The Dogma of Moral Equality Taken to Its Logically End


Asma, 2013. The Myth of Universal Love

Singer, who is perhaps the world’s best known utilitarian philosopher, argues in his book “The Expanding Circle” that the relative neocortical sophistication of humans allows us to rationally broaden our ethical duty beyond the “tribe” — to an equal and impartial concern for all human beings. “If I have seen,” Singer writes, “that from an ethical point of view I am just one person among the many in my society, and my interests are no more important, from the point of view of the whole, than the similar interests of others within my society, I am ready to see that, from a still larger point of view, my society is just one among other societies, and the interests of members of my society are no more important, from that larger perspective, than the similar interests of members of other societies.”

Like mathematics, which can continue its recursive operations infinitely upward, ethical reasoning can spiral out (should spiral out, according to Singer) to larger and larger sets of equal moral subjects. “Taking the impartial element in ethical reasoning to its logical conclusion means, first, accepting that we ought to have equal concern for all human beings.”

All this sounds nice at first — indeed, I would like it to be true — but let me throw a little cold water on the idea. Singer seems to be suggesting that I arrive at perfect egalitarian ethics by first accepting perfect egalitarian metaphysics. But I, for one, do not accept it. Nor, I venture to guess, do many others. All people are not equally entitled to my time, affection, resources or moral duties — and only conjectural assumption can make them appear so.

I fully agree with Singer that were one to consider everyone to be substantially morally equal then it would only be logical to take everyone into account the same — and therefore to not prefer oneself to anyone else….But this isn’t why I reject the dogma. Rather, I do because I intuit that substantial inequality is a metaphysical principle of being. It seems to be a logical one too. If different things were principally the same, they could not be different. Substantial inequality therefore must be a part of the essence of what some-thing is….Metaphysical nature naturally informs morality. If morality is not to be based on what IS then on what? Of course, one might attempt to defy the way of things and to level all beings, to make all the same, but doing so is in discord with how-things-ARE, and what is discordant with the way of things is chaos bringing. And who wants more chaos? So, I am forced to reject equality, and with it human equality, as both a metaphysical and a moral principle: People are not metaphysically equal. They were not created substantially equal. They don’t deserve equal consideration in principle….But this is not to reject moral equality in toto. While different things in the world aren’t substantially equal, they are, inevitably, accidentally so. They are equal in some respects e.g., the salt and sugar over on the counter are both equally white. It is good and natural then, that is, in tune with nature of things to accept accidental moral equality. We grant equality in some respects, in some regards. People, while substantially morally unequal, are accidentally — in specific, often negotiable, instances — deemed equal.

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