Much of human argumentation concerns moral or esthetical values, in some
sense, yet there are few books that present or discuss the logic of
moral discourse and do so both rationally and sensibly. Lately, it has
been my pleasure to read one such book, which is called "The Logic of
Moral Discourse". It was first published in 1955, was originally
written in 1950-51, and is by the editor of the Encyclopedia of
Philosophy that was first published in 1967, namely Paul Edwards.
And indeed, it is also my pleasure to have read most of the Encyclopedia of
Since Mr. Edwards discusses an important topic in a sensible way; since
there is much fallacious reasoning in moral discourse; since "The Logic
of Moral Discourse" has the merit of being mostly logical without being
technical and without using a notation that is obscure to
non-mathematical people; and since I also liked the Encyclopedia of
Philosophy I will try to make an excerpt of and a comment on it.
Besides, there are three other reasons to do this, and indeed to do this
for logical and moral reasons:
First, it seems in general there is much obscurity and much confusion
connected and involved with moral judgments of all kinds - that include
what society should be like, how people should behave towards each
other, what are the foundations of law, what rights and duties one
should have, what characteristic of human beings one seriously desires
to further etc.
Second, especially at the time when I am writing this, in international
terms there is a war going on in Iraq where it appears the American
government and their allies have occupied Iraq for ostensibly humanistic
reasons, and to prevent the use of "weapons of mass destruction" and to
fight terrorism and a cruel dictatorship, while in fact (1) there have been found no
"weapons of mass destruction" even after a year of occupation, and while
(2) the occupation seems to be maintained, in part, by means of terrorism and torture
in - so-called - Allied prisons by Allied soldiers, and specifically by
Third, at the time I am writing this my own government, which is Dutch,
while still in fact protecting the trafficking, dealing and yearly selling of
literary billions of dollars in illegal drugs of all kinds, that
in fact has been going on from and on Dutch terrritory for several
decades, at the same time initiates "a nation-wide discussion" of what
the current Dutch Prime Minister calls "norms and values", which,
according to him, the Dutch in great majority do not have or hardly have had the
The excerpt will follow the ten chapters in Mr. Edwards' book, but I
will be mostly concerned with the gist of these ten chapters and with a
few criticisms, rather than that I will attempt to give a full, adequate, fair
and complete summary. My
Supplementary Remarks that follow are necessary, I think,
because while Mr. Edwards does propose a useful approach to and theory
of his subject, he also misses a number of rather important points, and
his position on fundamental moral propositions differs from mine. The
second section of the
Supplementary Remarks also provide a
summary of the most
important points in my review, both of Mr. Edwards and myself.
The text I use is the 'First Free Press Paperback Edition' of 1965, and
I copy Mr. Edwards' chapter and section titles and part of his
arguments. If you like my text you are adviced to find your own copy of
Mr. Edwards book, for which you probably have to go to a good library,
since it is long out of print.
Also, it should be remarked that I treat Mr. Edwards text as the basis
of a rational discussion between him and me about an important topic,
for which reason I have, mostly either in fairness or to make his views
clear, quoted more of his text that is currently fashionable in academic
prose including reviews.
And it should be remarked - as Mr. Edwards will outline in his first
chapter that follows - that his treatise is not meant to be a treatise
on morals at large, or on all moral questions, but mostly is about moral
judgments in general, inquires into their possible foundations, and
centers on the answering of
that may be asked about moral judgments.
The book has an introduction by the American philosopher Sidney Hook,
who was better known in the 1950ies than afterward. Mr. Hook's introduction
starts as follows:
"It is not often that a book in philosophy is a contribution of the
first importance to fundamental theoretical questions, is argued with
skill, incisiveness and eudition, has wider bearings of concern to all
reflective persons and not merely professional philosophers, and is
written with a delightful and piquant vivacity." (p. 13)
I mostly agree, but it is well to quote Mr. Hook's own reasons:
"The Logic of Moral Discourse" is an important contribution to ethical
theory because it is the soundest and most systematic fusion, in the
study of metaethics, of the emotive and objective naturalistic points of
view. Mr. Edwards restates the central contentions of the emotive theory
persuasively and at the same time does not imply the paradoxical
conclusion that moral judgments are never true or false. His analysis
establishes that moral judgments do indeed express attitudes, chiefly
those of approval and disapproval, but they are at the same time
assertions about the objects of these attitudes."
Most of this will become clearer later on, but it may be well to note
here that Mr. Edwards' theory has both a subjective aspect (what you
desire is in the end up to you, your constitution, your needs, your
education etc.) and an objective aspect (what you desire is more or less
of certain kind of facts in the one world we all live in but all explain
and experience differently).
Also, it makes sense to mention that 'metaethics' is a somewhat
unfortunate term for 'discussions and theories about ethics'. It is
mostly unfortunate because it sounds pedantic, and because 'discussions
and theories about ethics' mostly are part and parcel of ethics
even if they overlap with other fields and considerations, like logic or
Next, and to conclude this summary of Mr. Hook's introduction, here is a
quotation of Mr. Hook's statement of the core of ethics:
"Mr. Edwards takes as his point of departure distinctions that are
commonly recognized whenever human beings seriously discuss what actions
should be done or left undone insofar as they affect others."
This is a fair statement of what ethics is about, except that classical
moralists also considered effecting oneself. Even so, it makes sense to
claim that ethics and morals concern the question how human beings
should and should not behave towards other human beings. And because
this is so it is well if I remind the reader right at the beginning of a
few facts related to moral judgments and human behavior.
