Immorality, Amorality and Supermorality
Albert Camus published a short, accessible tale called The Stranger in 1942.
It is an absurdist, existentialist tale — and though Camus rejected the existentialist label, The Stranger certainly carries themes that explore the very nature of human existence, and perhaps existence itself.
And this tale might suggest humanity’s true purpose.
But first — a bit about the tale.
The Stranger centers around a radically indifferent French-Algerian named Meursault.
Meursault does not feel good, nor does he feel bad.
Meursault feels nothing — absolutely nothing.
Meursault is not inactive though — not by a long shot.
He can act, but when he does so, he acts not out of any apparent purpose — and when it comes time to face the consequences of his actions, Meursault pays them no notice.
Meursault is indifferent, Raymond is not
Meursault has a neighbor named Raymond Sintès who is certainly not indifferent. Raymond has a mistress that he suspects of infidelity, and Raymond wants to take revenge on her.
Camus does not present Raymond as a sympathetic character, nor are we meant to empathize with Raymond’s desires for revenge.
Raymond’s desires are born out of malice, with an intent to harm another human being.
Raymond’s desires are born of evil. His evil is mild perhaps, especially in comparison to the evil Camus witnessed during World War II — but still, Raymond is on the side of malevolence.
To put it succinctly —
Raymond is immoral.
And then Meursault is the one who acts, but not in the way anyone expects
Meursault assists Raymond in this act of revenge — it involves an act of domestic violence — and then Raymond’s girlfriend’s brother — and the brother’s friends — start trailing them.
Meursault, acting alone, takes Raymond’s gun and kills the girlfriend’s brother.
Raymond did not want this, nor did the circumstances compel Meursault to act in this violent manner.
Meursault acted for no apparent reason, and killed a stranger.
The second half of the tale involves Meursault’s trial, in which he takes little interest.
Meursault is eventually found guilty and sentenced to be guillotined, and he doesn’t seem to care about that either.
So what does this all mean?
The true insight into morality can be found in the difference between Meursault and Raymond
Raymond actively plans revenge, and wants to hurt his girlfriend for no other reason than he wants to see her hurt.
Raymond is evil, or rather — immoral.
Meursault acts, but without purpose or emotion.
Though he kills, he does not care that he kills. And when Meursault is faced with the consequences, he does not care about those either.
Meursault is not immoral. He is amoral, and there is a difference.
Immorality and Amorality, Humanity and the Universe
Immorality is acting out of a desire for the destruction of another.
Amorality is acting without a desire for anything.
Raymond is immoral, and though his actions pale in comparison to the atrocities that occurred in World War II, he is still on the side of evil.
Raymond acts out of malice, and his desire to see another human being suffer is his only motive.
Raymond is immoral.
Meursault, on the other hand, acts without any desire.
His actions are destructive, but he’s not guided by a desire for malice, nor does the concept of altruism move him in any way.
Meursault is amoral.
Meursault represents the universe, in all its amorality
The universe certainly acts — it makes stars, planets and life, and it might send a meteor through your bedroom window tomorrow morning.
But the universe does not care about what it does. It holds no malice, nor does it hold benevolence.
But it can bring action with real consequence — let’s explore the case above, where it sends a meteor through your bedroom window.
The meteor will undoubtedly cause damage, and might even hit you and leave an oversized bruise.
That is destruction sent by the universe, and the universe does not care that it sent it.
On the other hand, the meteor might be filled with diamonds, diamonds which are now yours.
That is a gift sent by the universe, and the universe does not care that it sent it.
Let’s put this all into a chart
When looking at The Stranger and the universe, we see immorality and amorality.
This implies that there is a third state, that of supermorality.
Let’s define supermorality in the broadest possible terms.
If immorality means acting worse than the amoral universe, supermorality means acting better than the universe.
And supermorality may be humanity’s true purpose.
Supermorality — humanity’s true purpose
Before we get into the details of what supermorality is, this article will argue that supermorality is humanity’s true purpose.
Why is supermorality humanity’s true purpose?
That’s a difficult question, but let’s look at the numbers.
The universe already has plenty of amorality, and in fact — 99.99999[Many more 9s]% of it is completely, and provably amoral.
