The Moral Rules: A New Rational Foundation for Morality
by Bernard Gert

Gert devises a system that has a place for all types of morality and virtue. He divides ethics into moral rules (which correspond to justice) and moral ideals. One is required to obey the moral rules, but one is only encouraged to follow moral ideals.

The reason to be moral is because someone will suffer evil if you are not. An evil is pain, loss of opportunity, loss of freedom, loss of pleasure, disablement, death. It is irrational to desire an evil. In fact, a rational man must desire to avoid evil. A good is that which no rational man will avoid without a reason: freedom, opportunity, pleasure, health, wealth, knowledge, friendship, etc.

The moral rules are designed to prevent someone from causing an evil. The moral ideals are designed to prevent evil. He does not regard utilitarianism as a moral philosophy, because it recommends promoting good, which goes beyond the scope of morality. The point of morality is to minimize evil, not to promote good.

It is impossible to follow the moral ideals with regard to all men equally, so each man is allowed to choose toward whom he will concentrate his efforts. (133)

Morality does not provide a complete guide to life, but it provides a supreme one; nothing else is permitted to overrule it. (135)

A moral virtue is any trait that all rational men would publicly advocate that all men possess. (156)

Personal virtues have no necessary connection to moral virtues or with being moral. Plato made the mistake of regarding all virtues as personal virtues.

He has good arguments against Kant's categorical imperative and a good chapter on why one should be moral. One major difference between his approach and mine is that he never mentions the word rights.

He distinguishes between what is allowed by reason and what is required by reason.

"All those beliefs which someone intelligent enough to be subject to moral judgment could believe to be either true or false and not be considered irrational for so doing are beliefs allowed by reason." (24)

Whereas any belief that would be irrational for a person not to believe is required by reason.

He believes the key to moral philosophy is to analyze the nature of moral rules. Characteristics of moral rules include:

  1. They can be obeyed or disobeyed by rational men.
  2. They are completely universal, without consideration of person, group, place, or time.
  3. They must be understandable by rational men, they cannot depend on specialized knowledge known only to some cultures.
  4. They must be unchanging and unchangeable.
  5. They are discovered rather than invented.
  6. They are not dependent on the will or decision of any man or group of men.
  7. All rational men would take the following attitude to justifiable moral rules:
    "I want all other people to obey the rule with regard to anyone for whom I am concerned (including myself) except when they have a good specific reason for believing that either that person or myself (possibly the same) has (or would have if he knew the facts) a rational desire not to have the rule obeyed with regard to him."
  8. The moral rules are not absolute: they can be violated if, and only if, one would publicly advocate violating them in the particular case.

His structure is very promising until he begins to fill in the moral rules. The first 10 rules are: (1) Don't kill. (2) Don't cause pain. (3). Don't disable. (4) Don't deprive of freedom or opportunity. (5) Don't deprive of pleasure. (6) Don't deceive. (7) Keep your promises. (8) Don't cheat. (9) Obey the law. (10) Do your duty.

Reason requires that you publicly advocate the moral rules, but it does not require that you adopt your public attitude as your genuine attitude toward the rules. No exceptions to the moral rules are allowed unless the person violating the rule would publicly advocate violating the rule.

Unfortunately, he assumes that all reasonable men would publicly advocate not only enforcing the rules (which eliminates pacifists from the game), but also they would advocate punishing the violators (which eliminates me). Furthermore, they would advocate punishment only to prevent further violation of the rules (which eliminates those who believe in retribution as the reason for punishment).

Year Read: 1998


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