To clear any confusion and defeat any arguments that will inevitably lead to my position endorsing rape, murder, genocide, etc. I want to distinguish two immoralities at the outset: “on the surface immorality” and “evil immorality”.
My position endorses having a balanced diet of “on the surface immorality”. That is to say to acknowledge our capacity to make bad moral choices and to engage in reckless behavior, as this is another aspect of what it means to be human. Boiled down, the Virtue of Recklessness lies in our capacity to make bad choices — not to be evil — but to experience being human. That is, to experience being fallible. We grow in making bad choices. In engaging in “on the surface immorality” and reckless behavior, one learns more about one’s self and certain principles. Furthermore, to fully live one must know the repercussions of bad choices firsthand, not only that, sometimes, to live means to forgo moral duty and moral goodness.
A typical example of “evil immorality” (and the position I am not endorsing) would be the Holocaust carried out by the Nazis (and what moral theory would be complete without referencing the Nazis?). One could extend this to rape, murder, etc.
Additionally, the Virtue holds that flirting with danger in a responsible manner, where harm will inflict none who wish not to be harmed (responsible recklessness), ties into this “on the surface immorality”. Experiencing danger, or at least feeling the sense of it can give rise to new evaluations and perspectives. I’ve touched briefly on this concept in Down That Road. The meat here is getting down to the different aspects of what it means to be human.
The Virtue of Recklessness
To better understand the Virtue of Recklessness, I think it’s good to speak of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative essentially states: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.
In essence, what this means, to figure out the moral goodness of an action, will it to become a universal law where everyone acts in this way as the norm. For example, to see whether it is moral to lie, imagine a world in which lying was the norm. One can see that a world where lying was the norm would be damaging, therefore lying is considered to be immoral. Kant also thinks that we ought to act out of our moral duty, we have a duty to treat others as ends-in-themselves and not mere means. Under this Kantian view, one becomes an automaton — a slave to duty.
This is very mechanistic, and here we get to the idea of a Virtue of Recklessness. This Virtue holds that undergoing moral dilemmas — and choosing between right and wrong is a very human element, and that in choosing the wrong moral option, that is to say being reckless, a new personal development and a new vitality can be reached.
To give an example pertaining to infidelity: consider one who has become stagnant in life, he has missed out on opportunities to have sex and pursue women for whatever reason. Let’s say his only market was married women, as fate would have it there are exactly zero single women in his environment. Now, let’s say that he has upheld the Categorical Imperative for his life long and has never participated in adultery, as, if everyone acted in a way where adultery was the norm, that would be quite awful. He has become a slave to duty, to the moral law, and has missed out in living, in participating in one of the fundamental pleasures of life. Again, he has become stagnant.
Now, let’s say that he chose to pursue one of the married women and struck up an affair. Let’s say that he even developed a relationship with the girl. Throughout this affair, the two started developing problems and neurotic behaviour and accumulated damage. Let’s say the relationship ended. Through this recklessness, he started to live life. He found a new vitality. He acquired stories and memories. Through the ensuing dysfunction, he learned important lessons and even came to a new perspective and development.
This recklessness is a virtue, demonstrated through these new perspectives, developments, and lessons that one would not have acquired by merely being a slave to moral duty. To fully live, one must get his hands dirty. He must know the totality of life —the full scope of decadence and purity. Man did not evolve to be a machine, to be automated by mechanistic moralizations. Such systems cheapen our humanity.