Reclaiming the ‘science’ in Moral Science *

by Revathi Sampath Kumaran

*This is a developing essay compiled from the brief blog entries I have been posting on kshama.wordpress.com . I request the reader’s indulgence, and, hopefully, engagement, as I attempt to consider the contours of a potential universal science of morals.

PART 1: The ubiquity of change and the quest for Urgrund

1.1.          Introduction

Scholarly engagement with moral science has been unflagging. Through the ages, academic research has focused on morals or morality as a human value rooted in ethics. There have also been attempts to delineate the disciplinary bounds of moral science and compress it into a curriculum in order to inculcate value and virtue through school education. However, somewhere along the academic pathway, the ‘science’ in Moral Science has been buried and the rigour associated with a ‘science’ has been lost to the discipline.

As someone with an abiding interest in human nature and in education my purpose here is to try and reinstate the science of morals as the foundational knowledge of ‘what ought to be done’, in line with the material sciences[1] that tell us what we know, why we know and how we can know. This would involve taking moral science out of the messiness of religion-mediated value and virtue and re-orienting it towards growth through observation, investigation and experimentation with all its modern or contemporary implications. For science, though it comes from the Latin root ‘to know’, has broken with etymological bounds to acquire several additional dimensions: science has come to mean something exact, precise and universally applicable. But science is also falsifiable; it is something that can be countered or subject to change with time. The knowledge of what ought to be done – which is called the science of morals – would therefore be, like all science, a set of natural, inviolable laws. But within that framework of enduring permanence, it would also allow for paradigm shifts with time.

1.2.          Defining Moral

A fair definition is crucial to facilitate and further discussion of a concept, a notion, a term, an idea. Therefore, let me begin by trying to define ‘moral’: ‘Thoughts, words and actions untainted by greed, hatred and/ or delusion are moral.’ Clearly, this definition draws its strength from the commonly accepted notions of what is amoral, and simply negates all amoral possibilities to state what morality is. But this is permissible, for a definition, by definition, tries to isolate, identify or locate and characterize a term or a concept for easy recognition and unambiguous understanding. With the natural bias of an author, I shall presume the fairness of the definition and proceed …

1.3.          Understanding Greed

1.3.1.      Social acceptance of greed and its consequences

Faster, higher, stronger – these are excellent aspirations when one is trying to better oneself. But when ambition is expected to fire you to be faster than the other, prove stronger than your competitor, climb higher than anyone in history, when ambition, in fact, is seen as not merely desirable but even essential, then ambition becomes undifferentiated from greed. Success is the goal, and ambition is the fuel. And success is not the subtle glow of self-satisfaction that suffuses an individual who has simply achieved a personal goal. Success is to be flaunted, not savoured in private. Therefore, success has to be quantified in material aggregation: of trophies won, properties accumulated, power available for wielding at will.  A game that is played for pleasure is passé. You have to play to win, to cultivate the ‘fighter’ instinct.  You have to be successful in order to be socially acceptable and it is socially acceptable to do all it takes to achieve that success. That Duryodhana [who embodies ambition in the Indian epic, Mahabharatha] roped in Shakuni, the epitome of cunning, to realize his ambition would be considered a master-stroke by modern-day strategists. When what was once considered immoral – and not even merely amoral[2] – becomes something desirable, how do we negotiate the change? Change, after all, is a permanent feature of life and living.

1.3.2.      Manifestations of greed

When skills are auctioned, when emotions become commodities, when knowledge is enslaved by commerce; when plagiarism is acknowledged as literature, and political clout masquerades as concern – whenever these things happen, and they have become commonplace, ‘greed has grown beyond mere gluttony’ one may shrug and move on. It may seem incongruous that there is a failure to engage with these issues symptomatic of apparent deterioration in human values. But step back and consider: When Kerry Packer innovated the limited overs version in the game of cricket and lured players from across the globe with mammon, several national federations suspended these cricketers. Later, when the Packer version of the game became par for the course, the inventor of this version of the game was forgotten and so were the bans on the cricketers. Cricket and cricketers, since, have become even more commoditized.

