Monday, December 8, 2014

175. Morality of causes

 In the preceding item of this blog I discussed the causality of morals: where do moral principles come from? Here I discuss the morality of causes: how do moral principles affect behaviour?

In classical Greek philosophy it was assumed that knowing good automatically produces doing good. Clearly that is not the case. Sociopaths know of good and bad but don’t care, or even enjoy going against that knowledge. We often suffer from weakness of the will: we know how we should act but are not motivated to do so. And there may be other causes that enable or prevent moral conduct. 

To proceed, I make use of a multiple causality of actions, going back to Aristotle, that I used before in this blog, in items 96-99. Multiple causes are tailored to human conduct, with an efficient cause (the agent), a final cause (motives, goals), a material cause (available material, means, resources), a formal cause (method, skill, technology), a conditional cause (conditions that ground, enable or disable, the other causes), and an exemplary cause (a role model).

I now propose that these different causes of conduct determine how morality affects conduct, yielding a morality of causes. This, I propose, may help in the practical implementation and adjudication of morality and in dealing with moral complexity.

In the preceding item in this blog I proposed that cultural principles are social, cultural constructs that are not arbitrary but emerge from selection in the evolution of societies. I now propose that moral principles yield the conditional cause of moral conduct, which  also requires other causes.

Moral principles are institutionalized in legal, educational, medical, and other practices and standards. Together, they enable, constrain, and impel moral conduct. They are external to the agent.

To have an effect on conduct, moral principles must be supported by the motivating factor of the final cause, goals and desires, internal to the agent. This includes emotional drives of guilt, shame, and fear of social retribution. It also includes a balancing of moral considerations and the flourishing of the agent’s own life.

How this works out depends on the efficient cause, i.e. the moral agent, with its corresponding positions, roles and responsibilities. This may include features of the networks in which agents are connected (such as structure of the network and positions in it). 

These positional features of the agent determine the requirements and available options for moral choice, with complexities of responsibility towards different individuals and institutions, and the resulting moral dilemmas. A politician or manager has to weigh individual and collective consequences of possible actions. The collateral damage of bombing, for example. A parent has to include responsibilities towards his/her children.

Next, moral conduct is also affected by availability of the means needed for requisite conduct, in the material cause, and requisite abilities and know-how, in the formal cause.

The material and formal causes, and to some extent also the positional features of the agent, are external to both the agent and the moral principles.

The material cause entails the materials for moral deliberation, such as relevant logics, practices, literatures, precedents, cases, and illustrations.

The formal cause entails knowledge and skill, in the ability to see events as morally salient, to engage in moral conduct, and to argue in moral debate, given the complexity and context-dependence of moral considerations. They yield the ability of Aristotelian ‘practical wisdom’. 

The exemplary cause is the ‘moral hero’ who can manage the complexities of Aristotelian virtue ethic well, in practical wisdom. This can be an exemplary manager, politician, arbiter, judge, or author, for example. Moral decisions vary with the context, and cannot be codified in universal protocols. The moral choices of the hero cannot be copied from one situation to another, but exemplary behaviour concerns the ways in which he/she goes about navigating moral complexities.  

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