So last time I was using Immanuel Kant’s tests of universalizability to determine whether or not the famous 10 commandments really are universal moral laws. Remember that if you want to read the originals go and look up Exodus 20: 1-17 and/or Deuteronomy 5: 4-21. But for the sake of simplicity, and the thought experiment of this blog, we can break them down like so we dealt with the first 3 last time:
- Do not worship any other gods besides the one true God (A perfect duty!)
- Do not make any representations of God in any material format (not a moral law)
- Do not speak the name of God in irreverent language (An imperfect duty)
Now we are on to the next 3 tonight!
- Reserve the seventh day of the week for holy activities and direct worship of God
- Show proper honor to your parents
- Do not kill
Law 4: Reserve the seventh day of the week for holy activities and direct worship of God
So can I will that everyone should observe the direct worship of God and engage in holy activities on every seventh day? Yes. The purpose of this law is to reserve time to dedicate ourselves exclusively to the proper reverence for God and to do this on the same schedule as others so that we might form a community around it. In other words, the point of this law is to create organized religion, or more simply, church. So clearing out one day a week will definitely accomplish this. So it passes the first test.
It then immediately fails the second, and it’s a good thing too. Can you imagine the chaos of living in a world where one day a week every single person could only engage in holy activities and direct worship of God? I mean no disrespect to people for whom their religion mandates that they do exactly this, I simply mean to point out how devastating it would be for EVERYONE to do this.
One day a week there are no emergency services available, and one day a week we have to neglect doing anything about natural disasters, diseases, or people who refuse to follow this law. That is this law would be unenforceable since we would all have to be taking the day off so breaking this law would be both consequence free and also greatly frowned on.
No this is a great example of an imperfect duty. We clearly commend the religious and those who attend church, there is just no way to rationally will that everyone should go this way.
So law 4 is an imperfect duty.
Law 5: Show proper honor to your parents
The purpose of this law is clearly to create a basic sense of social cohesion and peace around our second most important institution (after the church of course) the family. Now, even if your parents are wicked and monstrous people the idea of showing them honor is still sound. Honor implies giving someone their due, showing them the respect they deserve. Since all of us owe our biological parents in terms of our basic genetic existence then we should all show at least some honor to them. So this passes the first test since there is no rational excuse not to properly pay back those you owe, and since this proper honor will guarantee the basic stability of the family.
This also passes the second test with no trouble at all. Certainly everyone would want to live in a world where people were respected to the extent which they truly deserved. This becomes even more essential to social coherence when we consider that parents often contribute a lot of basic work into turning their children into respectable members of society. This ensures that the same values are passed down since good parents should create a cycle of good children growing up into good parents themselves.
As a side note this will work for any authority figures who “parent” us. We owe honor to anyone who has raised or supported us, regardless of whether or not we owe them anything genetically. So this is a really good law actually.
Law 5 is a Perfect Duty!
Law 6: Do Not Kill
First let’s deal with the easy part. Doesn’t this law really just mean don’t murder? No. Why? Because then it’s a mere tautology. Murder is understood to be an unjust taking of a life, so for whatever other reasons that may or may not support a person’s decision to murder, the fact that it is “murder” makes it automatically unjustified. Things which are given as obviously unjust do not need laws to restrain us from doing them.
Of course you may respond that a better way to phrase this would be “Don’t take an innocent life”. This is also problematic since although it might not be a tautology, it might also be a meaningless law. The Bible makes it quite clear (Romans 3:23, 6:23) and Christianity affirms that no one is innocent. So then taking an innocent life would be impossible. Even if we take the broader understanding of innocent as “young and having few experiences” this would still allow us to justifiably take your life just for being over 18. Besides, according to the doctrine of Original sin not even an infant is innocent (thanks Augustine! Confessions Book 1 chapters 6-7).
So we have decided to go with the more traditional interpretation here. “Do not kill”.
Clearly this law is meant to apply to human persons, since this law is like the other 2 which precede it in creating and maintaining social stability. Now we might, for one moment, think that this law meant that no one should ever kill anyone else for any reason. “Don’t kill humans, ever.” Yet such an interpretation would actually increase the instability and chaos of society. This isn’t an argument in favor of the death penalty, just a casual observation about how killing the right people at the right time has always been necessary to preserve social order, and a universal ban on killing would undermine that by rendering any authorities, including your own authority over your property or person, powerless.
So in essence what this law really means is that it would be unjust for me to take the life of a human when such a taking would cause chaos or damage in my society. In fact we might formulate this as “Do not kill any members of our own society.” Then we can still go to war, eat animal meat, and also execute criminals, or those who have set themselves outside of the protection of society.
So if the purpose of this law is to create order and peace then it seems that we can will this without contradiction since a law which prohibits killing society members should very much accomplish this.
Except we are still in trouble here since that still leaves us room to kill lots of people that the average reader of the 10 commandments thinks this law covers, namely the whole other 6.9 billion people, excepting our few million.
Oh but it gets worse. If the purpose of this law is to create order by protecting the members of our society then all we have really done is created a one-way ticket to immediate corruption and social destruction. You see, people in power are on the lookout for ways to maintain both power and order. And whatever threatens one threatens the other, so threats must be removed. And if the only problem standing in the way is that we can’t kill our own members then that is surely the reason why social membership historically becomes fluid.
The purpose of such a law is to create social order and protect social members, but you need only look at any police force ever in the history of our species to see that the opposite results. Wherever there is a prohibition against killing members of society in order to preserve society, what we find is that this simply ends up creating slaves, outcasts, criminals, “bad neighborhoods”, and all the rest. This law in fact creates the police, an institution which cannot survive without a mandate to kill the members of society to create that false sense of order this law fails to establish. So this law unequivocally fails the first test.
Also this law fails the second test, because we don’t like this world very much. We really are not fans of our current society of police brutality and corrupt governments, and if this law was followed everywhere then this would probably also encourage warfare on a grand scale.
No this law is no moral law, and it never could be. Society needs enemies, foreign or domestic, and even if we lived in a society of peace we would still have no use for this law, since it would never occur to us to break it. If we were good we would need no such law, and if we were wicked then this law would only make us worse.
Law 6 is not a moral law.
The next 2 are coming!