If we try this experiment in good faith and relatively calm circumstances, we may find that cutting back on moral pronouncements will be no more difficult than cutting back on swearing, and not nearly as difficult as getting rid of an accent. As (and if) we move in the direction of moral abolitionism, we will see that we are in no way limited in our ability to express and communicate our attitudes, feelings, and requirements. Instead of telling others about their moral obligations, we can tell them what we want them to do, and then we can explain why. We can express annoyance, anger, and enthusiasm, each of which has an effect on what people do, and none of which requires language that presupposes objective values or obligations. The moral abolitionist is equipped, as we all are, with habits, preferences, policies, aims, and impulses that can easily play the role usually assigned to moral beliefs and thoughts.OK, let's do it. In the past week I've been doing just what Garner suggests--I've been observing my own moralizing. When is it best thrown out altogether, when is it replaceable with something that "does the job" equally well? Is it ever genuinely indispensable?
|What the hell, someone else will make up for it|
Actually, I cheated. I thought about other weeks of my life, weeks when other things happened. Take this situation, which happened more than once when I was in graduate school back in the 20th century. You go out to dinner with a bunch of people and it's time to split the bill. Of course, you have to split the total bill, with tax and tip included. But some people don't do that. They put in less than their fraction of the total bill. Then, invariably, a couple of people say "oh well" and throw in a few more dollars. The low-payers, I think, anticipate the reaction of the high-payers, and the bill gets paid.
The moral judgment I make in that situation is: NOT FAIR! I think the low-payer is taking advantage of others. Now, is that the sort of judgment I ought to abandon...period? I should think not--I'm not, after all, going to extremes and judging the person evil. I'm just thinking...what I said. So let's try the other possibility. Can we replace the moral thoughts here with non-moral thoughts? Instead of thinking "not fair" and "taking advantage" and "that was wrong," what might I think?
Garner says I could think about what I want the person to do, and why. I'm allowed to be annoyed. But what is it that I want? I want the low-payers to pay their fair share. But isn't fairness an irreducibly moral concept? What am I going to replace it with? Pondering my own moralizing, in this instance, doesn't take me in the direction of moral abolitionism--just the opposite.
|Dad didn't insist|
There are cases in which Garner's point has more merit. Suppose a mother and father disagree about whether to make the kids use their seatbelts on short drives around town. (Note: I'm making this up. There's no disagreement about this in my household.) Mother is angry because father doesn't insist. She can say "I want you to make them use seat belts, because they'll be safer, and it's no great burden to buckle up." She can add "You ought to make them buckle up. How irresponsible of you to slack off like this!" In that case, does moral talk really add anything?
It certainly adds emphasis, but it adds more than that. Moral talk conveys that the matter is especially serious--it's the kind of thing that merits careful attention. It says, basically, "this really, really matters!" If this couple has loud arguments about movies, the woman might say "I want you to appreciate Jim Carrey's movies, because he really is amazingly funny and fantastic," but she isn't going to add "You ought to appreciate Jim Carrey's movies." Morality talk is used to separate some topics from others, and establish heightened significance.
Can we establish that heightened significance in some other way? The mother who wants the kids in seat belts can talk very seriously and quietly (or loudly), looking intently into Dad's eyes, and just say "I want you to make them use seat belts, because they'll be safer, and it's no great burden to buckle up." No moral talk needed. But why bother? Why not just say "You ought to make them buckle up"?
So--my week of self-observation was interesting. I'm prepared to agree that a little less moralizing in some circumstances would be both possible and valuable. I didn't come to Garner's abolitonist conclusion, though.