Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Which Galaxy is This?

A universalist, a person who defines morality in universal terms, assumes that human beings are undifferentiated and the human species is uniform. Even a sophist who rejects the existence of morality finds as a guiding principle the self-interest shared by all people. The problem for the sophist is that samenes itself, as an essential premise, makes as great a claim for recognition in the argument as the personal interest contained in the conclusion. If we are searching for a logical refutation of the sophists that isn’t simply a wimper for consensus, let’s consider this: “Back up. You said that morality does not exist because all standards of morality are different and one can commit a particular act in one community with impunity and be jailed for the same act in another. From this you argue that the true universalizing principle of human nature is self-interest, and that it is in the interest of the individual to gain as much power as possible over his fellows. But I cannot get past your assumption that the standard must be universal, for it implies that we are all the same. How then can the manifestation of self-interest be so varied and inequitable? It seems to me that your conclusion proves your premise false, unless you are prepared to say that self-interest promotes parity among individuals.” There is a deep irony here. A belief in universal morality took hold as the Western ethical tradition developed. Neither the sophists nor Plato, however, were champions of equality. Far from it, in fact. Both in their own way envisioned a society of natural rank. Nietzsche, over 2,000 years later, in aggravation over the increasingly triumphant philosophies of equality, gave Christianity the blame for the transformation. He called it Plato for the masses and believed that the antidote was contained in the original argument of the sophists. But this was a grave mistake, because the premise that seeks to destroy morality as a local hoax insists upon a conclusion that ratifies sameness and equity for all human beings.

Let's take stock of ourselves. What do we now believe in as a society? I perceive a faith in a two-faced god, like Janus. On the one side is individualism, on the other, equality. As principles by which people justify their own actions and critique the actions of their fellows, they have an extra-human existence, regardless of where people claim to have discovered them. Some believe they are following the teachings of Christ, their personal savior. Others credit the enlightenment of science and knowledge, which illuminates the rights of man. Concealed beneath both of these masks, however, are the inevitable features of universalism, the premise that subordinates everything to its dictatorial logic. Whether it's Jesus or John Rawls who is preaching, listen closely, with a filter. Blah, blah, blah, the individual, blah, blah, blah, equality. It's all the same. Shelley remarked that we are all of us Greeks. But why are we all Greek? It's because we are all of us universalists, and it was the Greeks who set us off in that direction. And now as we wander near the edges of the universe, do we have the faintest idea where we are?

1 comment:

LBBP said...

This post has been referenced in Skeptic Rant's "5 Random Links - On Self-Interest" on January 24th, 2006.