The Illusion of the Good
Q: To what object does the question of ethics relate?
A: To the good and its contrary, evil.
Q: And what does ethics do with the object?
A: Ethics seeks to understand it, that is, not to produce neither the concept the good, nor the actions that fall under this concept.
Thus, the question that seems to follow is:
What is good? Or, strictly speaking, what is the definition of good? But the definition asked for, as any other definition, is related, necessarily, to the science of language as G.E. Moore has pointed out in his book. But language, itself, is a social phenomenon. Consequently, the definition of any concept. In this sense, the quest of the social roots is prior to the quest of what is.
Examples have been taken from Plato's "Republic", Freud's (Civilization and its Discontents) and Schlick's (Problems of Ethics) to prove that the good is either in the State or in the Super-Ego or in the Society. And this means that the origin of the good lies outside the good itself, or strictly speaking, outside Ethics. Hence, we can't speak of the good per se, and if we, we fall into an optical illusion.
Read the "Republic" and you will find out that the main issue is not about the definition of the good, but about the root of the good. The good is represented as the highest absolute end of all reality, as the One to which all the rest are subordinate in the sense of means to end. Thus the good illumines the whole circuit of humanity as species and not as individuals. But that illumination will not come about only if those who have the knowledge of the good are put firmly in charge of the machinery of the state.
And the state is divided, in accordance with the three parts of the soul, into the ruling class, the warrior class and the working class. The state belongs to the first class, and especially, to the philosopher king whose function is to realize his heavenly vision of the ideal city. And this city, once established, will continue to be stable. In this sense, the philosopher becomes godlike himself in the sphere of politics. Thus, Montesquieu was right when he state that the ancient Greeks had raised the knowledge of politics almost to the level of a cult. Following from this, the ethical, according to Plato, is reduced to the political as its root and not vice versa, for the vice versa conceals an illusion that the good is the prime mover which goes against Plato's intention.
The same case with Freud. In his book "Civilization and its Discontents". Freud was clearer than Plato. He sought directly for the roots of the good and the bad, and he found it in the sense of guilt that is, in the tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is subjected to it. And this sense of guilt experiences itself as a need for punishment. Then he went deeper to reveal the origin of the sense of guilt.
He first rejects the existence of an original capacity to distinguish good from bad on the pretense that what is bad is not at all what is dangerous to the ego; on the contrary, it may be something which is desirable to the ego. This means that there is an external influence and it is this that decides what is to be called good or bad. Such a motive is discovered in the dependence of the individual on other people and it can be designated as the fear of the loss of love. For fear of that loss one must avoid it. Then Freud proceeds in deepening that lose and discovers that the authority replaces that loss due to being internalized through the establishment of a super-ego. (1)
A third and last example, Schlick's book "Problems of Ethics". In the fourth chapter entitled "What is the meaning of moral?" Schlick enumerates the various definitions of the good according to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Then he gives his own definition.
His own definition, that is, "the meaning of the word "good," is determined by the opinion of society... which is the lawgiver formulating moral demands." Consequently, "moral valuations of modes of behavior change when the structure of human society changes. (2) But in fact, this is not a definition of the moral, for it is reduced to the social. In this case, the real issue is to ask about the structure of the society and the social norms that emerge from such a structure, and not the pseudo moral norms.
Anyhow, their three examples reveal that the root of the so called good, is either in the State or the super-ego or the society. This means that the origin of the good lies outside the good itself. Hence, we can't speak of the good peers, of the good as an antonymous entity. And if we do speak as such we are apt to fall into an optical illusion.
Now, the question is:
How did this optical illusion come about?
Behind and beneath the human experience of the good we find the myth. It is by discovering the motivations of the invention of the mute that we can reveal the illusory path to the good. But the invention of the myth is evolved in the invention of the civilization. So let use begin with the concept of civilization. Whatever way we may define this concept, it is a certain fact that the word civilization describes the whole sum of the achievements which distinguishes our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serves one purpose- namely to master nature, or strictly speaking, to accommodate nature to human needs. As regards this purpose there can be scarcely any doubt. It we go back far enough we find that the first act of civilization was the invention of the technique of agriculture accompanied by the invention of the mute of fill in the gaps left by the limitations of the technique.
Thus, it was believed that by the worship of the sun and the stars the earth will be fertilized. Consequently the priests emerged adopting the myth as the central organizing principle, and accordingly it gained absolute authority in all fields of human activity. Through the myth the priests created taboos which became rules of conduct. Hence, the dichotomy good/evil emerged and from this dichotomy followed the so called moraless "thou shalt", and "Thou shalt not", which is express in Kant's categorical imperative, and which demands that one act wholly independently of one's inclinations and needs.
Hence, in accordance with the dichotomy the technique of mastering nature is restricted, and instead man's activity develops in a new direction, that is, seeking or pseudo satisfaction in internal psychological processes, and considering nature as the sole enemy and as the source of evil. Not only nature is evil, but also man as long as the dichotomy goo/evil has been interiorized, and Homo hominy buys us is the inevitable outcome.
Nevertheless, real development ran against this illusory dichotomy. The industrial revolution in Europe was preceded by religious critical thinking and the liberation of human reason from any other authority save that of reason itself. Hence, thin revolution reveals that real development is realized with the help of technology guided by science mastering nature for the sake of satisfying man's needs.
(1) S. Freud, Civilisation and its Discontents, (trans.) J. Strachey, W.W. Norton Company, Inc. 1961, pp. 71-72.
(2) Schlick, Problems of Ethics, (trans.) D. Rynin, Dover Publications, 1961, pp. 90 and 91.