The Moral Fool

The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality

HANS-GEORG MOELLER
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/moel14508
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  • Book Info
    The Moral Fool
    Book Description:

    Justice, equality, and righteousness-these are some of our greatest moral convictions. Yet in times of social conflict, morals can become rigid, making religious war, ethnic cleansing, and political purges possible. Morality, therefore, can be viewed as pathology-a rhetorical, psychological, and social tool that is used and abused as a weapon.

    An expert on Eastern philosophies and social systems theory, Hans-Georg Moeller questions the perceived goodness of morality and those who claim morality is inherently positive. Critiquing the ethical "fanaticism" of Western moralists, such as Immanuel Kant, Lawrence Kohlberg, John Rawls, and the utilitarians, Moeller points to the absurd fundamentalisms and impracticable prescriptions arising from definitions of good. Instead he advances a theory of "moral foolishness," or moral asceticism, extracted from the "amoral" philosophers of East Asia and such thinkers as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Niklas Luhmann. The moral fool doesn't understand why ethics are necessarily good, and he isn't convinced that the moral perspective is always positive. In this way he is like most people, and Moeller defends this foolishness against ethical pathologies that support the death penalty, just wars, and even Jerry Springer's crude moral theater. Comparing and contrasting the religious philosophies of Christianity, Daoism, and Zen Buddhism, Moeller presents a persuasive argument in favor of amorality.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51924-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION IS IT GOOD TO BE GOOD?
    (pp. 1-15)

    Hardly any political purge, religious war, or ethnic cleansing was not justified, embellished, or inspired by great moral values: justice, righteousness, freedom, liberty, equality, human rights—you name it. Robespierre, Hitler, and Pol Pot all acted in the name of virtue. When people kill each other, especially on a massive scale and in organized fashion, ethics are usually held in high esteem. It is much easier to murder a man if you believe that he is evil—and that you are good. Of course, the defenders of ethics will say: “Well, so what, no moral value is immune to abuse.”...

  5. PART 1 ON AMORALITY
    • 1 THE MORAL FOOL
      (pp. 19-28)

      One of my favorite Daoist stories is about the “old man at the fort.” At first glance, it does not seem to have anything to do with ethical questions. Still, I believe that it is to be read, in the final analysis, as an allegory about what may be called the moralist mindset, and, if my reading is correct, that it presents a thoroughgoing as well as ironical and satirical criticism of such a mindset.¹ The story is quickly told. It is about an old “fool” who lives at a frontier fort and who cannot distinguish between good and bad....

    • 2 NEGATIVE ETHICS
      (pp. 29-39)

      In a book on negative ethics, the Swiss philosopher Hans Saner distinguishes four ethics of this type:

      1. a radical renunciation of morality as a result of, for instance, a disgust with ethics and its failures

      2. a normative ethics that assumes that the good as such cannot be determined and that it therefore can only be explained negatively— analogous to the attempts of negative theology to defi ne God

      3. a skeptical approach toward ethics that assumes that no general ethical guidelines or principles can be established since morality is always concrete and embedded in particular situations, and

      4. an ethics that does...

  6. PART 2 A PATHOLOGY OF ETHICS
    • 3 THE REDUNDANCY OF ETHICS
      (pp. 43-52)

      At the end of the preceding chapter, I quoted John Gray saying that in everyday life we usually do not think or act morally. We put our clothes on in the morning without any ethical purpose in mind, and continue like this throughout much of the day. Only in extraordinary situations are we forced—or feel forced, or force ourselves—to think and act morally. The same is said, more poetically I believe, in the following passage from the Zhuangzi: “If you step on someone’s foot in the market you make a formal apology for your carelessness; an elder brother...

    • 4 THE “MORALITY OF ANGER”
      (pp. 53-63)

      One of the feelings I find most uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that I lose sleep, is what is called righteous anger. If I have suffered from what I see as a grave injustice that remains unpunished I find it hard to regain my equilibrium. It is not only that I have suffered an injustice, but more importantly that this injustice has not been recognized as such—I have been treated meanly and it has gone publicly unnoticed. Perhaps I was, for the moment, unable to find the right reply to an insult, or maybe I was right when others thought me...

    • 5 ETHICS AND AESTHETICS
      (pp. 64-75)

      The defendants of a morality of anger praise ethics for contributing to personal and social health. The Zen Buddhists dispute such a view and so do the Daoists. While the Zen Buddhists focus their criticism on the obstacles for attaining enlightenment that are created by a moral mindset, the Daoists tend to highlight other problems. One of the criticisms of ethics brought forward by the Daoists can, from a contemporary perspective, be called an aesthetic objection. In the Zhuangzi a legendary sage named Xu You appears as a Daoist spokesman. When Xu You is approached by a man who has...

