Sometimes conversations prompt other conversations, and that’s the case with SI’s recent post. I get asked from time to time why I might bother listening to or engaging with online trolls or nutters in general, but they serve as a springboard. For instance, how could I dismantle theist trick arguments without experiencing them? Perhaps in one’s attempt to attack, they actually expose a flaw in your argument or make you realize that you need to elaborate further on a topic to avoid confusion. Anyway, there are plenty of good reasons to do so and our favorite fool’s recent rantings prompted me to elaborate more on my views of morality, specifically the issue of a moral basis.
Is there an objective morality? Well, that depends upon your definition of objective. There are secular moralists who argue for an objective morality, but their definition for it reminds me of Jesse Helms’ definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” They’ll claim that there are answers, or at least optimum practices which we’re slowly figuring out, but how do you define optimum? How do we define best? Those are subjective decisions. Humanity may agree on certain absolutes, and those absolutes may indeed appear to be what’s best for humanity, but that’s still a subjective assessment.
I feel the motivation, at least in part, for secular moralists arguing for objective morality is to establish a position of authority in the way religions assert moral authority. I think they feel without that, they can’t justify their moral code. I don’t see it that way. Lacking an objective morality makes selling your morality harder, but not impossible. It requires you to make two sales instead of one, first selling what you define as best for humanity and then selling your morality as the optimum set of practices to realize that goal. (Truth is, religions are in the same boat but they’ve generally escaped the pressure of the first sale through childhood indoctrination and preventing competing products.) When arguing morality, I think often people are talking past one another because they’re working from a different set of what’s best. If two people differ there, then arguing practices is futile.
I don’t see anything wrong with starting from the ethic of reciprocity and working outwards. Unlike the Christian Golden Rule, there has to be consideration for the sentiments of others. For instance, suicide or killing someone may seem reprehensible to you but what of the ill who face nothing but pain and suffering for the rest of their existence who want to die? Would you deny them what they want? If they lacked the means to commit suicide, would you refuse to assist them? What about denying others from assisting them?
Too many laws in this country are made lacking consideration of others. Suicide is illegal? Assisting suicide is illegal? Smoking pot is illegal? In some states sodomy is illegal. I can say these things are ridiculous by first arguing for the ethic of reciprocity and how what’s best for humanity is the pursuit of happiness on individual levels insofar as that pursuit doesn’t impose on others. (Anti-pot people will cite cartels and funding terrorists as the harms imposed on others from buying pot, but such harms are ONLY harms because it’s illegal in the first place.) You can disagree and assert this isn’t what’s best for humanity, but you have to demonstrate why and offer what you think is best and if that involves citing a so-called holy book or a deity, that sales pitch isn’t fairing too well these days.