“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.
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