Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is There Such a Thing as Morality?

Is there such a thing as morality? And if so, what is it? While rejecting morality is intellectually possible, it is extremely hard to do on a practical basis. As C. S. Lewis points out, if you observe people it will not be long before someone claims another person ought to do this or should not do that. This is true regardless of the person's philosophy. Many who reject conventional views of morality end up reaffirming it on another level. They may may reject what they consider to be outmoded views of sexual morality but become dogmatic about saving the environment. They may even use some new moral principle as the basis for throwing out an old moral principle. And we need to ask why. If morality is simply some strange idea we have concocted, why can we not throw it out?

Now some may claim this is only enlightened self-interest. They may even claim we evolved the idea because we found it more advantageous to cooperate than to always be competing. But this misses the whole point. Morality says we should behave in certain ways, even if we do not want to and it is not in our advantage to. Or we could say we are doing things for the good of posterity or survival of the species. But apart from morality, why should I care for the good of posterity or the species more than what is good for me?   Or I could say I am doing things for the good of society. (This seems to me upside down, as I would hold that society exists for the good of the individuals in it.) But I have to ask, without morality, why I should care for the good of society? Now society can impose behaviors on me by force (though apart from morality, there is no justification for this). But without moral obligation, I will obey society only as far as it is able to force me to and no further. The result of any of these views is a veneer of morality. One that goes along only as far as it is to my advantage and is always looking for ways around the rules and and for what I can get away with. (We are naturally this way, but these approaches greatly increase the tendency.)

But if we want a real morality, the kind we automatically suppose, we need an objective standard outside ourselves. In fact, it would tend to imply a Lawgiver. But it at least implies some principle that dictates how we should act even if we do not want to and even if no one is looking. And if it is only an illusion, we need to ask the reason for its persistence. And we also need to ask where such a strange idea came from. For it seems odd that we should invent such an idea if there is no basis for it. 


  1. Replies
    1. Totally agree with that though I think we sometimes need to get some of the bunny trails out of the way to see it.