No one is Committed to a Defined, Absolutely Static Morality

It is necessarily the case that a person acts without absolutely perfect propriety so long as they are concerned with the consequences of their actions and also believe in non-circumstantial ethics.  This is true whether a given individual believes in subjective or objective morality.  Anyone who believes in a static moral code which ignores variables will also be someone who ignores the best option – preferring some unavailable action as “right”.  To the extent that morality is not tautological with action, no such person is 100% percent moral.   It has nothing to do with the fallibility of humans and more to do with the necessities of life.  If a person behaves without regard to consequences, then their continued existence cannot be anything more than a happenstance of food finding its way to the mouth.  This is a long way of saying that everyone who acts purposefully is also not a perfect adherent to any absolute sense of ethics.  And that is what I intend to demonstrate here.

First, we can imagine some set of values to which a person may adhere with any degree of passion and fortitude.  If the person is not a fervently moral person, then the purpose of the exercise is lost since the claim is that everyone is not 100%.  And so, we should examine the most challenging arguments to the claim of incessant immorality.  Therefor the religiously devoted are good competitors for such a hypothetical.

As a matter of survival, we know that people must trade with others.  Nobody completely lives on their own and is self-sufficient.  Anyone who has gone into the wild or even seen the movie Castaway knows that living by yourself is no life at all and is certain to be short, miserable, and provide little opportunity for growth [of any kind].  Therefore, we have a fervent ethicist who trades and acts purposefully with consequences in mind while not in 100% isolation from others.  Humans are social by necessity – and any theory [of propriety] should be consistent with that.

Now our super moralist expects that the people with whom he trades have some distribution of moral quality.  If he is truly the apex of moral possibility, then all those that trade with him must be as moral as he and no more so.  If they are more so, then our premise of his moral impeccability is violated.  And it cannot be that the trade partners are of lesser moral aptitude because the consequence is that their even slightly deviant moral preference is supported.  If our moral dude is a consequentialist, then he does not trade with people who would have moral adherence that is any lesser than his own because trades are mutually beneficial.  Though the intent of actions may matter to our agent, so long as consequence matters at all, he will not trade with the morally inferior because he would be subsidizing their improper habits and decisions. Whether he believes in subjective or objective ethics, our agent helps those of a lesser moral persuasion with each consensual transaction.

For example, a Christian who thinks that moral decisions are absolutely defined and unchanging with circumstance could not stand to trade with someone whom he doesn’t know. The Christian knows that there is some probability and expectation that the trading partner will perform a heretical act – such as denying God.  Christians are only willing to boycott the known heretics – and even then on the margin as dictated by circumstance.  But they are clearly subsidizing the unknown heretic too.  I strongly suspect that impersonal transactions continue because there is some consequentialist mental calculation happening.  There is not the expectation that trading partners have no possibility of having lesser moral standard.

It is not uncommon for people to find paying for a misdeed to be at least harmful – though whether it is as harmful as actually committing the deed is less clear.  And since we know that all people do have different moral preferences [or at least different interpretations], the assumption of ubiquitous and identical moral taste is a non-starter for any application to reality (though it may prove logical points otherwise).

But can the agent do more good than the bad that he subsidizes?  This may be the case.  But this neglects the initial premise of 100% morality in the static sense of the word.  Such a weighing of good and bad is consequentialist.   That is, if the right thing to do is anything other than your best constrained option, then it is the case that anyone who transacts also acts in some degree of immorality.  If an agent is in anyway religious to a set of static standards, then he has also defined himself as immoral if he is also going to be social.

There is a reason that the “holiest” religious people live as monks and subsistence in communes of common moral character and refrain from complex economic interaction.  They attempt to surround themselves with people that have similar ethics and therefore can safely subsidize one another with good conscience.  But given unique preferences, even within a commune, disagreement is indicative of differing moral values and subsidization of impropriety.  It is exactly because the monks are consequentialist that they attempt to transact with partners of the least ethic differential.  Monasteries and convents are not the places of human flourishing which a capitalistic society enables otherwise.  It would be difficult to reconcile a community of static propriety with one that also has systemic habits which inhibit economies of scale, specialization, and comparative advantage and the other benefits of capitalism.

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2 thoughts on “No one is Committed to a Defined, Absolutely Static Morality

  1. tiffany267 says:

    Actually I disagree. In a system of ethical egoism, the most moral action is always the one that brings the most value to the subject. That means that morality is both absolute and contextual, and there is no conflict in such a definition.

    When I go to a grocery store (which in itself is a multiplicity of moral choices), I purchase a good based on its value to me. Because I as a human being am extremely complex, I have a multiplicity of values to consider when I purchase any comestible good, not the least of which include my financial wellbeing, my overall health (which itself is also extremely complex, thanks to biology), my sense of taste, my enjoyment of cooking, and my desire to live in a healthy, rational world. While I might particularly enjoy drinking wine, I do not typically purchase wine because it is too expensive for my standards, considering the long-term benefits I could reap from that same money. While I might find corn-syrup laden crap to be very inexpensive, I refuse to purchase it because it is not only a detriment to my health but also supports the USDA cronyist fascism that I so loathe. While I might find filtered apple juice from concentrate to be very inexpensive and somewhat nutritious, I don’t like to buy it because it tastes rather icky (especially compared to real apple juice!). Etc.

    Each of us makes these decisions every day – it’s called reason and it’s a natural tendency for humans.

    Where this rational process becomes immoral is where an individual freely neglects to use reason to one’s own greatest benefit. For instance, individuals who pay money to attend public universities are extremely immoral because they are subsidizing institutions which exist due to theft and illegitimate borrowing, which of course is to their detriment. There is no possible benefit they can objectively gain from subsidizing theft without making a much greater sacrifice in living in a sick, irrational world where no one’s property is one’s own.

  2. pacvae says:


    I completely accept your first three paragraphs. I think any differences to my post are semantic. For example; when I used the word static, I am not referring to the dynamic preference satisfaction that you described. Rather, I mean to refer to any action which can be performed at different times and still be called that action – theft for example. Theft isn’t always wrong IMO – context matters. But to label rational, welfare maximizing behavior as moral seems tautological and I think it misses some subtleties in the concepts of both morality and rationality (Ludwig Von Mises said all action is rational).

    I struggled and continue to struggle with the same tautological arguments – like here:

    As a matter of consistency, I don’t see a contradiction between [personal] welfare maximization and theft. It seems to me that those who attend universities are definitely better off by subsidizing theft – so long as the theft is not from them. Further you can argue that all actions are based in inacurate conceptions of reality – so measure the degree by which goals are achieved also seems to be lacking something of a “static” yard-stick.

    I’m not an objectivist, if you can’t tell, but I appreciate many of the conclusions anyway.

    Thanks for commenting!!

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