Category Archives: Authoritarian Morality

Authoritarian Morality, Lincoln’s 2nd Inagural, Today

For Black History Month 2020 the book I selected was Andrew Delbanco’s The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War. Random House Penguin 2018.

The thesis of the book is that cognitive dissonance between acceptance of slavery and the professed ideals of the new nation along with a clash with the Christian morality of most of its citizens produced a cold war between the North and South from the final acceptance of the Constitution in 1789 until the outbreak of hostilities in April 1861. The catalyst for this cold war and ultimately full war was a “poison pill” in the Constitution. For some reason, I had never really noticed this.

The “poison pill” was a provision in Article IV Sec. 2 which stated: “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due” A significant opinion forming elite in Northern states would not obey that Constitutional requirement.

Delbanco’s book is well worth reading. His occasional moralizing may annoy some readers but I think it adds to the interest of the book. Here I focus on the moralizing towards the end of his text where he writes with approval that in March 1865 on the occasion of his second inaugural ” Lincoln had come to see the ’mighty scourge of war’ as divine punishment visited not only upon the South but upon all America. “ Delbanco quotes with approval Lincoln’s “God gives to both North and South, this terrible war , as the woe due to those by the offense came” He cites Lincoln’s reflections on ending the war . If it “continue until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword , ” There would be no cause to doubt God’s justice or to presume the blessings of his mercy.

With proclamation of suffering which ought to occur because of injustice, it is clear that Lincoln is using the language of authoritarian morality. I have no doubt that Lincoln was sincere in using this moral framework. I interpret Delbanco as accepting Lincoln’s framework. As Delbanco goes further to suggest that we Caucasians whose main roots reach back to those who fought the Civil War and its preceding cold war are still incurring punishment due for injustices done to descendants of the slaves after the Civil War. The moral order, if not an acting moral authority, is still passing judgment on us and prescribing some harm which ought to befall us.

The purpose of this post has been to remind us that the perspective of authoritarian morality was alive in 19th century USA and is still alive now.

I am not sure that it is the dominant moral perspective. It is interesting to note that when I consulted an on-line copy of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural I called it up from a source called Owl Eyes. With respect to Lincoln’s talk of an avenging God a commentator, called: “Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor” suggests that Lincoln might have been using this language simply for rhetorical effect because he realized his audience used that kind of language. I was not surprised by the comment. There is a point of view in our contemporary culture that an intelligent person, and no doubt Lincoln was a highly intelligent person, would seriously believe what the language of authoritarian morality implies. However, that assumption about intelligent people is shown to be wrong by the clear words of Lincoln and how Lincoln’s moral perspective is shared by Delbanco. At least I interpret Delbanco as moralizing from the standpoint of authoritarian morality because he used the language with enough conviction to evoke in me a sense of dread of punishment due for our social structure which inflict injustice on African Americans.

Holy Week: Is It Only a Show?

This post is a reminder that virtual worship services support a widespread conviction that religious worship is only a show. There are narratives with scant, if any, historical evidence. Miraculous events are described. Moral language is used which is not generally used. That is not at all unusal for shows. When the show is over, one returns to real life, viz., where your body is. In real life one ignores the narratives and does not use the moral categories used in the show. The sense of a show would be diminished by actually being present. For then it is not only a show because one is actually there participating. It is in the real world.

During Holy Week 2020 throughout the whole world severe restrictions are imposed on commercial and civil life to lessen spread of COVID-1 virus. Amongst other restrictions public worship is prohibited. Churches, temples and mosques are locked. The Catholic Triduum is not to be celebrated publicly. The fight against spread of the virus is the dominant social force. All the kingdoms of the earth bow down before it.

As substitutes for public worship, there are numerous on-line and TV presentations of the worship services. I personally, follow on-line liturgies from Bishop Robert Barron’s “Word on Fire” organization. In these substitute services, we hear the traditional biblical narratives and homilies about the suffering and death of Jesus. They tell a story whose events are alleged to have changed the human condition. We proclaim that by undergoing a horrible execution by crucifixion Jesus, who was God incarnate, suffered the immense punishment for some wrongdoing for which all of us and each of us is responsible. The harm He endured fulfilled a moral sentence that this immense punishment ought to occur. The wrongdoing was so grave that the harm that ought to be suffered could not be suffered by any ordinary human being.

