Music can be immoral

About happiness and morals

According to the title of the book, Otfried Höffe's central question is whether morality leads to happiness. From the beginning of the 19th to the second half of the 20th century, when morality was viewed as either too weak to assert itself or as a bourgeois ideology, this question would either not have been dared to be asked or it would have been answered with a clear no. Only the rich who can afford them will be happy with morals. The poor man goes down with her. If the slum dweller just wants to get a little luck out of life, then he must not orient himself to the Mosaic commandments, but must drive black, lie, cheat and steal.

This is exactly where Höffe objects and not only declares such a present-day diagnosis to be wrong and inadequate:

"There are empirical studies of people's satisfaction and happiness, and surprisingly, there are also very, very poor countries in the top positions. Or what an ethnologist once said, the very poor celebrate a lot more, dance There is no proportionality, not even an approximate relationship between being poor and being happy on the one hand and you don't need a lot of effort and also great financial and other circumstances to be moral.

The elementary things that you don't cheat, that you are honest with each other, that you don't steal, apply similarly to the poor slum dweller. Because does he want to be robbed by his other slum dwellers? Does he want to steal from his partner, his children or his parents or be betrayed by his friends.

It repeats itself there. At most, if you look at the complex of the entire slum across from perhaps the more affluent society, it looks a little different. But that does not mean that I am for it, stay in your slum and be happy with each other, but rather the other way around, if I grow up in a slum for whatever circumstances, I have to be, therefore neither have to be unhappy nor immoral. "

You can regard the world as corrupt and godforsaken - an analysis that you don't necessarily have to follow since 1989 at the latest - and point out the many cases where crimes go unpunished: the conclusion that the immoral person becomes happy always proves to be questionable: Criminals can hardly be happy because they constantly live alone with the risk of discovery.

Höffe, on the other hand, understands humans as a being based on morality, who makes a sensible effort to live with others and does not suffer from it if he has to forego his own advantages. He thus follows on from a tendency in 20th century ethics that runs from Sartre via the great French ethicist Emmanuel Lévinas to the most important political philosopher of the 20th century John Rawls, namely to reject the traditional ethical dichotomy of people either as selfish or as selfish to design as an altruistic being. Höffe states:

"A good example is Christianity and that means: love your neighbor as yourself! Or the Decalogue 'you should honor your father and mother so that you may prosper on earth'. This reciprocity, the link between self-welfare and the welfare of others, is wisdom and morality and we don't just have to think of moral philosophers, who have been familiar for a long time. "

To this end, Höffe links the idea of ​​moral autonomy and freedom, which comes from Kant, with an ethics that points back to Aristotle and is oriented towards human happiness, which today sails quite popularly under the name of the art of living. Your thought leader is Michel Foucault. The art of living is therefore primarily about individual happiness. Rational ethics aims at generally binding norms and thus integrates the individual into the community. But the art of living and morality - according to Höffe's central thesis - are not fundamentally mutually exclusive; they overlap in many ways, although they are not identical to one another. The morally good life is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a happy life. Otfried Höffe:

"If someone has set out on a certain career and has gone wrong in every respect, then he has to apply a very high level of art of living - but you can - to say, that's not why I failed after all. That presupposes something what I call the great serenity, namely the ability to accept the world to a certain extent as it is, to accept yourself and your weaknesses as they are and still not forego the fact that you are in your Life is up to something, and by doing something, runs the risk of failure. "

Doesn't the objection still seem obvious here that morality only submits the individual to the community in terms of discipline and thus structurally destroys the individual's ability to be happy, so that morality and the art of living cannot be combined? But Höffe does not understand the ethics of freedom as authoritarian. The individual does not blindly obey politically ethical leaders who set norms for him. Instead, following Kant, morality calls on the individual to think for himself, to reflect, which of course leads him to worry about the appropriate concepts and judgments. Morality in the Kantian sense relies on voluntariness and cannot force submission by force. Höffe explains:

"My book is fundamental ethics and not the art of living in the sense of everyday life. It appears in it to show that fundamental ethical fundamental philosophical considerations also lead to these topics. But it is wrong to leaf through this book like in a cookbook of life, what am I doing right in every situation, but here one should first learn how to think about these basic questions, how to break down the concept of happiness in its various meanings, how there is a potential of morality in happiness itself, and vice versa one thinks about morality, how there is a potential for the art of living in morality itself. Then how one can think of these two things, these are probably the two main principles of moral philosophy, like human wisdom, how to bring these things together, first thoughtfully and then also from the question of everyday life. Does all of this contradict each other and one can only say, by no means. "

