Thursday, November 17, 2011

Misconception of Objective Morality 1: Everyone would agree what is moral

One of the objections to the concept of objective morality is that people disagree about what is and is not moral.  The idea is that if there is such a concept as objective morality then people would by and large arrive at a consensus about what is moral.

Embedded in this proposition are one of two assumptions:

  1. Objective morality is easy to figure out
  2. People are smart enough to figure objective morality out for themselves
We will deal with each of these in turn.

For the first assumption, it is not apparent that objective morality would be in all instances is easy to figure out if we assume that objective morality exists.  Strictly speaking the proposition of objective morality does not state how understandable objective morality is either way. 

I would conjecture that if objective morality is true then it would be hard to obtain and apply.  Everything in life that we commonly identify as important requires struggle.  Friendships, marriage, even things such as sports require sacrifice and effort.  Given how important morality is it would only make sense that some effort would be involved in discerning what that morality is.

The proposal that the disagreement over morality disproves the notion of objective morality comes from a post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.  It assumes that if objective morality doesn't exist we would see  people disagreeing about morality and actions.  This is true so far as it goes.  But the reverse is not true.  In fact the disagreement over morality tells us nothing about the existence of objective values.

The second assumption is to be honest a conceit of our age.  It assumes that from the moment we pop into this world we are experts in the realm of morality and spirituality.  By virtue of being human we know instantly all that there is to know about the human condition and how to order one's life. 

As C.S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity there are two indisputable facts of the human condition:

  1. Everyone agrees there is objective morality in action if not in principle.
  2. We as humans often fall short of that ideal objective morality.
No matter what humanity embarks upon, be it a moral or political or economic utopia, we as humans fall very short of perfection.  Even if we have varying ideas of morality we often do not even meet our own arbitrary criteria. 

But there is another aspect to the proposition that people can figure out objective morality easily.  Be it the atheist that proposes there is nothing special about humanity to the relativist that says human purpose is how we define it, the notion that the human condition is knowable to the human mind is based on a rejection of God.  It postulates that the human is capapble of knowing everything about the human condition because there is no other reference point. 

But this idea crashes on the notion that the human is finite.  The human did not create himself.  He came from parents.  His perception of the world is limited to only his experience.  As such the notion of the human being able to concieve his own being in its entirety is suspect as best, given the limited information available to reason alone.

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