On Two Moral Considerations – physical (immediate) and consequential (long-term)
One can easily think of many a moral dilemma where not only is there no objectively and solitarily correct answer, but there is no answer that surpasses all others. The fact that there are many situations where there are many justifiable options to take is something I think that many can and do accept; however, the notion that there is no “correct” answer in the sense that one choice is the best in rational, utility or whatever standard of measure one could have as criterion of the rightness of an action is something that is hard to swallow. This is not by any stretch arguing for moral Nihilism, and is only arguing for relativism in the sense that in a situation where such a case I have described is-such, the actions and justifications will be relative to the particular agent but will not necessarily make him more or less moral for choosing one course over another.
One hypothetical notion that easily came to me was from the film Batman Forever, the third film from the first Batman film series. In it, a cartoonish Two Face played by Tommy Lee Jones kills Dick Grayson’s – Robin, for all of you with social lives – parents and brother. He becomes obsessed with killing him out of a craving for revenge and has the opportunity to either do so or watch him die as he’s clinging to a steep cliff, the only thing preventing him from a watery grave. Any of the given choices, to kill him, to watch him die or to save him and disarm him – which Robin isn’t smart enough to do – are reasonable, and I would argue, equally valid choices given a proper or wise frame-of-mind. This accredits Nietzsche’s Perspectivism of viewing the same thing with contradictory viewpoints but neither one being necessarily invalid.
On one hand, Two Face is a murderer who is unrepentant in his crimes and incredibly likely to kill at the slightest convenience or even flare of manic joy – because of the two-dimensional Two Face portrayed in this film that doesn’t seem to have any of the duality of the true Two Face and seems to only need to flip the coin to justify his actions and keep with the motifs of the character – making him someone who should be killed if one is unable to apprehend him without threat to himself or others. Robin was in a life-threatening situation as it was already with the Riddler, and in a situation of combat where one’s life is at-risk, it is perfectly acceptable to kill a murderer who is in allegiance with a psychopath and plots your demise. And of course it is perfectly acceptable to merely remain passive in such a situation as-long as it’s not likely that Two Face is about to immediately harm another life. A fine example of this being Batman “killing” Ras Al Ghul in the film Batman Begins by not saving him. Now of course Batman didn’t save him, but many people feel intrinsically that he had a part in his death by simply being able to save him by proxy but choosing not to. This would be an immoral action if one was remaining idle in-regards to saving the life of a “moral agent” or an innocent who was still a member of the community who had their faults but ultimately was “good” in the sense of not being a threat to the safety or living standards of others.
On the other hand, Two Face is psychotically ill and to a certain degree cannot be blamed for his actions even to the extent that the average human being can. And of course a proper understanding of Determinism and Materialism will have us come to the conclusion that no agent is fundamentally responsible for their actions though in-regards to Consequentialism we – in a proper system, which our current one only has shreds of the reason of and at-times contradicts the reason of – act to first and foremost prevent and then punish, rehabilitate and confine those who do heinous acts to unwilling participants or participants who had no other desirable recourse such is the case of Capitalism.
Now there is a distinction to be made between different types of psychoses. There are those like strong delusions and manias that make one incapable of reasoning or being able to understand that their action is morally wrong; and there is the type of psychological frailties and faults we all suffer from that when accentuated to a massive degree will have one murder an innocent though they know it’s wrong. The case of the woman who slowly poisoned her son for an extended period of time leading up to his death is an adequate example of this. Essentially what she suffered from was a exasperated form of a particular kind of Narcissism, something that does not impend one’s reasoning or understanding of moral concepts, but does create the mind that suffers or feels such motivation that enacting on one’s psychosis or desires becomes something of far greater concern than maintaining one’s conscience or overpowering whatever degree of empathy one may have – which in such cases is little if any – for others namely those that one enacts foul deeds upon. Two Face in the movie seems to suffer from the latter and not the former; understanding that his actions are immoral and reveling in the fact that they are. Still, all those who commit foul deeds, are apprehended and pose no immediate threat to those surrounding them should be given the opportunity to rehabilitate and improve themselves and in a sense should be forced to do so to remove the needs of prisons. Of course when one is using cartoonish villains such as Two Face or The Joker one knows that rehabilitation is impossible, but in reality we have a moral obligation to both the community and he or she who is simultaneously the guilty and the victim to be improved in whatever way is allowed by his or her nature.
Some will mention that whether or not Robin would be killing Two Face or allowing him to die out of revenge would play a key aspect in the determination of the morality of his action. Overall I disagree. In the film, Bruce says to Dick that if he kills Two Face he will not be satiated and will hunt down more wrong doers due-to his perpetual discontent. Isn’t this essentially what Batman does or rather who Batman is? Though he ultimately acts justly and is a force for good, his actions aren’t done out of universal love for others but out of personal torment and guilt. The only real conceivable distinctions one could make is whether or not Robin would kill his victims – though if they were about to immediately harm another human being and one was less-likely to be effective in saving them without using severe violence, such is many cases in reality, one would be entirely justified in using severe or even lethal violence in-kind depending on the appearance of severity in the violence at-hand – and whether or not he would hunt-down people who were actually guilty of severe crimes, or out of desperation to harm anyone he would deem worthy of punishment harass someone littering and rationalizing the broken arm he gave them as some act of grandiose justice or just desserts.