Self-effacement was once a value among creative artists. Not unoften they were dead before their works became celebrated. Today it is expected of even mockers and misrepresenters of these works to parade in the arc lights.  Not long ago mass movements were fed and funded, if at all, by the masses themselves; today, fund-raising for mass movements is a respected profession that employs personnel trained for the purpose, and by promoting and advertising their ‘cause’, it seems the movements feed vicariously on the people they seek to represent. Under the circumstances it seems morality cannot be a permanent standard: Times change and values change with time. How then can the science of morals aspire to be a ‘science’?

1.4.          The ubiquity of change in the realms of science   

Once upon a time physical impossibilities are demonstrated to be practically possible: technically, copulation is no longer necessary to populate the world with living animals (or extinct ones). With swathes of humanity surviving on depleting water supplies and contaminated air, the limits of endurance of life are being extended beyond what might have been considered plausible. Nazism and racism were popular and pervasive till they grew into social and political pariahs. Marriage as a convention is becoming irrelevant as parenthood doesn’t have to be linked to it, and this even as same sex marriages and surrogacy are on the rise with marriage becoming a gender-neutral institution, and child-bearing being out-sourced. There is sea change too in the way language is formed and used (eg., ‘texting’), and knowledge, created and disseminated (eg., crowd-sourcing and MOOCs). Fundamental change, therefore, seems possible in the underlying realities of all that is understood and practiced – indeed of all that is known. It follows, therefore, that that which is central to the science of morals might also allow for and accommodate change.

When even foundational propositions in the material sciences – which are tangible, measurable and observable – are susceptible to and have been subject to paradigm shifts, laws made in one time period for a particular society or under certain conditions cannot hold good for all time, for all societies and across all conditions. While change, it would seem, is likely to prevail even over first principles there is yet a sense of continuity that we experience, which helps us transcend the ages and re-imagine the distant past and look far into the future. What is this something that is even more fundamental than change itself, an Urgrund that even change cannot reach? Something so primal that it is universal and abiding across time and space? Can we zero in on a universal link factor that is foundational to the science of morals?

1.5.          Zeroing in on a foundational principle and a universal link factor   

All life is, and becomes. There is a ‘being’ and a ‘becoming’. In the indefinite time lag between birth and death there are factors that are pre-determined as well as choices that we make. Our genetic make-up and cultural capital (and I do not here consider any cultural resource as less or more than another) as well as circumstances that we negotiate in life may not be of our own making. These determine the state of our ‘being’. However, in every situation, we are presented with alternatives, and the options that we choose determine what we ‘become’. At no point in our life are the facts of our ‘being’ or the processes of our ‘becoming’ mutually exclusive. And, this is a universal truth. I would suggest, therefore, that this could be the Urgrund, the ultimate foundational principle that the science of morals should emerge from.

1.5.1.      ‘Being and Becoming, and Belonging

We have defined thought, word and/ or action untainted by greed, hatred and/ or delusion as ‘moral’. Greed is disproportionate desire that grows, but greed itself constantly outgrows the ambit of its definition proportionately with the expanding quantum of normative or acceptable want. As the goal posts driving greed are in a continuous state of flux, and greed is very often the progenitor of hatred and delusion as well, the seed of the science of morals should be found in something more foundational if it is to be universal. It is in this context that the principle of being and becoming, which covers the ambit of existence of all sentient beings, emerges as a distinct plausibility.

However, while being is what is, and becoming depends on how we negotiate the givens at any point of time, that there are as many states of ‘being’ as there are sentient beings, and the states of becoming are infinite in that action and reaction are perpetually being set in motion in interactions between organisms, once again provokes the need to identify a universal link factor, something that could be considered as the prime motivator or the fundamental causal factor that instigates the progress of every individual’s being and becoming. I propose that a belonging, in the sense of both ‘I’ and ‘mine’, that is feeling ‘part of’ as well as ‘possessed by’, could be the ultimate factor that underlies the individual choices we make and defines what we are and what we shall become.

