Friday, November 5, 2010

Does morality exist?

I find myself in an interesting position. While the vast majority of humans believe morals exist, there is little agreement on what the proper moral values are, where they come from, if they are objective or subjective, if they can be discussed scientifically, etc. etc.

Consider the following:
a) Who and what do morals apply to?
b) What is the goal of moral action?
c) How can we objectively determine what moral code is correct?

I have questions about (a). For example, would you agree that sentient beings are the subject of morality? Then how do we define sentience? Are dolphins and whales sentient? Must one be self-aware to be the subject of moral choices? Do moral questions apply to your treatment of your dog? Do those questions apply once we remove humans from the picture altogether: Is it wrong for hyenas to start eating their prey before it's dead?

Which brings me to part (b). I disregard most theistic explanation of moral goals as inadequate, arbitrary and capricious. Certainly punishing the 4-year-old Afghani girl for learning to read by throwing battery acid in her face was not a moral calculation made by god. It was made by men, and I mean those with Y-chromosomes and a misogynistic worldview. But suppose we describe the goal as the simultaneous minimization of suffering and maximization of thriving. Leaving aside the definitions of those words entirely, who again are we talking about? Are they hyenas acting immorally? What about humans who go hunting? They reduce the population of deer [which have no wild predators now], reducing overcrowding and famine. In this way they increase the well-being of the group of deer. But they do so at the expense of the suffering and death of individuals within that population.

Finally, if (c) can be answered convincingly, I would gladly reconsider the arguments in question. But I don't believe science will be able to tell us this. I certainly don't believe gods will tell us this [due to the anthropomorphic origin of all gods thus far encountered].

For now, put me down as a moral non-cognitivist. I don't know what you mean when you talk about morality. But I'm willing to talk about it as long as we can come to some sort of working definition. So long as the definition does not beg the question.

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