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  • The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality by Hans-Georg Moeller
  • Wayne Alt
The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality. By Hans-Georg Moeller. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Pp. x + 208. Paper $26.00, isbn isbn 978-0-231-14509-1.

A Fool’s Tale?

In The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality, Hans-Georg Moeller endorses a critique of morality that, until recently, has been widely misunderstood, underappreciated, and even feared. In an early review, Brook Ziporyn says of The Moral Fool, “I love it.”1 I understand why he feels that way. But there are also reasons not to love this book. It wavers between two incompatible metaethical positions, and embraces a false equivalency between morality and ethics. Once these weaknesses have been explained and cleared out of the way, however, Moeller’s “case for amorality” cannot be ignored. The normative stance presented in The Moral Fool turns out to be more sensible than any alternative a moralist might recommend.

What Not to Love

The Moral Fool’s Agnostic Alter Ego

In his introductory chapter, Moeller identifies with someone he calls “the moral fool,” a character whose composite “image” he “derives” from a number of sources, especially classical Daoism, but also Zen Buddhism, as well as sociologist Niklas Luhmann and the writer John Gray. “Real fools,” Moeller says, “believe that they can judge the goodness and badness of things” (p. 19). They are like the moralizing Confucians found on the pages of the Laozi and Zhuangzi, whom Daoists loved to mock. When Moeller says that he does “not believe in inherent goodness or badness,” he is denying the objectivity of value and embracing amorality (p. 2). Two pages later, however, he introduces the moral fool as holding an “agnostic” position, and later likens this agnostic fool to a Socratic skeptic who is “wiser than others by not thinking that he knows the answers to the most important problems” (pp. 4, 15). In chapter 2, “Negative Ethics,” Moeller identifies the moral fool with “the Daoist,” but not with someone who advocates “an ethics of ‘letting-be,’” as Daoists are commonly thought to favor. Rather, the Daoist moral fool intends to give “a criticism of morality, not as a criticism of specific values or forms of behavior, but as a criticism of the moralist mindset” (p. 27). Unlike the agnostic fool, he endorses “a radical renunciation of morality” (p. 29).

Moeller claims that “in most normal situations there is no need for being either moral or immoral; we can simply be amoral” (p. 47). This way of speaking, however, makes it seem that “being either moral or immoral” is a possibility, and that we might even have a viable choice to be one or the other. The agnostic fool cannot deny this [End Page 331] possibility. But the moral fool, the Daoist critic of morality, thinks that no one can be moral and no one can be immoral. He grants that it is possible to be moral or immoral in someone’s judgment, but denies that it is possible in fact. Like the Daoist, he recognizes our original nature as being one of “amoral innocence” (p. 33). To be amoral is to be and behave in ways that are neither moral nor immoral. To be an amoralist is to believe that there are no moral truths. It is to be a moral fool. We have no choice about our nature and for the most part about what we believe, but whether to refrain from moralistic ways of thinking and speaking is up to us. The moral fool thinks these ways are mistaken. Whenever we assert or presuppose that there are values and duties that are not the outcomes of our decisions, desires, and agreements, we fall into error. That is, we state or assume that something with no basis in fact is indeed so. The agnostic fool, by contrast, does not know whether the propositions of morality are true or false. He not only poses less of a threat to morality than the moral fool, he diverts attention from Moeller’s project of criticizing the moralist mindset and of making “a case for amorality.”