Monday, December 18, 2006

Exploding morality

I mentioned in parenthesis in my last post that I am currently exploding my sense of morality. This is particularly difficult as my relationship with the world since I can remember has been one of disdain. What is it to explode one's sense of morality?

The best example I know of is in Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, where (to give a crude outline) the brute fact of a mistake being made doesn't lend itself to the further determination that the mistake shouldn't have been made. This extra move installs guilt, and compacts the force of the action. The mistake or action on its own is greater than this.

Should we consider the world to be guilty for its crimes? It is becoming clearer that we shouldn't. Indeed, Nietzsche affirms action to the extent that he asks for a vision of man in which 'there is still something left to fear!'. Can we feel fear without assigning guilt?

I am familiar with this: I have always given to Caesar what is Caesar's. But I have never liked this Caesar. While the world shouldn't feel guilty for being what it is, the expression of disdain is nonetheless central. Spinoza asks us to teach virtues, and not to castigate vices, but this is like learning a foreign language.

To explode morality is to push it further than the scope of its immediate use. Imagine the prisoner, sectioned off from society where we cannot look at him, cannot learn of him or from him. How very guilty he is! Yet insofar as we know this man, have grown up with him, laboured and loved alongside him, his prison becomes something - not fitting but - perverse.

The notions on which our moralities rest crumble under the power of the understanding. Is this right? Certainly something has changed, but is morality destroyed or simply transformed? Spinoza would say the latter, since as we become more familiar with the causes by which our actions are determined the proper scope of morality suggests itself from an emergent ethics. In the end, says Spinoza, is not morality misunderstanding, and nothing in and of itself? By shining light upon the world, morality vanishes like a phantom. Again, this is an explosion, not a reduction - for whatever there is in morality, in the sense of being, will be understood in its fullest aspect. Morality does not understand itself.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A quotation from Spinoza on guilt (Curley trans. Penguin):

"Repentence is not a virtue, or does not arise from reason; instead, he who repents what he has done is twice wretched, or lacking in power."

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was propsition 54 from part IV of the Ethics.

4:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home