    • 6 THE PRESUMPTIONS OF PHILOSOPHICAL ETHICS
      (pp. 76-88)

      There is currently a boom in an interest in ethics, and my professional field—academic philosophy—is by no means an exception. Ethics is probably the most popular area in philosophy, certainly among those that offer the best chance of employment. This is, of course, nothing new. Ethics has always been one of the main strands of Western philosophy ever since its beginnings in ancient Greece. Still, I would argue, there is a specific reason why philosophical ethics is nowadays so in vogue. Traditionally, Western philosophy was generally conceived of, and conceived of itself, as the most fundamental academic discipline,...

    • 7 THE MYTH OF MORAL PROGRESS
      (pp. 89-103)

      If one questions the use and goodness of ethics, one is often confronted with objections such as this: Granted, there are problems with a moralistic worldview and there certainly has been some harm done in the name of ethics. Perhaps this harm cannot simply be dismissed as an unfortunate abuse. But has the world not made great or at least significant progress through morality? Haven’t we witnessed, in the past few centuries in our part of the world, very important steps forward? Think about the abolition of slavery, for instance, about the more and more encompassing condemnation of religious witch...

  7. PART 3 ETHICS IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
    • 8 FOR THE SEPARATION OF MORALITY AND LAW
      (pp. 107-120)

      In my view there are two quite effective antidotes for morality, namely, love and law. In chapters 8 through 10, I discuss the latter of these. I argue that laws and the legal system not only have the capacity to function amorally, but that they already do, at least to a certain extent (as has been pointed out by, for instance, William Rasch, Richard Nobles, and David Schiff). ¹ And I argue that this is not detrimental, but rather a part of their evolutionary development. That is, the legal system evolved in such a way that it was able to...

    • 9 MORALITY AND CIVIL RIGHTS
      (pp. 121-130)

      I am grateful to Franklin Perkins for coming up with another important challenge to my defense of amorality in connection with the issue of ethics and law. Frank acknowledges that ethical discourse can be dangerous and often quite appalling, for instance with respect to such cases as the war in Iraq, the Lewinsky scandal, or the murder of doctors who perform abortions. But he says that there are also ethical discourses that are very beneficial, such as those of civil rights movements. He suggests that the benefits of ethical discourse and moral appeals might well outweigh the dangers of the...

    • 10 HOW TO GET A DEATH VERDICT
      (pp. 131-155)

      I am not opposed to the death penalty on principle, and I am certainly not opposed to it because of fundamental moral (or religious) convictions—since I lack these. I believe that historically the death penalty served certain social purposes. Earlier societies had, for various reasons, not been able to establish a legal system that could deal with crime in a complex fashion and often could not establish the institution of the prison as a major agency of punishment. Such societies (ancient China, for instance) relied mainly on corporal punishment, including beatings, mutilation, torture, and executions. I am certainly happy...

    • 11 MASTERS OF WAR
      (pp. 156-171)

      The daodejing (or laozi) is among the oldest and most influential texts that presents a philosophy of war, or more precisely, the art of war. There was a whole school of war philosophy in ancient China and translations of their treatises are quite popular in the West today.¹ East Asian martial arts—which also now enjoy great popularity in the West—are rooted in this tradition. One of the many remarkable differences between Daoist reflections on war and those that appear in the Western tradition is the profoundly amoral way in which war is approached in texts like the Daodejing,²...

    • 12 ETHICS AND THE MASS MEDIA
      (pp. 172-184)

      Niklas luhmann begins the Reality of the Mass Media with an apodictic overstatement: “Whatever we know about our society, or indeed about the world in which we live, we know through the mass media.”¹ Of course, this is not true. We do not know, for instance, our parents through the mass media, and most of us who know how to cut the lawn did not learn how by watching TV or reading a book titled Lawn Mowing for Dummies. Luhmann uses the words “we” and “our” not in reference to us as single individuals, but to us as a society....

  8. CONCLUSION APPLIED AMORALITY
    (pp. 185-188)

    My purpose in the conclusion is, first, to summarize my main arguments as concisely as I can. Second, I hope to avoid misunderstandings by pointing out once more what I have intended to say— and what I haven’t.

    Today, we live in a virtual world; everything that we know—“we” as all of us—we know not firsthand but through the mass media. This is also true for ethics. Ethics are, factually, virtual ethics. Morality is generally proliferated through the mass media; we learn about it primarily by looking at screens or paper. Morality is, therefore, a type of communication...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 189-202)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 203-212)