The following is the hypothetical conversation on the subject of one’s moral obligation to a civil law, which could have had taken place between Socrates and Protagoras (sophist philosopher).
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During the course of this conversation, Socrates was able to prove to Protagoras that the notion of one’s moral obligation to a civil law is indeed fully objective. The conversation was concerned with the discussion of contemporary socio-political issues.
Protagoras: Dear Socrates, I am not entirely convinced that people should consider themselves being morally compelled to seek into attuning their act with the conventions of a civil law.
The reason for this is simple – as you, I am sure, is being well aware of; morality itself never ceases to remain the subject of a constant transformation. As human societies advance, in social, scientific and cultural senses of this word, the morality of these societies’ members never ceases to attain qualitatively new characteristics (Foucault 101).
Therefore, it would only be logical to assume that there are no good reasons to believe that, as time goes on, the concept of one’s moral obligation to a civil law will continue to be perceived as being thoroughly objective.
Socrates: I do not deny the fact that, as time goes one, people’s code of behavioral ethics undergoes a qualitative transformation. Nevertheless, you should agree that the earlier mentioned transformation results in people growing ever more open-minded and tolerant.
For example; whereas, as recent as hundred years ago, the majority of citizens in Western countries thought of the concept of ‘civil marriage’ as such that implied ‘sinfulness’, it is no longer the case nowadays. After all, it now became a commonplace practice among Western men and women to enter into relationships, without having to get married (Cherlin 848). Do not you agree?
Protagoras: Yes, I agree. This, however, only proves the validity of what I was saying earlier – as time goes on; the conventions of traditional morality become increasingly outdated.
In its turn, this should lead us to a conclusion that the notion of one’s moral obligation to a civil law can no longer be thought of as representing an undeniable truth-value.
After all, it may very well be the case that tomorrow, people’s newly adopted moral predispositions will prompt them to consider one’s willingness to adhere to the conventions of a civil law as being essentially ‘immoral’ – certainly, not an improbable scenario.
Socrates: Your argument, in this respect, cannot be considered fully legitimate. The reason for this is simple – while stating that people’s morality undergoes a continuous transformation, you failed at pointing out to what represents such transformation’s qualitative effects.
As I mentioned earlier, there is an undeniable tendency for Western societies to grow ever more tolerant. Given the fact that you admitted that my line of argumentation, in this respect, is being fully legitimate, you will have to agree that the subtleties of morality’s transformation are being dialectically predetermined. To put it plainly – it is quite possible to predict the spatial essence of morality’s continuous alteration.
Protagoras: I guess I will have to agree. Still, I do not quite understand how what you have just said relates to what it being discussed.
Socrates: What I have said points out to the fact that Western societies become increasingly secular (civil). Therefore, it would only be natural to think that the essence of earlier mentioned morality’s transformation is being fully consistent with the process of societies’ secularization (Dobbelaere 167).
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In fact, this secularization appears to be driven by people’s realization of the fact that there is nothing wrong with the disposal of clearly outdated moral dogmas.
Protagoras: Yes, this is exactly what I was trying to say.
Socrates: Then, you would have to also agree that, even though the process of morality’s transformation does affect a variety of legal conventions, it nevertheless does not undermine Western law from within, as a whole.
Otherwise, the process of people becoming ever more open-minded and less concerned with professing the traditional values should have resulted in Western societies being plunged into the state of anarchy. Yet, this is not being the case, is it?
Protagoras: I will have to agree with you on that. Even though that, as time goes on, more and more people tend to reconsider the validity of clearly outdated moral conventions, such their tendency does not seem to affect the qualitative aspects of Western societies’ functioning.
Socrates: This is because, contrary to what you were implying, the continuous transformation of a number of ethics-related traditional conventions does not result in undermining morality’s validity, as ‘thing in itself’.
It is important to understand that; whereas, in the past, the notion of morality used to be perceived as something closely associated with the notion of religion, it nowadays is being increasingly looked upon as something that originates out of an impersonal civil law.
Protagoras: It is actually beginning to dawn upon me what you are trying to say. Evidently enough, you are implying that the notion of morality is being essentially synonymous to the notion of a civil/secular law, as the solemn ‘authority’ that regulates socio-political dynamics within a particular society.
Socrates: Yes, you are right. Just consider the case of Muslim countries in the Third World. The majority of these countries’ citizens never cease taking pride in their strong adherence to the dogmas of Islamic morality.
Moreover, even upon having immigrated to Western countries, these people continue to profess the ideals of ‘traditional living’, while bashing native-born Westerners on the account of their ‘materialism’, ‘consumerism’ and ‘non-spirituality’.
This, however, does not prevent Muslim immigrants from acting as primeval barbarians, upon being exposed to the ideas that do not quite match their own (Banu 2408). I am sure, you must have heard of incidents of street-violence, instigated by the publishing of caricatures on Islamic ‘prophet’ Mohamed in Western newspapers?
Protagoras: Yes, I have heard of it. The representatives of Muslim communities in Western countries used to hold mass-rallies, while protesting these caricatures’ publishing, as utterly inappropriate. As far as I remember, these protests were quite violent.
Many innocent bystanders sustained physical injuries, simply because they were unfortunate enough to find themselves in close proximity to the raging crowds of Muslim immigrants.
