Theories of moral heteronomy and moral autonomy
The theory of moral heteronomy—namely the theory of heteronomy of the origin and goal of morality—is the theoretical premise of utilitarianism. Thus, its representative figures, like utilitarianism, are Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick. The most fundamental view of the theory of moral heteronomy is that morality is a kind of necessary bad. It is true that Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick did not find that morality is a kind of necessary bad but only stated that law is a kind of necessary bad: “Every coercive law creates an offence”31 because
all punishment is mischief: all punishment in itself is evil. Upon the principle of utility, if it ought at all to be admitted, it ought only to be admitted in as far as it promises to exclude some greater evil.32
However, that law is a kind of necessary bad implies that morality is a kind of necessary bad because all legal norms are also moral norms. If “no stealing” is a legal norm restricting and violating a thief’s freedom and desires, then, as a moral norm, does it not also restrict and violate the thief’s freedom
The origin and goal of morality 57 and desires? As discussed, both morality and virtue are the same as law, which, in themselves, are the restriction of human behaviors and the suppression of certain human desires and freedom, thus they are also a kind of bad; nevertheless, judging from their results and goal, they prevent greater bad (the collapse of society) and pursue greater good (the existence and development of society), thus their net balance is good, which makes them necessary bads. Thus, like law, the origin and goal of morality is by no means autonomous. It is neither for morality itself nor for the perfection of everyone’s virtue. It is heteremonous and only for things other than morality, that is, everyone’s interest and happiness. As Bentham wrote: “Ethics at large may be defined, the art of directing men’s actions to the production of greatest possible quantity of happiness, on the part of those whose interest is in view.”33 Mill also repeatedly stated that “happiness is the end and aim of morality.”34
On the contrary, moral autonomy theory—namely the autonomy theory of the origin and goal of morality—is the theoretical premise of deontology. Thus, its representative figures, like deontology, are the Confucian school, Kant, and Christian ethicists. The most fundamental point of view of moral autonomy theory is that laws and morality are not a necessary bad but a necessary good, a necessary intrinsic good, good-as-an-end and good-in-itself. Fung Yulan (?^^^.), the scholar of new Confucianism wrote: “The social organizations of the state, the legal and moral norms are necessary for the growth of human beings based on its nature. They are necessary for human beings, not the necessary bad but the necessary good.”
The view that morality and virtue are kinds of a necessary good and kinds of necessary intrinsic good and good-in-itself had been systematically expounded by Kant who believed that the good of moral will and moral character are not only intrinsic good and good-in-itself, but also are unconditional or absolute good. He wrote that:
In the world, or even outside the world, it is impossible to conceive of an unconditional good except good will ... Good will is goodness not by what it makes, nor by what it expects, nor because it is good at achieving its intended goal but it is good simply because of will, which is the intrinsic good.35
Since both morality and virtue in themselves are good and kinds of good— in-itself, then the origin and goal of morality are really autonomous: morality originates from morality itself, it originates from everyone’s needs of perfecting the moral character of the self; the goal of morality is in morality itself and in the perfection of everyone’s moral character. Francis Herbert Bradley, a believer of Kant’s theory of moral autonomy, wrote it clearly as: “Morality says, she is sought as a goal for her own sake, not as a means of reaching something other than herself.”36
The theory of moral autonomy and the theory of moral heteronomy, which is right and which is wrong? The analysis of the nature of morality and virtueindicates that, the same as law, morality, and virtue are kinds of necessary bad; that the origin and goal of morality cannot possibly be autonomous, that morality and virtue themselves can only be heteronomous, and are only for safeguarding matters other than morality: the existence and development of society and promoting everyone’s interest. Therefore, the theory of moral heteronomy is a truth and the theory of moral autonomy is a fallacy.
The fundamental error of the theory of moral autonomy is its confusion of good-as-an-end with good-in-itself. On the one hand, things like cleverness, the ability to understand, reason, or judge things, or to have spiritual wealth, honor, health, happiness, etc., in themselves, are desirable and can satisfy human needs, and they are sorts of goals people pursue each is thus good-in-itself, good-as-an-end, and an intrinsic good; but that which is good-in-itself might lead to bad consequences if their possessors have no virtue. Therefore, judging from its results, it might be bad.
On the other hand, good will, good moral character or virtue, in themselves are each the suppression and violation of certain desires and freedom of those who are virtuous, thus they are kinds of bad; however, judging from their results, they are also kinds of a greater good because they can prevent those who are virtuous from greater bad, such as prevent cleverness leading to bad consequences (a wise man can be ruined by his own cleverness). Therefore virtue is a kind of good-as-an-end: but in itself is bad.
The fundamental error of Kant and other scholars’ theories of moral autonomy is that, on the one hand, it mistakes good-as-an-end, such as morality and virtue, as good-in-itself; on the other hand, it mistakes good-in-itself, such as being happy or being wise, as good-as-an-end. Consequently, they derived from the theory of moral autonomy that “the goal of morality is in morality and virtue themselves”; on the contrary, if morality and virtue is not good-in-itself but a necessary bad, the goal of morality is not possible for morality and virtue themselves.
The error of the theory of moral autonomy also lies in confusing the goal of morality with ends of actions and the two meanings of moral autonomy. As previously discussed in detail, on the one hand, everyone’s actions can originate from the personal moral need for the perfection of one’s moral character, the goal of which is to perfect both the moral character of the self and morality itself, which is the moral autonomy in the cause and purpose of personal action, and is a truth. On the other hand, morality originates from everyone’s moral needs for the perfection of moral character, the goal of which is to perfect everyone’s moral character and morality itself, which is the moral autonomy in the origin and purpose of morality, and is a fallacy.
In other words, one’s ends of action might be for morality itself, as well as for the perfection of the moral character of the self, but it is never possible for the goal of morality to be for morality itself, or for the perfection of human moral character. In this respect, morality here can be likened to money in that one’s purpose can be for accumulating money itself, but it is never possible for the purpose of money to accumulate the money itself. The error of the theory
The origin and goal of morality 59 of moral autonomy on the origin and goal of morality is that it equates the moral autonomy of the personal “cause and ends of action” with the moral autonomy of the social “origin and goal of morality,” and thereby from the right premise that personal actions can be caused by the need to perfect one’s moral character and the goal to perfect the moral character of the self, draws the wrong conclusion that morality originates from the human need to perfect their moral character, the goal of which is to perfect everyone’s moral character.