1.5.2.      Forces that impact the choices we make

Given the inviolability of the principle of being and becoming, and conceding that belongingness is going to be the factor that determines the choices that we can make in the process of being and becoming, the question of how and why we make the choices becomes relevant to understand.

Learning by simulation is both natural and easy; it is the primary force that impacts the choices we make. We learn to do and be as that to which we belong and want to belong. When we are born we already belong: to a gender, a race, a cohort with specific genetic predispositions, abilities and disabilities, a historical time frame, and so on. Many of these givens overlap and our choices are already made for us as we just learn to be as those in the group.  With time and exposure we want to belong to other groups and hence consciously learn to mimic them as well. Experience teaches us what works for us and what does not. Therefore, this becomes another major force that determines our choices. And, at every point of our lives we are conscious of where we are, and what we have become, and we are likely to think about where we want to get to. Depending on the outcomes of these mental calisthenics we make the choices we do reflecting on what we have done, and could have done, and contemplating on where we have come to, where we were, and where we want to go.

Learning (by simulation and from experience), and contemplating and reflecting are forces that propel us through the processes of being and becoming as we ceaselessly endeavour to the ideal of belongingness. It would be an interesting thought experiment to consider whether channelising some of these forces could have an impact on morality, that is, in impacting our ideas of what ought to be done.

PART 2: Drafting the disciplinary bounds of Moral Science

In part 1 of the essay we emphasised that morality is to be deliberated upon within a broad framework of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ and we drew attention to the plurality of these states at any point of time among individual actors and among the groups constituted by them. We also considered the forces that propel the paradigm shifts in the human understanding of what is moral and what is not and arrived at the conclusion that the universality and intransience of ‘belongingness’ deserves to be recognized.  ‘I belong to’ some one, some place, or some thing, and some one, some place or some thing ‘belongs to me’  can be described as the primal emotion or the universal link factor from which emerges an individual’s every thought, word and action, we argued. In Part 2 of the essay we consider how the bounds of a ‘discipline’ will:

  • allow individual actors, institutions and societies to approach the science of ‘what ought to be done’ in a systematic manner, and further,
  • help organize the evaluation/s of ‘what has been done’ in a logical manner that will find resonance and acceptability with humankind, which in turn will serve to inform future actions.

What ought to be done does not naturally precede what has been done. Very often, in fact, the thought, word, or deed has already been committed before it is evaluated and a judgement or opinion passed about whether it ought to have taken place. Nevertheless, our attempt here is to draw a framework that will help make these evaluations, post-action, more meaningful. It is believed that making a habit of reflecting on the thoughts, words and deeds that have occurred will eventually make such re-visitations second nature. While cultivating such reflexivity is likely to directly impact individual morality, making reflexivity a habit will also strengthen collective attitude towards moral standards, and thus impact societies and their organs. It is important to reiterate here that moral standards is in the plural because, while being universally acceptable, they may not be universally applicable across time and space. A science of morals would recognise the plurality of worldviews and lifestyles as well as the inevitability of change. Thoughts, words and actions, therefore, will be deliberated upon rather than subject to scrutiny while considering their adherence to the principle of not being tainted by greed, hatred and/ or delusion. ‘Belongingness’ in the sense of feeling part of and being possessed by would be the one measure used to comprehend motivations before providing a moral ascription to an act.

2.1. Moral Science in praxis

In physiology, there is need to understand the generic body composition and bodily processes while at the same time recognising that individual bodies and processes may vary from the norm in a very subjective manner. Similarly, the science of morals would need to appraise an individual ‘self’ and also evaluate a multitude of other selves recognising that the two are not mutually exclusive, though they may have to be seen in isolation at certain times. In being and becoming, the impact of the individual on the society and the social interactions on the individual are continual.  The subject of moral assessment is the choices one picks from the basket of choices available at any given point of time, and the variable that should inform the assessment is the presence or absence of certain choices in a particular circumstance.

