I have been having an ‘offline’ conversation with a self-proclaimed ‘apostate’ friend. It’s a philosophical conversation about morals and morality. We haven’t really drawn any conclusions as of yet.
He sent me this interesting article where the author (Joel Marks) claims that he has abandoned belief in the existence of morality and that it didn’t effect him at all because we don’t need morality.
So the two of us wanted to put up that article plus a proposition for discussion. Consider this statement that both of us believed was basically true:
I believe it’s basically impossible for human beings to really treat morality as if it’s non-objective.
So, for the sake of argument (as the author of the article suggests) let’s assume at the outset that morality really is non-objective. If human beings can’t treat morality as non-objective (even though that is what it is), what are the implications, if any.
My thoughts briefly to start things off:
Life Without Morality
First, I believe the author of the article in question is correct on one point in particular: belief in morality is the same as belief in God and vice versa. A secular atheist that believes in morality is really believing (as the author says) a sort of “Godless God… which commanded without commander – whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the [traditional] God…”
However, in my opinion, his solution to the problem — pursuing your ‘former moral’ goals because that’s what you believe in your heart — doesn’t seem to solve the problem at all. The fact is that ‘former morality’ is still just a ‘revelation’ of the heart (you know, like a testimony…) from the gods and nothing more. That is to say, ‘former morality’ is just ‘morality’ or just ‘God’ in yet another name. So isn’t he really now just believing in a Godless Godless God?
I would have liked for him to have taken his worldview — which I do not believe works in practice except by aping morality 100% anyhow — and see him try to address some really difficult moral problems. For example, what does his worldview tell us about judges that over rule marriage laws as limited between a man or a woman based, apparently, on nothing but their heart? Or what does it say about those that backed prop 8 on the same exact grounds? Is there really nothing else to say on this subject but ‘This is how I personally feel. It is my preference.” Indeed, is there anything worth saying on this subject all once we adopt Joel Mark’s view?
Obviously, yes. His view is that we should use facts instead of moral authority. So his point is that nothing has changed.
So explain to me how this is giving up morality and adopting the view that it’s just a preference? It’s still ultimately an appeal to facts based on our inner moral sense. The reason nothing has changed for him is because he changed nothing, save labels alone.
And what would he say if asked about preferences that we really feel are preferences (“I like chocolate ice cream the best”) and ones that we honestly feel are worth working on converting people to via, er… not ‘moral reasoning’… but ‘reasoning of the heart (i.e. moral sense)’ nonetheless?
If his only point is that it’s pointless to claim moral authority if the person you are talking to disagrees with you morally, then I agree with him completely. It would certainly be more effective to give alternatives and not start the conversation with “you are evil and of the devil.” But underlying it all is the assumption that his preference does in fact have moral authority of some sort. I can’t see how else to interpret him.
As for the suggested dilemma above, my point of view is that believing in objective morality when it doesn’t really exist would probably effect us very little at a personal level. We’d still continue to make moral judgments and moral arguments. We’d still find meaning in our moral viewpoint and work to advance our moral “preference” at the expense of all mutually exclusive ones. We’d still come into conflict with others that disagreed with us, and we’d still work to use the laws to force each other to submit to our moral worldviews because ‘its the right thing to do, so it doesn’t matter who it hurts’. So from that standpoint, nothing would change. Life would be as it is.
It seems to me that the real difference would be there would be no hope of finding moral solutions to our moral problems, since it’s all just preference anyway. And if we honestly brought ourselves somehow to believe that, I suspect that would have a massive impact on our well-being. In fact, I doubt out sanity could survive such a revelation.
I have used the word “Lovecraftian” to describe a world in which truth can have a negative impact. I believe a world where we were all wired to believe in a non-existent objective morality would would fall nicely into the Lovecraftian category. And, like it’s namesake, the best defense would be to never discover the truth, but to live out our days embracing the illusion of morality. The only thing that would really be different would be that our moral hopes would be in vain. But so long as you never came to accept that (assumed) truth, I agree that nothing really changes.