If the presenters and we viewers are serious about our Catholicism we are supposed to think that what happened then accomplished something immensely more important for human beings than, say, finding a vaccine for COVID-19. Is this madness? Would not an explicit statement to this effect be taken by most of the world, and many Catholics, as asserting a pious myth which serious people should dismiss as irrelevant to current problems?

Beside the theological stance, the moral language embedded in the religious talk alone exacerbates the sense of irrelevance. The moral language presupposes a moral stance of an authoritarian morality. Only fragments of authoritarian morality remain in the moral stance in Europe and North America. The concept of suffering which ought to occur simply to make reparation for a past violation of a moral law is dismissed as primitive. Thinking that one person’s suffering could make reparation for the crime of another is regarded as immoral. The suggestion that God as a moral authority could demand suffering for violation of His laws is opposed as a blasphemous theological hypothesis.

To someone who struggles daily to understand and practice his commitment to Catholicism, this disconnect between the language of our Holy Week liturgies and and the language used in the fight against COVID-19 has become much more threatening.

I would love to be able to proclaim with conviction that what happened in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplished something immensely more important for human beings than, say, finding a vaccine for COVID-19.

With only virtual services, it all seems much more to be only a show for people with a taste for that kind of show. Bringing it into the real world would be a threat to public health. This sharpens a sense that the only good religions can do in the real world-where our bodies are- is works of charity.

I will not accept that Christianity’s only value to society is to provide a curious motivations for NGOs and to keep alive as museum pieces ancient narratives and practices.

My way of resisting is to try to bring forward the concepts of authoritarian morality. If the concepts of authoritarian morality, which are now latent in our cultures, are brought into more common use, then the moral categories of traditional Catholicism would start to become part of the language used in the real world.

Perhaps, then, being only able to view liturgies as shows on my computer or TV has accomplished some good by encouraging me to continue my struggle to bring the concepts of authoritarian morality into greater use.

Purgatorial Suffering

I return to expounding authoritarian morality by introducing a very useful term “purgatorial suffering.”

A crucial notion in authoritarian morality* is “moral harm.” Moral harm is the mental or physical harm which ought to occur as a consequence of violation of a moral law. Moral harm is the sanction for the moral law. Hence, when a moral law is violated the moral authority issues a new specific moral prescription. This specific moral prescription is that some harm ought to happen because of the violation. In the case of so-called social or sins of unjust structures no definite individuals can be identified as the violators. But here let us think of violations for which a definite individual is the violator.There is no claim that the moral authority actively inflicts the prescribed suffering.The harm prescribed is for purgatorial suffering.

There is no claim that the moral authority actively inflicts the prescribed suffering. Infliction of the suffering may be turned over to us.** And the suffering prescribed may never occur.

Purgatorial suffering is an apt term because the specific norm requiring suffering for the violator is removed as the suffering goes on. The specific prescription is fulfilled when the prescribed suffering has occurred. The moral order is purged from the ad hoc prescription of punishment. The violator is purged from the condemnation of the specific moral norm prescribing his suffering. He is cleansed from condemnation.

Seriously, I am uncovering the basic thoughts behind ordinary notions of retributive punishment and pleas or prayers for mercy from the moral authority. It is thought that the moral authority can set aside or forgive some of the prescribed suffering. One of my goals is to uncover basic thoughts in ordinary moral thought

Purgatorial suffering can be internal and external or physical. Guilt and shame are examples of internal purgatorial suffering. Disease or loss of a job could be external purgatorial suffering.

Mental or physical suffering does not need to be interpreted or accepted as suffering prescribed for a violations to be purgatorial. Consider a comparison with criminal law. If a man serves a five year sentence as retributive punishment for his crime, he has fulfilled the prescription of the judge who sentenced him and has “paid his debt to society” regardless of whether or not he accepted his suffering as justified.

In subsequent posts, I need to explore how moral character is purged from bad character traits by proper responses to purgatorial suffering. This will connect purgatorial suffering with concepts such as repentance, mercy and forgiveness. In this post, I focus on purgatorial suffering and violations of what we ought to do; not with purgatorial suffering and how we ought to be – moral character.