2.1.1. Application in law

It is all very well to say that the choices one makes have to be seen subjectively as each individual (used here as a metaphor for institution, system or structure as well as persons) is the product of several interactions and their motivations are impacted at every stage, from pre-birth through growth. However, in the modern world, legal proceedings follow established norms and draw on time-honoured tenets that emphasise objectivity and decry subjectivity, though ‘trying’ each case on a stand-alone basis appears to convey that there are no pre-conceptions. Given that law is expected to be blind – or impartial – how could subjectivity be justified? Should law, therefore, be outside the purview of a moral standard – a science of morals? That would be absurd.

2.1.2. Corporate and Political management

Intrigue and snafu are par for the course in corporate and political environments, and guile is an accepted – indeed respected – management tool to cope with the on-the-edge game of ‘second-guess’ that plays out in real time in both environments. The two cohorts share many features such as the inescapable need to get and retain power, and the unavoidable necessity of blowing one’s trumpet more effectively than other equally vocal ‘trumpets’.  Deception, including of the self, and intense hunger – in the guise of ambition, aspiration, drive, etc. etc. etc. – are expected and insisted upon. When what we are considering as the foundational converse of ‘moral’ itself becomes the vital life force of a swathe of society that is so omnipresent, is it possible to realistically entertain any hope of establishing an encompassing moral standard?

2.1.3. Teaching and Research

What about teaching and research, where one would expect to find, more than anywhere else, morality ingrained in the tenets of its practice? In some intangible way it is almost taken as a given that to be learned is to be wise, and therefore is to be moral.  That to be educated is to be cultured, erudite, is a conviction so strong as to make these terms synonymous, and interlink the ideas they represent. But is it the same to be above greed and above hatred as it is to be susceptible to and yet not swayed by these emotions? To think in the affirmative, it appears, would be delusional, and hence directly in conflict with our definition of that which is moral.  If material concerns may not sway scholarship, are scholars to be or not to be a part of this material world?

The field of education – be it teaching or research – is chockful of confounding conundrums that seem to have been simply swept aside as inconsequential.  At least so it appears to the non-academic ‘other’. Should education free the mind or confine it to comprehend normativity [A clue to accepted thinking, perhaps can be found in the popular use of the term ‘human resources’ when dealing with education!]? Should teaching preserve knowledge while research prises it open? Are brick and mortar institutions the founts of inquiry or is the churning that happens in the world at large the real provocation? If the latter, does academia give the causal dynamics sufficient credence, and if the former, how influential are the investigations?

Smugly sanctimonious, though not universally so [the universe here being the academic community], this large cohort that appropriates the term ‘intelligentsia’ to itself would probably be the most difficult to bring within the fold of the science of morals – simply because it would take some convincing to make them step back and see themselves as part of society [and therefore susceptible to its foibles] rather than apart from [and even above] it in some way.

2.2. Institutions, individual agents, and natural laws

From the discussion thus far of Moral Science in praxis, it appears fair to conclude that a science of morals may not translate with ease for application in the prevailing social structures of law, politics, corporate sector and the academia. It could, therefore, be assumed that the same would follow in other social mechanisms. One reason for this could be that these institutions/ structures are, in fact, collectives of individuals, each of whom is impacted by various forces as they negotiate their own processes of being and becoming. An institutional character, therefore, becomes difficult to restructure since it even defies universal definition. Though its contours are tangible to the society that is part of the structure as well as to those outside it, with whom it may or may not interact, interventions may not be effective if administered as if for a whole. Though the structure is a sum of its parts, the parts themselves are independent and heterogeneous agents. An act of re-structuring may have to take cognisance of this and can hope to cause an impact only if it caters to this reality.

A second reason why a science of morals may be difficult to implement in existing institutions and structures is the fact that these are mechanisms that are human-created to achieve certain finite ends and are, therefore, subject to contrived directives as distinct from natural laws that directly impact the individuals who constitute the human society . I would like to dwell on this aspect of the problem with greater emphasis. For, would it not be intuitive for a science of morals to concern itself first with that which we imbibe and exhibit naturally rather than with that which we are perforce obliged to imbibe and exhibit?

