Category Archives: Authoritarian Morality

August 15 Notes

In this post, I comment upon the sentence I put in bold type in the quoted paragraph from Daniel Philpott’s July 24, 2023 essay in the on-line Public Discourse: A Christian Case for Racial Reparations.

“Slavery, Jim Crow, and distributive discrimination assaulted natural rights and the dignity of persons made in the image of God on which these rights are based. They leave behind wounds, the most central of which is the standing victory of injustice, the moral fact of injustice itself that persists in time unless it is repudiated. While constitutional amendments, legislation, and policies have countered and delegitimated these injustices, the lack of a formal apology and reparations has left them still standing.”

I have two themes.  First, and mainly, I note how writing of injustice as a moral fact which is a wound curable by repudiation supports my notion of Moral Harm. That notion is that the mere fact of violation of a moral law produces moral harm. Moral harm is the creating an ad hoc moral rule to the effect that some harm be done. I am always seeking support for my notion of moral harm which I use to show that Retribution Punisment is morally intelligible and not mere vengance. I always hope to show my notion is not idiosyncratic.

The notion of ad hoc moral rule is not onceptually confused. It is common in moral thinking even if some special obligation is not explicitly identified as an ad hoc moral rule. The situation of making a promise creates a moral obligation that the promise be kept. If the promise is kept, the obligation vanishes from morality.

Here are some links to my development of a notion of moral harm as ad hoc norms that some harm ought to be done. Moral Harm, Retributive Punishment, Punitive Harm and Contrition. Contrition is the Sorrow of Moral Harm . A Conceptual Path from Moral Harm to Contrition. Moral Harm as The Wrath of God.

Second, I observe that apologies and reparations as ways to remove this immense moral harm are racist in a morally legitimate sense of “racist.”

What is the moral fact of injustice persisting in time? Admittedly, there were injustices in the past which have bad consequences now: some of which are new injustices. But these admission are made from a historical and sociological stance which does not hesitate to pass some moral judgments on human affairs.  Good history ought not be written from an amoral perspective. But, I believe, that Philpott does not hold that a moral fact is a natural fact described with use of some moral language. As a morally described natural fact the injustice of slavery can never be removed by any apologies or reparations. Suppose there are apologies and reparations. They will be irrelevant to describing USA slavery in the 1830s and 40s.  A hundred years from now USA slavery in the 1830s and 40s will still be properly characterised as unjust. There are natural facts of injustice which can never be removed from accurate history..

The following is my interpretation of  Philpott’s talk of a moral fact which is a wound

A moral fact is a condition of morality.  A statement of a moral fact is a statement about the condition of morality. In this case, there is a condition of injustice in morality and this condition is a defect, a wound, in morality.  The natural facts of injustice have wounded something more than the people wounded by the innumerable unjust acts. They have wounded morality itself by putting injustice into morality.  How has natural injustice wounded morality itself? Whenever anyone commits an unjust act they create an ad hoc moral norm that some harm ought to be done. These ad hoc moral norms are wounds in morality because they are “junk” norms in the system of moral norms. The system of moral norms is built on the basic norm:do good and avoid evil.  The junk norms tell us to do some evil. This is not mere logical inconsistency; it is a moral obligation to do what morality in general forbids. It is the rationale for retributive punishment. The moral norms prescribing retributive punishment are unclean or impure moral norms. Morality is cured from this “junk” ad hoc moral rule when the prescribed harm is done: the retributive punishment is carried out.  Retributive punishment is a cleansing of the  moral order.

Unjust acts also create some ad hoc norms to the effect that some good ought to be done.  These are norms to the effect that some reparation, provision of goods, to whoever was deprived of goods by the unjust act.  But norms requiring restitution and restoration are in harmony with morality.  They are not wounds in morality.  Philpott writes of wounds in morality. So, I think he is writing of apologies and reparations as accomplishing what retributive punishment is supposed to accomplish.  Reparations can do more than restore what was taken from someone treated unjustly.  If the reparations seriously harm the one who has to make restititution they can be retributive punishment which satisfies retributive justice.   But if a very rich man only pays back what he stole from a poor man, retributive justice is not satisfied.

