Category Archives: Progressive Morality

Why Be Moral? Secularism vs. Divine Command Morality

The question “Why be Moral?” is a significant question.

Verbally it seems like a trivial question of “Why ought I do what I ought to do?” An accusation of triviality might run: What is there about “ought” that you do not understand when you ask why you ought to do what you already know you ought?

A quick dismissal of the triviality accusation runs: You really do not understand all dimensions of the meaning of “ought” if you cannot sympathize with people who, when faced with demands of morality contrary to their inclinations, seek something to strengthen their resolve to meet those demands.

But is it a philosophical question?

Way back at the beginning of the twentieth century H.A Prichard challenged its philosophic significance in his influential essay “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on Mistake?” Mind, 1912.

Perhaps on an austere conception of philosophy quests for moral motivation are not philosophic. I do not hold such a view of philosophy. However, while not forgetting that this significant question is primarily about motivation, I shall not focus on motivational dimension of the question. I use the question as an occasion to sketch out pictures of what is involved in obeying moral laws. “This issue of motivation for being moral can be developed as question for fundamental philosophy – call it metaphysics, ontology or study of being per se. It ultimately becomes a question of whether or not in being there can be a moral order.

David Hume is well-known for reminding us that “is” does not imply “ought.” Two other connections between “is” and “ought” are less remarked upon. Logically we cannot infer that something is done from there being a moral law that it ought to be done. Of even more importance is the truth that in nature what ought to be done frequently, far too frequently, does not occur.

There is an obvious difference between moral laws and physical laws. Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. Apparently there is no need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.

For the moral order regard a situation to which a moral law applies a cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation an effect. Not stealing in the example is an effect of the law. As just noted: all too frequently effect does not follow cause in the moral order. In the moral order there is a need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.

Human choice is the intermediary connecting “ought” with “is.” We can choose not to make the connection. We are asking whether we ought to make that gap invariable. What should move our will to do what is right?

Choosing is for something. Choosing is goal driven – teleological. So investigating how choosing, or willing, connects moral cause with moral effect is investigating why the choice is made. Investigating for what a moral choice is made we are investigating at least an aspect of the issue of why we should be moral.

Looking at the “Why be Moral?” question as an occasion to ask what links moral cause with moral effect can lead to many, if not all, of the questions of moral philosophy. For instance, it provides an occasion for asking whether there are moral laws and choices let alone free choices.

I am comparing what I have called divine command morality with progressive morality. I am not preparing a book on moral philosophy. Developing a metaphysical account, or as I prefer to say “a picture,” of reality suitable for divine command morality is what I plan to pursue in my next few posts. Development of this picture of a dynamic moral order is part of my critique of secularism. This dynamic moral order is part of a religious picture of reality which seems presupposed by our ordinary moral language. Thus a rigorous secularism needs to radically revise our moral language. Pointing out that need is a criticism of secularism.

Authoritarian Morality as Divine Command Morality

The purpose of this post is to give a philosophic reason for re-labeling “authoritarian morality” as “divine command morality.” Secularization is primarily a religious movement but it also contains a philosophic reductionist program. I want to turn my development of authoritarian morality into a critique of secularism by critique of its reductionist program.

Reductionist programs aim to show that some of the kinds of things we talk about cannot be real – cannot have being. Thus, nothing we say about them could be true. For instance, a materialist reductionist program aims to show we need say nothing about thoughts and sensations to say all that can be true. A secularization reductionist program aims to show that we need say nothing about anything resembling a god, goddess or sacred item to say all that can be true. Reductionist programs have the strong goal of showing that certain kinds of things cannot be. They do not aim at showing only that there are not these kinds of things. *Reductionist programs are at the heart of philosophy – what is being such that some of what we talk of can have it and others we talk of cannot?