Primarily purgatorial suffering is for a violation of what has happened. It is not for bringing about some good in the future. However, purgatorial suffering can be linked with accomplishment of some future good by being accepted as an occasion for character building

*Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality
**See Virtue of Taking Retribution


I am in the midst of a project of showing that people who make moral judgments have, even if felt only dimly, a sentiment that some harm ought to be if a moral principle is violated. There are people who rarely make moral judgments. But if they only make moral judgments about some public policies, they make moral judgments. For instance, declaring that separating families of immigrants is a moral issue, is making a moral judgment about current practices.

I have made a case that moral judgments that a moral principle has been violated logically entail that harm ought to result because of the violation. See Moral Harm is a Moral Judgment. But now I am going further than arguing about the entailments of moral judgments. I am trying to show that people actually think and feel what their words imply.

Of course, what people actually think and feel is a question of fact. I cannot answer factual questions about social-psychology while sitting in front of my PC and imagining what I think a typical person should think and feel.

But the word “typical” I just wrote provides the clue for understanding what I am doing and its presuppositions. I am presupposing that people share a type or form which makes us what we are. In this case I am focusing on the part of the type revealed by moral language. I am, then, presupposing an innate moral psychological structure. I want to tell the truth about this innate moral psychology of the typical person. But I do not seek the truth about the innate moral psychology of the typical person by the methods of empirical science. I just think while being lead by verbal links.

There is no way to characterize most of the thinking. I cannot say that I think about the typical person where “typical” suggests average or normal. I may think of some unusual character in a novel who submits to physical suffering to cleanse himself from guilt. So, of course, be wary of what I write. To corroborate my claims, think to yourself how you and others respond to admission of moral violations. I hope these results may lead us to a better understanding of ourselves and that such understanding is good for us.

In this post I want to bring out the link between moral judgment and the sentiment that there ought to be physical suffering. In my previous post I made a case that the typical person thinks and feels that someone who violates a moral principle ought to suffer the unpleasant moral feelings of shame and guilt. See You Ought to be Ashamed of Yourself. Here I want to add that typical people think and feel that the moral feelings are insufficient harm to remove the need for harm required by moral violations. We have the notion of penance where penance is some physical discomfort to make up for a moral failing. Recall that moral violations of basic principles introduces all sorts of temporary obligations for occurrence of harm. See Moral Harm is a Moral Judgment. The quickest way to exhibit the presence of the notion of penance in the typical person is to think of someone who would like to set aside the moral outlook which holds that moral violations require harm. Think of a case of a man who cheated on his wife, felt guilty and started to pull back from hanging out with his male friends and drinking far less. He thought that it is not enough to feel guilt and shame. He had to do something. Confessing to his wife would do far more harm than good and it would not bring him cleansing pain but inflict pain on his wife. It is easy to imagine one of his companions telling him that he doesn’t have to do penance for cheating on his wife. She does not know and nobody really got hurt. But the man who cheated on his wife may very likely feel that his forgoing some pleasures somehow makes up for his betrayal. These typical men understand the notion of penance.

You Ought To Be Ashamed of Yourself!

The point of this post is to add some support for the intelligibility of a crucial notion I have been using in my interpretation of moral thought as based on commands of a moral authority who commands, amongst other things, that some harm ought to be as a consequence of moral infractions. I have heard it said that the notion of harm as mere retribution does not make sense; it does not serve any purpose. Infliction of harm simply for a past violation does not aim at making the future any better.

Let me be clear that the position I am criticizing, is not that there should be no harm after a violation. It is admitted by all that harm should result but that it should be aimed at improving the violator and/or society.

I grant that retributive harm is pointless in the sense of “pointless” which indicates lack of a future better condition at which the occurrence of harm is supposed bring us. However, “pointless” in this sense should not be confused with “senseless” with “senseless” being interpreted as “cannot be understood” as a phrase such as “Days barked all day long.”

The notion of harm which ought to be inflicted is understood if talk of it is frequently used. For this post, the usage cited as evidence that the notion of obligatory harm as pure retribution makes sense is “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” People with widely divergent views on what is morally wrong, converge on their usage of this phrase. Progressives tell me that I ought to be ashamed of myself for disparaging gay marriage. I tell progressives that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for promoting gay marriage.

Shame is an uncomfortable emotional state. Both progressives and I think that it makes perfectly good sense to allege that the other OUGHT to suffer this uncomfortable state simply from having the morally wrong thoughts and attitudes about same sex marriage.

