The real utility of Moral ethics is for the times when one faces choices that are repugnant. In normal times, there is not much morality to exercise.
Western moral constructs need crutches of theories and pre-determined ideas to make decisions when situations are not straight-forward. Morality, therefore, depends on edicts and commandments and philosophical pronouncements.
Broad Western approaches to Moral Ethics
The fight between Deontological (Morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong) vs Consequentialist (Morality of an action depends on whether the consequences are right or wrong) ethics – and different hues of these ethical streams is what the Western philosophers have been most absorbed in. It is either this or that. Either you are Immanuel Kant or JS Mill. You cannot be both or neither. Almost.
When you cannot decide what you are or where you want to stand, you can introduce more nuances to your perspective of morality. For example, you could be a rule utilitarian or an act-utilitarian. Act utilitarianism is when an action becomes morally right when it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people. On the other hand, Rule utilitarianism is when the moral correctness of an action depends on the correctness of the rules that allows it to achieve the greatest good. You see how dangerously close the rule utilitarianism gets to deontologicalists ways?
Well, sure but not until you realize that rule utilitarian-ist is one who follows rules because doing so maximizes utility. On the other hand, a deontologist follows rules not because of maximum utility but for some other reason.
Moral Ethics – relativism vs universalism
One of issues with most of these approaches to morality is that they argue for every person and society as its all uniform. There is an overwhelming element of universalism in every philosophical “school”. It is as if what is true for Joe should also be true for Jane and for Jaichandra. Or what is true in Manchester should also be true in Kyoto as well as Kashi.
There is hardly any accommodation for exercise of human peculariaties.
That is where moral relativism comes in.
Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Even though moral relativism of some kind at least has become fashionable of late, moral relativists have always been on the back-foot taking great pains to explain that they are not countenancing immorality, injustice, or nihilism.
Nuanced ways but strait-jacketed nevertheless
If the Ancient Indians had been contaminated by the Western philosophical strait-jackets and its restrictive ways, Meera as well as Aghoris would have been “wrong”. Even when, in the Indian milieu both came out to be equals and “right”.
The battle that the proponents of Deontological and Consequentialist schools fight principally focuses on only two variables of a situation. The Action and the Result. Between these two variables, these philosophers keep punching each other on what decides “right” or “wrong”? The relativist brings in the society and its impact but what about the individual?
Action and Result – interchangeable qualifications
Anyone who has observed it carefully enough will realize that the burden for any action to be qualified in any manner is on the way the result turns out. Good Action in both the philosophical schools is predicated on its result or perceived result. Whether of the entire set of actions and their consequences or the short-term evaluation.
Whether action is morally “right” or “wrong” has its basis on an estimate of the result one has done in the past.
For example, to say speaking the truth is inherently a “right” action assumes what is spoken indeed turns out to be the truth. What if one does not fully know the truth or its complete consequences?
Or what if speaking the truth will lead to deaths of many?
And, then the relative ways have a lot to do with who is looking at the event. What is murder to one is self defense to another. So what is the truth there? What is moral judgment there?
Here is an interesting discussion between Shankar Vedantam who runs the podcast “Hidden Brain” and Peter Singer, one of the luminaries of the Utilitarian ethical world, specifically with COVID-19 complexities thrown in.
Of the moment or slave of written algorithms
When one is faced with difficult and complex situations with choices which are repugnant in either case, does one start running algorithms of different moral judgments based on which school you adhere to?
When you are standing in front of a terrorist who is going to kill a child unless you give him a code to a bomb that will kill thousands, what do you do? Make it tougher – what if that child is yours? Will you run algorithms?
Or will you make the decision based on the context of that moment? It could very well be possible that when you face a similar decision in two different contexts, you may make different choices.
When you are someone who is inclusive in living and one who does is not afraid to fall back on his intuition that stems from his humanity, then you need not run the various convoluted moral algorithms. You just take the action.
But the intuition that one believes to be “peerless”, may also not be free in the real sense.
In a very interesting experiment, two researchers at the University of Atlanta’s Emory spread the acetophenone scent in the chambers with mice. The male mice were simultaneously given small electric shocks.
Eventually, the animals began to associate the scent with pain. So they started fearing the acetophenone smell even without a shock. This fear was passed through generations via the DNA of the original mice.
One’s responses to situations which present dangers and complexities are not free from contamination of the choices made by our forefathers. Or us in our past lives, as per the understanding of reincarnation.
So if our intuition is enslaved to our forefathers or our previous avatars, then where does that leave us if we abandon the morality ship?
Consciousness and Quantum Mind
There is now a field of study within science which is looking at our mind and brain in ways that is taking the scientists to new frontiers. They are now suggesting that consciousness is what constitutes the ‘mind’. Also read Eternal Illusion and How Observer Creates His Own Reality.
But what is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?QZ
Brain is like the tumbler which contains the element of consciousness that is called mind. Consciousness, is the substratum, while mind is the local experience as subset of the larger consciousness that is seated in the brain. Brain, however, is not the only tool of awareness.
In a unique experiment, Dr. Sam Purnia and others looked at awareness of patients who were clinically death post Cardiac Arrests.
Among 2060 CA events, 140 survivors completed stage 1 interviews, while 101 of 140 patients completed stage 2 interviews. 46% had memories with 7 major cognitive themes: fear; animals/plants; bright light; violence/persecution; deja-vu; family; recalling events post-CA and 9% had NDEs, while 2% described awareness with explicit recall of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ actual events related to their resuscitation. One had a verifiable period of conscious awareness during which time cerebral function was not expected.Resusitation Journal
These experiments point to an awareness that transcends the activity of the brain.
What if one goes and touches the seat of awareness – the consciousness itself. Directly. Sans any memory limitations of the physical being.
When one is in constant alignment with a consciousness which is the substratum of this existence, does that mind need to make decisions based on a few judgments contained in books of ethics that cannot even find alignment within themselves?
But how do you begin your journey to that state if you are convinced in the utility of theories that hope to strait-jacket your mind?