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Alcune riflessioni di Stefano Gorini

di - 16 Luglio 2010
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First. The principle ‘don’t do to others…’ may be interpreted in two ways, a ‘low’ one and a ‘high’ one. According to the ‘low’ interpretation, it is a behavioural code founded on its practical usefulness. If I respect the others, then I can also pretend – or at least expect – that they will do the same to me. If I don’t respect them, then I cannot pretend – nor expect – them to respect me. The rationale of this ‘moral’ behavioural code is entirely utilitarian: the reason why I should respect the others is the expected personal benefit of being respected by them. If we all accept this behavioural code, then there is a good chance that each one of us may be able to go about his own business while coexisting with all others in a viable and peaceful social environment. If we don’t accept it, then we have the law of the jungle, and everyone’s life becomes difficult and dangerous. The principle is a utilitarian behavioural code, and as such it has nothing to do with morality. My whole chapter is based on the philosophical premise that morality and usefulness are a contradiction in terms: morality (goodness) begins when usefulness (utility, economics) ceases and vice versa. If this fundamental proposition is not accepted then I don’t see the point of talking about morality in the first place. If there are no values there are only interests, and if there are only interests there is only the economics of the useful. The very concept of morality is meaningless, and it only obscures our understanding of human society. Full stop.

But the principle may be given a ‘high’ interpretation. It is a behavioural code founded on a general, prejudicial recognition of principle, namely that the interests of each member of the human family have – precisely as a matter of principle – the same value in society as those of all others. According to this interpretation I must respect the others not in order to pretend the same from them in return, but simply because I recognize that their interests have – objectively – the same social value as my own. Why one does recognize this is not important. It may be sentiment, instinct, natural generosity towards one’s fellow men, the attempt to look at our existence from a higher perspective than that centred on oneself, anything. He takes this recognition as a matter of fact. It is clear that this interpretation rises by one degree above the previous one. It tries to rise above the domain of the useful. In my essay I call this the principle of social solidarity, but my whole chapter is an attempt to demonstrate that rising above the useful and leaving it behind is not enough to enter into the domain of morality.

Second. There can be no true morality if there is no faith in something, no belief in something that gives an absolute meaning to human life (as opposed to a conditional-contingent one), and thereby represents the absolute good (as opposed to the useful). It is perfectly possible for a person to possess a deeply felt altruistic behavioural code even without believing in some concept of absolute goodness, but (I quote here from my chapter) ‘reducing morality to a person’s altruistic sentiments and behavioural code is a mistake stemming from a deficient understanding of morality’s place in spiritual life’. A morality not supported by a concept of absolute goodness has two fatal weaknesses. First, it is no match for the moralities of religion and ideology, in the sense that in competing with them for the heart of men it will always be on the losing side. Second, it is also no match against (I quote again from my chapter) ‘the secular non-morality of the drive for personal well-being, social success and power, pursued with all means as the primary reason of life’, and no effective obstacle against the incentive for rent-exploitation to become the dominant one in society.

Third. My chapter of the book is an attempt to demonstrate that the secular morality of individual freedom-independence, based on the critical-rationalist world-view, has the full status of a true morality, because it does contain a concept of absolute goodness. Indeed, my claim is stronger than this. It is that such secular morality is ideally and practically superior to any morality based on religion or ideology (by religion I mean Christianity, Judaism and Islam, because I lack the knowledge for considering the relation between western secularism and other religions, particularly the oriental ones). Ideally, because it is based on the acceptance of reality as it is, not on building one that satisfies our wishes. Secular morality is intrinsically linked to a concept of full individual independence-responsibility, a concept that is in turn intrinsically incompatible with any view of a designer-master, and of a relationship of authority, obedience, reward, punishment, atonement, resting on the moral subordination of somebody to somebody else. Practically, because all religious and ideological moralities are based on a fundamental denial of the supreme principle of individual freedom-independence. Although I take exclusive responsibility for my assertions and reasoning on this point, I want to repeat here that they owe much to the ideas of such philosophers and scientists as Hans Albert, Benedetto Croce, Jürgen Habermas, Karl Popper, Steven Weinberg and Edward O.Wilson. In certain respects the positions of these people are actually deeply divergent. For instance, most students of philosophy would object to the possibility of a constructive relationship between Popper and Croce, or between Albert and Habermas (James Buchanan, drawing on his personal acquaintance with Albert, defined the latter’s intellectual relationship to Habermas in the simplest of ways: ‘he hates him!’). However I claim the merit – or the blame – of having shown that on certain central issues of moral philosophy their views converge in offering strong rational support to the primacy of the unique secular ethics of individual freedom-independence which I’ve placed at the centre of my chapter.

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