I have constructed the concept of authoritarian morality from the notion of moral harm as a notion of harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. I have shown that there is a close match between our ordinary moral talk and the moral talk of a hypothetical person who explicitly held an authoritarian moral theory. See, for instance, Authoritarian Morality in Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural.The concept of a moral authority was developed far enough to justify talking of the moral authority as a god. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality and Authoritarian Morality Enchants Reality

So, the philosophic component of secularization needs to show that the notion of moral harm is of something which cannot be. If successful, secularization has very significant implications for how we should think of morality. Morality becomes weak progressive morality. For instance, secularization tells us that if we think clearly we will not think that any harm which does occur is harm which is deserved because of a violation of a moral law.

To review: Secularization requires elimination of the notion of moral harm. Elimination of the notion of moral harm renders morality insignificant if we really think about what we assert in a moral judgment. A secularist should, as future posts will bring out, hold an emotivism interpretation of moral judgments.

* In my book: A Kantian Condemnation of Atheistic Despair: A Declaration of Dependence Lang Pub. New York 1997 I show that serious atheism is modal atheism which holds that there cannot be a God.

Moral Harm Distinguished From Vengeance

In my previous post, I admitted that I had lived over 80 years with deficient moral thinking. More precisely: moral thinking deficient for thinking as a Christian. Some might say that my moral thinking was just fine for progressive moral thought.

I suppressed the component of moral thinking which I now call “moral harm.” Moral harm is harm which ought to be because of a violation of a moral law. Concomitant with suppression of the notion of moral harm, I suppressed use of a notion of retributive punishment. I understood retributive punishment as infliction of harm which ought to be simply for violation of a moral law. When I had justified punishment, I always analyzed proper punishment as corrective action. In punishing, I believed that we should look to make the future better; not try to correct the past. I had a teleological notion of punishment. As a result of my failure to accept a notion of retributive punishment, I could not think consistently about a fundamental doctrine of Christian belief: Jesus suffered and died for our sins.

In this post, I trace my implicit dismissal of the notion of moral harm to an explicit dismissal of the notion of vengeance. This provides an occasion to distinguish moral harm from vengeance.

I was blessed to have been educated in a home and in schools where revenge or “getting even” were categorically condemned. The “Sermon on the Mount” amongst other passages guided our moral teaching. Even now, I sometimes think that the only special moral teaching of Jesus was categorical condemnation of revenge. Of course, this is not to say that we did not take revenge or look out for opportunities to “get even.” If I had been in a culture which accepted dueling, my personality would have led me into numerous duels. Probably, getting revenge or rationalizing our revenge were our most common sins. The rationalizing misled me to keep suppressing the notion of moral harm. For people would often say I am just giving them what they deserve” when clearly they were delighting in inflicting harm on someone who wronged them. Implicitly, I kept thinking that any notion of infliction of harm for a wrong would be revenge.

But how can we distinguish moral harm from vengeance? Moral harm is harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. Vengeance is harm, or attempted harm, to balance harm done to me, or a group with which I identify. I use “balance” to emphasize that vengeance, like moral harm, is not teleological. They do not aim at producing good. They aim at restoring the status quo ante the violation or injury. Reaction to an injury to protection oneself or deter future injuries is not vengeance.

But despite that similarity, the differences are tremendous – they are in different categories. Confusing moral harm with vengeance is a category mistake. Moral harm is in the category of moral norms. They are ad hoc commands that harm ought to be for this violation. Vengeance is in the category of events taken, or planned, in the natural world.

Could a person in fact unite vengeance and moral harm in a single action by inflicting harm on some one who violated a moral law to harm him? No. If his intention is to satisfy his desire to “get even” he has not fulfilled the prescription that harm ought to be done for violation of the law.

In general, I think that it is best not to have victims inflict retributive punishment because it is then so easy to confuse vengeance with obeying the moral laws about moral harm. The result being a confusion about the legitimacy of the notion of moral harm.

Progressivism, Moral Harm and My Catholicism

The purpose of this post is to point out how the discovery of the notion of moral harm as harm which ought to be as a fundamental component of moral thinking has become my key to understanding numerous religious and philosophical claims in which I have faith.

