|  ERICH UNGER   Home | Essays | About Us | Contact Us|
Mankind and the Planet, past, present and future Philosophical Speculations
In the very long run, or, better, ultimately, everything in the biological-social world of man happens according to the deepest directive of the principle of justice.
Justice too, or that which is right, is basically a biological concept of life, in the sense that life is a feature in whatever formulation we give to justice. We are largely ignorant, in advance, of that which will support, further and intensify the manifestation of life; therefore, notions and categories that are only biological do not suffice, nor can they replace a formulation of the idea of justice in different terms. Whatever terms we choose, any definition of justice that runs counter – not to the superficial, but – to the ultimate interests and manifestation of life, would need to be rejected.
It is possible that when describing the highest manifestations of life, non-biological terms such as the concept of responsibility may be necessary. Of course, these non-biological terms may well coincide with and be translatable into biological descriptions. In the framework of the whole history of the human species, the human world is already governed by justice. It is not governed by justice if the perspective is that of the individual. That it shall be governed by justice even in the perspective of the individual is one of the aims of man's evolution.
How can we claim that the human world is both governed by justice in terms of collectives and not governed by justice with regard to individuals? The moral factor enters into play here. If we consider the human species as a whole, or even in terms of its sub-groups, peoples, races, religious groups,then ignorance of social , natural, moral facts that can have an impact must be seen as guilt. With respect to the individual, such ignorance, if it is prevalent in the group, is not normally seen as having any moral relevance. In other words, ignorance that is a feature of a given stage of civilisation is not counted as guilt in the individual. Bona fide ignorance with regard to the rightness of an action, a bad outcome that follows from good intentions exonerate the individual; they do not exonerate the group. As distinct from behaviour that affects the relationship between individuals, they do not exonerate behaviour that affects relations between individuals and Nature as such, the nature of things, including, of course, the nature of society.
A relationship that is deemed moral, occurs between human beings – we leave aside, for the time being, a relation to animals. In order to judge the morality of an action, we cannot abstract the motive from the action. The motive may be either good or bad; we see it as distinct from the actual outcome of an action. Defining a crime may depend on a criminal motive. I may, for instance, keep something because I sincerely, though mistakenly, believe it to be mine; such an action is not deemed to be theft. We judge responsibility to be for both action and purpose and this is taken into account in all social codes. In many moral – not only legal – relationships, a person is held responsible for having the right, socially approved intentions, not for the success or failure of an action. The latter may prove or disprove a person's ability, cleverness, suitability for a specific post (say, that of a politician), not his honesty in a moral sense; socially approved, good intentions plus an adequate knowledge of the relevant circumstances suffice to qualify a given action as morally unobjectionable. Success or failure are not, by and large, taken into consideration.
The relationship between individuals and Nature, on the other hand, is not one that is moral. Here, knowledge is everything. The motive focuses wholly on true knowledge. Success or failure are all that counts. The relationship is that of the scientist to the world of nature. Nature, it should be noted, also denotes the world of man in the context of social groups, more clearly so the larger the group.
When we wish to look at the domain of groups or collectivities and examine social life on a large scale, we need to decide whether to choose the perspective of inter-human relations , the moral perspective, or that of the scientist, the non-moral perspective where only success or failure matter. Taking into account the synthesis of human and natural aspects, which will entail some qualification, we will be well advised to adopt the latter, a perspective that sees knowledge as an obligation and ignorance as a crime. Good faith and good intentions matter as little here as they do in the scientist's laboratory. However, since the material is not non-living, but human, there arises a duty to know. The moralised contemplation of the human sphere, to the extent that it is, or begins to be a natural sphere, one into which the normal moral does not reach, but where only success or failure matter, is one of the sources of the conception of God. To be on the side of God here means to be on the side of life, of the whole, of the the way that directs the increase of highly differentiated life. Here knowledge matters as much as motive and, from the viewpoint of the whole of reality, ignorance is guilt. It is 'punished' by damage or destruction, as is every wrong action taken against nature. Not good faith, not good motive or ignorance of the right way can exonerate here. In the light of this presupposition, justice rules the destinies of the human race.
The parties involved in affecting mutual behaviour are not human being and human being; these concede, forgive one another their human weaknesses, pay attention to motives; the parties are the human being and the nature of things, Man and Reality, or Man and God as Reality or as Life (not God as a human being, that is not God). Here, nothing that is wrong is forgiven; ultimate success and ultimate failure are what matters; that which is immoral will not be able to live.
This must nor be confused with Nietscheanism, with its very short-sighted over- simplification of the state of affairs. It is important to understand that only that which is moral in this higher-sense collective is able to live on and, equally, only that which is able to live on is moral or the norm of morals. Living on, the power to survive in a non-ultimate sense, the cult of the biologically 'strong' in a foreground sense is not the criterion of morality. Ultimately, the capacity to survive implies all the usual 'moral' considerations plus biological strength as an additional component. Biological strength can only become a test of morality if it changes its usual meaning, in which some other value may be opposed to it; because it has become an expression of these other values too, it assumes the meaning of 'life' in the ultimate sense. And only in this sense is it the criterion of morality in the natural world.