4.1 Problems in Deriving Objective Non-Relativistic Ethics from Stating a Fixed Goal in a Changing World


The basic principles for an objective ethics have been stated scientific recognition of an evolutionary goal; a logic which compels its adoption; and social scientific research to determine the moral regulations within and between groups which best serve it. The necessary plan of this book is, therefore, now:

(1) To examine in richer detail the derivation of community values within groups, among citizens (this chapter).

(2) To examine similarly the second main derivation: that of the procedures and values appropriate for cooperative competitive behavior among groups (Chapter 5).

(3) To turn from ethics to psychology and ask how moral systems in general, and these new values in particular, conflict with or facilitate the expression of human nature (Chapter 6).

(4) Expressly to scrutinize the changes in values from those of the traditional revealed religions now directing much social action (since the impact of the new is likely to cause conflict in several areas) (Chapter 7).

(5) Correspondingly to examine the constructive new directions of action which a Beyondist ethics indicates in urgent current sociopolitical problems (Chapter 8).

(6) Finally to proceed to the new institutions and associated emotional satisfactions that concretize Beyondist values. (Chapter 9).
A revaluation which calls for a radical shift in the hub of a moral system is an immense undertaking. The fulcrum of the evolutionary principle and the lever of intensive scientific research (on a scale for which social science has yet to be organized) should nevertheless prove strong enough given time. As far as the community ideals of behavior of man to man within a given society are concerned the principle has already been claimed that these are of two kinds: (1) the principles which all societies need to hold them together, for survival, which we may call maintenance values, and (2) the principles which express the unique experimental values of the particular adventure they have adopted. While a far-sighted society, well equipped with scientific research facilities, will definitely seek to check the survival value of the latter, they are inevitably undertaken as a gamble, relative to the former. The former maintenance morality is a matter of world wide concern, common to every group, and a tremendous history of religious and political endeavor describes the attempts to reach the best behavioral rules.

It is probably safe to say that few societies have succeeded in the blind trial and error of "inspired" religions in reaching rules that are reasonably efficient for ensuring survival, and that still fewer have succeeded in keeping their populations observant of the ethical values that have been reached and clearly set out. The differences among societies in moral effectiveness have probably always been very great, and almost as great between different periods of the same society, e.g., between early and late Roman times, the Commonwealth and the Restoration in Britain, and so on. Unfortunately, until psychological measurements get set up in modern times whereby a graph of different aspects of morale and morality can be drawn over time, the guesses of "historical observation" are unlikely to lead to firm laws. It is no mere moralistic rationalization, however, that the periods of high morality generally come early in the history of civilizations, and that internally degenerate values intervene before societies collapse, though this does not seem a simple one way movement, or inevitable.

The problem of inferring, from the fixed goal of evolutionary survival, what the ideal within-group moral values should be has to take mainly three terms into the calculation. (1) A criterion term expressing the degree of success with which the society is surviving. (2) A term defining the level of moral behavior within the group at any given time, and, (3) a term expressing the natural resources of the group, in environmental wealth and genetic endowments of the people. A strong endowment in (3) has often hidden, for a time, the effects of a weak development in(2).

The very great difficulties in quantifying the first have already been discussed. In the first place it is two-facetted success vis-a-vis the physical demands of the environment and success in enduring the predatory pressures of other groups. The complete breakdown of a society, in government (return to anarchy), failure to reproduce, return to a totally poorer economic level, inability to defend itself against even the weakest enemies, and so forth, is sufficiently unambiguous. But this evidence is too late for the society in question to readjust its moral values, though it may be good data for post mortem scientific analysis of moral causes and social consequences by the research institutions of the surviving societies. Even so, it is an insensitive, all-or-nothing type of evidence, and, as has already been suggested, moral research institutions need to develop more precise, refined, predictive measures on a continuum of health and moribundity as a means of expressing this first term; the criterion term.

Briefly to recapitulate the promising avenues for research on the criterion discussed on page 88 above, these are: (1) level of complexity of social organization maintained; (2) size of population per unit area maintained at a standard of living adequate for effective citizenship; (3) degree of control of the physical environment against flood, famine, disease, earthquake, pollution affections, etc.; (4) creativity in demonstrating adaptability to even wider sections of the environment, e.g., colonizing climatically difficult regions, space travel, resilience to major natural catastrophes; (5) movement in a direction opposite to toleration of problems long suffered in the past, particularly the reduction of what we shall define as the welfare-economic-genetic burden.

Granted the possibility of evaluating the criterion the vitality of progressive survival as a group it then remains to find the equations relating this term to particulars of within-group, inter-individual moral values and practices. (The third term the luck of endowment being held constant, or as we would say in correlational statistics "partialled out.") A general character of these equations can be stated immediately that they are likely to differ according to the level of development and state of evolution of a group. That is to say, the actual ethical ideal rules are unlikely to be immutable, but to change in the manner in which directions change as one aims at some ultimate goal from different positions reached. Again one must emphasize that the sanction for positional relativism, as we may call the above, is quite different from conceding general moral relativism in the sense used by some contemporary intellectuals, or in the sense in which anthropologists, say Mead (1955) or Benedict (1934), use it in describing diversity among tribal customs. In the latter the complete relativism comes from sheer ignorance of any rational target for behavior.

Concerning the actual scientific mechanics of deriving values from the prime evolutionary goal, our discussion (in so far as discussion is possible for a science scarcely developed) is postponed to sections 4.3 and 4.4 below. Here there are prior and more general matters first to be clarified. Thus whereas theoretically this approach is capable of shaping anything from the form of one of the ten commandments, down to a local bylaw or to legislation on some trivial form of social behavior, one may ask in the first place whether such detailed penetration of the culture by primary ethical values is ever desirable.