2.3. Moral Science: The Object and the Objective

Every discipline or area of study intends to better comprehend some ‘thing’. A discipline like Ophthalmology, for instance, seeks to better understand the eye, even more specifically, perhaps, the human eye. Nowadays, Ophthalmology has branched into sub-specialities such as neuro-ophthalmology and paediatric ophthalmology. Hypothetically, the possibilities for future branches and branchlets of the discipline are limitless. However, it is possible to trace the origin of all these disciplines and sub-disciplines to Biology, which is the study of living organisms. Morphology emerged from Biology when certain persons began to concern themselves exclusively with the study of the form of living organisms. Anatomy emerged from Morphology as dissection became a method to study the structure of living organisms, or how they were put together, and Physiology specialised in the study of the functioning of the body parts – or how they worked together. Medicine can be described as an interdisciplinary study, which grew out of the intensive engagement with structure and functioning, and which concerns itself with how to address malfunctions in the physiology of living organism.

Moral Science, too, can be said to originate in Biology as it is essentially concerned with the living organism. However, the specific concern of the Science of Morals would be the nature of the individual.  What are the forces that impact this nature? How can these forces be managed so that the individual/s may reflexively do what ought to be done such that their thoughts, words and action are intrinsically moral, i.e. untainted by greed, hatred and/ or delusion? In the following section we postulate some thought tools that could be considered for use in the Science of Morals.

2.4. Tools of Moral Science

2.4.1. The Moral Scale

When we evaluate or make judgements about right and wrong, good and bad, we often substitute the conjunction ‘and’ with ‘or’.  Result: we tend to place the values on opposite sides, whereas they may be more rightfully placed on a continuum.

When we place the values on opposite sides it conjures up a sense of conflict between them. Individual nature that is caught in one or the other position perforce feels that there is need to move a greater distance than necessary in order to convert from one to the other value. This imposes what may be called an ‘artificial position’ on the psyche which manifests in pressure to conform to or deny values. In reality, just as from darkness to light is but a matter of degrees of brightness, greed, hatred and delusion each lies on a continuum. Recognising this would make it far less complicated to apply a Moral Scale to measure individual nature in order to understand, cause and achieve change.

2.4.2. Reflection [The Moral Mirror]

Reflection is understood in two ways: 1) as the mirror-image of an object and 2) as a thought process that involves deliberate contemplation.  Moral Science would make use of Reflection of both kinds to evaluate individual nature – one’s own and that of the other – which is the object of its study.

You would normally see, in a reflection, the physical contours of an object that is appropriately placed in front of a reflecting surface. You could also see, say on a pool of still water, a distant object such as the moon. And, yet again, you could witness, reflected through judicious use of gadgets, a solar eclipse that may otherwise not be directly seen. Let us consider here, however, the metaphor of a simple mirror-image. Whosever the individual, when one stands in front of the simple mirror, one can see oneself. Going beyond the physical contours, a ‘moral mirror’ would be used as a thought tool to consider the reflection we see in the mirror as that of a being who is made up of not only physical organs but mental and emotional states of being and becoming. Just as a simple mirror image can help us appreciate our appearance, we can become more aware of our intrinsic individual nature by holding up a moral mirror to our selves.

‘Reflecting’ in the sense of contemplating on the image we see reflected in the moral mirror follows from this basic engagement with the image of ourselves as a product of a variety of impulses or forces.

2.4.3. Reflecting on the reflection

A reflection of our physical contours in a simple mirror tells us how we are like – and unlike – our fellow beings.  It is the first step towards deciding what, if any, we might do to make ourselves more attractive, presentable, and so on. To put it crudely, the purpose of a simple mirror or its equivalent is to gauge what we like about ourselves and what we do not, and therefore, what in our physical appearance may appeal, and what might make it more appealing, to other individuals. The others would include people who are close to us, people whom we might want to impress, and, indeed, the world at large. The process of making our physical selves suited to our own tastes as well as to each of the categories of others involves a complex thought process that draws on experience, hearsay and imagination. We accordingly add and/ or subtract accoutrements to achieve the physical transformation of ourselves, the reflection of which we are likely to once again scrutinise and reflect on.