There Ought to be Moral Suffering

In my previous post I made a great step forward in articulating the structure of what I have called authoritarian morality. Authoritarian morality is based on rules with sanctions. The sanctions specify suffering which ought to occur if the rules are violated. The thought that there ought to be some suffering is morally repugnant. For the suffering in question is not suffering as a means for some good; it is suffering for violating the law. It’s retribution. In Inconsistency in Moral think Resolved By Moral Skepticism I addressed the problem of the moral repugnance of accepting that some suffering ought to be by arguing that we need to repress that thought to have a consistent rule based morality. However, what is the suffering which ought to be?

In my efforts to find the topics which need to be addressed in making a case for a moral principle I realized that I needed to point out some good realized by obedience to the rule. I had to do more than show that obeying the principle meets some standard for acting rationally. Fortunately, there is readily available a characterization of moral thinking which shows that obedience to traditional moral rules aims at attainment of some basic human goods. This is the so-called New Natural Law Theory.

I have not yet re-developed the argument in my book* for the moral principle I call the Paternal Principle.

A man may intentionally seek an orgasm only in coitus open to conception with a woman to whom he has a lifelong commitment to care for her and any children resulting from their intercourse.

I plan to re-develop it by showing its rationality using thoughts from those working in Thomistic moral theory and that it aims at a basic human good by adapting thoughts from the New Natural Law theory on the good of marriage.

However, the main point for this blog post is that I can specify a minimum suffering which ought to be. The basic idea is that a person who violates the law ought to suffer loss of the good at which obedience to the law aims. It is difficult to specify in detail the good of obedience to the law. What, in detail, is the good of being honest? However, the structure of this suffering can be stated. I will state it for the case of a man who violates the Paternal Principle by habitual masturbation stimulated by pornography.

He ought not have any of the satisfactions of proper marital intercourse. He ought to suffer awareness that he does not deserve his satisfaction. He ought to suffer longing for proper sexual satisfaction even in a inchoate way. He ought to suffer shame from the thought that people who think rightly about sexuality think that he ought not be acting as he does.

Similar paragraphs about people who are dishonest, cruel etc., could be written. These thoughts and feelings of guilt or shame could be called moral suffering.

I must emphasize two points about moral suffering. First moral suffering is always suffering which OUGHT TO BE for violating a moral law. Moral suffering is only occasionally suffering which actually occurs upon violation of a moral law. Second, moral suffering is only a minimum suffering which ought to be. Other suffering such as physical pain or disease may always be required for violations.

However, by accepting moral suffering as a SUFFERING WHICH OUGHT TO BE, we accept retributive suffering in our moral framework.

* My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See Ch. IV for my justification see pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Human Reason Is Not Our Moral Authority

The primary goal of this post is to point out that human reason is not a moral authority. If there are authoritative moral commands in our reason, they are not issued by reason itself. What is reason?

Here is the outline of the structure of reason I attribute to reason when I make my case that reason is not moral authority. I support my claims about the structure of reason by citing phrases which seem to presupposed reason has the structure I am attributing to it.

First there is reason itself considered by itself, viz., apart from any human or group of humans. Reason itself considered by itself is the candidate for the moral authority. We say “According to reason . . “

There is a stance, which I take, towards reason itself considered by itself as perfect reason which we are trying to isolate through development of logic, mathematics, scientific method, and critical thinking in general.

Second there is human reason. Human reason is a vast collection of what has been and is being thought by human beings through the ages. There are numerous subclasses of human reason, e.g., the thoughts of various civilizations and religions.

“Reason” is used descriptively in the phrase “human reason.” There is no claim that what comes from human thinking is always correct although those of us who are not total skeptics believe that there are some truths produced by human reason as well as some truths recognized by human reason. Human reason is logically inconsistent although human reason considered by itself is assumed to be consistent and always correct.

We need to assume that there is human reason because we cannot talk about reason in individuals without assuming that they learn to think by learning the thoughts of some culture – some subclass of human reason. We say “Human reason varies from culture to culture. . .”

Third, there is reason itself embedded in each human being. Call this “reason itself imbedded in individuals.” Reason itself embedded in individuals is the same in all people and is the same as reason itself considered by itself. We say “If I would only follow my reason, I’d get it right.”