Guilt is recognition that oneself or one’s community is an entity to whom the harm prescribed by some of these ad hoc norms ought to be done.  Guilt is not fear of the harm.  Guilt is the dread of the moral requirement that we suffer harm.  The moral requirement that one suffer harm is moral condemnation. This dread of moral condemnation persists even if we are aware that will never actually suffer the harm that ought to be inflicted upon us.  Indeed, the guilt is exacerbated by an awareness that we can never suffer the harm which ought to be inflicted upon us.  The harm might be so immense that it would annihilate us or it is so immense that it cannot be inflicted during our lives.  Lincoln’s Second Inaugural speech conveyed well the sense of national dread about the retributive punishment we deserved.  Bit by bit, Divine Providence will mete out to us all the evils we deserve.because of slavery. In guilt we let the wounds in morality be our psychological wounds.

I will assume that some efforts for public apologies and reparations may be motivated by a desire to overcome guilt by somehow removing all of the norms requiring natural harm for all of the natural harms inflicted on African Americans during slavery, the failures and abandonment of reconstruction with Jim Crow society and adverse impact of post WWII social legislation.

I admit that I do not appreciate public apologies from social leaders.  This may be a defect in me. To me they are primarily media events. The leaders may express sincere sorrow over the injustices for which they apologize. The leaders of the groups to whom the apologies are addressed may appreciate the apologies and even feel forgiving. But to whom. In my judgment, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural was a near perfect apology for American slavery. The apology event passes by and becomes part of the historical record.  It does not do anything in the historical record  What does accomplish much from the historical record is the description of the injustices. In generation after generation, the factual historical record calls forth shame and guilt for some and resentment for others.There is no final solution for social injustices.  I use the term “final solution” to indicate that it is not a bad thing that we cannot cleanse the grevious wounds in morality. We should not long for a final solution for the moral tension between Whites and African Americans: White awareness of guilt, Black awareness of injustice.

The main point I want to make about apologies and reparations for injustices done to African Americans is that the demand for them requires racism.  But being racist does not make the demands morally illegitimate.  For racism is not intrinsically wrong. By “racism”I mean bestowing privileges and obligations upon members of a race simply because they are of that race.  In the case of White and Black races in the USA, if we can talk so simplistically of races in the USA, racism is expressed by uses of phrases such as: You must do this because you are white, you may do this because you are Black, etc.,.  If the demand for apologies and reparations are accepted, such racist phrases will be used.

So, requiring racism is no moral objection to apologies and reparations for slavery etc.,.  If there is a moral problem with apologies and reparations, it is because they are  incapable of curing the wounds in morality.

Moral Harm and Contrition

I write this after the November 8, 2022 elections showed that a majority of the people in the USA do not think abortion is truly immoral. My goal is to make a small contribution to conceptual resources for leading people, including myself, to realize the immorality of abortion despite the fact that utilitarian, cost/benefit reasoning, or however we label moral evaluation by weighing consequences do not clearly show the immorality of abortion.

What I accomplish in this post may seem abstract and lifeless; disconnected from any complex of thought and feeling anyone would call “contrition.” But this post is only a phase in a conversation trying to articulate what it would be like to have contrition for abortion. If I could clearly articulate and communicate having contrition for abortion, I would have something worth saying in efforts to convince people that abortion is truly immoral. Bringing someone to have contrition or realize that contrition is needed for an action is to prove the immorality of the action.

This is conversational development of concepts. What is conversational development of a concept? I write by imagining that it is my turn in a conversation to propose theses and definitions. My line of thought is proposed for modification and correction by others. They are not intended to be the “last word.”

Here I should state a crucial assumption about conceptual development which I did not realize I make until after I had published this post. I have never had perfect contrition for offending God or morality. I believe that I ought to have such contrition. My crucial assumption is that if I can find “just the right words” for characterizing perfect contrition the proper sentiments of perfect contrition will come along with having the right words or thoughts.

See Moral harm for crucial background.on how and why I defined “moral harm” as I have defined it. Contrition here means perfect contrition.

This post, via logic, connects contrition with moral harm.

First premise: Contrition is sorrow over having offended the source of morality by violation of a moral law.

