Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Human Nature and Morality II

There are many ways of life, kinds of projects, and sorts of activity which will tend to contribute to happiness and promote justice. These ways, projects and activities are suitable to human nature. We ought to pursue them because we ought to strive to promote happiness and justice: the components of good lives.

There is a confusion lurking at hand, however. One cannot simply read in human nature a moral imperative. Human nature is not an harmonious bundle of desires and capacities. Rather, these are multifarious, manifold and often conflicting. There are desires that are inconsistent with our capacities, and there are desires that conflict with other desires, all subsisting within human nature. The goal of a human life is to find within it a set of desires and capacities that are mutually harmonious and viable for the individual to make the substance of his endeavors. There are many such sets of desires and capacities, many possible kinds of good lives, as well as many possible sets of mutually incoherent desires and capacities that will form the substance of a poor life if embraced by any individual. Therefore, the reason that there are no imperatives to read off of human nature is that if you merely read you derive only this:

Imperatives that rest upon a desire or capacity

Yet it is obvious that many such imperatives will be immoral and that no desire or capacity amounts to an imperative. Because there are certain ways of acting on desires or in fulfillment of capacities which are immoral.

No, in order to discover what is good or right by examining human nature, you need to bring along a coherent story, an elaborate description of a good life which uses components of human nature as its elements. This story or description will not be reducible to the elements of human nature. A common sense, a sensibility to a culture will also be necessary. In short, human nature is vitally important to understanding what is good. But you cannot derive what is good from human nature.

We'll take up an example or two in the next post in this series.