Instead of the image of the raw physical self, consider reflecting on the reflection a moral mirror would reveal: an image of our intrinsic individual nature. What might contemplating on this image reveal? Might it not inform us about the qualities that make our individual self? And, assuming our individual nature is a sum total of these qualities, where on the moral scale might we place ourselves?

Just as engagement with the reflection of our selves in the simple mirror is voluntary, continual, and lifelong, and also takes it for granted that we can estimate the values that operate in the minds of others who are not likely to be very different from us, so too would have to be our engagement with reflecting on our reflection in the moral mirror.

2.4.4. Impressions [The Moral Imprint]

How do infants learn to draw attention to themselves, respond variously and appropriately to different stimuli, and make their needs known? A baby lying on a wet nappy begins to cry. An elder immediately responds, and the discomfort is attended to. The baby learns that crying is a means of getting out of discomforting situations. As she grows, the baby experiments with various ways of being and becoming and learns what elicits responses that are pleasant and what provokes disagreeable reactions. Like the infant who grows and learns as she grows, in the process of living, our ideas, attitudes and behaviour are informed by our experiences. Repeated reinforcement strengthens the putative mental impressions and a deep imprint is left on the psyche[3].  On the other hand, just as even deep disappointment or anger with a dear one, or pain due to the loss of a loved one generally disappears gradually, so can we allow certain mental imprints to fade over time.

By making the choice to inhibit or to allow certain impressions to gather strength, it could become possible for us to engineer the Moral Imprint, and thereby our reactions and attitudes to people and events, to life and living.

2.5. The pre-eminence of Thought as a tool in Moral Science

That which is judged right may not seem moral, what is right and moral may not appear just. In theory, perhaps, the categories can be strictly defined and delineated. But ground realities are often nebulous and categorisation is not unanimous because events dovetail each other in the process of being and becoming, skewing perception. Therefore, it is both difficult and delusory to evaluate any incident in isolation and to arrive at a conclusion regarding the nature of the individual/s involved. Even primary evidence and first-hand experience can be considered to provide pointers at best as even considered perceptions come to be seen as subjective over space and time. Conclusions that are outcomes of intense and comprehensive deliberations have also been known to fall short of universal acceptance.

Therefore, attention to what is happening – both on the surface and behind it or below it, consideration of the  overt motivations and covert stimuli – imbibed naturally, mechanically or consciously, introspecting on the nature of the requisite response – including the negation of one, and contemplating on the episode in toto each becomes a process of thought.  Using the tools of Moral Science thus far discussed – the Moral Scale, the Moral Mirror, and the Moral Imprint – also involves thinking deliberately. The Science of Morals, therefore, makes it incumbent on us to educate ourselves to use Thought as a tool and to become skilled in using it instinctively.

2.5.1. (Mis?)Interpretations of ‘moral’ in the real world

Is it moral to be just? Few would pause to think before strongly affirming that it indeed is moral to be just. But what is ‘just’? In the real world is it not the dominant voices that determine what is just and what is not? While it is not my case that justice is nothing but the interest of the stronger [as Thrasymachus makes out*], it is commonly observed that in every day operations, the majority because of their sheer numbers rule, or the might of authority/ muscle power/ affluence/ some instrument of clout exercises its power to influence societal norms.  Not unoften, therefore, this throws us into a state of dilemna  when called upon to remark on or to address an issue that appears patently unjust [or just] on the face of it, but which we, in our individual capacities, may perceive as being more layered than obvious.

We see manifestations of this disjuncture all around us: in debates over individual liberty vs equality; animal rights vs human rights; costs of conservation; demands of development; definitions of progress, and so on. It is difficult to overturn a law of ‘quotas’ or reservations that denies a poor girl from a progressive community a university seat while accommodating a rich boy from a community exploited for centuries. Equally, there may be laws that prohibit the killing of feral animals even if they are a menace and threaten lives and livelihoods; forests may have to be preserved even at the cost of restricting the rights of forest dwelling communities whose home the forests have been since the beginning of time; roads may have to be laid to reach isolated communities even if it means displacing or demolishing an iconic bridge or a building; children have to be sent to school to imbibe a ‘general’ education even if it means a break with their vanishing culture and even if it means it could be more meaningful, in all senses of the term, for them to be schooled in their milieu rather than in an institution.