But do morality and the art of living really go together that well? In the end, the art of living does not always have to submit to morality. do you have to put happiness behind morality? According to Kant, one must not lie, even if the Gestapo asks about a Jew in hiding. It is precisely here that Höffe does not follow Kant either. The ethics of freedom does not require blind obedience to norms if it reinforces unfair conditions. She demands moral courage when applicable laws violate higher ethical norms, such as human dignity, which racism apparently violates.

"The question is, can you lie in emergency situations? The thing is very simple, if you want to gain an advantage with it, that is clear, namely inadmissible. But how is it when you can help others? Then it looks a bit more difficult Then it is actually a weighing of interests between the prohibition of lying and the requirement to help.

Do I have the right to lie to someone in the name of philanthropy and Kant says first of all, I don't have the right. But that doesn't mean that I couldn't possibly do that in the sense of a weighing of interests and I accept that and I tend to be able to accept that from time to time. However, you shouldn't do this with a clear conscience.

The fact remains that one has violated an obvious moral command, and even if one thinks it is right, one should not have a clear conscience. "

But, according to Höffe, ethics are of course not suitable for politically revolutionizing or restoring social conditions. Ethics provides a differentiated set of instruments to judge and shape actions as well as political conditions. But of course that has to be done very carefully and carefully. If you are in a hurry, you will very quickly get out of the ethical path and into a fatal political practice.

But does this not exactly show the weakness of ethics, which is why neither Hegel nor Marx thought anything of it? In addition, the more recent brain research does not underpin such skepticism when it proves experimentally that the moral ideas of freedom and responsibility are illusions because the human being appears to be completely determined by the functioning of his nerves. Otfried Höffe raises several objections and initially asks a surprising question:

"Do you live like that, dear brain researchers, as if you claim that there is no freedom?

They make experiments and claim to have designed these experiments themselves and claim to have done their experiments in such a way that they can be considered successful experiments in modern brain research. (..) In this way, the neuroscientist wants scientific prestige, he might want a research position or he might want honorary prizes in the end, maybe the Nobel Prize and he also claims what he has done for himself. (..) One expects a researcher, and hopefully the researcher himself, that he does not falsify data, lie or cheat. (..)

And in this way I show (..) That the researchers make their own research life, make a career, gain reputation and maintain a minimum of integrity in front of themselves, that they contradict their own thesis that there is no freedom. "

Nevertheless, the ethics of freedom, in the sense of Kant, demands unconditional and generally valid ethical norms, by which man should orient himself. Doesn't the cultural diversity of different ethical systems reveal that there can be no universally valid norms? But for Höffe, such relativism in turn shortens reality, like the objection that morality cannot make you happy. Because ethical norms do not only apply in general within a culture. Rather, Otfried Höffe demonstrates:

"We can say one thing, other countries have different customs. (..) The only question is, are other moral principles based on other customs? And in many cases you have to say no. (..) And that shows how in many other cases, if one takes the trouble to scrutinize the surface of the various mores for the underlying moral principles, that one comes up with similarities. In fact, the similarities are so numerous, so startlingly numerous, that I am speaking of a world moral heritage . Mankind has common ideas of honesty, courage, willingness to help, also with regard to legal interests in all legal cultures. (..) Starting with this core area, there are many more elementary similarities in mankind than some enlightened cultural relativists believe. "

It becomes problematic, however, where Höffe counts the prohibition of incest and the rejection of sexual libertinism among the culturally recognized norms. This is no longer true, since monogamy and the family no longer have a generally orientating force in the western world and instead promiscuity, homosexuality and above all the emancipation of women have publicly adopted traditional ways of life. This also includes problem areas such as abortion, euthanasia or genetics. All of them together indicate ethical fault lines that run globally between fundamentalism and post-traditionalism. Especially here it is about the question of the happiness of the individual and thus about the art of living. At the same time, however, this also presents the ethics of freedom with difficult new challenges that could continue the moral-philosophical debate.


Otfried Höffe: Art of Living and Morality
or: does virtue make you happy?
C.H. Beck 2007
Hardcover, 3 91 pages, approx. 24.90 euros