Why morality at all?

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Mon, 2007-05-14 10:22

It's clearly apparent from almost every comment made on almost every post about morality made on my main blog that too few readers have too little idea of where morality comes from or why it matters, which to me is just bizarre.

So here's the question I put to readers of that blog.

How do you get to be thinking, breathing, (apparently) functioning adults without this basic knowledge?

Put that way, however, the error becomes somewhat clearer. What too many of you fail realise is that being a thinking, breathing, fully functioning adult is the most important key to morality.

Let me explain.

The purpose of morality -- of objective morality -- of morality on this earth -- is not to teach ourselves how to suffer and then to die; it's to understand how to enjoy yourself and live life to the full. Morality is necessary because we if we are to live well we must learn how to live, and how to live successfully: we need to determine principles of good living to guide us (virtues) if we are to acquire what we need and want most (our values).

Morality -- objective morality -- is not the sort of thing that you and and your friends agree to vote on based on your feelings de jour; or that you find by examining your soul -- or your navel; but neither is morality handed down to us by someone's imaginary friend, a list of edicts all starting with the word "don't". (And just remember as Richard Dawkins points out, "The fact ... that people pick and choose among the scriptures for the nice bits and reject the nasty [suggests] we must have some independent criterion for deciding which are the moral bits: a criterion which, wherever it comes from, cannot come from scripture itself and is presumably available to all of us whether we are religious or not.")

Principles for good living are not found in any of these ways. Objective morality -- a system of principles to act as guideposts on our way to success -- is not to be found carved in stone somewhere or by just 'going with the flow' or by unthinking examination of our feelings or of what might feel good this moment. Instead, objective principles for good living are discovered based on the nature of man and of human life and on the very nature of existence itself, principles that lead to long-term success.

It's often asked if one can have morality without religion. Fact is, you can only have morality when you drop religion, when you focus on on existence and life on this earth instead of on the non-existent or the supernatural .

Now the first question of morality is not: "Which particular morality?" but "Why morality at all?" And the answer to that is that morality only pertains to a particular class of entities: to living beings; and specifically to living beings capable of choice for whom actions have consequences -- and the most fundamental and irrevocable consequence in the universe is living or dying. Not much is more irrevocable that that.

Hence the reason that proponents of objective morality (or more specifically of Objectivist morality) say that life is the standard by which all moral principles are judged. As Ayn Rand explains in her own introduction to Objectivist morality:

Life or death is man's only fundamental alternative. To live is his most basic act or choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. if he does not choose to live, nature will take his course...

Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man -- in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself which is his own life.

So, to come back to where I started, being a thinking, breathing, (apparently) functioning adult means that you've already mastered some basic, rational principles for good living. That's a start. Most people recognise implicitly in their daily life that basic, rational principles are required to live well -- all that objective morality requires is that you recognise that explicitly as well, and start to plan long range.

MORE ON OBJECTIVIST MORALITY:


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Jesus, Lindsay...

Ross Elliot's picture

...loosen your jockstrap, relax and have another bottle of Shiraz. Yellow Tail, mind you, not Yellow Tale.

No question that morality

Peter Cresswell's picture

No question that morality got its bad rap from religion, meaning altruism.

But oddly enough, I've found quite the reverse in recent times on my main blog to what you describe -- I've found both intense interest to all my posts on morality, and very little on my attacks on altruism per se.

Perhaps that's because I devote a post once every Sunday to trashing religion?

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

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**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

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The next person ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... who writes it's when it should be its will be sent to Mistress Phyllis, who will repeat all her sermons. It's called eternal torment, so seemingly endless is its duration.

Morality got it's bad rap...

Ross Elliot's picture

...from religion, meaning altruism.

Mention morality to most people and either their hackles come up or their eyes glaze over. In both cases it's due to religion and it's thou shalt not! & it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle idiocy. You have to get over this hurdle first, and then establish the Objectivist definition of morality & virtue before you can get anywhere.

Thanks.

Peter Cresswell's picture

Thanks Scott and Mitch. (Best you get to reading 'Virtue of Selfishness' quick smart, Mitch, once you finish your 'Free Radical' of course. That's like common sense with the turbo charger on!! Smiling )

Hilton: I think you're right on the money with your analysis. Exactly right.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

'NOT PC.'
**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

ORGANON ARCHITECTURE
**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

Morality & the 7 deadly sins

HWH's picture

A few months ago I ensnared myself by committing to do a talk on Ethics to our local South African Business Breakfast. (one particular "Jesus freak" in attendance commented on my talk as being a "bunch of new-age crap")

Obviously it prompted me to read up on the subject again and going through OPAR, one of the main points about ethics I had allways missed then struck me profoundly.

I'm talking about the crucial aspect of ethics regarding the moral principle that sanctions the complete justification of rational selfishness.

Of course those who got it allready gets that the reason why it's morally "right" to regard yourself as the only valid benefactor of your own efforts stems from the reality that it is allways the alternative of your own destruction that challenges you should you not create the commensurate values to sustain your life.

Just lately I ran into my first couple of spats on this forum and have now come to the conclusion that those who habitually practise the offensive personality traits Linz mentions in his "7 deadly sins" thread are not merely annoying, but rather offensive because of being immoral.

Surely O'ists realise and accept that their lives are the ultimate standard of value, and that the social facet of their lives holds the potential for producing some of the highest and best spiritual rewards possible to them.

Given that a moral code is a set of chosen principles to maximise the rewards of ones life, and combined with the fact above, doesnt it make sense that adherence to a strict moral code in the realm of social behaviour should become one of the most crucial disciplines to all O'ists who understand and accept the life enhancing role of morality in their lives.

It seems that these annoying pests Linz speaks of also seem to suffer from the delusion of being far superior on all matters, especially on their status of being better O'ists, yet they are very short on action.

This habit of "self anointment" also seems to make them incapable of finding or appreciating any value in anyone elses work or contributions.

Am I correct in guessing that those in question have such a desperate need for having sunshine blown up their behinds that should one of their posts not bring about the desired attention fast enough, their desperation drives them to bypass the presence of mind to even practise a rudimentary moral code.

Its a mater of getting attention at all and any cost, even if it detroys any future capacity to interact with a level of respect and respectability. All that remains is hostility.

Hilton

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool; avoid him. He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student; teach him. He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep; wake him. He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man; follow him.

Attributions: Persian apothegm, Sanskrit Saying

You've got it!

atlascott's picture

"The purpose of morality -- of objective morality -- of morality on this earth -- is not to teach ourselves how to suffer and then to die; it's to understand how to enjoy yourself and live life to the full. Morality is necessary because we if we are to live well we must learn how to live, and how to live successfully: we need to determine principles of good living to guide us (virtues) if we are to acquire what we need and want most (our values)."

BANG!  That is it in a nutshell!  Nice work, Peter!

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur!

PC

Mitch's picture

This has helped a lot. Very clear and easy to understand for the dunce over here in this corner. Smiling Excuse the dumb question, but basically what you're saying is that it boils down to common sense?

BTW, Free Rad 75 is brilliant. I've been carrying it round Uni baring the ass in the hope it will generate some interest Smiling

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