In practice, therefore, it appears that to be just is to follow the law or norms of a society, and the scope of morality is limited by its adherence to this notion of justice. Is it the case, therefore, that morality is also a matter of perception, and in particular the perception of a powerful cohort – in whatever manner the power is derived – rather than something that inheres in an act?

2.5.2. Conditioned consciousness

As in the case of justice where our judgements are often pregnant with misgiving, so too are we often in doubt when giving voice to our notions of the rightness or goodness of acts. This holds true of assessments we may make in our personal or individual capacities or as groups of people – whether the group is a neighbourhood, a nation or the human race. And the nebulousness of the assessments prevails regardless of whether the appraisal pertains to us/ ours or to others/ theirs.

A major reason for the imprecision of our decisions and the consequent feeling of discomfort could be attributed to obligations of obedience: the exigencies of our times require us to comply with certain norms and conform to certain standards. We submit to them in the supposedly larger interest of orderly existence. Significantly, despite the tremendous impact of the norms, standards, etc. on our everyday lives, most of us are unlikely to have had a direct role in influencing their contours. Our behaviour is, therefore, conditioned by these stimuli that are external to us in every sense of the term till the responses become routine.

Given that morality is a desirable condition in individual nature just as healthiness is in an individual’s constitution, we must make an attempt to address the defects that obtain in our nature due to our conditioned consciousness just as we strive to make amends for shortcomings on the health front that result from lifestyle compulsions.

 2.5.3. Imagined (un)realities

In addition to the immediate forces that impact us in our lives as social beings, making us ‘do as the others do’ or ‘to not do as others do’, as the case may be, cognitive scientists would tell us of a myriad other ways in which our mind operates, juggling a multitude alternatives at a pace that can only be described as ‘mind boggling’!

As a layperson, it appears to me that a lot of what happens in the mind is directly or indirectly influenced by that which is imagined. What we see as realities take off from past or present impressions, imbibed or imposed. They include understandings from experience and beliefs based on reflection. These ‘knowns’, tend to decide what needs to be done now, with an intent to impact the future – which stretches from the next immediate moment to infinity. The whole process of being and becoming, therefore, is circumscribed a great deal by the imagined realities of what was and what could be.

This dependence on the imagination is no doubt both necessary and inevitable, as life and living may otherwise come to a halt. However, in studying individual nature, which is the object or our science of morals, it is important to remember that ‘Knowing’ may often be rooted in belief born of imagined realities based on true life experience, albeit individual, – of what is seen, heard, read, reflected upon et al. When it comes to the question of what ought to be done at a particular point in time, these imagined realities are likely to play a very crucial part in determining the decision. Further, when we are not the actor ourselves, but observers or commentators of the acts of others, the imagination tries to concoct the provocations that may underlie the acts of those who are the objects of our inquiry, and the consequences that may entail because of their acts. However, that which is imagined may not be the case.  It is therefore important to keep in mind that determinants of individual nature are impacted by apparent certainties that may not be really real. Grasping the nuances and complexities of morality, therefore, is an involved process that makes the study of what ought to be done a complex and fascinating science.

—–

In the next part of the essay I shall consider examples from real life in an attempt to better comprehend the potential of reinstating Moral Science as the knowledge of ‘what ought to be done’.


[1] I use the term ‘material’ to refer to all sciences that have to do with things concrete or perceivable in contrast to the science of morals, which has to do with subtle or non-tangible, but cognisable realities.

[2] Immoral is used to show positive disapproval of acts of individuals. Amoral, on the other hand, is not always used to show disapproval.

[3] I use ‘psyche’ in the commonly understood sense, to mean mental and emotional states at any/ all level/s of consciousness.

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