Sei sulla pagina 1di 4


Because our acceptance of violence usually depends on our notions of right and wrong, a digression on morality is perhaps needed. Utilitarianism "The principle of utility neither requires nor admits of any other regulator than itself," asserted Jeremy Bentham.i What is this principle of utility? "By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness."ii Utilitarianism involves doing calculations: "An action may be said to be conformable to the principle of utility, or, for shortness sake, to utility (meaning with respect to the community at large), when the tendency it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any it has to diminish it."iii The fact that no one man or group of men has access to the information needed to make these calculations is perhaps too obvious to point out. Because men are not omniscient, utilitarianism has the potential to be dangerously misapplied. Bentham advises his readers on how to take "an exact account then of the general tendency of any act." (emphasis added)iv That Bentham believed such a task was possible is astonishing. Bentham laid down a process for determining whether an act was, on net, good or, on net, bad. However, he acknowledged that "it is not to be expected that this process should be strictly pursued previously to every moral judgment, or to every legislative or judicial operation."v To follow the steps in this process one would require the luxury of time which is not always abundant. High pressure situations call for rules of thumb, not contemplation. One would also need data that it would not be feasible to accumulate. It has been said that people are not rational, but rationalizers. Utilitarianism, with its implicit dismissal of any fixed rules plays right into the hands of the rationalizers. According to Paul Johnson, utilitarianism gave Winston Churchill the justification to engage in terror-bombing: (Churchill) had initiated the mass-bombing strategy on 2 July 1940 because he was overwhelmed by the prospect of Nazi occupation - the ultimate moral catastrophe - and saw bombing as the only offensive weapon then available to the British. This was the old utilitarian theory of morals, as opposed to the natural law theory which ruled that the direct destruction of war-waging capacity was the only legitimate manner of conducting combat By the end of 1941, with both Russia and America in the war, the defeat of Hitler, as Churchill himself realized, was inevitable in the long run. The utilitarian rationale for attacks on cities had disappeared; the moral case had always been inadmissible. (emphasis added)vi The British intentionally targeted civilians in order to prevent what they considered to be even worse. On balance, killing thousands of civilians seemed almost moral.

Experience Some philosophers see morality as the fruit of accumulated experience. Adam Smith, in the eighteenth century, wrote, "The general maxims of morality are formed, like all other general maxims, from experience and induction."vii He explained, It is by finding in a vast variety of instances that one tenor of conduct constantly pleases in a certain manner, and that another as constantly displeases the mind, that we form the general rules of morality Nothing can be agreeable or disagreeable for its own sake which is not rendered such by immediate sense and feeling. If virtue, therefore, in every particular instance, necessarily pleases for its own sake, and if vice as certainly displeases the mind, it cannot be reason, but immediate sense and feeling, which in this manner, reconciles us to the one, and alienates us from the other. Pleasure and pain are the great objects of desire and aversion: but these are distinguished not by reason but by immediate sense and feeling. If virtue, therefore, is desirable for its own sake, and if vice is, in the same manner the object of aversion, it cannot be reason which originally distinguishes those different qualities, but immediate sense and feeling.viii Egoism "The man is distinguished from the youth by the fact that he takes the world as it is, instead of everywhere fancying it amiss and wanting to improve it, i. e. model it after his ideal; in him the view that one must deal with the world according to his interest, not according to his ideals, becomes confirmed," declared the egoist Max Striner.ix Stirner eloquently summed up egoism when he asked, "Why will you not take courage now to really make yourselves the central point and the main thing altogether?" The egoist is his own god: "How one acts only from himself, and asks after nothing further, the Christians have realized in the notion 'God.' He acts 'as it pleases him.' And foolish man, who could do just so, is to act as it 'pleases God' instead."x Egoism is the opposite of altruism. It spurns the very foundations of traditional morality: I do not want to recognize or respect in you anything, neither the proprietor nor the ragamuffin, nor even the man, but to use you. In salt I find that it makes food palatable to me, therefore I dissolve it; in the fish I recognize an aliment, therefore I eat it; in you I discover the gift of making my life agreeable, therefore I choose you as a companion For me no one is a person to be respected but solely, like other beings, an object in which I take an interest or else do not, an interesting or uninteresting object, a usable or unusable person. And, if I can use him, I doubtless come to an understanding and make myself at one with him, in order, by the agreement, to strengthen my power, and by combined force to accomplish more than individual force could effect. In this combination I see nothing whatever but a multiplication of my force, and I retain it only so long as it is my multiplied force. But thus it is aunion.xi Self-renunciation According to the Bible scholar E. P. Sanders, "Jesus' ethical teaching has drawn praise from almost all quarters. The teaching collected in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), especially the

commandments to love one's enemies and to turn the other cheek, along with the parables in Luke, such as the story of the Good Samaritan, have often served as the summary of true religion in the thinking of the great and famous, including those who were out of sympathy with all or much of organized religion." For example, Thomas Jefferson thought Jesus' system of morality was "the most benevolent and sublime probably that has ever been taught."xii According to Albert Schweitzer, Jesus taught, "He who is one day to count among the greatest in the Kingdom of God must now be as a child! He who advances a claim to a position of rule therein must now serve! The more lowly the position of humble service which one now assumes, in the time when the earthly rulers exercise authority by force, so much the more lofty will be his station as ruler when earthly force is done away and the Kingdom of God dawns Service is the fundamental law of interim-ethics." The interim refers to the time in between Jesus' ministry and the dawning of the Kingdom of God. Schweitzer continued, Only through lowliness and childlikeness in this aeon is one worthily prepared to reign in the Kingdom of God. Only he who is here morally purified and ennobled through suffering can be great there. Hence suffering is for Jesus the moral means of acquiring and confirming the messianic authority to which he is designated. Earthly rule, because it depends upon force, is an emanation of the power of ungodliness. Authority in the Kingdom of God, where the power of this world is destroyed, signifies emanation from the divine power. Only he can be the bearer of such authority who has kept himself free from the contamination of earthly rule.xiii "If the thought of the eschatological realisation of the Kingdom is the fundamental factor in Jesus' preaching, his whole theory of ethics must come under the conception of repentance as a preparation for the coming of the Kingdom."xiv This being the case, Jesus' teachings can still be relevant for the irreligious. Schweitzer explained, Men feared that to admit the claims of eschatology would abolish the significance of His words for our time; and hence there was a feverish eagerness to discover in them any elements that might be considered not eschatologically conditioned. When any sayings were found of which the wording did not absolutely imply an eschatological connexion there was great jubilation But in reality that which is eternal in the words of Jesus is due to the very fact that they are based on an eschatological worldview, and contain the expression of a mind for which the contemporary world with its historical and social circumstances no longer had any existence. They are appropriate, therefore, to any world, for in every world they raise the man who dares to meet their challenge, and does not turn and twist them into meaninglessness, above his world and his time, making him inwardly free, so that he is fitted to be, in his own world and in his own time, a simple channel of the power of Jesus.xv

Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Clarendon Press, 1879), 23 Ibid, 2 iii Ibid, 3 iv Ibid, 30 v Ibid, 31 vi Johnson, Modern Times, 402 & 403


Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (A. Millar, 1761), 396 Ibid, 398 ix Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own (Benjamin R. Tucker, 1907), 14 x Ibid, 211 xi Ibid, 183, 414 & 415 xii E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin Books, 1995), 6 & 7 xiii Albert Schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1914), 74, 76 & 77 xiv Ibid, 94 xv Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Adam and Charles Black, 1910), 400