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In most literature, the idea that morality might not be universal, absolute, and objective is viewed extremely negatively. The lack of belief in such a morality is seen as nihilistic – a worldview of meaninglessness – and a rejection of morality itself.
Most people toss around the terms right and wrong to refer to all moral assertions. This sort of language indicates we believe there is a degree of objective correctness intrinsic in morality. Where does the authority or source of morality come from, I wonder?
First things first. Let’s point out there are numerous systems of morals that we could abide by. We could work towards bettering each other’s happiness, or our own, or we could strive for causing as much pain and destruction in the world as possible. There are many more moralities that could be taken up. If morality has this ‘correctness,’ then which one of them is correct? Which are better than others, and which is the best?
In order to grade and evaluate differing systems of morals, we need some kind of standard. This standard would check off how a moral system fares at achieving certain things. These certain things must be our goals, our desires, our values in life. Values are not universal, absolute, or objective, hence morality isn’t either.
Just because a large number of human beings value the same things does not mean they all do. We don’t all want each other’s happiness. In fact, sometimes we wish to hurt each other in the worst ways. And by virtue of being the creation of thought, morality is subjective, not objective. I agree with David Hume on this matter. From Wikipedia:
He distinguished between matters of fact and matters of value, and suggested that moral judgments consist of the latter, for they do not deal with verifiable facts obtained in the world, but only with our sentiments and passions. But Hume regarded some of our sentiments as universal. He famously denied that morality has any objective standard, and suggested that the universe remains indifferent to our preferences and our troubles.
So what, then, is the basis for morality? What rational reasons have we to be “moral”? None. There is no objective reason for me to indulge in anyone’s happiness or suffering. However there are subjective rationales for behaving ethically, though it is more apt to call them subjective motivations. Morality can lead to good, and that is why I support it, but that does not mean it has a purely rational foundation.
The basis for morality, as I outlined, would be a system of morals that would reliably lead to the fulfillment of our desires and values. More thoughts on this to come.