Saturday, May 7, 2011

Human Rights Final 2

Gandhi, no less absolutist in his views but far more expansive in how to apply his moral code, laid the foundations for ahimsa—radical non-violence. He rejects the utilitarian view of the greatest good for the greatest number. He believes that “the absolutist (himself and his followers) will even sacrifice himself.” Gandhi sees his methodology as not the fulfillment of a doctrine of happiness, rather, “suffering is the law of human beings,” and “the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but to one’s self.” Gandhi’s absolute view straddles the line between a Western application of an absolute philosophy and the more expansive Eastern traditions. He relies less on a moral obligation, a higher calling, and much more on the arguments of universalism and individual choice. “We are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight…the whole world.” To Gandhi, the radical nature of nonviolence is his main tactic for alleviating the world’s problems. Although not in direct opposition to Singer’s philosophy, Gandhi believed in giving and commitment to a philosophy in a way that everyone can adhere to. While Singer—along with Neiman—makes the argument that the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ are separate and subject to different standards, Gandhi instead argues that the ‘is’ is a tangible change that can come from within, “nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all…when nonviolence is accepted as the law of life it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts.” In effect, Gandhi states that the ‘ought’ becomes the ‘is’ without struggle. The ‘ought’ derives from the internal philosophy and manifests not in donations (although it might) but from kindness and moral strength. He is absolutely firm that the obligations of an individual are the golden rule.

Neiman’s nuanced perspective can be looked at as composed of 3 elements: liberals can have a moral code as well as a skeptical mentality, that moral code justifies intervention to enforce human rights regimes, this moral code relies on turning the ‘is’ into the ‘ought’. The first point is something that she refers to as “moral maturity (Neiman, 18).” She asserts that “any ethics that depends on religious commandment is bad ethics; any religion that claims we can’t behave without it is a bad religion (Neiman, 18).” This is a direct contradiction to the Judeo-Christian and Catholic Worker doctrines, which call upon divinity and its religious underpinnings to call a moral order. To Neiman, in order to elevate ethics from “the moral level of four-year-olds (Neiman, 19)” then “you must believe things are good or evil independent of divine authority (Neiman, 19).” She posits that possession of a moral code does not exclude a skeptical framework; more specifically, the liberal frame of mind. “What the left lacks isn’t values, but a standpoint from which all those values make sense (Neiman, 21).” The very goal of her book is not to force a specific human rights train of thought, rather it is “to reclaim moral concepts that the left no longer uses with full voice (Neiman, 22).” Neiman’s new liberal moral code derives from Enlightenment thought, and quite contrary to the Catholic Worker’s and Singer’s arguments that charity makes one happy, she uses Kant’s point, “if we knew that acting morally led directly to happiness, we would not only be self-righteous, we couldn’t be righteous at all (Neiman, 234).” She puts it another way, “good behavior isn’t the same thing as moral behavior…moral actions must be free actions, and freedom turns out to depend on our limits: not knowing whether your moral actions will be rewarded is crucial to morality (Neiman, 234-235).” In agreeing with Kant, Neiman asserts that the new liberal has a succinct moral code deriving from a reasoned moral code that is separate and superior to traditional religious constructs. This self-determined sense of right and wrong is based in selflessness because it is right and only because it is right. Neiman believes that reasoning logically gives us our moral framework. “For everything that happens, find the reason why it happened this way rather than that (Neiman, 201).” “It takes reason to conceive the possible (Neiman, 202).” Thus the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ begin to emerge. The ‘is’ is what exists, the event that occurs. The ‘ought’ is the possible, the event that we believe should occur. The space between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ lead to questions, reasons, and a moral code that drives us to fulfill the ‘ought’. In seeking explanations for the discrepancy in what we believe ‘ought’ to be drives the modern mind to reach out and enforce their sense of right and wrong. “Reason and universal equality go hand in hand (Neiman, 207).” It is not a matter of happiness or fulfillment, it is about obligation. Neiman believes that the very reason behind reason is the obligation to turn the ‘is’ into the moral ‘ought’—Kant’s categorical imperative.