Second premise: moral harm is the harm done simply by violation of a moral law .

These two premises yield a:

First conclusion: Contrition is sorrow over having offended the source of morality by producing moral harm.

My detailed characterization of moral harm is used as the:

Third premise. Moral harm is the occurrence in human moral thought of a prescription that harm ought to occur because of a violation along with a stress in morality’s authority until the harm which ought to occur upon violation of a moral law actually occurs.

This characterization and the first conclusion permit derivation of:

Second conclusion: Contrition is sorrow over having offended the source of morality by producing the occurrence in human moral thought of a prescription that harm ought to occur because of a violation along with a stress in morality’s authority until the harm which ought to occur upon violation of a moral law actually occurs.

Contrition has been logically connected with enough other concepts to write a book about contrition. So conceptual development is now best served by sketching out informally the vision of morality and contrition with which I am working.

Human moral thinking is a creation of God, viz., the moral authority. In moral thinking we produce norms. Correct moral thinking is thinking the norms for human behavior which God knows aim at basic human goods. So, in correct moral thinking we think as God thinks about what ought to be. If no one ever chose against the moral norms which God thinks, there would be a beautiful system of norms all aiming at the production of basic human goods.

However, we do choose wrongly. Unfortunately, in our immoral choices, we produce norms for moral thinking is always normative thinking. But in the case of the norms put into moral thought by immoral choices there are norms that the human goods aimed at by the correct norms ought to be inhibited, viz. evil be brought about. Hence, immoral choices produce ad hoc norms that evil ought to be. These ad hoc norms defile the beautiful system of moral norms the source of morality would have as our moral thought.

I have connected satisfying and thereby removing, these ad hoc norms with retributive punishment .

Here I conclude by noting that contrition is at least sorrow over having defiled the creation of the moral order with norms that some non-moral harm ought to be.

But this post is only a prelude to showing that this abstract definition of contrition can be exemplified in genuine human thoughts and sentiments.

Good of Sexuality is Not a Premoral Good

Why hold that the genuine goodness of sexuality is natural but not chosen without a sense of moral obligation?

The natural good of sexuality is the natural purpose of sexuality. The natural purpose of sexuality is coitus for procreation and the life long monogamous bonding of males and females. If this natural purpose were a premoral good, people naturally choose it independent of any thought of what they are morally obliged to choose. In reality, though, people do not choose the natural purpose indendently of moral rules.

In a previous post, I stated a fundamental moral principle of male sexuality: a man should engage in coitus only in a lifelong marital commitment. I admitted that justification of this principle requires difficult empirical work. Theoretically, the empirical work would result in a description of life in accordance with the principle which would naturally lead people to choose living in accordance with the principle. This empirical work can never be completed satisfactorily. A description of a moral life may be appealing. But not appealing enough to make it a natural cause of choices.

The empirical evidence for the good of sexuality does not function as empirical evidence usually functions. Usually, empirical evidence guides us to agree that something is the case. For instance, we might bring a die into better light to see that it is really blue rather than black. If we had never thought about the matter, someone might point out that a die, from a pair of dice, is a cube and that not only is it the case that the cube has six surfaces. Counting the surfaces leads us to see that a cube must have six surfaces. This is a situation in which empirical considerations provides a proof. Similarly, factual considerations about sexuality in marriage are intended to lead us to appreciate that the sexuality which is in accordance with moral rules must be desirable along with being desirable. In reality no empirical descriptions are compelling enough to be a proof about sexual moral rules.

Each person must be led to appreciate that there is a good of sexuality by a moral awareness of laws requiring pursuit of this good. Significant appreciation of the good of sexuality is attained by pursuing it under constraints of these moral laws. Or maybe, as Christine Emba shows a better teacher is regret from seeking sexual satisfaction in violation of these moral laws. In sexuality the moral laws teach us the good the laws promote and protect.

There are no special people, philosopher kings, who come to see beyond the slightest shadow of doubt the goodness of the good of sexuality. Perhaps the only goodness of sexuality we can all be brought to see is the goodness of being bound by rules.

I hesitate, though, to propose duty as a good we pursue. Duty has no attraction by itself. Duty is not selected for its own sake. It is selected as the alternative to the chaos of choice by whims of our unbridled inclinations.