In my previous post, I made a case that moral progressivism is inconsistent with Catholicism. I quickly added that individuals could be both moral progressives and Catholics because individuals do not need a consistent set of beliefs to guide their lives. Many individuals are fortunate enough so that facts never force them to feel cognitive dissonance in their beliefs; let alone having a predicament in which they think themselves obligated to do and not do the same thing.

But some of us care about consistency. Once we start caring about consistency we judge that we need consistency because we care about truth. We want true claims about what is and what ought to be. Consistency is a necessary condition our claims to be true.

Clarity is a necessary condition for appreciating truth. That is why so much of theology and philosophy can be labelled “Faith Seeking Understanding.”

An indication of clarity is when you can say to yourself “Now, I understand how I could say that.” For instance, after uncovering the notion of moral harm which led me to understand retributive punishment I could say of “Now I understand how I could say ‘He paid his debt to society by serving five years in prison.’ ”

After writing my post on the theoretical conflict between moral progressivism and Catholicism, I decided to look through some Catholic sources to verify that there is a conflict. I picked up St. Anselm’s Why God Became Man. I noticed on the cover that I had purchased the book at an American Philosophical Association meeting in 1976. Marginal notes indicated that I had struggle through the book twice.

My memories of the book had always been unpleasant because the difficult reading gave me absolutely no help in understand why God incarnated Himself to suffer crucifixion as punishment for some crimes of humanity. I could follow Anselm’s clever arguments on issues such as why God could not simply have waived the punishment by fiat. On this May 2020 reading, I suddenly realized that a fundamental barrier to my being able to say “Now I understand how I could say ‘God suffered the punishment for our sins” is that I did not understand punishment as retribution- as harm required by morality simply for having violated a moral law.

I had lived over eighty years in a Catholic environment believing that punishment is justifiable only as corrective action by properly established civil authorities. For violations of moral laws for which there were no civil sanctions there should be no punishment at all in this life. Actually I never really understood why there should be post-mortem punishment: be it in hell or purgatory. My moral thinking was inconsistent because I in fact held that no harm ought to be along with thinking that there were moral laws which ought never be violated.

But now, late in life, even after my 2014 book on sexual morality, I have realized that fundamental in moral thinking is the notion that harm ought to be as a sanction for violation of moral laws. I realized that my moral thinking was inconsistent and that I had to choose. The need to choose made vivid the thought that I had to accept retributive punishment. With the acceptance of retributive punishment I can much more readily bring myself to say that there had to be suffering for the sins of humanity. Unfortunately, with the need to choose I face the challenge of whether or not my choice against progressive morality is correct.

I will mail you a free copy of my book: Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Email me: kielkopf.1@osu.edu

Progressivism vs. Catholicism

Is progressivism* consistent with Catholicism? No! There are many inconsistencies; especially in moral theory. But here I focus on theology in order to show the necessity of the notion of moral harm for understanding redemptive suffering.

Moral harm is harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. Catholicism holds holds that Christ suffered torture and crucifixion to fulfill the prescription for the moral harm required for human sinfulness. In paragraph 601 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christ’s suffering is called “redemptive suffering” Progressivism rejects the notion of moral harm. Hence, progressivism rejects the notion of redemptive suffering.

Am I saying that someone who takes a progressive approach to morality cannot be a Catholic or Christian? No. I am writing about a moral theory I built up from a foundational idea that there ought to be no harm and intended it reflect popular progressive moral beliefs. I write of Catholicism as body of doctrines. I point out a contradiction between these two theories. Progressivism cannot be a consistent Catholicsm. Catholicism cannot be a consistent progressive morality.

People are not theories. What people think are at best bits and pieces of theories. People do not think, say or believe all the implications of what they say or believe. A Catholic who takes a progressive approach to moral issues need not ever think or say anything which contradicts fundamental Catholic teaching about redemptive suffering. A Catholic can say words such as “Jesus Christ is our saviour who died for our sins” without every trying to spell out what it means. He can regard them as holy words he is supposed to say or immediately accept it as all a mystery which we cannot even start to understand.

