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Thread: Is Morality an Open and Closed Matter?

  1. #1

    Default Is Morality an Open and Closed Matter?

    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?

  2. #2
    it's a nuclear device Array antireconciler's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
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    Most are going to have some degree of closedness to their morality just because most identify stronger with themselves, family, or community, than they do with the whole human race. Openness would probably extend even beyond humans, to the end of maintaining or promoting some universal balance, order, or beauty, or world-Eden.

    Kant appears to have advocated a perfectly open morality, and yet the later thinkers of his generation found repugnant the strong sense of duty which appeared in Kant to run counter to the universal love an open morality would be thought to imply. The question I have is this: how does one have an open morality, which would appear to embody a high form of love in virtue of the universal recognition of humanity as like one's self which it implies, without falling into the pitfall of obligation and universal duty? The character Ayanami Rei, and other stoical figures come to mind, yet we do not say they have reached a perfect form of morality, largely because we observe that in the face of the all-consuming universal, the self has found no place for its own uniqueness, which results in unhealthy self-negation.

    What say you on this?
    ~ a n t i r e c o n c i l e r
    What is death, dies.
    What is life, lives.

  3. #3
    Nips away your dignity Array Fluffywolf's Avatar
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    Open morality. Greatly influenced by personal experiences, that are however carefully filtered through the NT filter.

  4. #4


    The present question regarding the nature and morality of torture offers us an excellent opportunity to advance the level of sophistication of our understanding of morality. We learn best when we are questioning a matter that is meaningful to us.

    I was eleven years old when Germany and Japan surrendered and WWII was finally over. One searing memory of this war were the stories I read and the movies I watched during and after the war regarding the torture and general brutality that the German Gestapo inflicted upon the people they conquered. I do not know why this left such a strong impression on me but it certainly did.

    Coincidentally I have been studying “Moral Imagination” by Mark Johnson. This is the same Johnson who coauthored the book “Philosophy in the Flesh” with George Lakoff. I have decided to apply the theories Johnson presents in his book as a means to illuminate this matter regarding the morality of water torture used by my country in our struggle with Islamic extremists.

    Moral understanding is like any other kind of experience; when we examine a domain of experience that relates to human relationships we must focus our attention on human understanding it self. If we do so we discover that human understanding is fundamentally imaginative in character.

    “Many of our most basic concepts have considerable internal structure that cannot be accounted for by the classical theory of concepts as defined by necessary and sufficient features…The primary forms of moral imagination are concepts with prototype structure, semantic frames, conceptual metaphors, and narratives.”

    To become morally insightful we must become knowledgeable of these imaginative structures. First, we must give up our illusions about absolute moral codes and also our radical moral subjectivism. Second we must refine our “perception of character traits and situations and of developing empathetic imagination to take up the part of others.”

    Empathy is a character trait that can be cultivated by habit and will. Sympathy is somewhat of an automatic response.

    When we see a mother weeping over the death of her child caused by a suicide bomber we feel immediate sympathy. Often we will come to tears. But we do not feel anything like that for the mother who may be weeping over the death of her child who was the bomber.

    To understand the bomber we must use empathy. We attempt through imagination and reason to create a situation that will allow us to understand why this was done. This is a rational means to understand someone who acts different than we would.

    “Empathy is the idea that the vital properties which we experience in or attribute to any person or object outside ourselves are the projections of our own feelings and thoughts.”

    The subject viewing an object of art experiences emotional attitudes leading to feelings that are attributes of qualities in the art object thus aesthetic pleasure may be considered as “objectified self-enjoyment in which the subject and object are fused.”

    The social sciences adopt a similar concept called ‘empathic understanding’, which refers to the deliberate attempt to identify with another person and accounting for that persons actions by “our own immediate experience of our motivations and attitudes in similar circumstances as we remember or imagine them”. This idea refers to a personal resonance between two people.

    “What is crucial is that our moral reasoning can be constrained by the metaphoric and other imaginative structures shared within our culture and moral tradition, yet it can also be creative in transforming our moral understanding, our identity, and the course of our lives. Without this kind of imaginative reasoning we would lead dreadfully impoverished lives. We would be reduced to repeating habitual actions, driven by forces and contingencies beyond our control.”

    Can you imagine an individual who is a hard headed realist and very accomplished at empathy sanctioning the use of water torture on anyone, friend or enemy?

  5. #5
    He pronks, too! Array Magic Poriferan's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
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    There is at least one conclusion of the OP I dislike that makes it difficult to fit my moral schema into this dichotomy. However, I suppose it comes closer to being "closed".

    I wrote this about my morality months back.
    Go to sleep, iguana.

    INTP. Type 1>6>5. sx/sp.
    Live and let live will just amount to might makes right

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