Question of the Day – No. 208

What is morality based upon?

proposed by nicholasbonelli

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65 thoughts on “Question of the Day – No. 208

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  1. I would venture to say it is a value system. One can evaluate situations or choices by moral norms, or by accuracy, or truthfulness. Is it good, or bad, is it right or wrong, is it true, or is it false. These are independent value systems that can be used conjunctly or separately. Things can be good, and wrong.

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    1. That’s interesting. So morality is based on avoiding suffering or on helping others? If we suffer because we help others can be seen as a moral thing to do?

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  2. Thanks for posting my question!

    I take a particular philosophic approach:

    Of course we feel morality, but I think this is largely a condition of being an animal and adapting to the social environment. The power structure comes into play and other things, but I don’t think morality exists as something metaphysical. In other words, if I decide not to play by the rules, there is no argument you can use except: but there will be social consequences and we may use force. But you’re not “immoral” in any other way.

    However, good and bad DO exist in a nonmoral sense.

    To make a judgement is to say “this conforms to some standard, some goal”, or it does the opposite. Good and bad are merely instrumental; they are only good or bad in so far as they get you closer to what you’re pursuing.

    Philosophy is the art of figuring out what is truly worth pursuing, and then reaching practical ways of achieving this.

    My blog, http://www.my-apotheosis.com, is dedicated to this philosophical project.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this question! would like to add that what’s moral for me might not seem moral for you due to the culture and the education we both had. Ideas are relative 🙂

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    2. I think I mostly agree with you, but I think I see a semantic confusion. What you call philosophy, the art of figuring out what is truly worth pursuing, would in most cases be what I would call morality, or moral reasoning.

      What I don’t see is how this reasoning can be based of off anything other than metaphysics.

      To the point, the philosophy you propose seems like a “friends with benefits” type of morality. When you want to break a rule, you’re not breaking the absolute laws of a universe, only the rules of a particular culture. Yet, when you want the comfort of having an ideal to look to, you have your philosophy.

      Either the worth of the goal is real or not.

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      1. Indeed, the birth of western philosophy as we know it really begins with Socrates, who asked these moral questions: what is the good, and what is justice?

        Philosophy is about living the best human life, and so the philosopher is inevitably confronting questions of value.

        But the question “what has value?” is a metaphysical question.

        This metaphysical question itself faces epistemological barriers, because I am a subject, bound to a subjective perspective. I can either follow my subjective valuations, or pursue the groups—and of course we follow the group bc of some benefit we perceive ourselves to be getting out of it, even if it’s just security and the evasion of ostracism.

        Great thoughts! Thanks for the reply!

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    3. I agree with what I hear from you so far. It is an interesting idea in general, and has been studied in psychology I believe, that the human mind is an expert abstraction machine. We sense morality – right and wrong – and attribute those qualities to some universal principle. Just like we sense freedom or justice or beauty and abstract those concepts universally, believing that such notions exist outside our brains (this is what Plato began, and we have been plagued ever since). There is simply no reason to believe concepts of right and wrong exist, nor need exist, outside the human experience. Realizing this subtle point would take a lot of the arrogance from most religions and might actually help people of different faiths and convictions find peace amongst themselves. Once one realizes one’s most cherished held normative values exist only in their heads and in their social collectives of like-minded fellow humans, there would be no dogmatic justification supporting their values any longer.

      I am going to follow your blog. Check me out at abysspost.com. I too love this topic and most things philosophical. Maybe we can have some fruitful exchanges.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think, to assume morality is based off of something else is a confusion of what morality means. The concept is extrapolated from reality, we see by experience what is right and wrong, as is our understanding of logic and mathematics. It simply is, it cannot be broken down into smaller elements.

    To the point, I think morality is a general revelation of God.

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      1. I wouldn’t say the pieces decide anything. Morality is a type of reasoning. We can reason mathematically, and we extrapolate our mathematical understanding from the world around us. Math, however, exists outside of the instantiation of any mathematical principle. In the same vein, we reason morally, and can extrapolate moral principles from the world around us. I would say that in the same way we learn a number by counting to it on our fingers, we learn morality by interacting with others, generally in games as children. Growing older, we extrapolate the rules of numbers and no longer need to count on our fingers, for the most part, and in a similar way we extrapolate the moral law from interactions with ourselves and others.

        The psychological explanation:

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    1. What I DO agree with is that no metaphysical moral dichotomy can exist without a personal God as lawgiver. The problem is that many of us in the secular west can no longer believe in such a thing. I agree wholeheartedly with Jordan Peterson that this is causing many problems in the West.

