The Question of Morality

decisionsOn the most recent Atheist Experience, relatively speaking, Matt and Tracie had a long, long discussion about morality with a caller in the after-show, following which they kept debating until they were literally thrown out of the studio.  If you want to hear it, you’ll have to go to the UStream because the regular show podcast doesn’t include the after show, although I’m sure it will show up on YouTube somewhere.  Look for show #919.

The discussion goes on for a long time, but this is really where I think the whole morality issue becomes pointless.  While individuals and society collectively can have a common view of what is moral and what is not, in reality, societies tend to simply codify those ideas into law and whether or not it is moral or ethical, as opposed to legal, becomes quite unimportant.  The whole idea behind morality is an attempt to think your way to what you believe ought to be so, but that’s really a violation of Hume’s is/ought problem.  Just because you think something ought to be the case, that doesn’t mean that it actually is the case and there are a lot of people, people who should be aware of Hume, who just ignore it because it’s emotionally comforting to think that there are universal objective morals floating around in the ether somewhere. That’s a problem that I’ve addressed at some length before.

Then we get to their argument of robbing banks, it is utterly ridiculous and Matt is just wrong.  If you rob a bank, even if you are coerced, the police still come and get you and you may be put on trial.  The police do not get involved in things that are not illegal.  It’s why I don’t really care much about these nebulous concepts of morality, I care about the social concepts of legality, ideas that are determined by individual societies and codified into laws and defended by the police and courts.

So yes, that does make me a moral relativist of sorts, although certainly not in the normative sense.  I don’t think that just because objective morals don’t exist, that anything goes, everyone is entitled to their own views and we should never criticize anyone for doing whatever they are doing.  We are still a social species, we still make decisions collectively and we still have social expectations.  That means that even those people who do not agree with the community values are bound to be accountable by the community that holds them.

To be honest, I think a lot of people who hold to the idea of objective morals are just intellectually lazy.  They want to point to something that’s self-evidently true without having to actually demonstrate that it’s self-evidently true.  We see the same thing when it comes to religious morality, people proclaiming that something is right because God says so.  How do we know that God is right?  Because God is always right.  It’s always circular reasoning.  I’m just not interested in circular reasoning.  I want to see your cards on the table, to know how you reached a certain position and if your reasoning is valid.  That’s how we evaluate arguments and any argument that cannot be critically evaluated isn’t an argument worth taking seriously in the first place.  Some people, Matt Dillahunty comes to mind, go so far as to simply refuse to engage anyone who falls outside of his subjective ideas of what constitutes morality.  That’s intellectual laziness right there.  I don’t care if that’s Matt Dillahunty, I don’t care if that’s Sam Harris, the same rules go for everyone.  Put up or shut up. It can’t be that difficult.

3 thoughts on “The Question of Morality

  1. I have been having this same discussion with so many people recently, and I do believe like you that it comes down to two major core concepts. One, with objective morality it is much easier to feel better and not take responsibility. Two, it is special pleading for a god with no evidence to show said god exists.
    My recent post The creationist half life fallacy

    1. That's exactly the point and why I have such a problem with people who pretend objective morality exists. The only reason these people like objective morality is because they don't have to support or defend their moral views, they can just point to a source they happen to personally approve of and say "it's all right there". That's lazy thinking at its most primal. They're right because they're right and they can't be wrong because they're right.

  2. Subjective morality, and objective morality are social constructs developed by a given group or culture defining what the cultural limits are for a given act. They are no more subjective than we all agree this either benefits the group or not. They are fluid and evolving all the time. If they are written in stone they become obsolete and any culture where that has happened has become stifled much like the Muslims and Christians of the dark ages.( The Reagan years) And how immoral does one have to be to where they need it carved in stone not to kill other people, and stop eyeballing my ass you freak? Evolving societal morals let's take TV censorship from 1950-2015 there you go.

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