How God’s Commands are in Human Nature

Here “human nature” does not stand for a type which can be defined. As a type or form human nature is a timeless abstraction which is in no place. What is in the type is there by definition. For this post, human nature is that in reality which are the humans – the human part of nature. Perhaps, “humanity would be a better term. If we think of the type or form of human nature, no definition of this type would imply that humans fight endless wars. Humans are not necessarily by definition warlike. So, being warlike is not in the type human nature. But in actuality humans are warlike. So, even if it is a contingent fact that we fight endless wars, we can say that being warlike is natural for humans.

Humanity does not have a fixed spatial location. Humans might leave planet earth. Humanity has a temporal location. Humanity began when God gave a species of hominids moral souls. In this connection see: Supernatural Origin of the Human Soul. Human nature as humanity will cease to be if the human beings become extinct.

Human nature is a complex reality which includes radically different levels of reality. There is, of course, the physical reality of individual living human beings. The bodies of humans have definite spatial locations at any time. Individual humans have thoughts and feelings which can be dated but which have only an imprecise spatial location as in the vicinity of the thinking and feeling body. There are the vast intermingled collective thoughts and, I say, feelings of human beings. Some of these collections can be given imprecise spatial and temporal locations. For instance, the religious beliefs of an isolated tribe may imprecisely be located where the tribe lives. But they cannot be located as in the vicinity of individuals as can the religious thoughts of those individuals.

But there are other thoughts and sentiments or the capacity for them which are common to all individuals and cultures. Here I would emphasize that the universal thoughts and sentiments as residing primarily in the cultures because they do not come into existence and pass away as does the thinking of feeling of individuals. The universal thoughts and feelings could be called reason. However, labelling them as reason is not to classify all of them as correct.

God’s placed His commands in the reason of this complex reality of humanity. How? God gave human beings the capacity to think and feel morally. The capacity to think morally is primarily the capacity to think that what is good is to be promoted and never directly inhibited. The capacity to feel morally is primarily the capacity to desire ends God has intended for humans. The divinely intended ends are the goods which ought to be promoted and never inhibited. Human beings use reason to articulate basic universal moral imperatives to the effect that the basic goods God intends are to be promoted and never inhibited. Moral thinking and feeling is the crucial part of humanity for uncovering and articulating these divine commands.

The articulation, which includes justifying the articulation, is a human achievement. However, man is not the measure of all things because God’s commanding is the intending of the ends for humans. Our uncovering and articulating is a response to what God intends.

Can we be absolutely certain that what has been articulated as God’s commands are indeed what God commands? When we actually provided a defense for an articulation of a moral command we can be very confident that we have “got it right.” However, when we raise this question about absolute certainty, in abstraction from considering any argument, we can only reply as in the case of getting it right about facts. We cannot know that we know.

But the whole moral order is not given by God. The whole moral order consists of basic moral laws which, as I just wrote, can be understood as response to what God intends. But rules on how to implement basic moral laws in particular circumstances can be understood as human constructions which very from place to place.

But there are other moral laws which are human constructions and are also universal. These are the moral laws requiring correction for violation of moral laws. They can be called laws of justice. In general they prescribe that some harm ought to be done. I once called these rules of justice ad hoc moral laws. See Making ad hoc moral laws. I need to elaborate much more on what I have just called the moral order. But the purpose of this post is only to specify the foundational part of this order as given by God.

When Should We Talk of Immorality as Sinful

Grant that the moral laws are commands of God. When should we think and talk of morality as based on Divine commands? When we teach morality we should let our children know that our “does and don’ts” are not our arbitrary commands but come from God. God has gifted human beings with the cognitive and emotional capabilities to develop a concept of a moral authority to whom all their actions are transparent. Perhaps, God gave us this gift through evolutionary development. Regardless of how we received this gift of what Freudians label a superego, we should lead children to identify the moral authority with God. Yes, this leads children to develop a fear of God. And that is not a bad thing. Fear of the Lord is, indeed , the beginning of wisdom. In short, we should educate our children to have a sense of sin.