For all that I know, people can be both morally progressive and Catholic. Indeed such people may be very good Catholic. I do not hesitate to judge another person’s character. But I do not judge a person’s character on the basis of the logical consistency of theories I develop from bits and pieces of what they say. For instance, I think Joe Biden might be a good Catholic despite the fact that his moral progressivism on abortion and homosexuality place him in contradiction to Catholic teaching. He might well be too busy thinking about other issues to draw out implications inconsistent with progressive morality from Catholic doctrines on redemption. Biden is not a good example for other Catholics. But he may have an innocent childlike faith in the words and ceremonies of Catholicism which is pleasing to God.

However, there are some of us for whom trying to understand is crucial for letting words guide our lives. So, if I were to say that what Jesus Christ accomplished by his suffering and death did far more for humanity than anything such as discovering a vaccine for Covid-19, I need to have some concepts or ideas which I can use appreciate why I would say something like that. If I cannot even start to make sense of it, I won’t believe it. But I want to believe it to avoid the nihilism of progressivism. Here then is a situation in which there is my faith seeking understanding. Faith seeking understanding is theology.

My faith is holding fast to the words of Catholicism. My theologizing is the constant effort to think of why I would say those words.

The notion of moral harm is a key to gaining at least a part of understanding. Hence, I will be using moral harm in theology exercises to gain some understanding of the Paschal mystery.

*Perhaps, I should use “moral progressivism” to distinguish it from “progressivism” which is used to label a variety of political views which are successors of what used to be called liberal views.

What is Progressive Morality?

“Progressive morality” is a term I recently introduced to refer to a type of moral theory contrary to the authoritarian morality I support. Progressive morality is an extension of a theory about sexual morality examined in my book* which I called Progressive Sexual Morality. The guiding thought of progressive sexual morality is the moral neutrality of sexuality. The morality neutrality of sexuality holds that in principle any sexual activity is morally permissible. The guiding thought of progressive morality is that no harm ought not be.

A good way to answer, “What is Progressive Morality?” is to show how progressive sexual morality can be made a progressive morality. In my book I implicitly connected progressive sexual morality with progressive morality’s thought that harm ought not be with the provision that coercive sexual acts are not permissible. Progressive sexual moralities are easily incorporated into progressive moralities if they would drop any absolute condemnation of coercive sex. It is remotely possible that a coercive sexual act produces less harm than any other act open to the rapist under the circumstances.

Do progressive moralities hold the moral neutrality of sexuality? Yes. Progressives hold the moral neutrality of every type of act. In principle, any act, even an act done to intentionally inflict harm, might be the act which produces the least harm in certain circumstances.

Act utilitarism is the fundamental method of moral evaluation for progressive morality. The basic good is satisfaction of human inclination and harm is frustration of inclination satisfaction. There cannot be any specification of any other condition such as development of talents as a good. Such a specification would characterize it as something we ought to pursue. But if we ought to pursue it then there needs to be a sanction for failing to pursue it. But sanctions open up the prospect of harm that ought to be. Inclination satisfaction becomes the good by default. Everyone naturally has this goal and there is no need to command people to have it.

In effect, the guiding thought of progressive morality is that there ought to be no frustration of human desires. And the right act in any circumstances is the act, which after balancing satisfactions with frustrations, produces the highest amount of satisfactions.

Progressivism is a humanism with its restriction to human desires. And with human desires ultimately determining what is right or wrong, “man is the measure of all things.”

The most interesting aspect of progressive morality comes out in explaining the status of the norm “Harm ought not be” which we just interpreted as “there ought to be no frustration of human desires.” Progressives are not naïve. They realize that at the present time there are kinds of desires whose satisfaction produces harm as well as kinds of people whose system of desires aim at what is harmful.

