This post brings out a fundamental logical contradiction in our ordinary everyday moral thinking. By moral thinking I am referring to ways of thinking about right and wrong, what is good and how to get it apart from any effort to avoid inconsistencies. The moral rules are supposed to say what is obligatory and forbidden for all human beings and over-ride any other type of rule.
Our ordinary ways of thinking about morals take both rule following-deontological thinking and good pursuing -teleological thinking- as fundamental. Holding deontological and teleological thinking as fundamental produces the inconsistency. Pursuit of fundamental goods are required by fundamental rules.
The obligatory goods are various conditions which constitute a full human life. They are conditions such as knowledge, meaningfulness, enjoying beauty, liberty, sufficient food. It is a task for philosophers, where “philosophy” is to be understood as wisdom, to elaborate on the conditions which make for a full human life. Most people will have deficiency in enjoying these basic human goods. Maybe everyone will always have some deficiency with respect to these goods.
The so-called New Natural Law writings of Grizse, Finnis et al. have influenced my thought on basic human goods.
Once we have specified what is good we can specify what “harm” means when I write of “moral harm.” To produce harm is to bring about a deficiency in these basic goods.
This definition of “harm” brings us close to bringing out the inconsistency once we recall that the so-called first principle of natural moral thinking is an apparent truism in everyday moral thinking. This truism is not true at all. It contains the fundamental contradiction.
Do good, avoid evil.
This principle tells us:
Promote the basic human goods and never produce harm.
A corollary is:
There ought never be harm. Or
NO HARM OUGHT TO BE.
However, we have several moral laws commanding that basic human goods be promoted and never deliberately inhibited.
But laws, which are not mere words, carrying sanctions. They specify that harm ought to result upon their violation.
So, assuming that some moral laws have been violated we have
SOME HARM OUGHT TO BE.
So, here we have uncovered the inconsistency in everyday uncritical moral thinking.
Subsequent posts sketch out ways of avoiding this inconsistency.