There are contexts in which it is legally or socially prohibited to talk of God. For instance, in secular public schools, talking of God, let alone teaching morality as coming from God is forbidden. I am uncertain whether these are policies are always good for public order. But in the home and in civil society at large, we should not hesitate to link morality with what God commands. When we associate with fellow citizens of “The City of God” we should maintain our sense of immorality as sinful, deliberate rejection of God’s will

Also, when tempted, it helps to think of we are acting in accordance with the will of God by suppressing unruly desires. It is helpful to think of God as the author of morality when we make moral judgments about others. When we do so, we can readily distinguish between the act we morally condemn and the inner state of the actor whose act we condemn. For the inner state is transparent to the moral authority, namely God, but not to us.

Morality comes into play in our lives most of the time when we teach, learn it, struggle with it and pass judgment on ourselves and our neighbors. In all of these contexts, there should be no hesitation to think feel and talk as morality being based on God’s commands.

But there is one context in which those who hold a divine command theory of morality should not assert any moral laws as God’s commands. This philosophical context is one in which they are making a case that, say masturbation violates a moral law. For making a case that masturbation is morally forbidden is making a case that it is a Divine command. It would be question begging to use as a premise “Masturbation is forbidden by God” when the aim is to prove exactly that.

But this eschewal of mentioning God in moral arguments is not reverting to moral deism. It is only secularizing a special context. For most people, philosophical thought is irrelevant. So to quarantine philosophical argument from assertions of God as commanding is not secularizing morality.

Of even more significance, for appreciating removing God from philosophical moral arguments is not necessarily secularizing moral reasoning are background assumptions of a Divine command moral theorist. For the reasoning will cite facts of nature as premises in a moral argument. The holder of a Divine command theory will regard nature as God’s creation. And God’s creation contains facts with normative significance. In a nature created by God there are purposes – the way things ought to be.

Moral Deism is Not an Antidote to Nihilism

How are divine commands are given and received?

I have long set aside confronting this apparently fundamental question for any divine command moral theory. I had no idea of how to start answering. I dreaded the prospect of inventing a scenario in which “God the angels and saints” somehow told people what to do. It would appear as silly superstition.

Do I need to give any account of the origin, development and functioning of morality as divine executive action? I interpret morality as divine commands. In philosophy, interpretation can be used as a “reduction operator.” How so? The interpretation for the facts is provided after the facts are obtained. The interpretation of the facts is to be given regardless of what the facts are. Hence, the questions of what the facts are reduce to questions not using the concepts of the interpretation. For instance, many of us interpret the universe as created and sustained by God – the Transcendent. But we rely on natural science using no theistic concepts to describe and explain God’s universe. God, so to speak, is acknowledged after the facts. So, the question “How are divine commands given and received?” reduces to “How are moral commands given and received?” This last question is a question for scientific but also ordinary human knowledge “How is morality discovered and transmitted throughout humankind?”

This question is to be answered as much as possible by natural sciences and then the answer receives a supernatural interpretation. Nothing is changed about the content of morality. Psychology and sociology are needed to tell us how morality is attained in individuals and transmitted in communities. I add “ordinary human knowledge” because natural science is not capable of describing and explaining all morality. To talk of morality, we need some basic “supernatural concepts.” These are not necessarily theistic concepts but they are concepts of the supernatural, as I have characterized supernatural.” There are basic notions of morality: Obligation, good and free will. Normative agent causation – free will—is part of ordinary understanding of morality; it is not explicable by natural sciences.

My regarding moral talk as using supernatural concepts is not bizarre. With increasing secularization fusing moral talk with theistic notions may decrease. But currently it is common to talk as if God, if such there be, would not be pleased with great cruelty. Indeed, people who profess atheism because of the evil in the world, think of God and morality as closely connected. It is certainly not bizarre to point out that ordinary talk is filled with supernatural concepts; vague as they may be. Presidents end speeches with “God bless America.”

What is the result of using interpretation of morality as divine commands as a reduction operator accomplished? It has led to moral deism.

