IV. An Appraisal of Traditional Theories of Ethics from the Perspective of Unification Thought

In this section, representative theories of ethics will be appraised from the perspective of Unification Thought. From the modern period, some major aspects of the theories proposed by Kant and Bentham will be discussed, and from the contemporary period, highlights of the theories of analytical philosophy and pragmatism will be examined.

1. Kant

Kant’s Theory of Ethics

In his Critique of Practical Reason, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) asserted that the true moral law should not be a “hypothetical imperative,” which simply tells us to “do something as a means to achieve some purpose,” but rather it should be a “categorical imperative,” which straight-forwardly tells us to “do something,” unconditionally. For example, we should not “be honest merely as a means of being regarded as a nice person,” but instead we should “be honest,” unconditionally. The categorical imperative is established by practical reason, and it gives our will an imperative, or an order. (Practical reason is called the “legislator”.) The will that has received the imperative of practical reason is a good will, and a good will urges us to action.

Kant described the fundamental law of morality as follows: “So act that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as a principle in a giving of universal law.” “Maxim” here refers to a principle of practice determined subjectively by a person’s individual will. According to Kant, an action undertaken should be such that the subjective principle, or maxim, directing it could be applied universally. Kant regarded as good that which holds true universally, with no contradiction, just like natural law; that which can not hold true universally, he regarded as evil.

Kant said that the moral law within us, present as the voice of duty, presses us into action. He stated, “Duty! Sublime and mighty name that embraces nothing charming or insinuating but requires submission, … but only holds forth a law that of itself finds entry into the mind and yet gains reluctant reverence.” The morality asserted by Kant was a morality of duty.

Kant also stated that in order for a good will not to be regulated by anything, freedom must be postulated; and that, as long as imperfect persons seek to realize goodness perfectly, the immortality of the soul must be postulated; and that, when one seeks perfect goodness, or the supreme good, virtue should be connected with happiness, and in order for virtue to properly correspond with happiness, the existence of God must be postulated. Thus, Kant recognized the existence of the soul and of God as postulates of practical reason.

Unification Thought Appraisal of Kant’s Perspective of Ethics

Kant distinguished pure reason (i.e., theoretical reason) from practical reason. Pure reason is for the purpose of knowledge, and practical reason regulates the will and guides it to action. Since pure reason is separate from practical reason, there can not but arise the question of why action required by the categorical imperative is good. In deciding whether or not a certain action is good, one must ascertain the result of that action. Yet, according to Kant, an action that is directly impelled by the categorical imperative to do a certain thing, irrespective of the results of that action, is good.

Suppose a person A happens to encounter a wounded person B, and the categorical imperative “you must help this person” is issued. Suppose, further, that A, receiving the categorical imperative, tries to take the wounded B to a hospital. Now, B may not want to be taken to the hospital, and he may refuse to be helped and want to go to the hospital by himself. A is satisfied with the situation because he followed a categorical imperative issued by practical reason. In this case, A will regard his action as a good deed unconditionally, but B will feel it to be disturbing and not want to regard it as good.

In this way, without taking into account the result, Kant is only concerned with the motivation. His position does not necessarily accord with the common sense of goodness. Such a difficulty can arise because Kant separated pure reason from practical reason, or knowledge from practice. In fact, pure reason and practical reason are not separated from each other: reason and act are one. We act while taking into account the result of our action, according to one and the same reason.

Kant’s notion of moral law raises certain questions: what is the standard according to which subjective maxims are to be universalized, and in what way does such universalization become possible? Kant said, on the one hand, that if all people became perfectly moral happiness would be realized; on the other hand, however, that since an act aiming at happiness is merely a hypothetical one, it can not be regarded as good. Although he knew that people seek happiness, he held that they should not aim at happiness. In this context, he postulated God, and affirmed that if we practice goodness perfectly, we will necessarily be happy.