Socially, some reasonable compromise is indicated. The detailed injunctions of such religions as Confucianism, Mohammedanism and Taoism seem merely to have produced rigidity. The persistence of rigidity in detail defects the primary purpose of adapting and expressing the basic goal in terms of each successive current socio-historical position, which we have discussed above. There are, of course, practical reasons which sometimes make rigidity desirable. For example, human nature being what it is if people are given an inch they will take a mile. But scientifically, on the principle that an abstract concept is usually not fully defined until implications in many fields are established, it can be argued that such detailed working out of Beyondist principles is at least required to improve definition. Application may, in fact, raise new questions and add richer basic meaning. Regardless of whether the prime value is scientific or revealed, this is true, and it is sometimes validly objected to Christianity that leaving its basic values tied up in a personality though dramatically attractive leaves far too much to interpretation and projection. The historical fact that Christianity has succumbed to the fate of splitting into innumerable sects, of suffering down the centuries of a perennial disease of "heresies," and of being quite dubious even today on, for example, such a question as patriotic duty-vs-conscientious objection to war, shows that stopping with nothing beyond "general values" has its dangers. (Historical determinism recognizes, of course, that there are economic, temperamental and other causes for sectarianism disguised as ideological disagreements.) But it remains true that with sufficient original ideological precision these breaks could not have been defended. It is inevitable that the "flexible" religions will be tempted to retreat from thorny legal and contemporary political issues into "leaving the matter to a Christian conscience" or invoking "the personality of Christ." Though the traditionally devout will protest at this criticism, we must insist that moral laws and values cannot ultimately be left tied up in one personality especially one only obscurely known historically and whose words permit countless re-interpretations. One must maintain again here what was said at the beginning that intuitive interpretations lead to that slippery slope where all values are deemed "relative," and which descends into chaos. That danger is present from the start if the initial supreme value definition from which more detailed conduct is to be inferred is itself vague and non-operational.

While holding quite firmly in principle to deriving within-group morality from the relation of behavior to an absolute group goal let us nevertheless realistically admit that the task is a very difficult one. The unified social science capable of reaching ethical laws by logical and empirical procedures is, as just admitted, scarcely in its infancy. Awe-inspiring and overwhelming though the task may now appear for our undermanned and still methodologically groping sciences of psychology, economics, sociology, anthropology and quantitative history, the definition of the primary evolutionary advancement criterion roughly attempted above definitely has to be carried to far greater precision in application as soon as possible. Here we must recognize:
(1) That the higher order principles, in any system, can rarely or never be fully fixed and understood by verbal concepts and logic alone. Their true meaning resides in mathematical and quantitative research and in behavioral formulations that extend into specific injunctions in specific situation. A value is an abstraction from particulars across a great span of behavioral backgrounds, and the particulars need to be both specified and measured.

(2) Unless the general principles have such conceptual precision that they can ultimately be accurately interpreted in rules of conduct in a given physical, social and historical situation the hope of any practically effective guidance from such general principle vanishes.
These practical inferences from the principles in actual injunctions for behavior also imply moral feelings and needs. If someone wishes now to anticipate the "feel" of emotional values which Beyondism embraces he can, it is true, let his imagination contemplate the adventure of man in his lonely and tremendous pilgrimage through the universe. But the spectrum of within-group civic, inter-individual emotional values which this implies in the effective dealings of man with man is something at present unstructured. It awaits definition by empirical research into the nature of the moral acts which engender evolutionary advance. This position, incidentally, is just the opposite of that in such modern pseudo-religions as Humanism and Existentialism, in which what the propagandist assumes now to be appropriate human and emotional values are made the basis for developing a social morality. In Beyondism man is asked instead to discover and develop a new emotional life appropriate to the behavior which a scientific examination of man's destiny in relation to the universe shows to be vitally needed. This logical situation in which a general concept is increasingly understood only as its practical applications are followed through is a research situation of everyday familiarity to the scientist, but sometimes baffling to the lawyer, the logician and the literary, verbal thinker. The scientist is accustomed to understanding a theory by what it predicts, and to continually modifying and refining its meaning additionally through seeing what it fails to predict. The logician, on the other hand, would require a precise and complete definition of, say, the atomic nucleus or the action of cholinesterase before consenting to discuss it. But the scientist knows that the demands for such conceptual thoroughness at any stage of research advance are unrealistic as well as being prone to sterilize the intellectual processes of discovery.

Our purpose in this section has been to clarify the inherent principles in deriving moral values from a fixed goal in a changing world. But, as mentioned in passing, there are also emotional and "public relations" problems to be solved. Hitler in Mein Kampf, and emotional writers of very different persuasions elsewhere, have equally tried to argue that science is unsatisfactory as a repository of any popular faith because it is forever changing. That this evolutionary movement dismays the political absolutist is perhaps as it should be; but in the field of religion the call of the human heart for ultimate certainty is to be respected, for that is the meaning of religion. In the buffeting seas of immediate moral conflicts a religion should give the emotional assurance and guidance of an unwavering star. But this is what the basically fixed goal, for those with imagination to see the adjustment to each changing local scene in perspective, truly offers. Beyondism is a religion tied to only one dogma and that a scientific one from which the sentiments in all specific situations take their changing courses. These problems of emotional interpretation of a Beyondist world view must be mentioned here; but their full study belongs to the last two chapters. Let us not underestimate the propaganda problem, however, presented by the fact that traditional religions have long developed their passionate dramas, their tactful political affiliations, their mature diplomacy in international life, and especially their arrays of substantial emotional consolations. By contrast the bare framework of the Beyondist principle, and the uncompromising, abstract search for truth in science will initially compete for popularity with difficulty.















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