Unfortunately, moral deism undercuts the rationale for understanding morality as based on divine commands. Man is still the measure of all things. Whatever man measures is interpreted as what God commands. God is not cited in moral reasoning. When moral deism is connected with deism about nature, as is logical, then there is an effort to explain the main psychological fact supporting authoritative morality as a purely natural fact. This psychological fact is the sense of transparency. All our actions are known to whatever it is behind morality. Explaining away transparency explains away a moral authority. Setting aside a moral authority sets aside the main reason for developing a divine command interpretation of morality. See Transparency for a discussion of the notion of whatever we do being exposed to the moral authority.

I am moving very quickly here. I’ll have to remedy this later. Moral deism is not an adequate antidote to nihilism. It evaporates into secularism with consequentialism as the only plausible types of moral theory.

To propose a significant divine command morality, I need to add some factual claims that will entail in conjunction with my theory of authoritarian morality some moral claims that some others will reject. To harken back to positivism of the twentieth century, I need to have falsification conditions for my divine command theory for it to be meaningful. This will mean that I have to profess as true some facts with moral implications. I will not write of God the angels and saints speaking to us. I will be writing under the influence of a religion, my Catholicism, as a basis for understanding human nature. I will not cite Catholic teaching. But I am sure they influence me. I will use this understanding of human nature, a Catholic anthropology, as a foundation for morality. Moral arguments will ultimately refer to facts about human nature. But this will be a human nature understood as given by God with moral implications.

God gave us his moral commands in the way he created our minds and bodies. Since, in humans mind and body are inseparable, we can say God gave us moral commands in how He built our bodies.

Since sexual morality is on use of our bodies, it might be well to investigate sexual morality to see if we can uncover how God gave us built sexual morality into our bodies.

Morality a Foundation of the Supernatural

If there is truth, beauty, goodness and holiness independent of human thought, then this objective truth, beauty, goodness and holiness are supernatural realities along with the human capacity to perceive them.

I am seeking the foundations of divine command morality. So, I focus on goodness. Since I am a professed moral realist holding that authoritative moral theory is correct, it is not surprising that I need the supernatural for the realm of reality in which divine commands are given and heard.

Discussion about belief in more than the natural should be divided into two parts. Part one is whether or not there is such a belief. Part two has two parts. Is such a belief to be interpreted as about something apart from it, viz., interpreted realistically? Or,is such a belief to be interpreted as a human invention.

Two famous arguments in moral theory show clearly that moral thought cannot be reduced to thought about the natural. Hume’s famous observation that “ought” cannot be derived from “is” show clearly that moral obligations are more than what is the case. To modify the opening remark of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, let us say that the natural contains only what is the case. G.E. Moore’s observation that attempts to define “Good” in terms of natural states of affairs is always question-begging – what he called the “Naturalistic Fallacy”- shows that belief that something good is not to be understood as belief in any natural condition.

Since humans do think morally, humans do think of the supernatural. Admittedly, it is not usual to classify morality as supernatural. Typically, the notion of supernatural carries the connotation of the action or force of something non-human as well as non-natural. However, a bit of reflection on moral thought soon, as I hope I have shown, leads to the ideas of a moral authority to whom all of our actions are transparent.

Here is a list of a few supernatural realities.
The moral obligations of a human being such as “Do not kill!”
The goodness of a natural human condition such as human knowledge
The moral agent causality of human beings, viz., free will – the ability to choose what is good and what ought to be done
The beauty of a landscape
The holiness of a site
The truth of a sentence

I wish that I could do more than claim that we have to take a stance on whether or not moral thought is purely a human invention or is given by a reality apart from it. One has to take a stance on whether or not to be a moral realistic. I can only add that unless one constantly keeps in mind philosophical motives for being an anti-realist the human default stance is realism about morality.

It is in this supernatural realm of the moral that we must specify how moral commands are given and received and how an order of morality is developed. The moral order will be complex because not only are there basic commands there are also many ad hoc rules because of violations of basic commands. These ad hoc rules can be eliminated by restitution and retribution.

Much takes place in moral reality. Humans with our physical, mental and social capabilities interact with the moral. There is no coherent account of how humans interact with the supernatural. But in the previous post it was pointed out that consistent talk is enough. We can talk consistently of the physical, mental and social interacting without any real hope for giving a coherent account of the interaction.

In a subsequent post, I hope to characterize how commands are given and received.

