Every day, without fail, there are narrow minded religious apologists claiming that their god provides morality, and some argue even further and claim that their god provides objective morality, or absolute morality, and quite frankly it’s embarrassing and a tiresome debate as they simply refuse to accept that morality is evolutionary and a social construct. Morality is knowledge, and it’s knowledge about recognising the difference between right and wrong. Doing something right is about promoting happiness, good will and treating others with respect. Doing something wrong is promoting distress, lack of compassion, understanding and empathy. As a social species we gain knowledge through experience and through the senses. We have emotions like a conscience that informs us when we’ve done something wrong, and with that usually comes remorse and regret. In future we tend to avoid the same actions as our conscience can haunt us and make us feel awful, even if the action was unintentional.
Everyone must have heard a religious apologist asking how a non-believer can make the claim that Hitler was objectively evil, or how torturing a baby is wrong. You really have to ponder the mental reasoning that they are devoid of to contemplate questions like that, and even provided with evidence that morality can be acquired, studied and observed through various philosophies and ways of life, they either claim that without god you’ve no moral framework, or if they are being backed into a corner, they suggest that we borrow the morality that was given by YHWH through Jesus, or Muslims claim through Muhammed and Allah. If they truly believe that their gods supply them with a moral framework then by all means let them live their lives the way they see fit, but don’t claim a moral superiority because you believe that an non-theist by default is nihilistic, narcissistic and a sociopath.
Moral ignorance is simply not understanding whether something is moral or not, and this is why theists, especially of the Abrahamic flavours, make the claim that you need god. But who’s to say that the opinions of the said god that’s written down in scripture is factually moral? Their argument usually comes in the form of god is perfect, he has perfect thoughts, so his morals are perfect. But is there any proof of this claim? First off, the burden of proof lies with them, as they make the claim that without god’s absolutes a moral framework can’t be established, but they not only have to prove beyond doubt that their god exists, but that what he claims are morals are actually morals, and not just commands that he wishes for. Wanting something because you are a megalomaniac who will kill if you don’t worship him, or dare to worship false idols, isn’t what I’d consider an appropriate agent for supplying a moral foundation, and I’m sure you’ll agree.
Moral ignorance, as an example is your neighbour is grooming children, but you don’t inform the correct authorities as you’re unaware what’s going on, so this is no fault of yours; but, what if you know that they are grooming children, but you’re unaware that it’s morally wrong? Do any of the religious scriptures suggest that it’s morally wrong to groom children? At a guess, I’d suggest not, but as a human being, who’s educated in social groups, we are inherently aware that it’s wrong in a number of ways. The first is it’s a child, so straight away a law has been broken as they are underage, and without the ability to understand what consensual means. Secondly, you are taking advantage of their naivety, and innocence and they more than likely aren’t even aware of what’s truly happening, and thirdly you are inflicting abuse against their rights as a human being, and will no doubt make them a future victim who will be left scarred from their tormentor.
Are we expected to adhere to moral standards? I’d argue that it’s our moral responsibility, and as ethical agents, we are obliged to apply good will to every decision we make that may affect, or influence another person. This is where consideration, and another person’s well being comes into play. If you witnessed someone have a seizure and inevitably begin convulsing, and despite knowing the recovery position, you just idly stand by watching, are you complicit in allowing that person’s death, and displaying an example of a moral failure? Of course you are, humans are hardwired by emotions, and upon seeing this you may panic, lose your calm and become flustered, but it’s natural to feel these emotions as you’re instinctive primary concern will be to try and save that person, even if they mean nothing to you. You do it because you’re expected through good will, regardless of the hope of reward, like Emmanuel Kant discusses in the Kantian theory.
“David Hume, 18th century Scottish philosopher, argues that actually our emotions can play a role in our moral makeup (as opposed to the Greco ideology of sole reason). For Confucius, benevolence — acts of kindness — is the prime virtue. Additionally, Confucian protégé, Mencius, in one of his books, utters, “Benevolence is the heart of man, and rightness his road” – Source
There are many theories, and philosophies surrounded ethics, morality and living a virtuous life.
Buddhism focuses on the ‘Four Noble Truths‘, which are;
• The Truth of Suffering;
• The Truth of the Cause of Suffering;
• The Truth of the End of Suffering;
• The Truth of the Path that Leads to the End of Suffering.
The Four Noble Truths are reached through the ‘Noble Eightfold Path‘, which are;
• Right Understanding;
• Right Thought;
• Right Speech,
• Right Action;
• Right Livelihood;
• Right Effort;
• Right Mindfulness;
• Right Concentration.
Stoicism isn’t too dissimilar to Buddhism, as it too is about reaching a virtuous, noble life, and they follow the ‘Four Cardinal Virtues‘, which are;
• Wisdom : Includes excellent deliberation, good judgment, perspective, good sense.
• Justice : Includes good-heartedness, benevolence, public service, fair dealing.
• Courage : Includes bravery, perseverance, authenticity, confidence.
• Temperance: Includes orderliness, self-control, forgiveness, humility.
Stoics primarily focused on what is virtuous, and not concerning yourself with what’s beyond your control, and having the ability to distinguish between good, bad, and indifference. The good being the Cardinal Virtues, and the bad being the direct opposite of them, foolishness, injustice, cowardice, and excessiveness.
Aretaic ethics, (virtuous) is an area of philosophy that many of the wise of Ancient Greece discussed, which focused around the areas of;
These were all the things that they considered to be essential to successfully function within a social community.
“Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved.” – Aristotle
Liberalism is perhaps one of the most important social and political philosophies, as it covers the area of equality, and since many religions are oppressive, and disregard equality, then they stumble in their delusional world that they somehow have the moral high ground. Liberalism obviously focuses on liberty, and freedom, but also covers areas like;
• Individual rights: human and civil rights;
• Freedom of religion;
• Freedom from religion;
• Gender, sexual and racial equality
These are social foundations that heavily influence the humanistic philosophical approach, where the focus is on the agency and value of humans as individuals and as a whole, using reason and empathy towards all sentient life. In the U.K humanism is a recognised, registered charity and are involved in many areas of reform which include;
• Human rights: blasphemy laws; gender mutilation; forced marriage; freedom of speech; and pro-choice: abortion rights and assisted dying.
• Animal cruelty
• Scientific method
• Progressivism: morality; economic reform; efficiency and social welfare
• Climate change and global warming
All the above examples are all adhering to a system of values and principles of conduct that’s expected for a society to flourish for the overall greater good, and I’d say the virtuous source of morality that comes from the Ancient Greek schools of thought are probably the most influential, particularly the Aristotelian views:
“The ultimate end of human action is happiness.
Happiness consists in acting in accordance with reason.
Acting in accordance with reason is the distinguishing feature of all the traditional virtues. – Source
Ultimately it seems that most philosophies are enforced by the use of reason, and reason is the ability to think, and form judgements using logical and rational understanding. I’ve already mentioned the Kantian theory, but at its basic level it amounts to this simple process:
“You ought to do your duty (simply because it is your duty).
Reason guides you to this conclusion.” – Source