Essay—The Deontological Argument (Issue (Issue5)

Summary The Deontological Argument contrasts the ontological argument with the deontological argument to reveal the leap of faith necessary to achieve higher ontological valence—finally arriving at the inescapable conclusion that one is either going for the jugular or going through the motions. Freedom is lost when the subject surrenders to the object. —Roger Scruton

Once in Sunday school while going over the Greek New Testament, I asked a question regarding the meaning of a parable.  The headmaster’s answer was so utterly confused and convoluted that I actually experienced my first true moment of consciousness—that is, I suddenly became aware with excruciating clarity that he knew nothing at all.  From that moment forward I began to think for myself, or at least knew that I could.  I remember clearly the classroom with its windows so high that we could not see out, the desks, the platform on which the headmaster sat, his thin scholarly face, his nervous habits of twitching his mouth and jerking his hands—and then suddenly this profound inner revelation that neither he nor anyone else knew about anything that mattered.  It was this threshold moment that was to be the starting point of my liberation from the external world.  I knew then for certain that true knowledge could only be arrived at by authentic inner perception—and that all my loathing of religion, as it was taught to me, was at last vindicated.

The Matrix Has You.  The paragraph above describes an inaugural breach of the psychological matrix surrounding us from birth in Maurice Nicoll’s 1952 book Psychological Commentaries.  Consider now the words of Morpheus as he speaks to Neo for the first time in the superb 1999 movie The Matrix—You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up.  And you are here because you know something.  What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it.  You’ve felt it your entire life.  That there’s something wrong with the world.  You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.  It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.  Like everyone you are a slave.  You were born into bondage, born into a prison you cannot smell or taste or touch—a prison for your mind.

What is X?  Neo seeks out Morpheus for the express purpose of trying to understand the matrix.  In keeping with the most basic tenant of Socratic philosophy, Neo asks the question—What is the matrix?  Throughout his life Socrates (470-399 bc) radically insisted that we must first answer the question of what X is before we can say anything else about X.  Yet in spite of this, academics, headmasters and other men of cunning throughout the ages have tried to circumvent this monolithic truth—typically by writing offensively long books—wishfully believing that the answer will somehow mira­culously manufacture itself.  And it certainly does not take very long before they completely lose sight of the question altogether—never mind finding a suitable answer.  Still other cunning men decry the question as unanswerable—and then set out to justify the meaninglessness of their existence by playing professional sports or extracting the earth’s resources with ever-accelerating speed—all the while teaching the children the most subtle aspects of profound incompetency as a way of masking their trail of treachery.  But fortunately for Neo, Morpheus understands that the resolution to the question is not found in explanation, but in experience.  Morpheus facilitates this experience by offering Neo the choice between a blue pill and a red pill.  The blue pill takes Neo back to the domain of the Everyman, while the red pill transports him to Wonderland—and then proceeds to show him exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes.

A Case for the Red Pill.  Causality is the universal law that provides for the temporal ordering of things—that is, the window breaks only after the baseball is thrown.  It is the most primordial condition of our existence.  Without causality we would cease to exist.  As for The Matrix, the red pill operates in much the same way as a concise, well-written essay in that both are signal tracing programs designed to locate the simple subjective truth buried under unintelligible layers of objective noise.  Each tries to induce a state of vertigo so that meaning can only be achieved subjectively.  The idea is to turn the observer into a participant by allowing only subjective comprehension.  The goal here is to momentarily shake the subject of his objective dependence.  In both cases, the red pill and the essay, causality breaks down and structures of reality lose their coherence.  The procedure ultimately gives rise to a state of a priori comprehension by providing the subject with separate cases for both subjective and objective reality—finally arriving at the much sought after answer to the question—What is X?

Perfection of Being.  The ontological argument is an a priori argument for the existence of God—asserting that the conception of the perfect being implies the existence of that being outside the mind of man.  The crux of the argument lies with the notion that a perfect being must necessarily exist for the being to be considered perfect—for otherwise the being would lack an essential component of perfection, namely existence.  In other words, according to the argument, the very conceptualization of God directly leads to the conclusion of Her existence.  The argument originated in the 11th century with an Augustinian by the name of Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109).  An Augustinian is a member of the Roman Catholic Church whose constitutions are based on the teachings of religious life as set forth by Saint Augustine (354-430).  Quite remarkably, the Augustinian order allowed Anselm the latitude within the church to start from the beginning and authentically reexamine the notion of God.

Imperfection of Being.  Saint Augustine once portrayed existence as an ontological set of stairs leading to God.  According to Augustine, God exists outside of time and the universe was created with time and not in time.  Saint Thomas (1225-74) later put forth an a posteriori argument for the existence of God by asserting that every event is caused by a prior event which leads back to the first cause which is God.  But the argument falls down for the reason that causality is strictly a temporal concept and, by definition, has no meaning outside of time.  As Paul Strathern wrote—Saint Thomas had answers for everything but answered nothing.

A Utilitarian Game Theory.  Utilitarian ethics is the theory that correctness of action is determined by the ability to bring about the most amount of good—as defined by pleasure and happiness for the people involved.  Alternatively, deontological ethics is the theory that correctness of action is determined by the ability to create the greatest amount of universal value.  The deontological mantra is to simply do the right thing—known also as The First Commandment.  Deontological ethics typically fail because holding fast to subjective judgment in a world crazed by objective dominance is hard.  Utilitarian ethics, on the other hand, fall down for the reason of its strict locality—that is, the method lacks a valid prior vision of universal right and wrong.  Utilitarian players soon realize that other players are only maximizing their own utility, and that projecting the impression of doing otherwise is mere tactics.

A Posteriori Conspiracy Theory.  Take the Church for example.  The Church purports to assist man in his search for moral certainty by advocating a set of rules that he can live by.  But the Church is actually facilitating immorality.  Professional athletes get married, have children, follow the rules, and donate generously to the Church.  In return for this moral tax, the Church lets him off the hook of having to contribute in a meaningful way.  In essence, the Church is doing nothing more than painting over rusted, decaying social structures—exactly as the Devil would have it.

A Priori Panic Theory.  The difference in signal between the two ethical systems can be traced back to the story of Creation.  Utilitarian ethics interpret the story literally, thus making our job the objective protection of local value—while deontological ethics interpret the story allegorically, thus making our job the subjective creation of universal value.  As William Barrett wrote in his magnificent 1958 book Irrational Man—The terror of confronting oneself in situations calling for subjective judgment is so great that most people immediately panic and run for cover under the first obvious argument that seems to apply.

Conclusion.  God exists.  God does not exist.  Who cares?  God certainly does not.  The answer to the much more important question of what X is can be found in studying philosophy and science and then having the courage to do the right thing.  Morpheus tells us there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.  Our challenge now lies in learning to walk the path rather than bailing out by taking the blue pill—which the Everyman, by definition, has done up to this point.  As the commander said to his men while preparing to rescue a fallen comrade from an Iraqi bunker in the superb 1999 movie Three Kings—You do the thing you are most afraid of—and then you get the courage afterwards.