opportunities to make dishonest gains, but this can scarcely be regarded as a serious hardship. As we will see in the next chapter, where we will take a closer look at the personal application of the moral code, the common view in which moral behavior is seen as a heavy burden is a gross distortion of the true picture.