Defining moral authority historically and its challenges

The term "moral authority" can be considered ambivalent as it is a matter of perspective. However, by breaking down the two terms separately, contextually, we can come to an ethical explanation.

Morality

Morality can be any code of conduct adopted by a group1 but is also said to be a guide that all impartial, rational persons adhere to and would not willingly violate.2 Morality is a foundation and result of society. Morality possesses dignity and integrity - not remorse, shame or guilt. It can be self-interested3 as a converging of what aspires us to happiness and what is required of us to exist socially.4

The issue of morality is said to be first formally introduced in Hesiod's poem of wisdom, Works and Days. The text is a morality guide, instructing the reader on how to lead a productive and orderly life - according to the will of Zeus.5 Morality is also seen to be a set of divine commands6 that came after our initial disobedience of God or the Gods and Nature.7

On a parallel line to Hesiod, Aristotle sees morality as a set of virtues that build character. 8 Kant views morality as a duty. He believes that, in capitalism, freedom comes from rational and accepted duty to be consistent in society - adhering to its values.9

Authority

The word “authority” comes from the Latin autoritas meaning author.10 Authors were group of revered and trusted educators whose texts explored and established frameworks for poetry or philosophy, held high credibility in society for centuries.11 Their individualism and use of their logos12 put them at the top of all art forms.13 Integral to all authority figures, those who claim omnipotence or omnisciencelike kings, lords, the government and religion, is obedience.14

Moral Authority

"Moral authority" is seen as non-contingent and transcendent. 15 Those who possess moral authority, according to Hopgood, demonstrate or communicate sensible, effective and verifiable claims in words, stories and symbols that resonate with potential followers. Moral authoritarians do this while maintaining their own logic and ideology. To maintain authority, logic or ideology cannot be deeply rooted in any particular thing. It must be fluid (transitional) and persuasive to cope with unforeseen situations but also adhere to society's rules and judgments of morality.16

Persons of moral authority are impartial, independent (thought or self), credible (socially or institutionally) and consistent in personality or ideas.17 Examples of this include Nelson Mandela, Gandhi as well as institutions like Amnesty International. Often political and religious leaders are said to have moral authority, although they lack independence and impartiality. Some believe the Dalai Lama orMother Theresa possess it, and President Bill Clinton suffered a loss of it due to his extramarital affair while President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Declining moral authority in academic institutions is said to be the result of ineffective educational philosophy of the figure of moral authority, the principal or dean.18

Moral authority is attributed to governments and countries. By maintaining an arms neutrality internationally, Switzerland can be viewed as an international moral authority as can Canada through its commitment to peacekeeping.

Virtue, religion, moral rules and moral judgment

The term moral authority can be linked to Aristotle's virtues, and the development of moral laws and judgments.

Virtue

Aristotle says being virtuous is an act, choice and habit.19 One's actions are connected to one's moral intelligence and character - components of morality. As a form of character, when conflicts of responsibility arise, morality helps to identify the conflict and ensure it is remedied to please the social and individual good.20

Religion

Morality has often been confused with religious belief as religions put forth ideals to follow for rational persons.21 Religion has been credited as a contributor to human rights and freedoms as a source of ethics, morality and moral judgments.22 Traditionally, the idea of divine command ethics, put God as the author of nature and humanity and John Locke sees this as a mandatory part of natural law.23 As religion is a motive for morality and divine commands are enforced heavily in English speaking countries,24 it is credited with providing many moral codes - like marriage; as the moral authority on adultery.25

Moral rules and judgments

Moral rules are synonymous with actions or Aristotle's virtues. 26 Moral judgments come from the ability to adhere to a group or society's moral rules. Moral rules are the rules, societal or condoned by God(s), which rational persons in society obey. Civilization requires obedience. Dependent on what moral code a society follows - the rules may or may not apply.27

Lawrence Kohlberg's classifying system for moral reasoning, the basis for ethical behavior, has six identifiable developmental stages. 28 From stage one, punishment and obedience orientation, to stage six, universal ethical principal orientation (right actions coming from self-cultivated ethical principles, logical comprehensiveness, universality and consistency), comprehensively examines responding to moral dilemmas. A consistent high rank in the scale is said to indicate sound moral judgment and accumulate moral authority.29

Moral judgments can be made of unintentional actions or even a failure to act as was the case during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980. When moral judgment is unfavorable to those making or being judged, excuses can be offered to indicate exemption like the US invasion of Iraq on the premise of weapons of mass destruction (despite no international sanction). Although viewed negatively internationally, as moral authoritarian, president-elect George W. Bush overrode moral rules to not harm or hurt others and Americans obeyed. According to Gert, in the case of the Iraq War, a distortion of facts (weapons of mass destruction) caused a moral misjudgment of the safety of Americans' and Iraqis families and country to commit fundamentally immoral actions to overcome other immoral actions.30

Moral Authority and the Law

According to Fuller, morality is necessary in law if not a part of natural law.31 Fuller also notes the moral authority of a king or queen is easier to accept than that of a government - citing the quote from Portalis:

“L'expérience prouve que les hommes changent plus facilement de dominations que lois.”32

Translation: People are more easily dominated by oppressors than governed by laws.

