Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Moral Law Written On Our Hearts

The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) wrote a great deal about virtue and the moral law, which can be derived, he says, from reason, thus removing all doubt concerning whether immoral behavior is ever reasonable; it is never reasonable, says Kant. And yet, a professor, writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, points out that despite morality and virtue being held in high esteem by Koreans since ancient times, the tendency today is to bow before the altar of money, and even to find it reasonable to do so--when the reward made it worthwhile. 

According to Kant, what was basic to making us human was the virtue inscribed in our hearts. Though the professor admits that because of the rapid cultural changes in Korean society, some change is to be expected, he laments how far we have deviated from the norms of our past which held morality and virtue in high esteem.

He cites a recent news report of a son killing his mother and brother for about 80,000 dollars and secretly burying their bodies. It shocked the nation. How could any person do this, many were thinking, no matter how much money was involved. If done by someone who was mentally disturbed or was overcome with emotion or a one-of-a kind rare occurrence, the professor says, it would be less of a problem, but that is not what we are beginning to see in these acts.

A survey of 10,172  students in elementary school, middle and high school was taken to measure the ethical standard of honesty among our young people. One of the questions was: If you had the opportunity of receiving a million dollars by doing something immoral and it would require one year in prison would you do it? 47 percent of the high school students would; among middle school students, 33 percent; among elementary school children,16 percent.

Paradoxically, the more education they received the less moral the behavior. In another survey, to the question: What is the most important element in finding happiness? The answer from most elementary school children was family; among high school children it was money.

What children see in society, says the professor, is what will influence them. The thinking that seems most prevalent in our society at this time, he says, appears to be: "Why not do it if you can; if you don't, you are a looser in our society." The article goes on to note that these surveys are revealing what many have known for some time, that many of us lack a correct understanding of morality and that there are few cultural helps to nurture the spark of virtue that still resides in our hearts.

In Korea today, the professor believes that if this tendency to go with what appears to be the natural movement of greed or the freedom to do whatever one likes, we will soon be governed by the law of the jungle. The solution might well be, he suggests, to do what Kant did, if we are to become virtuous human beings.

On Kant's gravestone there is the inscription: "Two things fill my mind with ever increasing wonder and awe the more often and more intensely I reflect on them: The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."

1 comment:

  1. My name is Hollee and I was adopted from Korea in 1975 through the work of the Maryknoll Father Benedict Zweber who worked on Deojeok Island near Incheon in the 1960s~ 1970s, and then moved to St. Vincent's Home for Amerasian Children. I am in Korea and am working on a book and would like to meet with Maryknollers currently working in Korea and those who might know more about Fr. Ben's work. I met him in 2000 before he died and feel inspired to ensure his story be told. There was no way of contacting anyone on this blog so I am posting this comment. I can be reached at ~ Thanks!