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Ethics

The debate continues…

by Peter Lloyd and Innes Crellin

Professor Crellin (Philosophy Now No.15) is right to say “… authenticity, and not moral judgment, … reveals to us the full horror of an Auschwitz … Moral philosophy or religious dogma is no substitute for this.” Nevertheless…

(a) ‘Authenticity’ is not enough. It cannot handle moral dilemmas because it has no apparatus for weighing up and resolving conflicting moral intuitions.

‘Authenticity’ reveals not only the “horror of an Auschwitz” but also the horror of the Allies’ war against the Nazis. Millions of civilians and conscripts were killed or maimed in the unspeakable horror of war. Was this right? Was it right to burn the women and children of Dresden as part of the Allied war effort? Many pacifists were profound ‘Authentic Men’ in Professor Crellin’s terms. Others, equally profound, decided to fight for the Allied cause, and to butcher their fellow human beings. Professor Crellin’s ‘authenticity’ gets us nowhere in reaching a decision in such dilemmas.

Anglo-Saxon ethics tells us that we must be clear about our basic values, and then work out carefully what the effects of our deeds are. In the fog of war, people rarely know much about those effects, but we must acquaint ourselves with the facts as best we can and then reach a rational assessment of the likely consequences. Many hard dilemmas face us today - abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, healthcare rationing, arms sales - on which Anglo- Saxon ethics has something useful to say, and Professor Crellin’s ‘Authentic Men’ offer only conflicting claims.

(b) To regard one’s own ‘authenticity’ as a window onto an objective morality leads logically to a belittling of other people’s moral intuitions. Anglo- Saxon ethics says that all moral views are subjective and none is privileged above others. This leads to a tolerance of other people’s authentic views and supports a democratic resolution of conflict.

Innes Crellin responds to Peter Lloyd’s article

Moral certainties (such as “One of the threats to world peace is from people who share Professor Innes Crellin’s view …”) are indeed dangerous. Such certainties bind people to static, conformist views which inhibit the growth of their perception and awareness. This is precisely the point I am trying to make in claiming that morality is an anachronism.

To suggest that my proposal merely advocates the replacement of one moral system with another moral system (called ‘authenticity’) misses the point entirely. The concept of authenticity belongs within a different and more holistic weltanshauung than that in which cribbed morality (and some forms of philosophy) take precedence. Its hallmarks are fundamentally different from those embodied in the kind of morality that Peter Lloyd both employs and dismisses at the same time. I advocate it precisely because it sets people free from the bonds that condition them into becoming actors replicating a value system that is not of their own making and because it allows them to realise their own Being. Far from advocating a search for “objective moral rules and values”, whether through rationally discursive or intuitive means, I have attempted to suggest that the ground of all values, including those relating to what may be called ‘moral’ decisions must be found within fully realised Being. Without the means for becoming authentically aware of this Being, any philosophy which hinges upon ‘rational hesitation’ as a methodological raison d’être remains ultimately impotent.

If there is a threat to world peace it comes from the attempt to apprehend moral values as something distinct from the attempt to apprehend what it is to be human. In questioning this artificial division I am advocating a rapprochement of the philosophical and the human which I believe will serve to ennoble both. Comments directed at this approach, when fragmented from such concern, are, regrettably, irrelevant. They do nothing to enhance or encourage our human aspiration for authenticity. In the end, with Nietzsche, “I care for a philosopher only to the extent that he can be an example”.

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