In my paper, Morality and Ethics, I describe how the words morality and ethics should be used to separate distinct concepts that at times become confused. It seems that this confusion of sentiments can not only happen with words through definitions but entire sentences through interpreted meaning behind the surface.
Take the example of discrimination and acceptance. If I say the sentence, “Gays should be accepted.” The most superficial meaning of treating homosexuals with kindness is not ambiguous. What is however is the why behind acceptance. Is it because the author believes homosexuals are “just like straight people” or are they saying that homosexuals should be accepted even if they aren’t like “normal people.” The former is essentially a descriptive account of things while the latter is a normative one.
The first one does nothing with a presumption many people have: that those who are different should be shunned. It instead says that gays (this is also true of statements regarding different races, religions, etc.) aren’t different and are normal people. Therefore, they shouldn’t be shunned. The second and in my mind more moral (moral in the sense of deriving from universal compassion) interpretation is the declaration of “you shouldn’t shun the different or odd.”
This interpretation is not only more moral but more liberating. For just as the homosexual community has their proverbial “closet” to step out of, so the so called “freaks” and odd-balls of all shades, stripes and varieties have their own dark corner where they must hide their true selves – aspects of themselves which are debatably more essential to our humanity than mere sexuality. Censorship of these personality traits, quirks and other aspects of people is more debilitating arguably, both in the sense that it cripples the suffering social “deviant” and society has to be in a sense more closed minded to enforce taboos, social mores and social regulations of “normalcy.”
People often don’t state their fundamental premises when they give a descriptive or normative account. When someone says “murder is wrong,” or “it is wrong that James killed John,” they typically don’t state why which is arguably more important than a declaration that the majority will agree with. For if it is true, then it needs to be stated why, both for the sake of truth and so people will use their reasoning either to defend or argue against the proposition. Otherwise it is just secular “dogma,” as is essentially the whole of social norms and ethical propositions of society.
These propositions are first enforced and childhood and go on throughout adulthood. Schools don’t teach children to question premises or find answers. Only to describe and recite the answers already given in the sciences, religions and culture produced by great minds who had the ability to think for themselves despite societies unwillingness to foster creative and critical thought, and in some cases, makes a deliberate attempt to stamp it out when it the flower blooms amongst the weeds and dandelions.
Everyday language is important if our foundational premises in thought are of any significance. For it is in our everyday language where the norms and premises of a culture reveal themselves. Not only in what is said, but in what is omitted. Wittgenstein said, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” If this means, “we should not say things we do not have knowledge of,” and if moral fallibilism is correct, then all ought statements should be stricken from the utterances of Man. But then how would we live our lives? Also, it is not left unnoticed that the statement of “…one must be silent,” is itself a normative or ought claim – so to claim that one ought not to make ought claims would be a self-contradiction.
Though I cannot definitively argue my position, for this would be to contradict moral fallibilism, it is my view that humans should continue making ethical declarations, but rigorously examine their language and premises. Both because this may help in creating not only better thinkers but arguably better human beings.