In a previous post, David Deutsch explained why he felt utility was not a good basis for moral justification. I’m going to now give my own thoughts on this, as well as exploring several other possible explanations for morality that ultimately fail. Warning: this is a long post.
I think the problem with a utilitarian approach to morality is that once we boil down morality to utility we’ve effectively created a basis for when we should and shouldn’t follow morality. But this would fly in the face of our moral intuitions which, as I pointed out in this post, by definition we see as applying at all times to all people.
As always, the best way to dismiss an argument isn’t to argue against it, but to follow it to its logical conclusions and see if we can accept them. So let’s follow this through logically and see what plays out. Continue reading
In my last post, I ended by asking this question: What we really need is a way to justify (i.e. explain) morality without having to appeal to morality via a circular argument.
I wanted to take a bit of an aside now and give some interesting thoughts from physicist and philosopher David Deutsch. Don’t expect any perfect answers here, but he does (I feel) point us in the right direction so I’m going to include an extended quote from him. (All quotes taken from The Fabric of Reality, p. 359-362)
Bear in mind that David Deutsch believes strongly in objective morality. But here, he muses about the problems of trying to work it into a scientific framework. Continue reading
In my last post, I pointed out that ‘subjective morality’ is a meaningless statement – to everyone. Those that usually invoke it are generally people trying to argue that some other group of people is making a moral issues out of something that is really a preference. (I used the example of sex outside of marriage.) Therefore, the argument that morality is subjective is primarily used as an objective moral argument.
And, as was pointed out in this post, people that claim morality is subjective are ultimately going to undermine their own arguments with their actions. They will still treat certain moral issues – the ones that they believe really are moral issues – as if they are objective moral issues.
I think more needs to be said now about just how deeply rooted the idea of objective morality is to all of us. Morality and Meaning seem to be deeply tied in our minds in some way.
We freely speak of out ‘better angels’ and ‘wanting to be a better person’ without flinching. And even die hard atheists speak of ‘the sanctity of life’ or ‘the evils of slavery’ and do so without having to explain it first.
And more to the point, we fight for what we believe without a second thought. Continue reading
In my last post, I considered the fact that all people treat morality as if it objectively exists even if they claim they don’t believe in it. I also gave C.S. Lewis’ argument that this was proof that God exists. While I like the argument, I don’t personally find it coercive. However, I do think Lewis is right that there are no moral relativists except in name only. Yes, it’s easy for someone, given the right training, to say they don’t believe morality is objective. But the moment you take them out of the Ivory Tower, their belief in moral realism manifests without a second thought.
Imagine trying to write a history of the United States that didn’t take a moral stance on slavery. We easily, and without much thought at all, condemn our ancestors’ the practice of slavery. But how much sense does it make to do this if morality is really just a subjective preference? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just accept that that society practiced their own brand of morality differing from ours and leave it at that? But we just can’t leave it at that, can we? We feel compelled to go on to assess the morality of others as if morality objectively exists.
To us, our 19th century ancestors in the South did something immoral when they practiced or upheld slavery and that is that. We’re scarcely wiling to even give time to the consideration that maybe it wasn’t wrong after all. Yet all those who lived in slavery are dead and so are all those that benefited from it. So you can’t, much as you might want to, claim that morality is purely a practical matter. It means so much more to us than that. Continue reading
Over a year ago I wrote a series of posts delving into the question of “what is morality?” But I never published them. So I’m going to now. And maybe I’ll even see if I can think of a way to end them, because they sort of dropped off in the middle. (That’s why I didn’t publish them, I guess. But to me the question of “what is morality?” is both interesting mind-candy and also a profoundly important question.
I remember being a young man struggling to make sense of it all: from life, to meaning, to my religion, to God. So please understand that this is something personal to me more so then merely intellectual, though it’s intellectual fun too I hope. I’m not asking questions because they are interesting, I’m asking because I want to know the answers. Continue reading