This is the second part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.
The Dalai Lama’s Moral System (based on Tibetan Buddhism)
We can categorize the Dalai Lama’s moral system as one that is deontological in nature. Deontological ethics, recall, has two key interpretations. One interpretation defines deontological ethics as a method that helps us to understand what is morally required, forbidden, and permissible in a particular situation or event. Morally required actions, insofar as they are completed, are morally good; these are often referred to as obligations or duties. Morally forbidden actions, however, ought to be avoided and are morally bad. Morally permissible actions, then, are neither morally good nor morally bad; they are either morally void or morally neutral actions.
A second interpretation defines deontological ethics as a method that focuses on whether or not specific and explicit moral rules or principles were followed in completing a particular action or set of actions. Deontological ethics then uses these specific and explicit moral rules and principles to determine the moral worth of an action or set of actions (henceforth referred to as ‘set’). If the specific moral rule or principle is observed during the action or ‘set,’ then the action or ‘set’ can be said to be morally good. If the specific moral rule or principle is not observed during the action or ‘set,’ however, then the action or ‘set’ is morally bad.
This is the first part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.
Moral complexity is both a fact of reality and an obstacle that persistently bedevils the formation and function of our moral systems. By moral systems, I mean the totality of methods, assumptions, principles, rules, and obligations that are meant to guide, regulate, and formalize our interactions with other living beings as well as with our environments. Moral systems come in a variety of different forms and can be either secular (natural, material) or sacred (religious, supernatural) in composition. They also have varying degrees or levels of comprehensiveness in content and scope. That is to say, some are more developed or nuanced than others. Examples of some moral systems include Divine Command Theory, the Golden Rule, Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, the 10 Nonvirtues of Tibetan Buddhism, and so on.
Given that at least one purpose of moral systems is to guide, regulate, and formalize our interactions with other living beings as well as with our environments, we can assess the worth and utility of a moral system insofar as it is relatively more adept at handling complex moral situations than its competitors.
Mystery and Archetypal Modification
In both The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, the authors develop the very concept of mystery through archetypal modification: the process by or through which authors take a familiar trope, truism, or character template and add a slight twist or bend to it, but not so much so that it is entirely novel or unfamiliar to readers. Rather, Collins and Chandlers changed the archetype of the detective just enough to enrich the mystery genre and the concept of mystery itself.
Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, properly characterizes and criticizes a strand of American idealism, particularly in regards to international politics, that was prevalent during the middle to middle-late 20th century. During the 1950s, the United States was becoming an international superpower. World War II had been devastating for numerous countries around the world, but the United States stood to benefit tremendously given that it played a significant role in ending the war and establishing the peace terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
The United States’ military, economic, and cultural successes that were derived from their victory in World War II imbued their government, media, and general citizenry with a reinvigorated sense of national purpose and pride. And because the United States had entered the war later than their allies had, their war resources, troop levels, and overall morale were not as deplenished as England’s or France’s. As a result, the United States took their newfound role of being the leading advocate for liberal democracies (in the economic sense) quite seriously in hopes that these successes would be replicated globally. Expansion of this American idealism was the impetus behind many decisions made at the international, national, and local levels within American society.
Yet not all were as impressed by the United States’s new international presence, English author Graham Greene being one of them. Greene’s criticism of this particular form of American idealism centers around three distinct yet interrelated psychological concepts: ignorance, inconsistency, and, ultimately, ignorance. Individually, each one of these traits carries with it potentially negative consequences. When combined, these negative consequences are compounded and made more complex. Greene’s novel does an excellent job of providing concrete examples to these abstract concepts within the context of historically relevant environments. Continue reading