Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Morality as an Aesthetic

I have argued against reducing morality to an aesthetic, especially a social or cultural aesthetic.

Let me give an example. Many leftist Americans adopt a cultivated diction and speech patterns known as “politically correct” speech, and they respond when they think that the rules have been violated. For instance, I use the term “guys” to mean “group of people,” but am occassionally harassed when someone takes it to be a masculine gendered term, as it is the historic binary of “gal” (woman). To use a gendered term when it is not semantically necessary is seen as a sign of moral failure.  For another example, someone I know told me a story of when she called a pizza place and asked “how late are you guys open,” and she was loudly berated for her word choice.  Its Oregon, so that’s not a surprise for those of us not wholly immersed in one of the meccas of American leftist culture.

The problem is that people who make moral judgments based on an aesthetic are always in danger of reducing a reasoned judgment to a social or cultural aesthetic. In heated cases, even the most well-intention individual might not recognize the difference. It is far too easy “being moral” to become “being like us,” a topic that is gently lampooned in books such as What White People Like.

Morality should have a purposiveness or normativity that is more than a social or cultural aesthetic, but morality cannot be divorced from an aesthetic. Normative judgments require some explicit or implicit understanding of experience, its elements, and some selective valuation as implied in an aesthetic, but unless we proposes to derive normativity from experience simpliciter, more must be said. Otherwise, we commit a phenomenological version of the naturalistic fallacy: whatever we experience as morally right is morally right.

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