Post No.: 0439
Our ‘weak or non-moral evaluations’ are those evaluations that are highly subjective, such as what pudding, painting or piece of music is best, and we wouldn’t really be bothered if someone else differed from us in their opinion. We are tolerant towards someone with a different opinion to us in these cases – we can ‘agree to disagree’ with our weak or non-moral values.
Meanwhile, our ‘strong or moral evaluations’ are those evaluations that are felt quite emotionally and are considered ‘objective’ or indisputable to us and non-negotiable, such as that slavery is wrong or homosexuality is not wrong, and we would want to impose this stance on someone else if they differed from us. We are intolerant towards a person with a different stance to us in these cases – we will not merely accept a ‘difference of opinion’ with our strong or moral values. We consider these values more like facts than mere opinions.
The issues we hold non-moral or moral views or evaluations for can be individual. For instance, one person might consider it categorically morally wrong for people to eat meat whilst another person might not consider it such a moral issue at all whether people eat meat or not.
Science has little or nothing to say about reasonings like human dignity or inalienable human rights for they are metaphysical concepts rather than have empirical bearings. Science may show us something, but how we interpret the data and what we then decide to do about it is more personal, emotional, social and political. Science increasingly reveals, for instance, how children, and therefore people, can be disadvantaged before they’re even born (such as due to what happens to them when they were only a foetus in the womb), yet many people will still believe that everyone deserves what they get in life and will politically shape society accordingly. Science also shows us that, in nature, there are evidently a lot of parasitic or deceptive creatures that thrive, and that humans are just another species on the tree of evolution, yet a lot of people don’t believe that it’s right for humans to behave in the same way.
Because of this, arguably all such strong or moral reasonings have at least a covert or unconscious religious or ‘religious-type’ basis for them, such as one’s guidance is taken from religious texts but with the theological language around them stripped out. (The ‘natural law’ theory of ethics, which is influential in ‘the West’, evolved ultimately from religious sources.) For instance, from a neo-Darwinian perspective, there’s nothing intrinsically special about humans, yet every psychologically healthy human would put a human’s life before another animal’s life when directly presented with a stark decision as to whether to let a human die or another animal die – as if there’s something special and perhaps sacred about humans over other animals. Meow.
Post No.: 0258 looked at how religions play a huge role in shaping which strong moral evaluations groups that wish to be internally cohesive ought to take. Some religions place human beings above the barbarism present in wild nature, whilst others place certain animals even above humans, for instance. Whatever the case, they provide guidance regarding how people ought to morally behave in their communities.
Without a religious or religious-type wrapper or metaphysical references, we can become inarticulate when it comes to trying to justify such strong emotional claims. Even though we’d all like to think that every single one of our moral/religious/political convictions have been comprehensively deliberated and we reach these conclusions based on a process of highly logical reasoning – a lot of our convictions and judgements come from very emotional responses that arise from a very gut level. So almost every moral judgement – even from atheists – ends up being based on some kind of metaphysical commitment once people start trying to justify their moral stances.
This arguably isn’t so bad because there are some risks to having morality come detached from some sort of sacred or ‘objective’ metaphysical basis. People – regardless of whether they themselves are consequentialists or deontologists – tend to prefer to trust a person who follows deontological rules rather than a person who tries to weigh out the potential consequences each time. This might be because the former is more predictable, for they’ll always follow the rules, and deontology provides less wriggle room for rationalising possible defection behaviours (you can’t talk yourself out of a fixed and rigid rule); thereby leading to consistency and in turn group stability.
Seeing morals as rigidly objective actually increases charitable behaviours and decreases the willingness to steal. And seeing morals as more subjective or relativistic increases the probability of cheating. It’s thus (ironically?) consequentially better for fluffy group stability to think deontologically when it comes to morality. And this meant that having dogmatic commandments or tenets proved to be an adaptive advantage that helped those religions that enforced such commandments or tenets to succeed historically and to the present day. There are concrete social group benefits for seeing morality as comprised of dogmatic rules. And the legacies of those religions are still felt today, even in countries that are now considered secular.
But the flipside is that their unchanging consistency doesn’t allow them to evolve with the changing and diverse world, hence these rigid moral rules can easily become outdated and overly narrow. Although deontologism makes moral decision-making predictable and easy to follow regardless of the circumstances or results (so strictly following the rules will result in predictable ends or outcomes, be they good or bad) – consequentialism, or more specifically utilitarianism (seeking the greatest overall benefit-to-cost for society, or the greatest good for the greatest number, or maximising welfare and minimising suffering), is beneficial in a world that has many different cultures and many different rules.
Is sticking to the principles or ideologies more important than the end results, or do the ends justify the means? Arguably, the most progressive and sophisticated cultures will utilise a broad mix of consequential, deontological and other philosophical guides. But this is a very difficult juggling act and makes the field of politics a constantly moving one and the job of running a country a perpetually tricky and thankless one! You cannot realistically please everyone all of the time because everyone will have their own strong or moral evaluations where we will not just ‘agree to disagree’ with each other. And in at least many of these cases – though we may be mistaken that it will – science won’t be able to come to the rescue to give us an objectively correct moral answer, which means that many things will potentially forever be up for debate and negotiation.