I'm watching the first episode out of ten in the new series on Danish television, DK4, Tankens Magt (The Power of Thought). This is a very good initiative started by my colleague at Roskilde U, Vincent F. Hendricks. Hendricks is a professor of formal philosophy interested in the relation between math, logic, and the everyday life. As far as I can gather, one of the aims of the series is to demystify the role of philosophy as far as the masses are concerned. The argument is that we use philosophy every day, even when we don’t always begin our mornings with questioning what the meaning of life is. So philosophy, apart from posing big metaphysical questions, also poses small questions, self-evident questions, irrelevant questions, interesting questions, boring questions, subtle questions, disturbing questions, comforting questions, appealing questions, revolting questions. The list can go on.

The first out of ten male philosophers on the program hosted by Hendricks himself is another colleague Jesper Ryberg. He kicks off the series with his specialty, moral philosophy. This is all very good. He talks eloquently and engagingly about what we think morality is, why it is relevant that we pose moral questions, and why we should care at all to be interested in moral issues. Again, this is all very good. His examples are taken from everyday life discourse, such as the following moral dilemma: why do we tend to think that artificial insemination is more natural to go for when the couple who needs it is heterosexual rather than gay? This is even better, but towards the end of the 30 minutes it occurs to me that the two potentially more interesting questions in what I myself think is the least fascinating branch of philosophy, namely moral philosophy, are eschewed: choice and self-interest.

In my opinion morality is not a philosophical question, but a political one. People always morally defend their choices as long as it serves their self-interests. It is as simple as that. Even a 5 year-old can grasp this self-evident truth. Morally defending one’s agenda is one of those daily activities that people and institutional organs alike engage in, from the lowest ranking to the highest. Why it is morally defensible to send some soldiers to Irak to kill some Muslims, while at the same time it is not very good to do the same on the streets in Copenhagen is really linked to the norms people are being fed, in this case, by their nation states. Ryberg warns against such double standards, which is all very good, only, in reality there is no political system that is not already fraught with double standards. It’s the standard of all political standards to operate with double standards.

As a more bizarre occurrence, and perhaps as a counter to moral philosophy’s failure to go beyond self-evidence, Ryberg mentions that morality preoccupies all sorts of philosophers. Some even go so far as to scan people’s brains in order to investigate their responses to moral dilemmas when asked to take a stance. As far as I’m concerned, what is being measured is really people’s norms, not their ability to demonstrate that biology rules over governments. On morality, I’d say, let’s go once more around the block.


Bent said…
As we say in Danish: Moral er godt, dobbeltmoral er dobbelt så godt...
I have a six-double standard as far as moral philosophy goes:
1) I know the difference between right and wrong.
2) I don't need an MRI scan to help me locate the part of my brain that decides between right and wrong.
3) I don't need moral philosophers to help me formulate problems in ethics.
4) I think people should do right more often than wrong.
5) I think people should do right more often than they do.
6) I don't think people will do right more often than they do now after having watched TV-shows on moral philosophy.

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