Is Morality an Open and Closed Matter?
I suspect most of us would agree that principles of morality can and do legitimately vary from one nation to another.
Within a nation would we also agree that principles of morality can and do legitimately vary from one political party to another? Would we also agree that such variation is legitimate from one state to another; or perhaps from one city to another or from one family to another?
Is there a universal morality that overrides all community boundaries?
In his essay Open and Closed Morality as published in the book of essays The Morality of Politics W. H. Walsh has written about the difficult and elusive concept of an ‘open and closed morality’.
“You have a right to remain silent.” I guess all Americans who have reached the age of seven have heard this expression many times on TV. I also expect that all adult Americans agree that our nation was founded on the principle that all citizens have rights. Human rights are written into our constitution.
‘Right’ and ‘good’ are important moral concepts. Those who believe that all humans have certain rights are convinced that these rights supersede any consideration of the good. In other words, it is believed by some that humans, qua human, have certain inalienable rights that cannot be denied even in the interest of the good. These rights are considered to be universal and thus applicable to all humans wither they are members of my community or not.
Those who hold the existence of such universal moral principles are considered to have an “open morality” while those who believe that such universal rights do not exist and only the good determines the moral are considered to have a “closed morality”.
Walsh contends that those with the conviction of a closed morality “For them morality is, first and foremost, an affair internal to a particular community rather than a phenomenon covering the whole of mankind…[this individual] wants to make his own society as good as he can, rather than to construct some finally valuable Utopia.” The individual with a closed morality insist that the virtues on which they “insist are in the first instance communal virtues, and the vices they seek to avoid are modes of conduct which would disrupt socials life as such”.
Those with an open morality hold that moral law “holds without distinction of persons…privilege and preferential treatment have no place in morality, which is a sphere of pure principle…that the moral law commands for its own sake and not for the sake of any good its observance produces or might be expected to produce, whether private or public…man’s only overriding loyalty is to the moral law itself.”
Those with a closed morality are convinced that there are no rights, there is only the good. Any act that is beneficial to the community, i.e. is a common good, can be judged as moral or immoral based upon the consequences of the action.
I consider myself to have an open morality; what do you consider yourself to be, are you open or closed?