Truth is, Shweta’s away and mum’s paying me no attention at all – she’s too busy mugging some badly written lessons on Kohlberg and his ‘Heinz dilemma’ that illustrates stages in moral development.
(Note: Bring your coffee, long post ahead)
Which brings me to something I read yesterday. I was helping mum with this lesson and tried to access some literature that discussed it better than her notes. The Heinz dilemma ends with the assumption that at the ultimate stages of moral development, your motivation for doing something or not is based on a universal ethical principle. Attempts to define this universal principle led to this:
Right is defined by the decision of conscience in accord with self-chosen ethical principles appealing to logical comprehensiveness, universality and consistency. These principles are abstract and ethical and are not concrete moral rules like the Ten Commandments. At heart, these are universal principles of justice, of the reciprocity and equality of human rights, and of respect for the dignity of human beings as individual persons.
Ok, I thought, fair enough. But what came next shocked and repelled me.
I’ve always held loyalty high as a virtue. Its absence is not necessarily a vice but it’s opposite, betrayal, to me is really, really low. Reminds me of that great episode in Angel (what layers Joss Whedon and his writers invested Angel with!) where Lilah is taunting Wesley with having betrayed Angel. She shows him Dante’s vision of The Inferno, the descending concentric circles and nine levels of sin. At the bottom, encased in ice, the worst place in hell is reserved for betrayers, and the worst sinner of all, Judas Iscariot the one who betrayed Jesus.
The Kohlberg article continued:
You got it! Judas Iscariot.
Our conscience is not an infallible guide to behaviour because it works according to the principles we have adopted. Moreover, who or what determines these universal principles?
A vivid illustration of our conscience not being an infallible guide is the story of the Sawi people of New Guinea (now called Irian Jaya). In the early 1960s, they were cannibals. In Sawi legend, their heroes weren't those who took the greatest number of heads, but those who were the most deceitful in befriending their victims before taking their heads. Friendship before betrayal would not prick their conscience because treachery was an ideal. So when missionaries, Don and Carol Richardson told them the story of Christ's life, who do you think was the real hero to the Sawi people?