Governments are positioned as moral rule enforcers through the creation and application of laws that protect those inside and outside of society.33 In law, moral rules and rights can be violated to protect citizens from each other and themselves. This varies for each nation but it is understood that it is a contractual obligation without a contract, like nationalism. Legal authority is established through a unifying identity (like nationalism) according to Poole, yet during times of war, law can turn on who it protects (conscription).34 Moral authority in law refers to Kant's notion of rights and duties: mutual justice is the mutual recognition of both rights and duties.

Moral Authority and Paternalism in Medicine

Thanks to the professionalism of the medical practice, a level of moral authority has been given to doctors.35 However, a physician's authority is not absolute as they are/were paid consultants whose diagnosis patients may disagree with36 and many question the morality of a medical agent in fee-based services.37 While physicians claim intellectual authority - it was only with the establishment of hospitals that they claim legal and moral authority over the welfare of their admitted patients.38

This authority can easily be confused with what Kant described as “paternalism.” This type of action requires justification and cannot be executed lawfully unless the patient or patient's caregiver concedes39 - as was the case of Nancy Morrison.

Accumulating moral authority

Hopgood argues that moral authority is achieved in three ways: (1) grand strategy and lack of authority; (2) alienation then re-identification and reintegration; and (3) neutrality and impartiality. 40

Traditionally, authority is gained by lack of authority is usually the result of eroding another's social capitol. In feudal Europe, those who aspired to great power (kingdoms, papacy) would work to delegitimize the claims of others asserting themselves as higher moral authoritarians. 41

Moral authority can also be achieved, as did the Nazis, through alienation (origins of the party), re-identification (as commiserating with the economic state of Germany) and reintegration (election of the party to power). 42

Moral reasoning as contributor to authority and its measurement

According to psychologist Rachael Henry,43 it is the content of moral reasoning, the ascribed source of moral authority or how one reasons, which markedly differentiates markedly from Kohlberg's formalistic stages. She argues the nature of moral properties, attempt to characterize and explain the moral structure of humans, are products of dynamic processes rather than a predictable assimilation of moral truths. She also asserts that Kohlberg's formula: “restricts one's explanations of moral judgment development in accordance with cognitive maturity, whereas a content-based notion of moral judgment development provides one with the opportunity to argue logically for a socialization explanation."44 Others have also critiqued Kohlberg's approach for insufficient emphasis on the content of moral thought.45

From a sociological/psychological point of view, it is physical maturation, socialization and home environment that allow us to acquire moral authority. White set out to establish a certifiable scale measuring the content of moral thought (here meaning moral authority). In 1996 she created the Moral Authority Scale (MAS) tool which was revised in 1997 (MAS-R). It is, "a unique content-based scale, which measures an individual's attributed level of influence to sources of moral authority in their moral decision making."46

A conclusion using the MAS-R within the family context, was that members' perceptions of family cohesion, adaptability and communication are significantly associated with different levels of attributed influence to different sources of moral authority. "Specifically, it was found that older respondents who perceived their family as more cohesive, attributed significantly more influence to the family source sub-scale than adolescents who perceived their families as less emotionally cohesive."47


Endnotes
1 Gert, B. (1989) Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Oxford University Press, USA. 4.

2 Gert, B. (1989) Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Oxford University Press, USA. 204.

3 Gert, B. (1989) Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Oxford University Press, USA. 234.

4 Fromm, E. (1988). Disobedience as a Physiological and Moral Problem. Morality and the Law. Baird, R. and Rosenbaum, S.E. Prometeus Books, Buffalo, New York. 136

5 Slakin, L. (1992) Measuring Authority, Authoritative Measures: Hesiod's Works and Days. The Moral Authority of Nature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA. 26,27,31,37.

6 Fromm, E. (1988). Disobedience as a Physiological and Moral Problem. Morality and the Law. Baird, R. and Rosenbaum, S.E. Prometeus Books, Buffalo, New York. 47.

7 Fromm, E. (1988). Disobedience as a Physiological and Moral Problem. Morality and the Law. Baird, R. and Rosenbaum, S.E. Prometeus Books, Buffalo, New York. 93-94.

8 Poole, R. (1991). Morality and Modernity. Routledge: Taylor & Francis. London & New York, NY. 57.

9 Poole, R. (1991). Morality and Modernity. Routledge: Taylor & Francis. London & New York, NY. 18-19, 27-28.

10 Park, K. (1992). Nature in Person: Medieval and Renaissance Allegories and Emblems. The Moral Authority of Nature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA. 50.

