Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Beyond Morality: Why Morality Is More Than Human

Within the fantasy genre, there is an annoying trend in which any kind of being which consider themselves to be better, or "more evolved", than humans consider themselves to be beyond morality, or when they dismiss morality as a "silly human idea". One of the most grating examples is from the Man of Steel film:

Image posted by Lizbeth Vaughn

I think that this represents a very superficial understanding of what morality and ethics actually are. In fact, I would go as far as saying that this "understanding" is not really an understanding what so ever, but a profound misunderstanding as to the very nature of ethics.

The conception of ethics that is being applied here is likely that of an ethical theory, the most (in)famous of which is Utilitarianism in its many incarnations. Under this understanding, ethical thinking and morality can be, not incorrectly for this system, thought of as merely a tool which one gets out whenever one as reached the point at which they need to make a decision. 

If one takes a far more holistic view of morality, in which one is able to view everything as participating in a moral dimension, then we encounter a problem with this perspective. What do I mean by moral dimension? Simply the idea that moral thinking and attitudes pervade all areas of life, that moral ideas are expressed in almost every action that one takes. In short, that all aspects of life can have moral relevance and understood in a moral context. Upon this view of ethical practice, I think that it becomes nonsensical to say such things as "we are beyond morality" or "morality is a human invention".

I can hear you ask - but why?

Simply because if you consider the characters that are being discussed in these contexts, the super-human characters are not all that different to the human characters. Sure, they have various different abilities and outlooks, but for the most part they are shown to think and react in ways which it is at least possible for a human to react. 

Image posted by Villainous Cenobite

Often, such "amoral" characters are said to have no empathy or an increased desire for vengeance. Sure, lacking empathy at all has ramifications for morality, but it does not render a moral system immediately unquestionable. Were one to study sociopathic behaviour, it is true that they perform acts which others thing deplorable, but they often retain some moral sense, even if it might be a twisted and confused one.

So in short, whilst these beings might possess a different system of morality, and employing different moral concepts or different conceptions of the same moral concepts, they cannot be said to lack a sense of morality. Even if they have a morality which would allow them to do almost anything, they still have a sense of morality. Perhaps it is not the most developed or thought out sense of morality, but it is a sense of morality none-the-less. 

I do not think it is even possible to have a character who entirely lacks a sense of morality. Were a character to view everything as ultimately of no moral value or relevance, such as with moral nihilism, then they still possess a moral system. In fact, the only situation in which I think one could lack a moral system would be for an automaton, who made no decisions of their own. But in this situation, we have another question: are they therefore still a "character"?

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