The Sound of Divine Commands

What is it like to receive a divine moral command? What is it like to hear a moral command from God?
Answer: The sounds of a divine command are the thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative.

The answer may appear an attempt to de-mythologize outlooks understanding moral commands as commands from God. We shall see, though, that including thoughts and sentiments in the authoritative moral outlook includes spirits, if not myths, in the outlook.

What are the thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative?

Answer: The thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative are the thoughts and sentiments of making a moral judgment with the thoughts and sentiments of authoritative morality. (To be developed in a subsequent post.)

Hence, the sounds of a divine command are the thoughts and sentiments of making a moral judgment with the thoughts and sentiments of authoritative morality.

No new moral rules are added to authoritative moral thinking by interpreting morality as based on divine commands. However, fears and hopes of the authoritative moral outlook need to be vindicated by interpreting the moral authority as divine. Hence, even if morality does not change by interpreting it as based on divine commands, moral theology changes to vindicate the fears and hopes essentially connected with morality.

Fear of violating a moral law, hope that one can obey the moral laws and that somehow it is better that the moral laws be obeyed are essential to moral thinking.

If the moral authority is merely aware of its commands being violated and obeyed, then morality does not matter. The authoritative moral outlook can degenerate into a version of moral nihilism that obedience to moral laws does not matter. Or worse, some group of humans may assume themselves to be the moral authority and try to be all-knowing about violations and authorized to make immoral actions have unpleasant consequences. Morality will matter under these tyrants. But we don’t want morality to matter to some human authorities.

Here I am assuming that the choices for interpreting the moral authority are right reason or a direct immanent activity of the Transcendent – God acting in nature. Moral theology needs to develop notions of this immanent activity of the Transcendent to accommodate the essential sentiments of moral thought.

Consider interpreting the moral authority as right reason. Right reason is the idealized notion of human reason working invariably to get the correct answers about facts and values. The thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative as based on right reason is, then, hearing the command of the moral authority. But right reason itself is a lifeless abstraction. It is very difficult to interpret the transparency of our moral actions to reason. I accept the reality of collective human thinking. However, I think that some of our violations of moral laws do not get into collective consciousness. We can still commit secret sins. If right reason is real at all, it is real as a subset of collective consciousness. It is even more difficult to think of right reason as instrumental in having consequences for our violations and good conduct.

So, the moral authority needs to have contact with human reason both in individuals and the collective consciousnesses. But it also needs to be separate from human consciousness and perhaps, through moral commands, be able to have influence on what makes for human harm and good. I think we could think of it as spiritual.

Divine Commands vs. Divine Commanding

In various posts, I have sketched out the structure of morality based on the commands of an authority. In sketching out the structure of authoritarian morality, I have made a strong case that people who accept retributive punishment presuppose authoritarian morality. In other posts, I have sketched out a metaphysical structure of a Transcendent on which everything, including morality, depends for existence. I have, now, the conceptual tools for constructing a conceptual scheme in which the fundamentals of morality are commands of God, with God represented by the Transcendent.

Before working out details of this conceptual structure, I need to specify what actually occurs to make the construction correct.

The structure of authoritarian morality is not authoritarian morality. The structure characterizes the moral reality. The moral reality is the commanding by the moral commander and the responding of those to whom the commands are given. This is a temporal process. So, clearly, it is immanent. Of course, this process depends upon the Transcendent for its existence and character.

But what is the commanding and hearing of commands?

If morality really is based on divine commanding, then moral experience should reveal that activity. The structure of authoritarian morality should then characterize the morality arising from God being a partner in maintenance and development of morality. I am not privy to special moral experiences. There is nothing available to me that others do not also experience in their discussions and personal thinking about right and wrong, good and evil. So, what I say about the commanding of the divine moral commander is an interpretation of what people experience in moral thought and sentiment.

I propose that a sense or thought that we are correct in moral thought or discussion be interpreted as receiving a divine command. There are various descriptions of this sense of being correct about morality. Some have called it what we receive from a moral sense others characterize it as what they get from their moral intuitions, some call it what proper reason recognizes, others characterize it as what their conscience tells them and presently many express this by claiming it is a moral issue.

I use a phrase from Kant.

