We nourish the idea that the values of good and evil are based only on social customs, that there are no Good and Evil in themselves. This is a view that is based, in its turn, on a materialist worldview. Let’s see if such a view can furnish a basis for the idea that moral values are only social prejudices.
Once you are a materialist, you cannot honestly respect any value. You cannot say: ‘I prefer to live in a moral illusion than to accept the consequences of my worldview and follow all the impulses present inside me, of which some promise me at least a much more intense sensation of being alive.’
When you make such a calculation, in fact, you think that future consequences of following your immediate impulses might make you suffer considerably, and you prefer to avoid such suffering while also giving up other life sensations.
When calculating in this way, you think you act moved only by the interest of not suffering, as when you avoid robbing a bank (and thus create for yourself the conditions of a prosperous life) because you might end up in jail for many years. You fear the alternative of being imprisoned.
However, there is more than only fear here. When you prefer one type of life instead of another, you actually value the preferred life; you tell yourself that a free life is better than a life in jail. As a materialist, you should not have preferences and choose between pain and pleasure: they should be indifferent to you.
The argument that animals also choose pleasure instead of pain does not hold because animals cannot anticipate, as humans do, when they choose a calmer life rather than one filled with perils.
The act of imagining your future life separates you forever – from the moral point of view – from any animal. Animals react to a given situation; they do not prepare themselves for the future.
When we see them making such preparations, this is instead the result of an instinct – of something pushing them to do something without them being able to resist it or even to assess it – not the result of concluding that a specific action is more beneficial than another. Animals cannot deduce because they cannot keep in their mind the premises from which a conclusion is drawn.
Thus, when you imagine your future life, you do something that no animal can do. This is why you cannot invoke your animality and ground your preference on it. In fact, when you opt in that way, you make the following syllogism: ‘I am an animal. Because of that, I must act like an animal.’
Thus, you constrain yourself to act in the way you imagine that an animal would act. If you imagined about yourself that you were an angel, then you would tell yourself that you must act like an angel. Human beings are not something; they imagine or think of themselves to be something.
Animals do not think of themselves that they are animals; only humans can do this. But those who claim that man is an animal forget that such a claim has an ontological character: it says something about the nature of man.
Now, the nature of something is always a projection; it is not something you can be absolutely certain of because it refers to all the items of that class that existed in the past and exist now (albeit far beyond your capacity to reach them) or will exist in the future.
Because you cannot know all the entities of that class, but must interact with some of its representatives, you must necessarily make yourself a representation of them, which is why your understanding of the ‘nature’ of that entity is only an assumption: it might be so. But it could also be otherwise.
We interpret things; we do not interact with natural things but with things of which we always assume – i.e., imagine – that they are something. Our tree is not the tree of our dog, if only because we (usually) cannot urinate innocently on it if surrounded by many people, as dogs do.
Things in our environment embody products of our culture and rational imagination. They are not as they are in nature but are always cultural objects.
We do not live within a world but within a worldview, within a world as we imagine it. When we identify ourselves materialistically with animals – and neglect many other features that cannot be understood starting from such an assumption – we think that modern science supports us. But science cannot support us in anything.
Regarding man’s animality, science proposes an image in which man is considered only biologically. No science can say something beyond its own domain. Thus, biology cannot say anything about the moral features of the human being.
It is because the other disciplines of human culture have not been able to find an all-encompassing spiritual concept of man that could unite under it the entire human culture, that, as a sort of compensation, the biological understanding of man became so widespread in the last two centuries.
Did the ancients not know that humans have a biological side? Of course, they knew. Aristotle defined man as a ‘rational animal.’ Did the Christians of the Middle Ages not know about the animality of man? Of course, they knew. The Bible, the fundamental book of Christians, says that God made man from ‘the dust of the ground’ (Genesis 2, 4), which means that Christians also knew very well that man is not some pure spirit, but a material being.
Both antiquity and the Middle Ages had a very clear concept of the human being as a rational or spiritual being, respectively. This is what hindered them – despite the fact that they acknowledged the animality of man – from seeing it as a pure animal, as we see man today.
In modernity, human knowledge broke into a myriad of different disciplines with different perspectives, without any hope for a unifying perspective, for a general ‘paradigm.’ On the other hand, social interest required the discovery through science of efficient treatments and medicines for the illnesses that have perennially haunted the human being.
It is because of these factors, that the biological side of the human being has been so much promoted and pushed into the foreground of our culture.