In explaining my Empowerment Ethics so far, I have talked about how my own philosophical thinking about morality did not start by assuming morality was true and valid and legitimately binding and then trying deliberately to rationalize it. Instead I put morality into philosophical doubt and saw whether it could be defended and derived from some external criteria outside of properly moral considerations themselves. Over time I thought it could. I’ll articulate my reasons for thinking so as I continue to go.
But before we go much further it is important to specify what I mean by the terms “morality” and “objectivity” when I use the terms. Different people mean different things by the term. I find there are a lot of people who agree with me in substance about a great many issues with respect to my theory of the nature of ethics and morality and yet refuse to say something like that there can be “objective morality”.
There are several reasons for this. Some people insist that the meaning of morality must be understood to mean an absolute and unchangeable set of rules that are universally binding on all people at all times. Some people are even inclined to think that it must override all consequentialist thinking about personal or even social benefits whatsoever. Morality must say “thou shalt” in an unequivocal way. And part and parcel with this view is the idea that we must all have some absolute reason to obey it. Others might further add that for morality to be true, the moral injunctions commonly thought to comprise it at present must be correct. And for morality to be objective or true it must be absolutely objectively true, absolutely objectively compelling, and maybe even the most commonly referenced moral rules (against murder, lying, and theft, for examples) must be absolute.
This is an extremely rigid view I am sketching out. Not everyone sees morality this way. And I am going to argue that it is irrational to hold moralities to such criteria in order to be either called moralities or to be seen as objective and true. Along the way, a number of posts will make these arguments.
Let me for now, spell out the most compelling reason I found not to define morality in such a way.
For one thing, this is a particular account of what idealized morality might be like. It is a particular set of answers to the deeper questions about morality. The deepest, most fundamental, and distinct question characteristic of morality, as far as I can see, is “Why must I ever do things that I do not want to do?” Are there any kinds of rules or practices or judgments that I must adhere to and do so even when I do not want to?
From a practical standpoint, this is the crux question. The only true and meaningful and decisive moral skepticism is this question. People tell other people to do things they do not want to do. Things that go against their feelings, wants, desires, preferences, goals, etc. And in reply the question is, “Why must I?”
Or sometimes it’s not one person telling another what they must do. It is a conflict within oneself. There is a rational notion or a feeling that one must do something mixed competing against other sides of oneself. Why must one follow the order and not that which conflicts with it?