The problems in Kant’s view are derived from the fact that he did not know about God’s purpose of creation. For him, all purposes were self-loving and selfish. From the perspective of Unification Thought, however, human beings have dual purposes, namely, a purpose for the whole and a purpose for the individual, and originally they were to pursue the purpose for the individual while placing priority on the purpose for the whole. In contrast, what Kant referred to as “purpose” was nothing but the purpose for the individual. As a result, he denigrated every kind of purpose, and his moral law became a law with an ambiguous criterion.

Furthermore, Kant asserted that, in order for the moral law to be established, the immortality of the soul and the existence of God must be postulated. On the other hand, in his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant excluded God and the soul saying that it is impossible to cognize them since they lack any kind of sense-content. Here, also, there is a difficulty in Kant’s philosophy. He postulated God, but his postulated God is only a hypothetical God, not the true or existing God. As such, his God was not the God whom we can believe in and rely on.

Kant attempted to establish the standard of goodness of his moral law based only on duty, which is given to us by practical reason. This is merely a cold world of duty, a world of regulations like those followed by a platoon of soldiers. Seen from the Unification Thought point of view, duty and behavioral norms can not be a purpose in themselves, since the purpose of our action is ultimately to realize true love. Duty and behavioral norms are merely the means for actualizing true love.

2. Bentham

Bentham’s View of Ethics

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) starts with the following premise: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters; pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.” Thus, he advocated the “principle of utility,” according to which, pleasure and pain are the standards of good and evil.

Bentham calculated pleasure and pain quantitatively, regarding as good any act that brings the greatest pleasure, thus advocating “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” as the guiding principle of his moral philosophy. As to what it is that brings pleasure or pain to people, he stated that “there are four distinguishable sources from which pleasure and pain are in use to flow, … the physical, the political, the moral, and the religious.” Among these, he regarded the physical source as the most fundamental one, for only physical pleasure and pain can be calculated objectively. He considered it desirable for as many people as possible to obtain portions of material wealth in an equitable manner.

Contrary to Kant, who argued that pure goodness is not determined by purpose or material interests, Bentham asserted that human conduct can be considered good only when it realizes the greatest happiness for people. Thus, he argued that material happiness must be pursued directly. The Industrial Revolution of England served as the background for Bentham’s thought.

Bentham’s philosophy influenced many thinkers; one of these was Robert Owen (1771-1858), a socialist reformer. Owen incorporated into his thought Bentham’s belief in “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” Based on this, and under the influence of the French Enlightenment and materialist philosophy, Owen advocated a movement for social reform. Since people are the products of their environment, he thought that if the environment is improved, they will be improved as well, and a happy society can be realized. In order to actualize that ideal, Owen moved to the United States and constructed a New Harmony society of cooperatives in Indiana. This effort, however, ended in failure due to internal divisions among co-workers.

Utilitarians, influenced by this socialist movement, engaged in various activities for social reform. They promoted movements for the reform of electoral laws, the reform of laws concerning the poor, the simplification of legal proceedings, the abolition of crop regulations, the liberation of slaves in colonies, the expansion of suffrage, the reform of the living conditions of working people, and many others, and thus contributed significantly to the impetus to find solutions to the problems in capitalist society.

Unification Thought Appraisal of Bentham’s Perspective of Ethics

Unlike Kant, who advocated goodness as a duty, Bentham asserted that a good act is one which leads to happiness. In this respect, Bentham’s view is more in agreement with Unification Thought. The problem, however, is that Bentham understood happiness as having to do with material pleasure. According to Unification Thought, true happiness for human beings can not be obtained through material pleasure alone. In advanced countries today many people have come to enjoy material prosperity; yet, there are not so many people who regard themselves as truly happy, for many people are affected by the increase in social disorder and crimes in advanced countries. This indicates that utilitarianism is not an effective way to achieve true happiness.

From the Unification Thought viewpoint, Bentham’s thought was proposed for the sake of restoring the environment. In order to realize the ideal society, human beings have to be restored; at the same time, a suitable environment must be prepared. So, from the providential viewpoint, it can be said that such philosophies as Bentham’s utilitarianism become necessary as the Second Advent of Christ approaches. Kant, in contrast to Bentham, can be said to have advocated a philosophy for the sake of restoring human beings.