Fourth, there is the reasoning of each individual where “reason “ is used descriptively as the collection of all the sense and nonsense we think. Call this “personal empirical reason.” We say “I can’t figure it out; my reasoning is all messed up.”

*There’s more. Fifth there is reason itself embedded in the collective of human thinking or reasoning. Call this reason itself embedded in human society “public empirical reason”. Talk of reason as the moral authority commits us to a social realism which holds that societies in some way think. We say “Human reason is biased.”

Human reason itself considered by itself, human reason itself embedded in individuals and human reason itself embedded in societies are the same and reason so considered is the alleged moral authority.

Assume that there is a single entity designated by “human reason itself.” Could this entity be our moral authority? Acceptance of this entity is to accept no more than the reality of human reasoning. Human reasoning does not enchant reality. Only a hard core dogmatic materialist would hold that acceptance of human thinking is something like accepting a demi-god. But a moral authority enchants reality . In the previous post we brought out that acceptance of a moral authority is acceptance of something like a demi-god. From that post, recall that a moral authority has a kind of omniscience about all violations of moral law, has anger or wrath about violations, decrees that harm ought to come about because of the violations and has some considerable capability to have that harm brought about.

So for an authoritarian morality, human reason cannot be the moral authority. This result disappoints me. I thought that adopting an authoritarian moral theory would enable me to give a stronger argument for a fundamental traditional principle of sexual morality than I gave in my book**. I hoped that I could show that the principle in question was a principle of reason and thereby had authoritative force.

This result does not show that an authoritarian moral theory is incorrect. Nor does it show that reasoning is irrelevant in trying to convince people of a moral principle. Reasoning plus action in accordance with what we say is all that we have to convince others. It is just that when we give others reasons, even compelling reasons, for a moral principle we are not giving them the command of a moral authority.

*All of these distinctions could be expressed much more exactly in the terminology of Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy. But I do not plan to investigate the distinctions and assumptions systematically. My aim has been to show that they seem to be presupposed by our ordinary talk about reason.

**My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Authoritarian Morality Enchants Reality

The goal of this post is to acknowledge that assumption of an authoritarian moral theory is to accept the reality of far more than those who hold the scientism philosophy that there is nothing beyond what is necessary for providing truth conditions for claims on natural science. Authoritarian morality does not enchant reality with as many wonders as Christianity. But it certainly fills reality with a mental life far beyond what natural science can discover.*

The moral authority has to have something like the mentality we claim for ourselves and attribute to other people. The moral authority is a personal being which acts intentionality. (I underline terms suggesting mentality.)

The law giver has concern that its general laws are obeyed. There definitely is concern of the moral authority is if we regard the lawgiver as benevolent. We recognize the benevolence of the lawgiver in our recognition that the general laws are, if obeyed, for human flourishing. The law giver recognizes violations of its laws. The law giver has wrath when general laws are disobeyed. The law giver prescribes harm that ought to occur because of violations and the law giver intends that the prescribed harm occurs. The law giver recognizes when the prescribed harm or acceptable to it substitute has occurred. When satisfied the law giver resinds the prescription for harm.

So far, it may seem that these features attributed to the so-called moral law giver are only the features we would attribute to a human legislator. However, a bit of reflection brings out a tremendous difference. Start with recognition of all violations. Earlier, I called this “transparency” to the moral authority. Nothing wrong, or right for that matter, escapes the notice of the moral legislator. This is a type of omniscience. But the moral legislator is not willful or legislates arbitrarily even if it wills that harm ought to follow upon violations of its general laws. For the laws of the moral authority are immutable.

To say that they are immutable is to say that we can not imagine them being otherwise. For instance, I cannot think of what it would be like for abortion to be morally permissible. I may wish that it were morally permissible. But that is only a wish because I cannot think of what I wish for to be true.

These observations about a moral authority suffice to show that acceptance of a moral authority would certainly strike some one holding a scientist philosophy as imagining reality filled with some fantastic being.

* See Christian Re-enchantment for a sketch of how a so-called enchanted reality is philosophically forbidden to those who hold that there is nothing beyond what is necessary for providing truth conditions for claims on natural science.

In my book, I argued for a fundamental moral rule for male sexuality without any appeal to a moral authority. I hope to develop a stronger argument using authoritarian morality.

My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.