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Separation Of Morality And Rationality

Updated on July 3, 2011

"What is ethical is not always rational."

This is what my International Relations professor said on Monday. He was responding to my complaints about offensive realism, which I expressed before the weekend and in my last post. He followed up this by saying that he sees no place for ethics in international relations. As I have explained several times before politics or in this case international relations is always linked to morality. Even when one does not admit it. Any policy one desires to enact is based on one's concepts of how things should be done, or, in other words, values. One does not support a welfare related policy on a whim. One supports welfare related policy because his values indicate that giving funds to the unfortunate is virtuous. He supports that policy because of his morality. Of course, there are all sorts of vicious qualities of that policy, such as the whole part about stealing from thousands of other people and redistributing their wealth to those deemed "unfortunate" or "needy." However, that is not what I am trying to address. First, I am trying to show, as I have done several times in the past, the morality and actions are linked. Since morality plays an enormous role in politics, it must also play an enormous role in international relations. For example, a state leader who seeks regional hegemonic power does not seek it on a whim. He seeks it because his values indicate that security is the highest value and achieving regional hegemony is the best way to obtain that value. Once again the state leader is trying to act virtuously, he is pursuing his morality. However, even those who cast out morality like my professor and that asshole John Mearsheimer are still considering morality. The previous example was the basis of his own theory, and their is clearly morality at its foundation. The reason that Mearsheimer and my professor believe they are amoral and cast it aside when theorizing international relations is because they believe there is a separation between morality and rationality, which is the ignorant basis of my professor's statement I began with.

I have one question. If rationality is not based on morality, if rationality is not based on virtue and irrationality is not based on vice, then exactly what are they based on? I really cannot even conceive of how my professor or others who advocate this separation would answer. I suppose they may try and argue that rationality is acting on one's self-interest. In turn, I would point out that acting in one's self-interest is indeed virtuous. However, that would lead to a whole other discussion because most believe that acting in one's own self-interest is vicious. Therefore, if they were correct, then rationality would be acting viciously. Though this is incredibly skewed rationality is still linked to morality.

Essentially, acting rationally is pursuing the best, the good, the better, or just moving in the general direction of perfection. For example, if state security is good, and if regional hegemony is way to achieve state security, then pursuing regional hegemony is better than not pursuing regional hegemony. A simpler example would be, if peanut is good, and spreading peanut butter on bread is the best way to obtain peanut butter, then spreading peanut butter on bread is better than not spreading peanut butter on bread. Assuming for the moment that these examples are correct, it would then be irrational to not pursue regional hegemony or not spread peanut butter on bread because whatever that action could possibly be would not be as good. Simply, irrationality is the pursuit of the worst, the bad, the lesser, or just moving in the general direction of imperfection.

However, in order to ensure that one is acting rationally and not irrationally one needs some guidance. He needs some codes or standards that indicate to him what is rational and was is irrational. For example, achieving state security through regional hegemony is the assumed rational objective. Therefore, some codes would include increasing the state's offensive military capability, using conflicts to decrease other states' power and offensive military capability, never trust other statesmen, always act immediately for one can never be certain with 100% accuracy what another state's intentions or future intentions are. Another example, obtaining peanut butter through spreading it on bread is the assumed rational objective. Therefore, standards would include obtaining a jar of peanut butter, obtaining a knife, obtaining a slice of bread, opening the jar of peanut butter, using the knife to extract peanut butter from the can and spread it on the bread. Additionally, some codes are more important than others. There is a hierarchy of value. For example, never trusting other states is more important decreasing a state's power and offensive military capability. The reason is because if one trusts another state it may be a trap that could indefinitely obstruct a leader's pursuit of regional hegemony, while one does not necessarily have to decrease another state's power to become a regional hegemon, one only has to surpass all other states. Therefore, if there was a conflict between the two codes, meaning that at one moment a leader could choose to decrease another state's power and trust another state, or allow another state to maintain its power and distrust another state, the rational choice would be the latter, for distrusting all states is a more important code than decrease another state's power. As for the peanut butter, obtaining the peanut butter is far more important than obtaining the knife, for one could use other utensils, the bread, or his own hand to extract and spread the peanut butter. Therefore, if the two standards were in conflict, if one could either have the knife and no peanut butter, or no knife and peanut butter, the rational choice would be the latter because obtaining the peanut butter is the more important code than obtaining the knife.

What I have just explained with standards or codes and their hierarchy is basically morality. Morality is a set of values one uses to guide his life towards the best, the good, the better, or just in the general direction of perfection. Furthermore, some values are more important than others. Therefore, if a lesser values is in conflict with a greater values, one must choose the greater value because it leader him towards perfection. Choosing the lesser values would lead him towards imperfection. However, is this not also rational? I can see no other possibility, and I admit that I may be wrong. Of course, if one does find that I am wrong, I demand to be proven wrong. One cannot just make an empty claim. Presently, I am convinced, morality and rationality are indeed linked. Morals are the values one uses to guide him towards the virtuous, the best, the good, the better, and perfection, and rationality is using those values to pursue the virtuous, the best, the good, the better, and perfection, while always choosing greater values if they happen to conflict with lesser values.

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    • WittyWeddings profile image

      Hayley LaGarce 

      8 years ago from Kansas City, MO

      While I do find this hub very interesting your formatting doesn't make it the easiest read. Very large paragraphs are difficult to get through. Other than that good analysis.


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