Socrates: That is correct. As the context of your latest remark implies, you do consider Muslims’ behavior, in this respect, highly inappropriate?
Protagoras: Yes, of course. After all, they were not forced to immigrate to Western countries. If they do not like the ideals of Western secular living, they should simply pack up and leave to where they came from, so that nothing would prevent them from being able to celebrate their religion, in time free from indulging in tribal wars and making babies on an industrial scale.
Socrates: Did it occur to you that what you have just said points out to the fact that you think of Muslims’ socially inappropriate behavior as being essentially immoral?
Protagoras: I think so. Apparently, these people are being utterly intolerant to other people’s opinions.
Socrates: What do you think makes them being intolerant to the extent that many of them are willing to go as far as killing their opponents?
Protagoras: I think, they are being little too devoted to their religion.
Socrates: Exactly! These people are simply being intellectually primitive, which in turn prompts them to act in a manner if they were absolutely unaffected by the provisions of Western secular law.
They think this law has nothing to do with them, as it is only their ‘holy book’ Quran, which they consider to contain the only valid instructions as to how they ought to address life’s challenges (Baig 61). Do you agree now that one’s failure to observe the provisions of a civil law is being essentially immoral, as it leads to violence and chaos?
Protagoras: I think you have made a good point there. Still, I am not entirely sure that the notion of ‘one’s moral obligation to civil law’ is being fully tangible, simply because there can be no instrument for defining and measuring such obligation’s objective emanations.
I guess you are being aware of the fact that the concept of a civil law is based upon the premise that ‘whatever is not forbidden is permitted’. This creates a certain paradox – after all, one might very well go about proving its adherence to the provisions of a civil law by indulging in morally repugnant behavior, since such type of behavior is not being strictly forbidden.
Socrates: Actually, the point you have just made is being explored throughout the movie Larry Flynt vs. People. Movie’s main character – the publisher of Hustler Magazine Larry Flynt, simply strived to run his business, concerned with selling pornography.
This, however, did cost him dearly, as during the course of seventies; America’s Bible-thumpers were still utterly influential. This was exactly the reason why Larry Flynt never ceased being sued on the account of his business’s ‘moral inappropriateness’.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court’s final ruling, in regards to the case of Larry Flynt vs. Jerry Falwell (Christian preacher), left no doubt as to the fact that by promoting pornography, Flynt has in fact been promoting democratic/civil values (Butterbaugh 15).
This shows that, regardless of how strongly immoral one’s behavior may appear, for as long as such a behavior contributes to the strengthening of a civil law, as the only legitimate societal authority, this individual should be considered an outstanding citizen.
Protagoras: In other words, there is a possibility for seemingly immoral individuals to be considered as such that experience an innate obligation to promote the provisions of a civil law?
Socrates: Yes, there is. It is important to understand that, unlike what it happened to be the case with people’s most commonly irrational morality-related convictions, the morality advanced by a civil law is fully rational, which in turn means that it is being fully objective.
The reason for this is apparent – it is namely the countries where civil law enjoys the status of an undisputed authority, which feature world’s highest standards of living. Why is it?
This is because it is only in intellectually liberated secular societies, where an impersonal civil law is being equally applied to societies’ members, regardless of what happened to be the particulars of their racial, cultural of religious uniqueness, where the continuation of a scientific, cultural and social progress is possible, in the first place.
In its turn, this progress creates objective preconditions for the people to be able to enjoy a nice living. After all, as I mentioned earlier, it is specifically ‘godless’, ‘immoral’ and ‘consumerist’ Western societies that serve as a magnet for the hordes of highly ‘spiritual’ and ‘culturally rich’ but intellectually backward immigrants from the Third World, and not the vice versa.
Therefore, one’s willingness to observe the provisions of a civil law should indeed be considered the foremost indication of him of her being a moral individual.
Protagoras: I guess, I have no option but to agree with you. It just dawned upon that, even though the conventional morality does in fact undergo the process of a continuous transformation, the very purpose of this process is make people’s moral judgments to be fully correlative with the provisions of a civil/secular law.
Therefore, if there were an instrument for measuring the extent of people’s endowment with socially beneficial morals, it would be the observation of how comfortable they are with the implications of a civil law.
Socrates: That is correct. Allow me to conclude this conversation by reinstating once again that there is not only a moral obligation for the people to act in accordance with the provisions of a civil law, but there is also an obligation for them to actively strive to resist just about anything that might undermine such law’s implicational integrity.
Protagoras: Thank you for your time. I did find this conversation truly enlightening.
Baig B. G. “Islamic Fundamentalism.” Social Scientist 9.1 (1980): 58-65. Print.
Banu, Zainab. “Immigrant Groups as a Factor in Communal Riots.” Economic and Political Weekly 29.37 (1994): 2408-2411. Print.
Butterbaugh, Laura. “Is This Freedom?” Off Our Backs 27.4 (1997): 15-18. Print.
Cherlin, Andrew. “The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage.” Journal of Marriage and Family 66.4 (2004): 848-861. Print.
Dobbelaere, Karel. Secularization: An Analysis at Three Levels. Berlin: Peter Lang, 2004. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon, 1978. Print.