Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Moral Ambivalence: A Second Time Around

It is very interesting and even commendable how the article tries to infiltrate the legal bounds of the notion of crime to explain as much as possible a morally upright ground from which this could be imagined tenable. Promising it is, to depict two moral principles: one of Locke, that the obligation to obey the law can be reduced or even eliminated in the context of injustice; and the other of Hobbes, that every citizen is obligated to obey the law to ensure peace. It was a kind attempt to sketch a fair juxtaposition of the committal of crime in the legal sense along the moral sense. Yet, there is in no way that this has been successful enough in portraying ambivalence in morality with regard in committing crime as illustrated. Instead, the greater ambivalence that can be identified in the article is the author’s evident personal hatred of being a helpless victim of crime and as well his very own pretentious motive to deny it smoothly as possible. That is why, to concern himself in elucidating the moral sense of crime in this moment of denial, he fails to consider the nature of human action and its implications thereof, neglects to question the apparent selfishness of the subscribed moral principles, and ultimately falters to consider law as a mental experiment, disregarding natural law as a preëmptive assurance.

Stealing is the glaring issue throughout the article and the author struggles to extract claims of uprightness from such. However, it was a weak argument that stealing as reclamation of one’s possession disproves its criminality. For as a human action, there should always be an adherence to the right object, with right intention and under the right circumstance. Simply speaking, the first and last requirements in such light are very much debatable. It would be much more appealing if the controversy has been handed through right authorities and not as pathetic as to reclaim it right there and then. Needless to say, it was also human action that designed these prerogatives, a reason aside from the examination of prudence. 


The two philosophical giants, Locke and Hobbes, adored by this article seem to be mishandled or demonstrated inadequately. To sermon about morality, it is not enough to focus the report to sincere personal inclinations or interests. Otherwise, morality which is universal in nature and altruistic in impulse will be contained into a pathetic self-imposition of unreasonable whines and pretense. Driving from the Lockean argument that to obey the law belongs only to those who experience justice leaves those victims of injustice unobligated. However, human as we are, egoism tells us that there would always be a reason to see ourselves victims of injustice in one way or another, and others will have no right to debunk our own perspective. In fact, they might as well join us, sympathize with us, and rally with us to share the privilege of being unobligated to obey the law, if that is the case. On the other hand, the Hobbesian principle of achieving peace begins to be questionable when one is to define it for themselves. And the closest way to formalize the notion of peace is through societal limits. But practically, the observance of societal law is not stimulated through the dream of brotherhood and harmony but through the nightmare of police power. There may be peace in traffic enforcements and economic relations, but the peace dreamt within the person’s undying integrity and beliefs places societal peace in the edge of danger. The point is pampering conceited human actions promotes immature conscience. After all, morality is in the aim of attaining common good far higher than satisfying personal good.

This now brings us to the significance of re-echoing civil law through natural law. For, to regard civil law as less as mental experiment proves to be the primary mistake. It should be noted that civil law come from man’s own examination of conscience on the natural law. This declares that any mistake observed in the laws is not a failure of experiment but a failure of conscience. In fact, no one can even determine a ‘rightful mistake’ unless seen through right conscience. It is then a matter of progression rather than mere replacement. Civil law would always be a sign of maturity of heart and not of satirical cleverness that more often tries to reconfigure the imperatives even of natural law. Simply speaking, civil laws should always be a reflection of natural law and not mere decisions that come from ill-disposed morals or worse from thin air of ignorance. Stealing is wrong, because if it is not, it is not stealing; just as contraception is wrong, because if it is not, it is life that would be wrong – the greatest absurdity leading to nothing less than suicide. 

Hence, to save this article from its suicidal phase, it should be delivered not through definite intellectual arrogance but instead, through the indefinite humble understanding of conscience. It is true that there is no actual criminal justice system that acknowledges injustice as enough reason for the inobservance of law, yet natural law dictates us through the purity of our conscience to go against civil authorities if it is to be discerned wrong – whereby the greater moral ambivalence lies.

Sem. Baltazar Acebedo Jr. is a first year Theologian from the Diocese of Parañaque. He is currently enrolled in the STB Program of the UST Faculty of Sacred Theology. This is a CRITIQUE on Jeffrey Reiman's, The Moral Ambivalence of Crime in an Unjust Society during his class in Moral Theology.

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