Moral imagination as the foundation of ethics

Moral imagination as the foundation of ethics - Page 2

Of course it is not possible to do the imaginative switch all the time. It can be used as a moral and political tool in order to structure the institutions of a society. Policy makers and politicians should use this tool in order to create a just and well-ordered society. The outcome of the procedure of the Moral Imagination Switch will be some kind of liberal democratic welfare state in which individual freedom should be as large as possible. So, in such a society same sex marriages are legal, as are abortion, euthanasia, medically assisted suicide, sexual freedom and freedom of thought and opinion. The Moral Imagination Switch has great bearing on the multicultural society. To me, it does not seem rational that any person can rationally want to be educated within a cultural religious system which denies them the truth, and other rival opinions. Therefore, the Moral Imagination Switch cannot

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justify education and indoctrination of children and adolescents with cultural heritage which is untrue and furthermore propagates ethics which cannot be universally (i.e. by the imaginative switch) justified. For example, mainstream religious traditions of many kinds (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) do not approve of homosexuality and abortion.

Why should people care to look at the world through the eyes of those worst off? If you are in a privileged position why would you care to look at the world through such a miserable perspective? Indeed, there is no compelling reason (apart from utilitarian optimalization theory) why one should give up his or her privileges. Once people will use the imagination switch tool, the tool will do its work to show how a wide ranch of social injustices can be solved. However, the problem is how people can be persuaded to adopt the Moral Imagination Switch. By stimulation, invitation and persuasion people can adopt the moral perspective. Education in moral imagination is crucial. The process of social acculturation usually and unfortunately closes many options for moral imagination.

If liberalism is interpreted by means of the Moral Imagination Switch, then this form of liberalism cannot paradoxically tolerate cultures and practices which do not tolerate individual autonomy (that is the freedom of an individual to do as (s)he chooses as long as (s)he does not harm others). So, liberalism cannot tolerate intolerance against individual autonomy.

Some religious and conservative people say they feel offended by behaviour of others and say they are deeply grieved. Well, this is unfortunate for those who have these feelings, but it is not possible for a state to protect feelings of individuals in this way without becoming a police state which in turn will frustrate and harm many individuals. All ethical and political theories are suboptimal, second best (or worse) solutions to clashes of needs.

There are different levels where the tool or method of the Moral Imagination Switch can be used. One is, as mentioned above, as a device to make policy, laws and to create institutions. A different level is in moral education. I think the essence of moral education is the ability to perform a Moral Imagination Switch with as many different positions as possible and to think these positions through and feel the other person from within. In order to be able to perform this psychological thought experiment one has to stand back from one’s own position embedded in social and cultural surroundings with its prejudices.

The arts and foremost literature can help to stimulate moral imagination. By reading novels for example one sees and experience the world form a different perspective. It is not necessary that the author puts explicitly moral lessons in the work. The moral value of

reading literature is in the mind of the beholder. The reader should ask his or herself moral questions while reading. The attitude of adopting a moral way of reading and appreciating art can be learned and practiced though education. The questions ‘Why read literature?’ can be answered with: In order to become more morally skilled. Art can and should be an education of the senses. Of course there are more reasons for appreciating the arts, but the moral value is important and justifies attention for education in the arts. Peter Singer and his wife Renate compiled the book The Moral of the Story. An Anthology of Ethics through Literature (2005) with fragments from novels which are stimulating the Moral Imagination Switch. Martha Nussbaum also stresses the importance of literature for moral education. In her lengthy book Love’s Knowledge. Essays on Philosophy and Literature (1990) she analyzes several books as an example of how these books can stimulate the moral imagination. Richard Rorty even argued that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) did more to abandon slavery, than any philosophical manifest did. Literature can help to promote a moral Gestalt switch.

The study and teaching of history should be along the lines of moral imagination.


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