In this post, I sketch out three signigicant features of the moral authority in authoritarian moral thought. In passing, it is shown how authoritarian moral thought confronts Plato’s dilemma challenging authoritarian moral thought in his dialogue Euthyphro.
Previous posts brought out that moral thinking requires a concept of a being who commands the laws of morality, who cares that the laws of morality are obeyed, who commands that harm ought to result when moral laws are violated and who has the capability to have it brought about that the harm prescribed for violations of the moral laws actually occurs.
The issuing of prescriptions that harm ought to result from
violations of the moral laws can be called the wrath of the moral authority. Moral thought requires, further, a fear of disobeying the commands of this moral authority and incurring its wrath.. This fear of the moral authority can be called respect for the moral laws.
My goal is to draw out from my understanding of moral thought, the basic thoughts and feelings of all moral thinking. I appreciate that my goal seems an egotistical delusion. But reliance on personal analysis of the randomly assembled fragments of conversations and readings that happen to come my way is, I submit, a philosophers material for analysis. But for awhile I will limit my claims to what can be called, in light of my analyses, authoritarian moral thought.
In some later posts, I need to sketch out some account of my belief that individual people can uncover universal structural features of human thinking because the basic structure of any individual’s thinking is common to every individual person’s thought.
An important feature is transparency. The moral authority is a aware of all violations of moral laws. There is no way to evade this awareness of moral violations. I have been chided for having an allegedly childish concept of God as one who knows and judges all that we do. Actually I consider myself mature for holding and developing a concept of God as at least the all-knowing moral judge. Having a fully developed way of thinking about morality requires maturity.
Immutability is also an important feature of a moral authority. Recognition of immutability is especially helpful when we are challenged with the question based on Plato’s Euthyphro: Does the moral authority command it because it is right or is what the moral authority commands right simply because the authority commands it? If we answer “yes” to the first question, our answer presupposes that there is a standard of right and wrong apart form the moral authority. If so, the moral authority is not the foundation of our obligations; but the standard which it uses is the foundation. If we answer “yes” to the second question we are confronted with the objection that then torturing babies for amusement could be right if the authority commanded it.
What is immutability? If we accept a moral law we cannot imagine what it would be like for it to be changed. We cannot imagine the moral authority changing it. If we accept that the moral authority has condemned torturing babies we cannot conceive of it switching over to permitting it; much less commanding it. This is what it means to say that the moral authority has immutability with respect to laws. But the immutability is not total. The moral authority changes with respect to the ad hoc prescriptions for harm. The moral authority cancels them if the harm is inflicted or if the moral authority shows mercy.
In answer to the Euthyphro challenge, we should answer “yes” to the second question. We do not worry about claims that the authority could command acts and principles we already accept on its authority. We can not even think of the contrary to fact hypotheticals starting with, “Suppose the authority commanded X”, where X is something seriously in conflict with morality we have already accepted.
Connected with the immutability of moral laws is the autonomy of the moral authority. Nothing but the legislation of the moral authority is needed to validate its laws.
The full-fledged concept of God in the Judeo-Christian religions suffices for the concept of a moral authority. However, it is not necessary to have a concept of the Judeo-Christian God to have a concept of a moral authority. Concepts of lesser deities suffice. Monotheism is not required. The moral authority need not be the creator of all that is. The moral authority need not be all-powerful. The moral authority may be in a struggle with an evil deity as in Manicheanism or Zoroastrianism . The moral authority may have other beings exercise its wrath as did the Furies in Greek mythology. The moral authority need not have any compassion for wrong doers. It need never show mercy or forgiveness. It could demand that every prescription for harm as a result of wrong doing be carried out.
In the authoritarian stance on morality, the moral authority has to have some type of mentality or intentionality. It has to be regarded as in some way being aware of and caring about human affairs.
Total materialists can recognize no moral authority.
A very significant feature of the moral authority would be benevolence. We recognize the benevolence of the lawgiver in our recognition that the general laws are, if obeyed, for human flourishing. Morality does not consist of pointless rules imposed on us. Understanding the moral authority as benevolent leads to having a concept of obligatory goods. The rules of a benevolent moral authority would specify that certain conditions for human flourishing such as life and liberty ought to be promoted and never inhibited. Those who accept a benevolent moral authority hold that morality has goals beyond avoiding harm by disobeying the rules. In terminology of moral theory, those who accept a benevolent moral authority have a moral theory which is both deontological and telological
Unfortunately for developing my preferred moral stance, I have to admit that concept of moral authority by itself does not entail benevolence. In principle, the moral authority could be arbitrary. Those who accept a moral authority as arbitrary hold that no reason can or need be given for obedience to the rules beyond avoiding harm by disobeying the rules.