And on this small patch of life we call earth, there are small pockets of immorality.
We could do a deep dive into ethics here, but for now — let’s just say immorality accomplishes nothing, or perhaps less than nothing.
The goal of immorality is destruction for its own sake, and the amoral universe doesn’t need any assistance in the destruction department.
So in short — the universe has a vast, vast surplus of amorality, and immorality accomplishes nothing.
Being better than the universe?
That might be why we’re here — to be better than the universe.
The universe has quite a bit of its amoral self, and can do without purposeless destruction wrought by immorality.
But supermorality? Perhaps there is value in that, real value and if so —
As far as we know, no other entity is better poised to bring supermorality in the universe than humanity.
OK — what does being ‘better than the universe’ mean?
Again, that’s a difficult question.
Let’s first define what supermorality is not — with a quick preamble.
A quick preamble — certain good works might not be supermoral, but they still have value
Below, this article will argue that doing certain good works are not necessarily supermoral acts.
But keep in mind —
- This is simply an article arguing a point of categorization
- Even if they aren’t supermoral, they may still have value
This article is just suggesting that we categorize certain actions into a framework, and this article is in no way impugning your good actions.
And at the very least, even if your good actions aren’t supermoral, they may still have value — so keep doing them.
All right — let’s jump in and see what supermorality is not.
What supermorality is not
Good works are not necessarily supermoral, in the sense that they are not necessarily better than the universe.
Think of these two actions —
- Setting up a homeless shelter
- Taking care of a group of stray pets
Both are good, right?
They may be, but they are not necessarily better than the universe would have done.
Because both acts are driven by evolution, which was given to us by the universe.
Evolution is a goalless, directionless flow of genetics, and it brings no moral purpose.
Species adapt themselves to their environment, and even when this brings altruism, it is not necessarily a moral act.
A bee sacrificing itself for its colony makes an altruistic act, but the act only occurred because the bee was compelled to do so by evolution.
A bee will never sacrifice itself for a wasp, or even a slightly different species of bee.
A bee sacrifices itself only for its genetically-similar hive, and only so those genetic similarities can make it to the next generation.
Now look at human altruism through an evolutionary lens
And again, this is not to dismiss any good works that people do.
Good works are great, and hold value, so keep doing them.
But from an evolutionary perspective —
A human sets up a homeless shelter
- A human sets up homeless shelter because they want to help their fellow humans, and fellow humans share an incredible amount of DNA with one another.
- Even the most altruistic human would most likely not set up a shelter for stinging wasps.
- No human would ever set up and maintain a shelter for a collection of unliving and commonplace rocks
A human takes care of stray pets
- A human takes care of stray pets because the pets happen to have morphological features that resemble small humans. Dogs have big ears and eyes, and so do cats. A cat’s meow even mimics that of a human infant, and adult cats only meow at humans, and not one another.
- Even the most altruistic human would most likely not take care of stray stinging wasps.
And let us not forget another truth of the atrocities required to bring both of the above acts
- Meat is served in most homeless shelters, and virtually all cat and dog food contains meat.
How do we get meat?
We get it from the livestock industry, which has other less desirable animals herded into unmarked warehouses and executed by the millions each day.
The livestock animals tend to have wretched, nightmarish lives up until their last day, where they are often tortured to death by a largely immigrant workforce. The slaughterhouses do not allow cameras inside their walls, and give the workers earplugs to block out the constant screams of animals.
This is not a diatribe on animal rights — this is a statement that a positive action needs to be free of moral ambiguity to be considered supermoral
Let’s go back to the original definition of supermorality —
Supermorality is being better than the universe
That means we have to find actions free of evolutionary impulses, or at least direct evolutionary impulse.
We cannot help just our family members, or our countrymen, or our culture, or our species, or creatures that resemble our species.
We have to do something more.
And the key to being better than the universe — is bringing something to the universe that it doesn’t have
What does the universe not have?
Let’s paint this with a broad brush, and state that the universe does not have two things —
- The universe does not have knowledge
- The universe does not have art
There are probably other things the universe doesn’t have, but let’s start with those two items.
And first, let’s consider knowledge.
Let’s consider how much knowledge there is in the universe.