11 Park, K. (1992). Nature in Person: Medieval and Renaissance Allegories and Emblems. The Moral Authority of Nature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA. 50.

12 “Logos” - Divine Breath: Speech and Ideas (philosophy)

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/346460/logos. Accessed September 21, 2013.

13 Houlgate, Stephen. (201). "Hegel's Aesthetics." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/hegel-aesthetics/>.

14 Fromm, E. (1988). Disobedience as a Physiological and Moral Problem. Morality and the Law. Baird, R. and Rosenbaum, S.E. Prometeus Books, Buffalo, New York. 95-96.

15 Hopgood, S. (2009). Moral Authority, Modernity and the Politics of the Sacred. European Journal of International Relations, 2009, 15 (229). 232.

16 Hopgood, S. (2009). Moral Authority, Modernity and the Politics of the Sacred. European Journal of International Relations, 2009, 15 (229). 230, 238.

17 Hopgood, S. (2009). Moral Authority, Modernity and the Politics of the Sacred. European Journal of International Relations, 2009, 15 (229). 245.

18 Arum, Richard. (2003). Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority. Harvard University Press, Boston, USA. 195.

19 Aristotle, n.d./1941. The Nichomachean Ethics. In R. McKeon (Ed.), The Basic Works of Aristotle (pp. 935-1112). New York: Random House.

20 Poole, R. (1991).Morality and Modernity. Routledge: Taylor & Francis. London & New York, NY. 57, 59.

21 Gert, B. (1989) Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Oxford University Press, USA. 164.

22 Idziak, J. (1979). Divine Command Morality: a Guide to the Literature. Divine Command Morality: Historical and Contemporary Readings.Edwin Mellen Press, New York, NY and Toronto, ON.12-14.

23 Idziak, J. (1979). Divine Command Morality: a Guide to the Literature. Divine Command Morality: Historical and Contemporary Readings.Edwin Mellen Press, New York, NY and Toronto, ON. 3-10.

24 Hart. H. (1988). Immorality and Treason. Morality and the Law. Baird, R. and Rosenbaum, S.E. Prometeus Books, Buffalo, New York. 47.

25 Devlin, P. (1988). The Enforcement of Morals.Morality and the Law. Baird, R. and Rosenbaum, S.E. Prometeus Books, Buffalo, New York. 45.

26 Gert, B. (1989) Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Oxford University Press, USA.16.

27 Gert, B. (1989) Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Oxford University Press, USA. 63-67

28 Kohlberg, L. (1987). The Measurement of Moral Judgement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

29 Kohlberg, L. (1987). The Measurement of Moral Judgement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

30 Gert, B. (1989) Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Oxford University Press, USA. 209.

31 Fuller, L. (1965) The Morality of Law. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT & London, UK.168.

32 Fuller, L. (1965) The Morality of Law. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT & London, UK.141.

33 Devlin, P. (1988). The Enforcement of Morals. Morality and the Law. Baird, R. and Rosenbaum, S.E. Prometeus Books, Buffalo, New York. 45.

34 Poole, R. (1991). Morality and Modernity. Routledge: Taylor & Francis. London & New York, NY. 96-105.

35 McCullough, L. (1999) Moral Authority, Power, and Trust in Clinical Ethics. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 5-6.

36 Schiebinger, L. Human Experimentation in the Eighteenth Century: Natural Boundaries and Valid Testing. The Moral Authority of Nature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA. 395

37 McCullough, L. (1999) Moral Authority, Power, and Trust in Clinical Ethics. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 3,4.

38 McCullough, L. (1999) Moral Authority, Power, and Trust in Clinical Ethics. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 5,6.

39 Gert, B. (1989) Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Oxford University Press, USA. 286-287.

40 Hopgood, S. (2009). Moral Authority, Modernity and the Politics of the Sacred. European Journal of International Relations, 2009, 15 (229). 230-243.

41 Hopgood, S. (2009). Moral Authority, Modernity and the Politics of the Sacred. European Journal of International Relations, 2009, 15 (229). 230-243.

42 Hopgood, S. (2009). Moral Authority, Modernity and the Politics of the Sacred. European Journal of International Relations, 2009, 15 (229). 230-243.

43 Henry, R. (1983). The Psychodynamic Foundations of Morality. New York: Basel.

44 White, F. (1997). Measuring the content of moral judgement development: the revised moral authority scale (MAS-R). Social Behaviour and Personality, 1997, 25(4), 321.

45 White, F. (1997). Measuring the content of moral judgement development: the revised moral authority scale (MAS-R). Social Behaviour and Personality, 1997, 25(4), 321-334.

46 White, F. (1997). Measuring the content of moral judgement development: the revised moral authority scale (MAS-R). Social Behaviour and Personality, 1997, 25(4), 321.

47 White, F. (1997). Measuring the content of moral judgement development: the revised moral authority scale (MAS-R). Social Behaviour and Personality, 1997, 25(4), 332-333.