Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Are All Laws Founded in a Moral Perspective?

Recently the question was raised on another blog of whether conservative people tend to be more disposed to sin than their liberal counterparts. And if you've been keeping up with the conversation on the subject you probably realize very well by now that I strongly resist the proposal as such.

I'll reiterate that I'm intrigued by the question, and now that I've had some more time to reflect upon it I reckon that's because the question itself as raised would likely never have occured to me, my predisposition being rather something different altogether. As I said during the discussion, I believe all people rather equally disposed to sin. Some just recognize it more within themselves than do others. And quite frankly, I think it much more reasonable to assume that folks who recognize their sins as sins are therein drawn to conservatism whereas those who do not recognize their sins as such are drawn more to liberalism for obvious reasons.

And yes; I admit that I have certain predispositions about most things just as everyone else has; that I'm not as 'open-minded' as some would have you believe they are. However, I think it may not be too 'self-righteous' to say of myself that I may be described as 'open-minded' in one particular sense, and that is that I recognize and own that I don't know everything, that I could in fact be and often am wrong; and therefore I do actually strive to govern my thoughts and reflections, and even my conversations by that knowledge...

Personally I think this may truly be the only practical sense in which the idea of 'open-mindedness' can be thought of, or can be put into actual practice. Many times I think we may be too willing to set our principles aside in an attempt to be more open-minded about certain things. Other times I think that some of us find this rather easy to do given that our 'principled' foundation may be a little shaky, or poorly established. But generally speaking I think it wise to be cautiously open-minded about certain ideas which at least give the appearance of requiring it of us.

On the other hand, I find little wrong with individuals approaching a given question with a certain set of predetermined biases. And in point of fact, I don't really think it possible to approach a given question in exclusion of some bias or predisposition toward it, even if that 'predisposition' amounts to virtually no predisposition. And yes; you are right in assuming what I'm definately implying and that is that all of us must enter upon an investigation of a question predisposed to believe a certain way and therefore to disbelieve in the opposite. For one cannot believe in a certain thing and in its opposite at the same time anymore than one can believe in something and in nothing at the same time.

Sometimes it's just a matter of being thick headed that causes us to roundly reject an idea that may well have some merit to it. Other times it may simply be a matter of confusing the meanings of certain terms within a given context. Whatever the case may actually be though, it would serve us all well I think to approach certain questions with a good deal of moderation, for it's hard to reason with someone not willing to engage the reasoning process. And of course one may well be in the right on a given question, yet have a poor way of expressing it. In this latter sense the reasoning process is extremely helpful in developing and refining one's argument for or against a given question. And I certainly can't see much wrong in that, for if one is on the right side of a given question yet has a poor way of expressing it he may as well be on the wrong side of same since his poor expression of ideas warrants little attention of his listeners. Surely I have found myself in this very predicament a time or two, if I may be so bold as to proclaim that I actually have been right on occasion.

But there's yet another beneficial aspect of the reasoning process. And that is with respect to those who happen to be on the wrong side of a given question. For if these individuals are in the wrong yet willing to engage the reasoning process, they may be led eventually to adopt the right side of the question, having recognized their error via the reasoning process. The point of course being that wrong or right, persons generally hold a perspective on virtually everything. And they do well to exercise their gift of reason in contending for and refining that perspective.

You're probably wondering "what has this to do with the title of the post?" And recognizing that this may well be the case, I'm going to attempt to offer you the best answer I have. I started out with the idea in mind to establish a foundation upon which to rest the argument I'm about enter upon. Somewhere in the midst of that process my mind was led a bit astray with thoughts certainly having some relation to the subject at hand, yet of more of a distant kind than I first intended. I recognized this early on and quite nearly convinced myself to start over. Then I thought "nah, let's just see where this takes us," and here we are. So I'll leave the preceding up and allow you to determine whether there's anything in it worthy of note.

But to finally get to the point, you may have read in the previous post Liberal vs. Conservative Morality my long-held conviction that virtually all, if not all laws are founded in a moral perspective; someone's moral perspective. Whether you have or haven't read this in the former post is really of little consequence, however, because herein I intend to retrace most of those steps as well as to take the idea somewhat further. So I propose that we get this thing underway...

First of all, and to follow the lead of my friend, John Savage, I should like to pre-establish some boundaries within which to confine the subject, else we could get way off into left field quick, fast, and in a hurry. The way in which I will attempt to do that is to explain that whenever I use the term "moral" I'm not necessarily claiming the thing to which I'm applying it to in fact be moral. Indeed, within the context of this argument I will often use the term as it applies to what many of you, and even myself, would probably consider to be "immoral." The most important thing to keep in mind in this regard is this - I'm merely pointing out that the term "immoral" comes from the root "moral," and in that sense it is a moral perspective, albeit not necessarily squaring with your or my idea of morality.

Now with that in mind allow me to restate the argument for you: It is my contention that "virtually all, if not in fact all laws are founded in a moral perspective; someone's moral perspective." This is not to say that I believe that all laws are "moral," of course, it is to say, however, that I believe all laws, or essentially all laws to have "morality," someone's morality, as their basis. Essentially my firm belief is this, that when any law is considered it must necessarily be considered to be right or wrong, good or bad. And the very essence of morality is indeed in drawing a distinction between right and wrong. If a law is said to be good then it may also be said of those assigning the description to it to be a moral law; whereas if a law is said to be bad, that law may be said to be an "immoral" law by those who assign to it the quality of 'badness.' In any event there is a moral value to both.

