Tarot Hermeneutics LogoTel: 919-542-5719
Fax: 919-869-1643

Tarot Hermeneutics

Exploring How We Create Meaning with Tarot

Gert's 10 Rules Toward a Common Morality

A full discussion of these rules requires a close and fair reading of Gert's work. The text planned for reading and discussion is a small summary of his thought, Common Morality, that has a fulsome professional accounting in his text, Morality: Its Nature and Justification.

So with this stipulation well in mind let's look at them and see what we think of them on the face of it. The following text is verbatim from pp 20-23 Common Morality.

Common morality is a framework that, within limits, allows different persons to fill in their own view about (1) the scope of morality, (2) the rankings of the relevant harms and benefits, (3) the harmful and beneficial consequences of everyone knowing that a given kind of violation is allowed and that it is not allowed, and (4) the interpretation of the rules. When a rational person incorporates her views on these matters into the common moral framework, the moral system will yield those moral decisions and judgments that the person accepts, at least after reflection.' If it does not, then I will have been shown wrong and my description of morality will have to be revised again.

The Moral Rules

The ten general moral rules listed below account for all of the kinds of actions that are morally prohibited and required. They make explicit that part of the moral system that informs moral agents if some excuse or justification is needed for their behavior. They are formulated to provide a clear and usable description of that part of the moral system.

1. Do not kill. 6. Do not deceive.
2. Do not cause pain. 7. Keep your promises.
3. Do not disable. 8. Do not cheat.
4. Do not deprive of freedom. 9. Obey the law.
5. Do not deprive of pleasure. 10. Do your duty.

 All violations of any of these rules without adequate justification are immoral actions. Given the appropriate interpretations, these rules also prohibit all immoral actions. All of these rules should be interpreted not only as prohibiting any intentional violation of a rule but also as prohibiting any attempt to violate a rule, even if that attempt is unsuccessful. Not only are causing pain and deceiving violations, but so is attempting to cause pain and deceive. Intentionally acting so as to significantly increase the risk that someone will suffer any harm also counts as a violation of these rules. All of these violations are immoral unless the agent has an adequate justification for the violation. Knowingly, but not intentionally, sometimes even unknowingly, acting in a way that results in someone suffering a harm or in a significantly increased risk of someone suffering a harm sometimes counts as a violation of a rule, but sometimes not. Whether it does depends on the circumstances of the case and the interpretation of the rule.

Other formulations of moral rules might also prohibit all immoral actions, but the present formulation is both natural and has less serious problems than other commonly proposed formulations. The first five rules could be collapsed into one rule, "Do not cause harm," but this would give the false impression that harms are a homogenous category that can be ranked on a single scale. Of course, the rule "Do not cause pain" could also be criticized on the same grounds, but the explicit recognition that there are several different kinds of harms makes it unlikely as well as pointless to claim that everyone ranks all pains in the same way. Although it is obvious that different kinds of pains are ranked differently by different people, there are too many kinds of pain to have a separate rule that prohibits causing each of them. Having one rule that prohibits causing all pains, together with having distinct rules that prohit causing each of the four other general kinds of harms, does not suggest that everyone agrees on the ranking of harms, but it allows five rules to prohibit causing all of the basic harms.

Collapsing all of the second five rules into some rule like "Do not violate trust" also would not be useful. Although this rule could be given a sense such that it prohibits every action prohibited by the second five rules, no one who was not taught this special sense would understand it. It would have to be explained by pointing out that it prohibits deceiving, breaking promises, cheating, breaking the law, and neglecting one's duty. Although each of the second five rules must also be explained, these explanations are generally quite straightforward and easily understood. As formulated, the ten rules are part of an explicit system that all moral agents can be expected to know and follow.'

Having ten moral rules, as this formulation does, takes advantage of a well-known tradition. That putting forward exactly ten rules leads some philosophers to try that much harder to find mistakes is an unintended bonus. The present formulation also results in the rules being neatly divided into two distinct categories, the first five prohibiting directly causing all of the basic harms and the second five prohibiting those kinds of actions that indirectly cause these same harms. Although widespread violation of the second five rules always results in an increase in the amount of harm suffered, a particular violation of the second five rules does not always result in anyone suffering some harm. Because no one may be harmed by a particular unjustifiable violation of any one of the second five rules, it is not surprising that it is primarily with regard to these rules that people ask, "Why should I be moral?"