As pointed out above, utilitarianism was insufficient and fell short of realizing the happiness of humankind. Communism, which appeared later, was, like utilitarianism, a thought for the sake of restoring the environment. Communism moved in the wrong direction, however, in advocating violent revolution. As a result, far from realizing a happy society, Communism created one even more miserable. True human happiness must be realized in terms of both spiritual and material aspects. This is possible only when a standard of goodness is established that can present a unified and harmonious solution for both the spiritual aspects and the material aspects of human nature.

3. Analytic Philosophy

View of Ethics in Analytic Philosophy

According to analytic philosophy, the task of philosophy is not to establish any specific worldview, but rather to make philosophy itself a scientific discipline by engaging in a logical analysis of language. The Cambridge Analytic School, with such scholars as George E. Moore (1873-1958), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951); the Logical Positivism of Vienna School, with such scholars as Moritz Schlick (1882-1936), Rudolph Carnap (1891-1971) and Alfred J. Ayer (1910-71); and the Ordinary Language School of Britain―all of these are referred to as schools of analytic philosophy. Among the representative ethical theories of analytic philosophy, we can include the “intuitionism” of Moore and the “emotive theory” of Schlick and Ayer.

According to Schlick and Ayer, goodness is no more than a word expressing a subjective feeling and a quasi-idea that can not be verified objectively. Accordingly, an ethical proposition such as, “It is bad to steal money,” is nothing but the speaker’s expression of a feeling of moral disapproval and can not be regarded as either true or false.

Unification Thought Appraisal of Analytic Philosophy’s Perspective of Ethics

The characteristic feature of analytic philosophy’s view of ethics is its separation of factual judgments from value judgments. From the viewpoint of Unification Thought, however, factual judgments and value judgments are both objective, and they can be seen as the two sides of a single coin. Yet, since a factual judgment is a judgment concerning phenomena that can be recognized by anyone, it is characterized by an objectivity that can easily be grasped. In contrast, a value judgment is advocated by a limited number of, for example, religious people or philosophers, and is not necessarily understood by everyone―which gives the impression that a value judgment is purely subjective. If the spiritual level of human beings becomes enhanced, and the law of value operating throughout the entire universe comes to be understood clearly by all people, then value judgments would also come to be recognized as universally valid.

Natural science has been dealing only with factual judgments, and has been pursuing cause-and-effect relationships in things. Today, however, science has reached the point where it is no longer possible to thoroughly understand natural phenomena solely through the pursuit of cause-and-effect relationships. Scientists are now seeking the meaning behind, or the reason for, natural phenomena. This means that scientists have come to the point of pursuing value judgments in addition to factual judgments. It is the view of Unification Thought that fact and value, or science and ethics, must be approached as one united theme.

Another characteristic feature among the proponents of analytic philosophy is that they have regarded goodness as something undefinable, a quasi-idea. From the Unification Thought perspective, however, goodness can be clearly defined. In sum, human beings have the clear purpose of realizing God’s love through the family four position foundation; thus, behavior in agreement with this purpose is good. Since such goodness is evaluated in actual life, value and fact can not be separated.

4. Pragmatism

Pragmatism’s View of Ethics

Pragmatism and analytic philosophy stand on the same basis, in that both exclude metaphysics and attach importance to empirical scientific knowledge. Pragmatism, which was advocated by Charles S. Pierce (1839-1914), was popularized by William James (1842-1910).

According to James, “whatever works” is true. Suppose, for example, that someone comes to your home and knocks on the door, and you assume it must be your friend John. Only when you open the door and find that it is, indeed, John, can your thought be considered as true. In other words, only that knowledge which is verified through action is true knowledge. This means that the truth of an idea is determined by whether or not it has “working value.” James said,

The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it…. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its verification. Its validity is the process of its validation.

