Some Closing Thoughts on Moral Complexity – Part 5 of 5

     Recall that my intention from the beginning was to construct a basic outline of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl’s moral systems based on excerpts of their respective works. Following the outline, I sought to point out some general objections to each moral system and analyze each one based on how well it can handle moral complexity.

            The Dalai Lama’s moral system is deontological, with the moral rule that an individual’s motivation for committing an action based on the presence/absence of a “universal altruism” determines its moral value. If the motivation is other-oriented, the action is morally good. If the motivation is self-oriented or harm oriented, the action is morally forbidden. Yet, the Dalai Lama’s moral system, suffers because it does not adequately consider the importance of consequences. Also, insofar as it is derivative of Tibetan Buddhism, is speciesist in its conception of samsara. Finally, the Dalai Lama’s absolute Nonvirtues crumble under moral complexity. As a result, the Dalai Lama’s moral system is unsatisfactory.

            Next, the next moral system to be considered was Andre Comte-Sponville’s. Throughout his work, he portrayed himself as a moral relativist, more specifically a metaethical moral relativist. He claimed that morals were relative from one culture to the next and acknowledge his own indebtedness to the Greco-Judeo-Christian culture. Yet his condemnations of particular other moral communities/moral systems (especially sophism, nihilism, and barbarism) indicate that he does not truly believe what he claims to believe. Otherwise, his emotional response to the action or to such a moral community would be less attached. Moreover, Comte-Sponville’s moral system makes moral discourse inaccessible by reducing the spread of a particular moral system to the use of bribery and/or force.

            Finally, we looked at the moral system of Viktor Frankl. His creative use of empathy and his own acquaintance with morally complex situations lent his moral system an advantage over these other two. However, that does not mean it is perfect. Frankl’s moral system can potentially inflict psychological harm on its adherents due to its capacity for victim-blaming. Also, Frankl’s view on moral judgment may present a practical obstacle in moral decision making.

            Yet of the three, Frankl’s is the most successful at handling moral complexity. This is because, unlike the Dalai Lama’s, Frankl’s system does not rely upon absolutized rules or obligations. Rather, Frankl would seemingly readily acknowledge that the moral principles to be used depend on, at least, the severity of the moral situation being considered. Children playing together at a park will have a different level of moral seriousness to it than the interactions of Jewish prisoners at a Nazi war camp. The two would require different moral obligations and rules. This conditionality of the Dalai Lama’s moral system count against its utility. Frankl’s system also succeeds against Comte-Sponville’s MMR because it is more coherent and consistently applied. Frankl’s moral system does not commit him to philosophical absurdities or practically insurmountable situations because he does not seek to establish a rigid moral system.

            If a moral system is meant to guide, regulate, and formalize our interactions with other living beings as well as with our environments, then out of the Dalai Lama’s, Andre Comte-Sponville’s, and Viktor Frankl’s, it is Frankl’s that is designated as the best, at least with regards to moral complexity.

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