Some basic factual considerations relating to morals
Before entering upon what may seem like a lot of "falsche logische
Spitzfindigkeit" or vain or useless reasoning about morals, let me
remind the reader of a few moral facts, that I have taken the trouble to
Mr. Randolph J. Rummel has taken the trouble of finding out how many
civilian persons have been murdered in the 20th Century apart from the
many soldiers that were killed on battle-fields.
He wrote a book about it called Death by
Government, in which one can find, among other things, the
following table - that lists only
civilian deaths and no military deaths in wartime:
|Josip Broz Tito
F. Muller is the only one who survived the
Krematorium-kommando in Auschwitz. He is a Cech, and wrote a
book about his experiences that has been
translated as "Auschwitz Inferno". He poses the following question
"How was it possible, I often asked myself, for
a young man of average intelligence and normal personality to carry out the unspeakable
atrocities demanded of him in the belief that thereby he was doing his
patriotic duty, without ever realizing that he was being used as a tool by
perverted political dictators?"
Stanley Milgram was an American psychologist who experimentally
investigated the sort of question I just quoted from Mr. Muller. Here is
one summary of his work, cited from a standard
university course concerning psychology, namely "Introduction to
Psychology" by Hilgard & Atkinson:
Kohlberg's investigations and explanations:
Kohlberg is another psychologist who
investigated the actual moral behavior and thinking of human beings.
Again, I quote from the "Introduction to Psychology" by Hilgard &
Stages in the development of moral values
Level I. Premoral
1. Punishment and obedience orientation
Obeys rules in order to avoid
2. Naive instrumental hedonism
Conforms to obtain rewards, to have
Level II. Morality of conventional
3. "Good-boy" morality of
maintaining good relations, approval of others.
Conforms to avoid disapproval,
maintaining good relations, dislike by others.
4. Authority maintaining morality.
Conforms to avoid censure by
legitimate authorities, with resultant guilt
Level III. Morality of
self-accepted moral principles
5. Morality of contract, of
individual rights, and of democratically accepted law.
Conforms to maintain the respect of
the impartial spectator judging in terms of community welfare.
6. Morality of individual principles
Conforms to avoid self-condemnation.
studies indicate that the moral judgments of children who are seven and younger
are predominantly at Level I - actions are evaluated in terms of whether they
avoid punishment or lad to rewards. By age 13, a majority of the moral
dilemmas are resolved at Level II - actions are evaluated in terms of
maintaining a good image in the eyes of other people. This is the level of
conventional morality. In the first stage at this level (Stage 3) one seeks
approval by being "nice"; this orientation expands in the next
stage (Stage 4) to include "doing one's duty", showing respect for
authority, and conforming to the social order in which one is raised.
Kohlberg, many individuals never progress beyond Level II. He sees the stages
of moral development as closely tied to Piaget's stages of cognitive
development, and only if a person has achieved the later stages of formal
operational thought is he capable of the kind of abstract thinking necessary
for postconventional morality at Level III. The highest stage of moral
development (Level III, stage 6) requires formulating abstract ethical
principles and conforming to them to avoid self-condemnation. Kohlberg
reports that less than 10 percent of his subjects over age 16 show (...) kind
of "clear-principled" Stage 6 thinking (...)"
describes the child as a "moral philosopher" who develops moral
standards of his own; these standards do not necessarily come from parents or
peers but emerge from the cognitive interaction of the child with his social
environment. Movement from one stage to the next involves an internal
cognitive reorganization rater than a simple acquisition of the moral
concepts prevalent in his culture."
claims that moral thought and moral action are closely related. For proof he
cites a study in which college students were given an opportunity to cheat on
a test. Only 11 percent of those who reached Level III on the moral dilemmas
test cheated. In contrast, 42 percent of the students at the lower levels of
moral judgement ceated (...)".
I believe that the reader who has arrived at this point either has
concluded that he doesn't care for morals or that there are quite
important human questions related to morals, about which it would be good
to have some rational answers. In the last case, the reader is invited to
proceed; in the first case, to reconsider, if only because he or she may
be counted as 1 in a list some future Mr. Rummel may compile about the
Here I shall give the details of
(A) The texts in Mr. Edwards' "Bibliography" I have read
(B) Some additional references
(C) Some relevant political, historical or philosophical references
(A) The texts in Mr. Edwards' "Bibliography" I have read:
Ayer, A.J. Language, Truth and Logic.
Broad, C.D. Five Types of Ethical Theory.
Feigl, Herbert, "De Principiis Non Disputandum...?
Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.
Moore, G.E. Principia Ethica.
Ross, David. The Foundations of Ethics.
Russell, Bertrand. Religion and Science.
What I believe.
An Outline of Philosophy.
A History of Western Philosophy.
Schilpp, P. The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell.
Sidgwick, H. The Methods of Ethics.
(B) Some additional references:
Edwards, P. Ed. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Kogon, E. Der SS-Staat.
Oksenberg Rorty, A. Ed. The Many Faces Of Evil - Historical Perspectives.
Tatarkiewicz, W. Analysis of Happiness.
(C) Some relevant political, historical or philosophical references
Some years ago, I prepared a reasoned and commented bibliography about
politics, that consists of a number of philosophical, historical, political
and anthropological texts. Here is the link
Introduction to Politics
Most of the texts I mention and briefly discuss there are relevant for the
questions raised in the present text.