UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of morality Noble, John Goldthorpe


This paper is an attempt to relate ethics to the sciences, in particular to psychology. It is held that these two are closely, though complexly, related, in that human capacities (discovered by the sciences) must be known before minor moral imperatives can be formulated, and further, a major moral imperative is necessary to give meaning to the varied capacities which science enumerates as being within the scope of action. Chapter One deals with emergent morality, a natural manifestation of the process of evolution, and points out the uncritical attitude involved in the formation of mores and taboos. These are non-relative and absolute values (imperatives) found in modern as well as primitive societies, and, when adopted, form a mechanistic view of behaviour. The argument against a determined view of conduct is on three grounds: general observation of human action, and evidence from biology and the physical sciences. Man overcomes the mechanistic tendency of the natural evolutionary process by science, in the world of things (e.g. using the causality principle) and ethics in the sphere of ideas (e.g. understanding the dangers inherent in non-relative and absolute values). Chapter Two treats the two other broad types of value. Relative and non-absolute (Calliclean) values are criticized as being in reality not values at all, since to assert that any value will do is the same as saying that none are necessary. Relative and absolute values form the only other alternative. The relativity of values finds support in the general observation that values, to be meaningful, must be somehow related to the beings whose conduct they control. The absolute imperative assumed (as perhaps all basic imperatives must be) is simply that man ought to be healthy, in the fullest meaning of the terra. This assumption is based on 1) the misery of psychologically unsound individuals, and 2) the social necessity for healthy functioning. The chapter concludes with an examination of ascetic morality, and finds it invalidated if the assumed imperative is valid. In its place a morality of full physical and mental functioning seems to be indicated, the nature of this functioning being obtained after a study of the sciences, especially psychology. Chapter Three considers the extent of unhealthy human functioning and finds that psychologically unsound behaviour, which by definition is ethically bad behaviour, is exceedingly widespread, so much so that some writers have referred to the phenomenon as a mass neurosis. Adjustment to society can produce an unhealthy individual if the society itself is inherently unsound. Our own society appears in many ways to fall into this classification, which at once sets a major ethical problem--that of social rectification.

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