As far as we know, there’s not a lot of knowledge in the universe.
There are a few thinkers who believe in the concept of panpsychism, which suggests that every element in the universe holds some sort of consciousness.
Panpsychism is not universally accepted, and even if it was — that doesn’t mean that the universe holds knowledge.
The universe is indescribably vast, but 99.99999[Many more 9s]% of it is not only unfeeling, but unknowing.
And if you want to understand how completely unknowing the universe is — all you need to do is walk out at night and look up.
Here is a thought experiment to prove the power of your own knowledge — look up at a star at night, and think about it
If you know which star it is, even better. But even if not, look up at the star and realize —
- The star is a celestial body that consists mostly of hydrogen and helium, and it produces heat and light from nuclear reactions in its center
- The light that reaches you went the speed of light, and though the journey of the photons that reach you may have taken thousands of years, to the photon, the journey only took an instant
And that is it.
Those two observations are straightforward, but consider this —
The star you just observed may be over a billion years old, but it has never known those two bullet points.
The star does not know how it is formed, what it does, or what it is.
Stars have value, but they do not hold knowledge.
They push out light, heat, and make the planets that orbit them.
But they do not know any of this, let alone understand it.
Now how about you?
You know this, and you understand it.
You are bringing something to this universe that a billion-year-old star — or even a galaxy of stars — can not bring to the universe by themselves.
Holding knowledge like this is a supermoral act, and so is seeking it.
The universe itself can not do this, but you can — and when you do, the act is supermoral.
When you spread knowledge, such an act is also supermoral.
And though evolution may have given humanity the ability to understand the universe like no other species before it — holding, seeking and spreading knowledge is not driven by evolutionary impulses.
There are certainly exceptions, but in general — seeking knowledge for its own sake does not necessarily confer a procreative advantage.
Keep in mind, though — knowledge isn’t just limited to astronomy
If you take the time to know what the universe has made — from chemistry to biology to geology to becoming an expert on ferns — that is a supermoral act.
If you take the time to understand philosophy, or literature, or even become an expert in the history of golf — that is also a supermoral act.
Knowledge encompasses quite a few things, and when you jump into any of them — you are being better than the universe, Meursault and Raymond.
You are being supermoral.
The second path to supermorality is art — art in the broadest meaning of the term
When we say art, we don’t mean just painting — though painting is a supermoral act.
And we don’t mean just the fine arts either — music, theater, writing and things like that.
Engaging in those are supermoral, but let’s consider art in broader terms.
By art we mean —
Art is anything that comes into being from an individual or individuals, that would not have existed in the universe otherwise
If you make a poem, even if it is not that good — after a few lines, it may be unique.
It may be so unique that it is the only instance of its kind in the entire universe, and if you had not written it — it would not have been written.
The same can be said for things that are not conventionally thought of as art.
If you start a company, or influence one in any meaningful way, that is art.
If you cook, and share some of your unique recipes — that is art.
The universe makes certain things — it makes stars, and planets and weather.
The universe makes black holes and pulsars, and when it can, it makes life.
But beyond that — the universe does not make art.
It does not paint, it does not design buildings and it does not curate gardens.
It does not make businesses, non-profits, or one-woman plays.
That thing you want to do, or have always thought about doing?
The universe cannot do that.
If you decide to do this, regardless of how well it turns out — it will not have existed in this universe without you deciding to bring it into being.
Raymond would not do it, because he is too busy engaging in the destruction of other human beings.
Meursault wouldn’t do it, because he does not care one way or the other.
But if you do it?
It will be art, it will be better than the universe, and it will be supermoral.
The chart of immorality, amorality and supermorality
So are knowledge and art humanity’s true purpose?
I would say that these are but two of humanity’s true purposes — but yes, knowledge and art are part of why we are here.
So don’t be immoral like Camus’ Raymond, and try to rise above the amorality of Meursault and the universe around him.
Be better than them all.
Humanity — and existence — deserves nothing less.
Jonathan Maas not only recommends reading The Stranger by Albert Camus, but also recommends reading The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud. One of the glaring flaws of The Stranger is that it treats the majority of Algerians in the country as non-entities, and Daoud’s book addresses this quite well.