The explanation brings out why they can be called “progressive.”

Obviously, they cannot take “harm ought not be” as an imperative with sanctions. Progressivism makes assumptions about human nature. Some of the most important assumptions are as follows.
1. Moral language is part of human thinking and use of moral language actually modifies human desires and guide human behavior. It is not for telling the truth or somehow indicating the way things are.
2.Humans have some desires, such as occasionally desiring that others satisfy their desires, which could be called moral desires. (It’s simply not a sociological fact that people are totally selfish.)
3. What people desire can be modified. In particular, with development of technology people can be educated to care more for the satisfaction of other’s desires.
4. Technical progress will continue to provide resources for desire satisfaction so that, amongst other things, there will be less conflict over scarce resources.

So, progressives who bother to think about the foundations of their moral stance look at their guiding thought that there be no harm as a normative principle pervasive in human thought which their inclinations for human satisfaction leads them to take it very seriously. They might admit that they are higher on the compassion inclination scale than most other people. After noting that they are simply following amoral nature in their moral endeavors they look to technical advances and education, which may use moral language, to develop schemes for maximum desire satisfaction in the future. This future, which they most certainly will not see, most likely will require somewhat different kind of people with somewhat different desires. But such a future is possible. To be working on a scheme which leads to this right kind of future is being on the right side of history.

* 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.

Moral Harm as An Intrinsic Evil

Authoritarian moral theories recognize some acts as intrinsically evil. For instance, my Authoritarian moral theory regards masturbation as intrinsically evil. Such a condemnation of masturbation means that under no circumstances and regardless of the intention or consequences is masturbation morally permissible. However, moral harm is not an intrinsic evil for Authoritarian moral theories. Here “moral harm” stands for the intentional infliction of harm to satisfy the sanctions for violation of a moral law. Intentional tolerance of harm as harm suffered for violation of a moral law would also be moral harm as I am using “moral harm” for this post. So interpreting AIDs as punishment for homosexual acts is interpreting it as moral harm.

For example, if a young boy were masturbating, he would be performing an intrinsically evil act. If his father caught him in the act, grabbed him, shook him while yelling at him about being a pervert, the mental pain and slight physical pain are harms that the father not only was permitted to inflict on his son but might well have been his obligation to inflict on his son simply as punishment for what his son did.

The term “Progressive moral theory” is a term I invented. Progressive moral theories hold that in principle the morality of every act depends upon the circumstances of its performance, the intention with which it is performed and the consequences of its performance. So, it seems that Progressive moral theories classify no act as intrinsically evil.

However, Progressive theories also resolve the basic contradiction in moral thought by specifying that no harm ought to be. This does not mean that Progressive theories condemn infliction of harm as intrinsically evil. Under certain circumstances with an intention to produce good and the production of good is likely, harm may be inflicted. What they absolutely condemn is the intentional infliction of harm to satisfy the sanctions for violation of a moral law . This is moral harm. Inflicting harm for retribution. There is not a contradiction with the denial that no act is intrinsically evil. It says at most that an act connected with a special intention to punish is intrinsically evil.

But what is the moral significance of holding moral harm as intrinsically evil if there are no sanctions for performing acts of this type? In Progressive morality what is analogous to intrinsically evil act in Authoritarian morality is a condition or situation which ought not be.

In Authoritarian morality there are acts which ought never be done.

In Progressive morality there are conditions or situations which ought never be.

In Progressive morality harm is what ought never be. So in Progressive morality moral harm is simply harm which ought not be. So inflicting harm or tolerating harm as retributive punishment for violation of moral laws is something which ought not be.

Moral harm still exists, of course. But it exists because humanity has not progressed far enough to realize that Authoritarian morality is really superstitious belief in an enchanted reality with super human authority. As humanity progresses to eliminate erroneous beliefs about reality and moral theory it will realize that the point of morality is to eliminate harm; not to promote harm under any conditions.