Morality, Religion, and the ?Why be Moral? question What is the connection between morality and religion? Is there some sense in which morality ?depends? on religion? Could there be a secular morality? Two reasons for thinking there couldn?t be a secular morality: (1) The alleged connection between moral belief and religious belief. Many, after all, claim to get their moral beliefs from the bible or from some other religious source. But: (a) even if this were true, it wouldn?t show that there couldn?t be a secular morality. (b) it is not clear that those who claim to get their moral beliefs from the bible actually do so. After all, no one accepts all biblical prohibitions and commandments. There are, after all, many biblical commandments and punishments that are hard to accept, like the death penalty for cursing your parents, for violating the Sabbath, for speaking God?s name, for having sex with a menstruating woman (banishment for this one), or for eating blood or fat (separation from one?s kin and the lord?s wrath for this one). In addition, the bible permits purchasing slaves, and allows them to be beaten so long as they don?t die. It also forbids mixing fabrics. (2) The alleged connection between God and morality. Some argue that without God there couldn?t be morality ? there couldn?t be an answer to the question of how we ought to live. Why? Two thoughts: (a) Without God, one could not live a meaningful life. A life can acquire meaning only by playing a role in God?s plans. But: Is God able to give purpose to a life? (b) Without God, we couldn?t escape moral nihilism. Moral claims would be empty or meaningless. Some who endorse (b) offer the following argument: Laws require a lawmaker. Thus, if there are moral laws, there must be a moral lawmaker. The moral lawmaker could only be God, for only he has the authority to issue moral commands. This line of argument leads to Divine Command Theory, according to which what is morally right is that which is commanded by God and what is morally wrong is that which is forbidden by God. Divine command theory is a version of moral constructivism (the view that morality is created rather than discovered). For many, constructivism is the default meta-ethical view. You can see this in the popular ?Who is to say that ____ is wrong? question. Put differently, this question asks: ?Who has the authority to declare that ____ is wrong?? Problems with Divine Command Theory (1) The Euthyphro Problem Euthyphro argued that ?right? can be defined as ?that which the gods command?. Socrates isn?t convinced, and asks: ?Is conduct right because the gods command it, or do the gods command it because it is right?? In other words, does God, being all-knowing, merely recognize that certain moral claims are true, or does he make them true? Here Socrates posed a dilemma for divine command theory. A dilemma is a situation requiring a choice between two undesirable alternatives. Euthyphro could say that God is a mere recognizer of moral truth, but this would be impious and would acknowledge a moral standard independent of God. This is moral realism, not divine command theory. But saying that God is the maker of moral truth threatens to make morality entirely arbitrary. If God?s word makes moral claims true, then what?s to stop him from making lying, torturing, or murdering right? One might reply that God wouldn?t do such a thing, but why not? After all, on the view we?re considering, if God says that torturing children is good, then it is good, and hence there is no inconsistency in a benevolent God commanding torture. Here is another way to make the same point. Suppose that God declares murder to be wrong. Either he has reasons for making this declaration, or he doesn?t. If he doesn?t, it?s not clear why we should obey his arbitrary commands. If he does, then the reasons explain the wrongness of murder, and not God?s commands. (2) Divine command theory requires the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and benevolent God. One powerful objection to the existence of such a being is the problem of evil, which is concerned with how to square the existence of such a God with so much earthly suffering. Why be moral? Central question in ethics: how should I live? Some possible answers: Egoism: I should do that and only that which makes my life go well. Minimal Morality: I should do that which makes my life go well, but I should also keep my promises, not harm others, and give some independent weight to the interests of others. Robust Morality: In deciding what to do, I should give equal weight to everyone?s interests (I should love my fellow man as much as I love myself). Egoism Egoism comes in two varieties. Psychological egoism is the view that, in fact, people always pursue (or try to pursue) their self-interest. Ethical Egoism is the view that people should always pursue their self-interest. To say that people always pursue their self-interest is not to say that they are selfish. A selfish person is someone who cares exclusively about himself. Egoists, however, may care about other people, but only insofar as this benefits them. Another way to put this would be to say that the ultimate concern of egoists is with their own welfare. Thus Mother Teresa could be an egoist. It all depends on why she was so charitable. Psychological egoism makes a stark claim: in all cases, people always attempt to act in their own interest. So all it takes to falsify psychological egoism is a single counter-example ? a single case where someone does not act in his own interest. Why care about psychological egoism in an ethics class? Because of the following argument: (1) If psychological egoism is true, then we can?t be altruistic. (2) If we can?t be altruistic, then it can?t be our duty to be altruistic. (3) Psychological egoism is true. (4) Therefore, it can?t be our duty to be altruistic. Premise (2) stems from the popular idea that it can?t be our duty to do the impossible (that ?ought? implies ?can?). Problems with Psychological Egoism (1) There seem to be cases of genuine self-sacrifice (e.g. parents sacrificing for the sake of their children, soldiers risking their lives for the sake of their comrades). (2) Psychological egoists think that behind every seemingly altruistic act lies a selfish motive. But why think this? Perhaps because people often report feeling good about themselves after acting ?altruistically?. But the mere presence of this feeling doesn?t entail that the feeling (or its anticipation) motivated the act. (3) Psychological egoism is a scientific hypothesis ? it is not a normative claim about how we ought to act but a descriptive claim about how we actually act. As such, it should be open to scientific refutation ? it should be falsifiable. But psychological egoism is not falsifiable. Scientific theories can go wrong in a number of ways. For instance, they can fail to explain the data. But they can also go wrong by explaining the data too well ? by matching not only the existing data but all conceivable data. Such theories are really not scientific theories at all, for they are not even susceptible to refutation. In short, a theory can be so vague or so all-encompassing that it can?t even be tested. This is the problem with astrology. And it?s the problem with psychological egoism. For instance, consider a recent horoscope of mine: ?A couple of negative aspects could make you a little finicky for the next few days. The presence of both Mars and Venus suggests you want to box everything into a neat, ordered, structured way. Keeping a piece of jade or carnelian close will help you keep in touch with your fun side." The problem is that this prediction or suggestion isn?t even capable of being wrong. This horoscope from the Onion, however, is: "Riding in a golf cart with snow cone in hand, you'll be tackled by two police officers this week after matching a composite caricature of a suspected murderer." Now, that's a good, testable prediction. Ethical Egoism Ethical egoism is the view that we should always act so as to promote our own well-being, giving no independent weight to the interests of others. Problems with Ethical Egoism (1) Ethical egoism claims that there is no reason to be moral when it is not in one?s interest to be moral. This is deeply counter-intuitive. (2) Ethical egoism is arbitrary in the same way that racism and sexism are arbitrary. It advocates dividing the world into two groups, and regarding the interests of one group as more important than the interests of the other groups. But what makes the well-being of the one group so much more important than the well-being of the other group? What makes the egoist?s welfare so special?
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