This criterion of truth, also serves as the criterion of value and the criterion of goodness. Thus, an ethical proposition is not something to be proven theoretically, but is regarded as true and good, so long as it provides some satisfaction or peace to the mind. Therefore, goodness is not considered as something absolute or unchangeable, but rather something which is altered and improved upon, day by day, through the experience of humankind as a whole.

The philosopher who perfected pragmatism was John Dewey (1859-1952). Dewey advocated the theory of instrumentalism, saying that the intellect is something that works instrumentally toward future experiences, or a means for processing problems effectively. Contrary to James, who admitted religious truth as well, Dewey dealt only with everyday life, excluding completely any metaphysical thought.

Dewey’s way of thinking derives from a view of humans as living beings, that is, as organic beings. A living being is in constant mutual relationship with its environment; when a living being comes into an unstable condition, it seeks to free itself from that condition and return to a stable state. It is intelligence, according to Dewey, that is utilized as the instrument effective for this. Good conduct is that which, based on intelligence, is effective toward creating an affluent and happy society.

For Dewey, scientific judgments and value judgments were regarded as being of the same quality. He believed that a good society would surely come if only people were to act rationally by using their intelligence. He saw no schism between fact and value in such a society. For him, goodness is something to be realized step by step through the increase of knowledge, responding to the requirements of life and bringing about the satisfaction of desires. Thus, Dewey denied the existence of any such ultimate goodness instantly recognizable. The concept of goodness, too, was simply an instrument, or a means, for coping with problems effectively. He said, “A moral principle, then, is not a command to act or forbear acting in a given way: it is a tool for analyzing a special situation, the right or wrong being determined by the situation in its entirety, and not by the rule as such.”

Unification Thought Appraisal of the Pragmatic Perspective on Ethics

James considered whatever works, or whatever is useful, as true and valuable. This means that he subordinated knowledge and values to one’s everyday life. From the perspective of Unification Thought, however, it would be a reversal of the original way of thinking if we were to subordinate knowledge and values to one’s everyday life consisting in the pursuit of food, clothing, and shelter. One’s everyday life in pursuit of food, clothing, and shelter should rather be based on the values of truth, goodness, and beauty; and in turn, the values of truth, goodness, and beauty should be based on the purpose of creation. The purpose of creation is to actualize true love (God’s love).

Therefore, an act in accord with the purpose of creation is good. An act that is merely useful to life, on the other hand, is not necessarily good. Of course, if an act that is useful to life is also in accordance with the purpose of creation, it becomes good. James based truth and goodness on their usefulness for life; instead, however, he should have looked for the purpose for which life exists and the purpose for which human beings live.

According to Dewey, intelligence, including the notion of goodness, is an instrument. Is the idea that the intelligence is an instrument correct? From the perspective of Unification Thought, logos (a thought) is formed through the inner Sungsang and inner Hyungsang engaging in give and receive action centering on heart (love) or purpose. Inner Sungsang includes the faculties of intellect, emotion, and will, and inner Hyungsang includes ideas, concepts, laws, and mathematical principles. Since inner Sungsang and inner Hyungsang are in the relationship of subject and object, the inner Hyungsang may be regarded as an instrument of the inner Sungsang. On the other hand, the faculties of intellect, emotion, and will, which constitute the inner Sungsang, can be regarded as instruments for the realization of love. According to Dewey, however, intellect and concepts are instruments for social reform.

Dewey’s instrumental theory is not wrong if it is centered on God’s purpose of creation. But, as long as it is aimed merely at the attainment of affluence in one’s everyday life, it is not correct. For, among concepts, there are some which may become the purpose of life but they can not become the means of life. The concept of goodness is not a means (of life); rather it is a concept having to do with the very purpose of one’s life.

Dewey also considered that, if science develops in the direction of improving society, it will be in perfect accord with values. The progress of science, however, does not necessarily correspond with values. Only when science aligns itself with the realization of the purpose of creation―that is, the realization of God’s love―will fact and value come to be unified.