Stages in our feeling infused thinking at which we can declare a categorical imperative are stages at which we have a sense of receiving a divine command. These categorical imperatives are thoughts of the form “That is right,” “That is wrong,” “That is good,” and “That is bad.” The imperatives about good and bad imply imperatives about right and wrong because a categorical imperative judgment that something is good implies that a categorical imperative that one ought never inhibit it. A categorical imperative judgment that something is bad implies a categorical imperative judgment that one ought never promote it.

To repeat: I am interpreting taking a moral judgment as final is taking it as being divinely commanded. Of course, this does not mean that people consciously interpret their conclusive moral judgments as divinely commanded.

I must emphasize that we are not incorrigible recognizers of divine commands. Divine commands are incorrigible. God cannot err on what ought to be done or propose as good something which is not good. But we can make a mistake about whether God has actually commanded an act or proposed something as good. This is what should be expected if one holds that morality is objective. The prospect of a discrepancy between the objective and the subjective arises when there are thinking feeling subjects trying to be accurate about what is given. Divine commands are the given of morality.

Critical Race Theory Debates and Authoritarian Morality

I am not referring to critical race theory as a methodology for scholars in legal and social research wherein they focus on uncovering and diagnosing remedies for practices which, perhaps very subtly, have an adverse impact on certain populations; especially African-Americans. In September of 2021 I am writing about thoughts and sentiments I detect in news reports about debates on teaching critical race theory in public schools. I detect no serious interest in teaching a scholarly methodology. I sense as little connection between the current debates and critical race theory as there was between the “spirit of Vatican II’’ and the documents of Vatican II back in the 1970s.

I detect debate about adding a moral dimension to the teaching of certain subjects such as history and civics. Should children K-12 be instructed that white people ought to suffer some harm for harms inflicted on African-Americans? The debates are not primarily about teaching children of the harms inflicted on African-Americans, even if voices frequently claim that they only want the facts to be presented. The concern is over learning and understanding these frequently horrifying facts with a special moral sensitivity and aspiration. The special sensitivity is a sense that someone now bears guilt for these injustices and there is an aspiration is that we be purified of the guilt for these injustices. The purging will require discomfort if not clear cut physical damage.

My writing on this topic fits in with my project of showing that moral thought is thought of rules given by divine command. For I detect in these debates presuppositions of significant themes of what I have called “authoritarian morality.” It is authoritarian morality which I, then, model as divine command morality. But of even more importance for my own efforts to make a final contribution to philosophical thought which might then trickle down to improve everyday moral thinking, these confused debates convince me of the need to write a booklet on the notion of moral harm which I have been articulating in my series of blog posts. The confusion of these debates comes from confusion about guilt, punishment and moral harm .

The major theme presupposed is the legitimacy of retributive punishment in its primitive form. . Presupposing retributive punishment is assuming that violation of a moral law entails an expungable moral rule that some harm ought to be for violation of the moral law. The expungable moral rule is expunged when the morally required harm occurs. I have called the morally required harm “moral harm.” The fundamental or primitive form of retributive punishment does not specify the type or degree of the harm which ought to occur, the person or persons who are to suffer the harm nor who is to inflict the harm. Human beings, with development of theories of retributive justice, determine the moral rules for moral harm. That development is long and hard. See The Virtue of Seeking Retribution.

I am delighted to find acceptance of retributive punishment so widely used in a public debate. For that provides some evidence for my thesis that common moral thought is thought of an authoritative morality. Unfortunately, the satisfaction to my philosopher self is offset by my dissatisfaction as a citizen. People are implicitly using concepts such as collective guilt, obligatory harm, and substitutionary atonement without realizing they are doing so. Such unthinking use might do significant damage. For instance, there might be a need to induce much more consciousness of race if white children are to develop a sense of being guilty for harms inflicted by Whites on Blacks in 1920.

Thoughtful use of these concepts of primitive retributive punishment might alleviate the harms of thoughtlessly using them. I do not deny that thoughtless use of the authoritative moral theory that I recommend can afflict psychological and social damage. That fear gives urgency to my project of articulating clearly this moral theory because I believe it is implicitly the dominant, but confused, way of moral thinking.