      I’m not a Christian myself, but I think it’s hard to conceive of a stable society with some form of religiously believed moral statutes.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. There is no need for universality of morality or of a god to ground moral principles. I too like Peterson but he walks very near the edge of dogmatism and thinly veiled fundamentalist Christianity. He preaches, often, without much clear argumentation. This has been observed not only by me, but also by sympathetic interlocutors such as Sam Harris.
      Read David Hume closely, then Darwin’s Descent of Man, and maybe pick up Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Also Dan Dennett has much to say on these issues, as does another philosopher, Owen Flanagan in the Problem of the Soul.
      There is a wealth of well-argued literature making waste of the idea we need anything other than the fact we are evolved social beings to ground morality. And also a wealth of science supporting these philosophical arguments – from evolutionary biology to psychology and neuroscience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dogma: Authority you disagree with.
        Not Dogma: Authority you agree with.

        Can you make your own case, present the arguments these men made without simply declaring a “wealth of well-argued literature making waste of” the opinion of another?

        My argument:
        Morality exists. Morality, by nature, is universal. Any universal morality is the same as a universal judgment. Universal judgment must imply a universal judge. A universal judge is indistinguishable from God.

        Assuming humanity came by some process to understand morality, i.e. evolved morality out of being social animals, does not change the substance of what morality is anymore than our brains evolving to understand the universe through math makes math any less true.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I apologize if I made you think these authors laid waste to your opinion. That was not my intent.

        They have laid waste to the very common ‘argument’ that your opinion rests upon. I put argument in scare quotes because the beginning assumptions of the argument are flawed. True: morality exists. False: morality by nature is universal. That has not been demonstrated, nor need it be true for morality to exist in social creatures.

        To summarize the thread of argumentation from Hume to Dawkins misses much of the nuance and beauty of the argument. Furthermore, the details cannot be succinctly summarized as they are still being decided through continued science and philosophical debate (for example, can science determine right and wrong?). But a simple summary would be as follows:
        It is wrong to murder or to steal not because a universal lawgiver says it is wrong to murder or to steal, but because our moral sense tells us it is wrong to murder or to steal. Our moral sense evolved in coordination with our sociability, and can span the spectrum from complete sociopath to saint. The moral sense is biologically based, in our brains, is a function of neurons, and like any other biological phenomenon is full of variability. However, the fact that all cultures ever studied adopt broadly similar moral codes (codes dealing with infanticide, murder, rape etc.) suggests there are basic moral principles that emerge in social groups of humans. I say basic because there is even lots of variability between groups of humans. Some groups studied (recounted in Jared Diamond’s books) actually condone murder of the old and infirm, as these individuals put untenable burden on the movements and thus viability of the group. In these groups it is actually considered IMMORAL not to kill these individuals. The moral sense that makes us squeamish and shake our heads in amazement that they would kill their infirm is the same feeling they have when those individuals are allowed to live.

        I am not sure about your insistence on the analogy between universal morality and mathematics. It is one of the greatest unanswered mysteries as to why this universe obeys mathematically (and thus, logically) understandable laws. However, this DOES NOT imply a lawgiver. That is a logical fallacy you are committing. Quantum physics, for example, has demonstrated, using the same math you are so intent on basing your lawgiver argument on, that we could very well be living in one of many possible universes, each of which has its own unique properties, and some of which may not follow any logically understandable laws. And even if each possible universe does follow logical laws (such as cause preceding effect), that still does not prove there is a lawgiver. For if there is a lawgiver where did the lawgiver come from? And if the lawgiver came from somewhere or something, where did that where or thing come from? This obviously leads to an infinite regress. Why not just stop the regress at what we in fact can directly assess? That is, accept that our universe exists, and that it actually does not logically nor empirically need to be derived from something outside itself (see Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing, or better yet, Hawking’s A Brief History of Time).

        If morality does follow universal laws, much like mathematical laws, and that we have evolved to comprehend those laws with our brains, it does not follow logically that there has to be a lawgiver. This leads to an infinite regress which has been dealt with many many times by philosophers and scientists alike. My argument is, it has not been proven that morality is universal. It could be that different groups of social beings have different moral codes. We have only been able to study humans and our close relatives, the great apes, to assess this question. While broadly there do seem to be codes shared between groups, there is great variability. What is shared might be the basis of a universal morality. It might be a simple biological fact that to live in social groups requires social rules (seems axiomatic), and some of those rules (thou shalt not kill) can be codified into moral precepts. If those rules are not adhered to, then the group would not be stable and it would not persist and it would not exist. Sociability implies morality. This is biological, following the logic of evolutionary theory. Nowhere is a lawgiver needed. Nowhere.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Morality means different things to different people. Each one measures it with their individually unique compass. For me, it is entirely based on my deepest Self, call it Soul, Atma or Pure Conscience. It decides what is wrong and right and I abide by it.

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      1. Some religions moved morality outside and above people. It seems society isn’t comfortable with God given morality any longer. There is, however, no replacement and therefore I don’t know what. I’m uncomfortable with personal opinions considered morality.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The moral sense has evolved along with the social sense. Morality is not universal in the sense a religious dogma would have it be. But it is universal in the sense that all human groups have a moral code. Like language, there is likely a universal moral grammar that applies to social creatures like humans.

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