Ethics, Morals, Laws
As long as I’m laying bare my premisses, in preparation for shifting to the “time dimension”, and in conjunction with my previous post on “Values and Physical Reality“, I want to discuss how I understand the relationship between ethics, morals and law, for these also reflect the human perceptions and interpretations of physical reality.
In “Values and Physical Reality” I argued that time and space are, and were originally, essentially powers or values and not things or objects. This reflects the original meaning of the word “physis” itself, which did not mean “physical” in the sense we use it today. Physis (and its retained meaning in the word “physiology”) principally meant the realm of “growth”, ergo, the lifeworld and even as being themselves living potencies. This accounts for some of the peculiarities of pre-Socratic philosophy, which is still mythically-attuned (and which Nietzsche preferred). In fact “physis” in this originary sense is very much connected with Nietzsche’s “Dionysian” mood or consciousness and his Dionysian philosophy — and with his critique of morality and “modern ideas”. If you read the pre-Socratic philosophers, you will see that time and space are basically projected or “evolve” out of the soul and maintain their connection to the soul, forming a “lifeworld” — the realm of physis. “Physical” for the mythical consciousness is something very different, and even contrary, than what “physical” means for the rational consciousness. And so, too, ethics, morals, and laws also map to mutations in consciousness structure.
Actually, it’s not quite correct to say that space and time have ceased to be “values”, because it’s more the case that something peculiar has happened to the meaning of “value” itself. Once meaning “strength, power, health” — a feeling of vigor and strength — it mutated, with the mental-rational consciousness (or the logico-mathematical) into a quantity, a measurable quantity. This is the process called “objectification” or “objectivation” or “reification”. Value itself became quantified and a quantity, which is, really, the lowest point of the Kali Yuga. Oscar Wilde’s famous description of a cynic as “the man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” is precisely this. “Value” ceased to have any connection with the soul and with lifeworld.
This is, essentially, the “deficiency” or deficit of the rational consciousness structure, or the hypertrophy of the logico-mathematical mind. That’s why it cannot comprehend evolution (and time) as being the process of “value realisation”, because it has completely quantified and objectified and reified “value” until its has lost its connection with the “vital centre”. This is essentially Nietzsche’s objection to “modern ideas” and the attendant process of “nihilism” as “devaluation of value” itself. Economic and rational man has become almost completely incapable of thinking about “value” in any other terms but as a quantum. Value has been changed into weight, measure, and mass. And although space and time, and physis, so have these measurable aspects, it is not essentially what they are. This is what we call “materialism”, virtually synonymous with the devaluation of value, and therewith, a species of nihilism.
And value is also connected, of course, with the confusion about ethics, morality, and legality. These, too, reflect mutations in the human consciousness structure and psychic configuration. Confusion about these things, today, is enormous because of the deterioration of the meaning of “value”. For the “progression” from ethics, to morality, to legality marks the “distantiation” from origin — from the vital centre.
Ethics, or e-thos, is, as the word implies, lived from the inner outwards — from man’s inmost core. “Mores” or morality — as in the Ten Commandments — is from the outside inwards. Legality, or law, is even more removed from the inner core or “vital centre”. In this “progression” from ethos, to morality, to legality as distantiation from the true self, you see the journey of the Prodigal Son and the “widening gyre” of W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” — the centrifugal or disintegrative dynamic.
It’s in this sense that one has to understand Blake’s often misconstrued remark: “One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression” (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). Morality and legality are, for Blake, repressive, which he associates with Church and State respectively, and therefore with fallen Urizen and his “Book of Iron Laws”. Urizen is, in his fallen state, therefore, essentially the devaluation of value, one of the Zoas who has lost memory of his true form and root in eternity — Gebser’s “ever-present origin”.
As Reason, for Blake, represents the outermost “circumference” of the energy form of the human, so does legality. Ethics, morality, and legality are like expanding concentric rings or orbits mapped by the ego-consciousness as it orbits the soul, at ever wider orbits and ever-greater psychic distance — the estrangement of McGilchrist’s “Emissary” from “the Master”. This reflects Nietzsche’s remark that “Since Copernicus, man has been rolling from the centre towards “X””. Dante, in his travels through the Inferno, travels in the reverse process — he passes through the concentric rings of hell until he finds the stairway to paradise only at Hell’s very centre.
It’s quite odd that our understanding has not even caught up with Dante yet, let alone that of Buddha, Jesus, or Rumi. Such is the irony of “progress” — that despite our technical progress, we remain quite backward. This also belongs to the meaning of Gebser’s “double-movement” reflecting time’s polarity (and “time is of the soul”) — the more we progress, the more backward we also become, in certain vital respects and aspects — the return to the Void or Abyss of Non-Being.
There may be, also, one additional “layer” beyond the ethical, the moral, and the legal — that is the rule of the machine or automaton, something that even Mr. Fukuyama ironically referred to as Our Post-Human Future. “Post-human” is also a very ambiguous term. In some ways, this has already arrived, for, as you will note, today even law is having difficult adjusting to the demands of new technology. Artificial intelligence would represent, in many ways, the total and final objectification of man — ergo, species death.
So, you could say there are four concentric spheres, ever-widening away from the vital centre (also called “kingdom of heaven”) — ethics, morality, legality, and finally mechanism, which is completely indifferent to ethics, morality, and law. It’s very clear that, today, even law is having to surrender to the inherent logic of technology.