I was discussing Harris’ ideas with a friend and I stumbled upon what seems to be a problem with the health analogy (i.e. the idea that physical health is analogous to moral health).
It starts with the presupposition that health is best defined as autonomy (and admittedly, if this definition breaks down, the problem breaks down). Autonomy is freedom/ability, is ethically neutral (as free will is, if you believe in that), and does not ethically represent the actions that are manifested by this autonomy/freedom/ability until it does (until there is an ethical action). Therefore, it is more appropriate to say that “good” physical health is analogous not with good moral action, but with the ability to perform good “moral” action… but this is still neutral ethically until an action is performed.
My concern and reason for posting this is not to say that physical and moral health do not have some desired value (they DO!), but to ask whether or not they are of such a different sort that Harris’ analogy commits a category error conflating the two.
One direction to take the discussion might be to ask what or whether things and/or ideas are more or less ethically accommodating in themselves- even in the sense that some physical objects might be more predisposed to be an impetus for moral action than to immoral action or vice versa (e.g. guns, heart machines, anthrax, computers, etc). Seems to me that the inherent values of physical objects is pretty malleable (we can think of both good and bad uses for each- even the existence of anthrax or nuclear weapons might be the most effective deterrent to violence) and relative and difficult to analogize with ideas.
Are ideas different in their inherent value? Are ethical values on par with the kind of value we find in objects? Is that a false dichotomy?
You can behave amorally toward your fellow primates and be physically healthy.
I’m no quite sure what you mean in the context of my question, but amorality is interesting to bring up in the analogy. How would we see amorality in the context of health (“ahealth”)? Would the nalaogy cash out as a state of being completely unaware of one’s health or as treating it consequentially or…?
“Therefore, it is more appropriate to say that “good” physical health is analogous not with good moral action, but with the ability to perform good “moral” action…”
“good moral action” is exactly the same thing as “ability to perform good moral action”. Afterall, actions are all performed and, therefore, the performer is abled to act so.
The analogy of physical health and moral health fits with me. One can be whole on a purely physical level, but from a moral perspective (therefore a perspective of the physical as viewed from an objective position. A moral position) being healthy only physically has limitations with regard to overall human well-being. One could be engrossed with diet and excercise but still behave objectionably toward another and therefore may impact on another’s well-being (and which ultimately reflects back with similar impact on the well-being of the perpetrator of objectionable behaviour). Moral health should be seen as another higher dimension. And so you have two dimensions: The physical and the moral (or mental).
The only necessary measure for mental health is happiness. And mental happiness requires moral vigilance. A good looking body that might survive an impressionable length of time may not necessarily co-exist with a happy state of mind. But the body may function well as a system. As humans though, surely we are more than just systems. To be more than a system of, say, emotional-chemical reactivity (or mere “cause and effect”), we need to be morally and, therefore, emotionally intelligent. Intelligent about emotions, intelligently objective about emotion, which is, in the final analysis, to be intelligent. To be ultimately human and not just primal systems (like primates).