My contention is simply this, that as laws must necessarily be considered on their rightness or wrongness, and the distinction between right and wrong being the essence of morality, then it follows that all laws must necessarily have a moral foundation, and here again I will reiterate, not necessarily mine or yours, but someone's moral foundation. It may not be my morals that a law is founded upon; it may not be yours; it may not even be the majority's moral perspective that a given law is founded on, but it is someone's moral perspective. It is someone's idea of what is 'right,' as opposed to what the same person would consider to be 'wrong.' This is my contention.

If this idea has any truth to it, and I certainly believe it does have a lot of truth to it, then I would suggest to you that the implications of it are extensive and profound. My belief is that were the majority of Americans to understand this concept (which to me seems very logical) it would likely and most probably totally revolutionize the way we approach lawmaking. And I think perhaps in a very good and meaningful way.

We have all heard it said innumerable times that "you can't legislate morality." This has become something of a popular refrain in America, most particularly amongst our illustrious leaders, and it's not just liberals who are regurgitating it. I believe it emanates from a liberal perspective as opposed to a conservative one, but this does not mean that conservatism has not been infected with and actually in some cases embraced the disease. Indeed, I think it can be shown that conservatism has been infected to a great extent thereby. But is this reasonable; is it even logical?...

Certainly I believe it is neither reasonable nor logical to proclaim that "you cannot legislate morality," as a defense for, well, legislating morality; for legislating a different set of moral standards. The argument itself, as I've noted before, is self-defeating, for it claims as irrefutable truth the very opposite of that which it is actually intended to do - defend the practice of legislating morality. And irregardless of whether it is a liberal or a conservative "morality" that is being legislated, you can pretty well bet your bottom dollar every time that indeed someone's morality is being legislated; that someone's morality is being imposed upon someone else having a different morality.

Liberal folk tend to think of themselves as possessing something of a higher righteousness one might say. This of course leads them to believe that their morals (whether any of us denominate them such) are the superior morals. In this strict sense they are not much different than we conservatives are. Certainly if we're honest with ourselves we'll acknowledge that we think our morals superior to those of liberals. For if we didn't, why would we prefer them over liberal morals? That being the case it's really just a question of whose morals are the better morals; of whose morals more consistently square with reason and logic and with the higher authority.

And here's where the implications are profound. If indeed there's no getting around the fact that someone's morals are going to be imposed on someone else, then why should conservatives buy into the liberal idea that you can't and shouldn't legislate morality? If you must necessarily legislate morality, then what's reasonable about trying to avoid doing so? To my mind it is no more reasonable of a conservative to attempt to avoid imposing a moral perspective on a liberal than it is for a liberal to falsely claim that he is not imposing his morals on conservatives. Both are irrational from my perspective. But the conservative shall always, under those notions and conditions, get the short end of the stick. For in the very process of attempting to avoid an imposition of conservative morals, the conservative himself more or less aids and abets the liberal in establishing an imposition of his morals upon his counterparts. As I said, someone's morals are going to be imposed, which should have us asking ourselves this extremely pertinent question: whose morals is it we'd prefer to have imposed upon ourselves.

I believe that if there's anything at all worthwhile to be taken from this commentary it must be that it is simply not a logical point of view which promotes as fact the abjectly false claim that morality cannot be legislated. And if my suspicion is right that this idea emanates from a liberal as opposed to a conservative perspective on the subject, then I think it may safely be said that in this one vital particular liberalism is an unreasonable and an illogical political doctrine little worthy of serious recognition by any reasonable person.



Call Me Mom said...

Nicely done, Mr. Morris.
-On that other matter, I am thinking and will reply shortly.

Vanishing American said...

Well-reasoned and well-written.
I recently had a discussion on a similar question with a young (20-something) friend. She felt that to outlaw gay marriage was 'legislating morality' and that it was therefore wrong. My argument was that our current laws reflect a longstanding tradition and a moral consensus which reflected the majority will, whereas when we refrain from 'legislating morality' too often an activist judiciary will legislate from the bench, and in effect do so in the interests of a minority of people, thwarting majority will and the moral traditions of centuries. Yet the people who object to legislating morality never seem to mind when it is done by rogue judges or when the law is changed to placate a noisy minority of people.
But I agree; all legislation by definition is legislating some kind of morality, some kind of shoulds or oughts.
I think what people often mean when they decry 'legislating morality' is making laws governing what is seen as private behavior, which is 'victimless.' But that's another topic.
BTW, great blog, and I am linking you on my sidebar (rather belatedly I admit.)

Terry Morris said...

VA, thanks for dropping by, and for the nice comments, it's good to see you finally made it over. ;)

And thanks for linking Webster's up to your excellent blog, I was hoping you might eventually do that. Very good!

Your story is a great example of exactly what I'm talking about here. Your friend believes it 'wrong' to deny gays the right to lawfully marry. Whereas she thinks it 'right' to make gay marriage lawful. If that's not a moral position, and therefore arguing for 'legislating morality,' while at the same time arguing against it thus contradicting herself, then I don't know what is.

I acknowledge that indeed these folks are generally arguing against restricting what they see as private behavior and 'victimless,' but I often wonder how closely they're paying attention to the fact that the more acceptable and sanctioned by law these practices become, the more "public" they also become, and dangerously licenteous they must necessarily appear?

Gays would probably do well to go ahead and step back into the proverbial closet of their own volition before they themselves in their notable excesses effect their own net losses as they're forcibly shoved back in by a thoroughly repulsed and a determined majority.

But anyway, thanks again for stopping by. Glad you found me!