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.
In part 1 we dealt with the first 3, and in part 2 we dealt with the next 3.
- 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)
- Reserve the seventh day of the week for holy activities and direct worship of God (Another imperfect duty)
- Show proper honor to your parents (Another perfect duty!)
- Do not kill(Also not a moral law)
Now we are on to the next 2 tonight!
- Do not be sexually unfaithful to your spouse
- Do not steal
Law 7: Do not be sexually unfaithful to your spouse
Can I will that everyone should be faithful to their spouse? Well I probably need to clarify this one, since law seven is designed to preserve a very important social institution, marriage. In one obvious sense it doesn’t appear that there is anything wrong with this law except that it won’t apply to unmarried people. So I guess that means the unmarried can screw anyone they want? NO! This law in truth applies to anyone who is capable of having sex: married, single, celibate, etc. The point of this law is to preserve marriage as an institution essential for preserving basic social order. So again this fits with the laws we looked at last time and has the same basic purpose.
So a more precise formulation of this law would really be “Do not engage in socially unsanctioned sexual activities.” This covers all the people who are unmarried as well as all the married folks. So, can I will this universally without contradiction? Yes.
The purpose of this law is to maintain the sanctity and stability of socially approved sexual unions. So a law which prohibits all non-approved sex perfectly preserves that purpose. So this law passes the first test.
But…it doesn’t quite pass the second. See now we need to ask ourselves whether or not we, as rational beings, would want to live in a world where we were forbidden from engaging in non-approved sexual activities. The history of humanity seems to show that people don’t like to follow the sexual rules, but perhaps most people are irrational. Maybe this would be a great world to live in, and maybe everyone would be happier for it?
Still no, since this would in fact make social partnerships and sexual liaisons, almost undesirable. Consider that in such a world where we are banned from having unapproved sex we would have some unique problems. Any sex you wanted to have would need to be pre-approved by your society. This would have to go beyond the mere sanction that the formal marriage ceremony gives to a couple to “have good married sex.” No this would have to involve the positions, actions, toys, methods, and maneuvers that the couple wanted to use. These would have to be approved, so the idea of privacy around one’s sex life simply would not exist. Besides you would probably need people to watch you have sex in order to confirm that you didn’t break any of the rules and use something that had been forbidden. Of course in such a world we might be used to this total lack of privacy around sex, but then sex would also cease to be spontaneous or “fun”. It would be all business, and probably reserved exclusively for procreation.
It shouldn’t be that difficult for rational beings to agree that sex being some kind of pure business situation with enforcers and approval processes in fact overly complicates basic human relationships. Aristotle would explain that you have mistaken a friendship of pleasure for a friendship of utility. Sex is supposed to be relational, but if it is all about business then sex becomes prostitution. A rational person does not want to live in a world where sex exists only as a form of government regulated prostitution.
So this fails the second test, and we aren’t really surprised. It is commendable to follow society’s restrictions on our sex lives, but sex is private so we might like breaking some of the rules every now and then.
Law 7 is therefore an imperfect duty.
Law 8: Do not steal
The purpose of this law is obvious, regulated property ownership is essential for social stability. Law 4 created and maintained the institute of religion. Law 5 created and maintained the institute of the family. Law 6 creates and maintains the institute of Law Enforcement. Law 7 creates and maintains the institute designed to control sex, aka marriage. Law 8 joins their ranks by creating the institution of private property.
Yes I can will this without contradiction so it easily passes the first test. If I forbid everyone from stealing, then the whole point of private property is maintained and reinforced. In fact I have to forbid stealing, or else property is meaningless whether it is private or otherwise. This law creates the security that society needs around private possessions. I need to know that I can leave my house and expect that it will still be my house on my return. I need to know I can leave my food, and that it will be left alone by people who will respect my claim to that food. Without this law I could never own more than I could carry and society would have trouble advancing beyond hunter-gatherer.
Yes, I would also want to live in a world where NO ONE ever stole anything. This does not mean that I want to live in a world where the poor must starve in sight of the rich who own everything, not one bit. You see, the history of wealth acquisition is a history of over theft, indirect theft by coercion, and legally allowed theft. The wealthy have become so, not so much by their hard work, but rather because their ancestors had the good fortune of being the descendants of clever and powerful thieves. Sometimes we call them warlords, sometimes aristocrats, sometimes robber-barons, sometimes masters (yes I am talking about slavery). The fact that you currently own property does not mean that you acquired it fairly or without resorting to some form of theft. Even in today’s society it would be ludicrous to believe that the goods made in China, and purchased by Americans are acquired fairly and without any exploitation or theft of value.
So yes this law passes the second test with flying colors. It’s just a shame that we so rarely see it put into action.
Congratulations Law 8, you are a perfect duty!
The final two laws are coming.