Sunday, August 06, 2017

Is there a basis for moral reasoning?

If there is no basis for moral reasoning, then nobody has ever done wrong. Consider the usual examples about how evil the past has been: if there is no moral right or wrong, if there is no good or evil, then it would follow that the Nazis were not wrong and the slave trade was not wrong. It would follow that there is no moral reason why a serial killer or sex predator should be brought to "justice"; what is justice? If morality is an artificial construct, society may come to agreements about rules, but does society have a right to pass judgment on dissenters or conscientious objectors?

"Is it natural or artificial?" is a complicated question, even if we look for a simpler topic than morality. If we get milk from the store, is it natural or artificial? Was the cow given hormones? How about antibiotics? How much selective breeding was involved to produce the herd? Was the milk pasteurized? An artificial process may be applied to a natural thing, and there may be difficulty in attaining an absolutely natural state; that does not imply that there is no natural state. When all the arguing is done, mammals produce milk whether anyone has given them hormones or antibiotics.

So what about morality? Is there a natural state? In tracing its roots, I have not found more basic than this: Life is good. To explain that more fully: Life naturally comes with the beauty of the natural world and the enjoyment of that, with an intrinsic bond to those who gave us life and those who share it. Our original sense of good seems to be our innate sense of the worthiness of life itself. And if anything is good, then opposing or attacking or sabotaging it is not good.

From that, we can derive all the laws that protect life, protect freedom, and promote quality of life. Even traffic laws are, in the end, about not deliberately endangering a life.

If life is good, if it is intrinsically valuable to the one living it, then there is an objective basis for morality.

Next I hope to explore whether there are other intrinsic and natural bases for moral reasoning. 


Martin LaBar said...

Now you're getting deep!

Weekend Fisher said...

Hoping to ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Kevin Knox said...

Hello WF!

I've been thinking about this series you're doing, and I saw a similar question come up on Facebook. You are a very complete thinker, but I'm more of a broad strokes kind of guy. I'll just put it out here.

There is only one question pertinent to the discussion of intrinsic morality. Do you believe everyone else's life is as valuable as your own?

When we're born, the answer is simply no. All of us are born with a very strong experience of our own lives and pain and joys and no experience of anyone else's. The world exists to help and hurt me. People exist to feed and train me. Everything is my toy or my obstacle, and I interact with all of it to my own benefit. Some children find it best to obey while others go their own way, no matter how painful their parents may make that decision. All children, though, are doing what makes their lives work best for them. This goes on for years.

We're all born narcissists.

As we age we hurt people and are hurt ourselves. Along the way those pains may open our eyes and we may begin to figure out other people's hurts are as important as our own. If this happens, we may become caring people in place of our native narcissism. Or we may not. Many of us never move beyond that native narcissism. They just get better at acting acceptably to get the things they want.

Given those two groups of people exist on some spectrum, their vocabulary is almost impossible to tease apart. All their words have different meanings, but nearly the exact same usage. A "friend" will refer to a person of special relationship and both groups will make sacrifices for a friend, but the underlying cost the narcissist is willing to pay is vastly different from the caring person. Even the word, "care" takes on different meaning. Only when the value of the relationship drops to zero can you hope to know whether the parties are narcissists or not -- and even then a hard relationship can have twisted value if a narcissist draws self-worth from the perception of being a good person for hanging tough with it. It's too hard to measure.

The one question, though, we must answer before we can talk about intrinsic morality is, "Is my pain more important to me than anyone else's?" If the answer is no, then all morality is intrinsic and we need no laws. If the answer is yes, no morality is intrinsic and every law is a tool to give the weak a fighting chance in this dog-eat-dog world.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hey Kevin

I stumbled across your comment tonight as I was getting a post ready, and wanted you to know I'd found it. Glad to see you, & didn't know I was keeping you waiting. Sadly, now that I know, I'm going to keep you waiting a little longer because there are some good puzzles in there and it deserves better than an off-the-cuff reply crammed into a comment box. I'll let those thoughts marinate for awhile. In the meantime, (wonder if you'll see this?) -- how have you been?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF