Moral issues are at the heart of human problems and must figure prominently in solutions. It is our bleak paradox that specialized populations possess increasing technological prowess, all too often accomplished by increasing the likelihood of encountering individuals pleading force majeure while diminishing the chances of encountering individuals regarding themselves as 'competent to be culpable'.
(Thoughts from an unpublished essay linking moral issues with Whitehead's Process Metaphysics.)
(from an unpublished essay linking moral issues with Whitehead's Process Metaphysics.)
The well-known maxim: Ought implies can may be understood as a necessary condition on any claim that a person has an obligation, responsibility or onus to perform an action or behave in a certain way. There is another relation between can and ought, where cans are construed in terms of states of affairs: If ontology is characterized as the broadest possible worry about what is the case (where a can is an individual's potency that is the case), then ethics may be said to be a worry about what ought to be the case. The thing to notice, as both Hume and Bentham noticed, is that there is no way to proceed from any ontological is statement, or any congeries of such statements, to any ought statement. That is, no direct deduction of any ethical principle from states of affairs is possible.
In this way we have established what has been called the autonomy of ethics. That is, no ethical statements are derivable from any non-ethical statements, so that no scientific findings entail any ethical principles, no metaphysical claims entail any ethical principles, and no (non ethical) religious claims entail any ethical principles.
As a result, it has long been thought that ethical principles must be derived in one of two ways - by some sort of divine or intuitive fiat - for example, Christian ethics based on Holy writ, or Kantian ethics based on transcendental or a priori claims of what must be the case if there is to be any morality at all. These are the deontological moralities. The teleological project consults the remaining possibility - the labourious (or precipitate) erection of rules or guidelines by means of a posteriori (data seeking) investigations. There are difficulties with both methods. Neither authoritarianism nor the calculation of consequences generates confidence in the resolution of difficult issues. Among many consequences, this has motivated the search for a formulation of rule or general utilitarianism as an alternative to act utilitarianism. Usually this is characterized as a response to criticisms that act utilitarianism seems unable to prohibit intuitively repugnant acts. As well, some of the interest in rule utilitarianism comes from the desire to have a principled moral system. Since the teleological project is not able to directly deduce principles, a next best move would be to discern, by a posteriori means, lemmas that could be used to 'triangulate upon' putatively primary propositions.
A concern worth raising is that this discomfort with teleological results may have caused us to overlook another consequence of claims of autonomy for the ethical inquiry. If the world of facticity does not figure in deontological morality - beyond providing raw givens to be evaluated by means of some autonomous criteria - then the moral project may be running an unnecessary risk. For example - since this sense of moral agent means detached - what remains in the relationship of ought with what is the case capable of enhancing the sensitivity of moral perception? What relationship takes moral agents into the maelstrom so that their deliberations consider as many subtle tendencies as possible?
It is a truism that utilitarian programs evaluate evil (or good) in terms of consequences, so they may be argued against (or for). This is sometimes hazardous, as nuclearism and ecological degradation prove: So instructed, we must wait to see if acid rain is destructive before remedies are deemed to be warranted - and then, some time later, sought out. This reticence (also eminently sensible from micro-economic and micro-political standpoints) may also be rooted in the lack of teleological principles competent to proactively proscribe and thereby avoid sacrificing canaries (or whole species) before judging where danger lurks.
There is a further possibility. If what is the case does not participate in full-blooded ways with considerations of what ought to be, then we will likely have an emaciated sense of how oughts could or should be instantiated. So disposed, we simply assume that moral suasions permeate communities and emerge as improved behaviour (or not) depending upon what individuals decide. In the face of mankind's history and ominous portents, this is indeed resilient ingenuousness; that perhaps should be regarded in the context of the separation of is and ought. The axiom that our moral nature is separate from, for example, our determined nature (in Kant, the noumenal from the phenomenal self) creates both a moral and an epistemic gap. The epistemic gap (what can we know and how can we know it) becomes the consequentialist's motivation for painstaking ad hoc investigations. The moral gap manifests as the separation of the secular world from the ethical; the divorce of rhetoric from action; the distancing of academic investigations from any perceived need to model or instantiate understandings ... if only to mobilize the enhanced communication such a pragmatics would achieve.
Finally, it is relevant that religions, typically claiming a divinely divulged, deontological foundation, have not often translated this advantage into secular engagements (excepting The Crusades and other forms of terrorism!) Since deontics have less need than consequentialists to evaluate before proscribing, prescribing and instantiating ... a possibility worth considering is that they are simply seizing a 'stand down' 'one size fits all' abdicating opportunity.
The tension between moral realities and what ought to be - whether grounded in deontological or teleological maxims - manifests as interest in rule utilitarianism. We are all, after all, suitably impressed with scientific methodology and the deontic team has had the field for centuries and things do not look good. The assumption, or hope, is that a well-formed rule utilitarianism could still get us out of the woods.
The solution provides a comprehensive discussion (taken from an unpublished essay of the author) on the idea of morality in relation to technology and specialization, taking on the current paradoxes typical in the modern world - specialized populations empowered by technology regarding their capacity to efficiency as close to perfection in their chosen specialisation that they cannot quite possibly be competent yet open to culpability.