blank space

In Search of a Solid Foundation for Universally Binding Legal Human Rights

Practical Reason in social context (or what is morality?)

An account of the moral law
In the present essay, we will use a deontological account of the moral law. Deontological ethical theories can be defined as ethical theories that evaluate morality on the basis of motives or maxims of action. As such, they are contrasted with teleological theories of moral goodness which evaluate goodness on the basis of the consequences of one’s actions. A preliminary argument can be provided for the use of a deontological ethical theory : if we use consequences of one’s action in order to evaluate the moral goodness of an action, then we will never be able to evaluate fully the goodness of an action (given our limited power to know) and it is dubious that we could ever be held responsible for the good consequences of one of our actions. From the preceding argument, it follows that we should evaluate "motives of action" in practical Reason in order to evaluate the moral goodness of actions. We have set out above that Reason is one. Consequently, there can be only one moral law. If there is only one moral law, then that moral law has to be Universalizable. Consequently, if an individual were to take his maxim of action and make it a Universal law, then the Universe in which his maxim is a Universal law has to be a consistent Universe in all its respects. There are two ways in which a maxim can fail to be Universalizable : either the conceptual Universe produced by such a maxim is inconsistent and, consequently, impossible or, if I were to live in such a Universe, I would be condemning myself as I am given to myself (as a rational, embodied being with finite powers) and my will could be said to be in contradiction with itself. It follows from the preceding, like Kant has said, that the moral law requires us to treat people with dignity or that the moral law requires that we "Act so that [we] treat humanity, whether in [our] person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only". We can prove this claim by Universalizing the contrary claim and show that it would fail the Universalizability test.
It has to be noticed here that, in order for a maxim of action to be moral, it is not required that my maxim always be about direct intervention in the lives of other persons ; a maxim of action can be moral when the action willed only concerns the general environmental context in which other persons live. For example, it follows from what has been set out above that I have a moral obligation not to create directly or indirectly an environment where persons’ dignity is taken away from them like an environment of slavery. Another way to put this is to say that there are obligations to will, concerning the material world, maxims of action that allow the material world to be consistent with other persons dignity.

Is it possible to distinguish between the "desirability" of two actions that come out moral according to the standards for the moral law set out above and solve moral dilemmas?
A related question to the preceding one is : "are there positive and negative moral obligations?". We will attempt to show that the answer to the preceding question is yes. Imagine a situation where an individual has to apply some grid of evaluation to another person’s behavior which is fair (the grid). Imagine that the other person’s behavior comes out to be unsatisfactory according to the grid of evaluation of behavior without there being a lack of "determination" to show satisfactory behavior on the part of the person being evaluated. Imagine that the evaluator can only do one of two things : he can either "fail" the other person and the process stops there, or he can give the other person a new chance for the other person’s behavior to come out satisfactory according to the grid of evaluation. If the evaluator wills to not give the other person another chance to conform to the grid, then the maxim of action will come out to be Universalizable and to be, in consequence, moral. If the evaluator wills to give the other person another chance, then his maxim of action will come out to be Universalizable and to be, in consequence, moral. The evaluator faces a dilemma. How can he solve it? He can solve it by examining many other "situational" data that was not given in the example so far : for example, the evaluator could examine whether or not one of the options requires more of a cultural change within the society in which he lives in, the evaluator could examine which of the two options does not require new technological findings, the evaluator could examine which of the two options allow for the possibility to will other moral maxims given the situation as it is given to him, the evaluator could examine which of the two options conforms more to a moral value that he holds, At any rate, one of the options will come out to be preferable to the other and the dilemma will be solved. When one of the options of the dilemma allows for greater coherence between maxims of actions, that option can be said to be a positive moral obligation. In the opposite case, the moral obligation can be said to be a negative moral obligation. Also, moral obligations can be found to be "hierarchized" according to non-moral standards like available technology to carry out what the maxim of action requires us to carry out.

Moral rights
What are moral rights? Moral rights can be said to follow from the moral law. Imagine a situation where an individual has a moral obligation to do something. It follows from that individual’s obligation that I have a right that that individuals does thing x in relation to me.

|| Next Page || Previous Page || INDEX ||

Whatrain Internet Philosophy Journal

blank space

What Rain Home port
This site designed and maintained by
WhatRain WWW Services

Contact Us

Copyright © 1998 Marc-André Desrosiers

Valid HTML 4.0!