There are scenarios where revenge and justice are comparable if not seemingly identical. But more importantly motivations only matter in-regards to the utility of their fruit. We only frown upon bad motives, or even label them as viceful or lascivious because of their impact on our lives. Any other perception would be entirely deontological and therefore unrealistic. Deontology is a result of the psychological need to ground in moment-to-moment “objectivity” what is only a moral concern because of utility. If Robin killed Two Face out of revenge and bloodlust, though he never went down the dark path Bruce describes, would it still be an indefensible act? I think not. Now of course one could mention the motives involved in the murder of an innocent; but first and foremost the murder of an innocent is a crime regardless of the motives. Second, the motives, psychology, character and temperament necessarily to create the archetype of a killer of the innocent is one who is very-likely to kill again and therefore it is rational and evolutionarily advantageous to feel condemnation towards such attributes particularly in synthesis; the man or woman who kills their lover out of jealously or the emotionally fragile person who commits violence against the perception of the slightest slight to their ego or perceived grievance against them being obvious examples.
We rightfully judge motive only in one’s understanding of whether or not one was doing was truly morally justifiable – for example someone who commits a single crime for typical motivations and one who does under the pretense that they’re preventing a crime but was under a misapprehension or honest misunderstanding are two radically different things; one being founded on ignorance or apathy (or likely desperation and ill-character being a product of our society) to morality when the other is founded merely on ignorance to crucial facts at-hand; the man who tackles another man when he had reasonable suspicion of a potential weapon he seemed to be pulling out of his jacket pocket for example – and in whether or not this is conducive to further immoral acts of a varying degree. That is why the Nihilism of theft when one doesn’t need to steal to survive and the Nihilism of murder are deemed radically different though in-a-sense one is merely a far-more extreme version of the same sickness. One is likely to result in more petty thefts – a crime but a minor one – while the other is likely to result in more murders which are obviously a direct threat to the safety of the community at-large. One is deemed juvenile and is something that millions have done in small amount and numerations; while the other is a far-more “mature” form of crime in the sense that just as a baby calf matures into a adult sow, so crimes of Nihilistic impulse can grow if not checked, similarly to drug users moving on to greater amounts or variations of drugs since the ones and amounts they have previously used no longer give them the desired effect. Though it should be said that the existence of most cases of mature evil is not only heinous because of the action itself, but what it says of the moral, psychological and material welfare of society where such an action could very-likely be prevented with good parenting, opportunity, education and other societal factors but such a crime was committed due-to such factors very-likely being lacking.
Jean-Paul Sartre would agree with me on the main essence of these moral dilemmas; however where he would differ is his idea that once a person has made a moral choice they must continue with the choice they have made though there are equally valuable ones to make. The example that Sartre gives is whether to take care of one’s mother or to fight in an assumingly just war. Religions will provide no guidance in this dilemma as they provide little or no constructive guidance on a litany of moral dilemmas and provide horrible guidance and evil instruction in many cases. If one is to base one’s decisions on feelings of compassion (moral sentiment theory) then it is very-likely that one will choose to aid one’s mother rather than the National effort. Of course one could dislike one’s mother considerably, and it could be for reasons that do not result from the mother being a dreadful human being but rather a human being with faults and family quarrels which are common and almost inevitable in this life. The son or daughter could then use their reason to decide that their mother should be cared for when there are many souls who will fight and very-likely die to fight in a struggle that one could provide no particular skill or talent for. But of course today there are nursing homes to tend to one’s parents, though the mother could feel greater joy if they are tended to buy the fruit of their loins to justify the sentiment that their children are appreciative of the years of childrearing that the mother gave for their child (ren) regardless of the psychological or intellectual motivation. But what if one has invaluable skills to provide for the war effort? And what if the war is for the freedom of many when mother is only a single person? But what if mother is in critical condition but the war is a minor squabble that is of no great impact to one’s native land? Should it make a difference if the war is to defend one’s freedom or to ensure the freedom of others living in Theocratic and despotic lands? If we examine ethics through moral universals that is one persons freedom is of no greater significance than anyone else’s unless seen through the guise of utility – Einstein’s freedom being more important than Glenn Beck’s that is, which is certainly true in a sense but both need to be defended for the social harmony of all. There are so many factors in this hypothetical that remains unfleshed, so let-us generalize and say that there are two equally moral actions one feels compulsion or some sense of obligation to take. They are a coward, selfish or weak-willed in some way if they abandon both obligations but whether option they chose only says something of the individual based on the criterion that they made the decision.
We make a decision of following either course. And as long as there is no great evidence that one choice is indisputably of higher moral consequence to the greatest amount of moral agents that one can make a significant impact in than one can be said to have made a correct choice. However, if said evidence arises and one chooses not to act on it, it is not that one is now immoral, but one is not following the path of the highest moral utility or consequence; something that every person on this planet is guilty of and is no great error as long as the path one is on contains some shrubbery of nobility along its way. Where Sartre seems to fall into error is that we must than stick with that decision to be authentic, when the conflictions and contradictions of one’s psychology are irreparable and authentic parts of the human condition. I see no error in the next time around, if both decisions are equally choice-worthy as before, if the son or daughter makes the opposite choice on sound reason to help bring Secular Liberalism and Democracy – and perhaps even Socialism – to a foreign land where these notions of equality, freedom and prosperity for all citizens is a foreign idea. It is not bad faith to pick cranberry lemonade over orange juice when one has had orange juice before. In fact, to change one’s mind and pursue an equally valid course of action to the one one was pursuing before will provide diversity to one’s life; diversity providing the complexity that will aid one’s future decision making processes and the formation of a superior future self.
Like the title implies, the distinctions I mean to clarify are the distinctions and complexities between the alternatives of choice and the various conceptions of physical (immediate) and psychological or consequential aspects that matter only when there is reason to believe such traits will affect the community for the worse – or for the better since we should of course seek to understand not only the illness but the nature and formation of health and encourage and “enforce” it as standard via material and educational nutrition upon all civilians. These moral questions I delve into aren’t ones of ambiguity but of complexity. For ambiguity describes something of an opaque nature that by its nature contains uncertainties; when complexities merely contain something of a multi-faceted nature, high-mindedness or nuance.