Straight away I explain, this post will be about the importance of The Individual and Individual Rights over a common misconception that there is a universal Moral code many who believe binds the order of society. It will also take under its wings the vagaries of Morality some continue to resist their acceptance but preclude the different Ethical norm that calibrates our behaviour towards fellow human beings or to nature at large. The notion of the Enlightenment that gained pace in the eighteenth century through the efforts of Philosophical giants such as chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie Denise Diderot along with Jean le Rond d'Alembert and Voltaire who were its leading light. The age of the Enlightenment was the key that unlocked the concept of Individual Rights released Man from the notion of Belief and into the secular world we know today. To help get this post off the ground Atomising Morality is the same as saying Moral Relativism a subjectivist view where the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to the moral standard of some person or group of individuals.
Moral diversity is entirely due to moral truth or justification, which is also relative to a culture or society. It is high time for a multiculturalist society that is presently seeing a transforming Europe inculcate the idea that all moral values had equal or relative validity. Realisation and acceptance of diversity of culture including those considered primitive were the eventual pointers in the second half of the twentieth century on the occasion of the United Nations debate about universal human rights. Not forgetting, of course, the relative feminist values and the sphere of medical concerns. It is a fact there are in-depth and widespread moral disagreements across different societies, and these differences are much more significant than whatever agreements there may be. Moral judgment can differ as much as to say ‘Polygamy is morally wrong’ may be true relative to one society, but false relative to another.
My starting point in all of this is to go back the Classics when the sense of Virtue in the fourth century Athens, was identified to one's advantage to adapt at least Justice as a character trait. The Cardinal Virtues Plato settled on were Prudence (Wisdom), Fortitude (Courage), Temperance (Discipline) and Justice. The antonyms were Foolishness, Inconsistency, Wrath and Injustice. All were considered universal and the option most likely to lead to flourishing existence. The moral code that acts as the wellspring to individual morality is ‘Why be just?, and What is the right thing to do ?’ This ought to be the catalyst that translates differently to suit different cultures in how to arrange the ‘good’ listed earlier both in themselves and in their consequences.
The continuous social reconstruction mainly in Northern Europe and Northern America has also caused the disintegration of religion which up until then was in some respects the binding force for a collective understanding of moral behaviour. That said religious inferences blurs when traditions and conventions provide a truer condition that cultivated those seeds in what Kant calls "The Categorical Imperative" towards the "autonomous Will."
The end of World War II gave way to the birth of a New Europe, and it was the turn for the European governments to serve the wishes of the individual. A new order and a new kind of society propagated and a new conception of Man was incubated ready to meet the ‘Golden Age’ laying out the premise of appropriate freedom. “If what each of us shall do and become is without alternative, the notion of choice is illusory, and it is the opportunity to choose that the meaningfulness of the above questions depends on.” It was time for a new war of ideas and social revolution, a tendency to reassert the primacy of the individual placing individual choice in the most direct and inescapable form. “To render myself passive in this world’ wrote Sartre in Being and Nothingness (1943) ‘is still to choose the person I am.’
The 1960s were a time of sweeping social and cultural change, affecting most areas of life. It was a time of unprecedented affluence when for the first time the mass of the population began to enjoy what had hitherto been luxuries: televisions, cars, foreign holidays, refrigerators, and washing machines. It was a time when youth became more assertive, challenging the authority of parents, teachers, and social conventions of every kind. The revolt had a political dimension, which found powerful expression in the student movement of the later 1960s, culminating in Paris in May 1968. The old order seemed to be totally discredited, and a new age of freedom and democracy had dawned. But much more lasting in their effects were changes in ways of life and personal morality, symbolised by deliberately unconventional clothes and hairstyles, by the use of illegal drugs, and above all by a rejection of the accepted norms of sexual morality. More generally, the prevailing ethos of individual freedom, informality, ‘doing your own thing’, and rejection of hierarchies of every kind presented the churches with a major challenge. Breakdown of moral attributes meant increasing disbelief in church ordered moral guidance, and this on a general level may have caused the greater level of unchristian beliefs. Changes of Morality were, therefore, becoming more concerned with individual behaviour.
The common thread running through the ‘cultural revolution’ of the 1960s was the demand for greater personal freedom, and the consequent rejection of those moral codes, doctrinal systems, social conventions, and systems of authority which seemed to stand in the way.
"This revolt had at least three dimensions, which could overlap, but equally could be totally independent of one another. The desire to enjoy the benefits of affluence, in the form of more material goods, greater mobility, and more leisure; an egalitarian political radicalism, which challenged existing systems of authority and hierarchy; and a desire to experiment, to seek new experiences, and to liberate the senses, unconstrained by Puritan taboos. The drive to enjoy the fruits of affluence most often led to religious indifference." Hugh McLeod (1997), ‘Fragmentation’ in Religion.'
Atomic individuality is associated with modern social contract theory. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher neo-Liberalism was to emphasise that point where at times the concept bordered on ethical subjectivism. The individual is becoming conditioned by new values of freedom and the values he adopts measured by initiatives of each person. The sum of which has been more good than bad and that shows in the entrepreneurial spirit generated over the last decade and more to say nothing of keeping the government on their toes. That goes hand in hand with motivation, inventiveness and innovation that had it remained in the cloisters of Classic morality would have made man’s achievements impossible.