Sunday, March 25, 2012

J. Budziszewski on the Meaning of Morality

"The whole meaning of morality is a rule that we ought to obey whether we like it or not. If so, then the idea of creating a morality we like better is incoherent. Moreover, it would seem that until we had created our new morality, we would have no standard by which to criticize God. Since we have not yet created one, the standard by which we judge Him must be the very standard that He gave us. If it is good enough to judge Him by, then why do we need a new one?"

— J. Budziszewski
What We Can't Not Know (Kindle Locations 384-387). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition. 


Geoffrey Charles said...

Looking at people groups over time, it seems that our understanding of morality has indeed been changing. As we become more able to assess the effects of our actions, we can know more about which actions will increase well-being and which ones won't.

On this view, the basis of change is partly due to our increased analytic capacities, etc., not a pre-existing, objective Law of God.

A term that I just thought of might help to distinguish between different meanings of morality: "objective wrongness." I have a hard time justifying the existence of "objective wrongness."

The closest I can get to it is a type of "subjective wrongness" that is informed in part by some analysis of the objective effects of certain actions. However, such "subjective wrongness," though it includes an element of objectivity, is still only wrong because people have decided it to be. So, it is subjectively wrong. Perhaps objectively harmful, but subjectively wrong.

How does one justify "objective wrongness?"

LittleGoose said...

@ Geoffrey

Change in actions of people groups over a long period of time does not disprove objective morality any more than changes in science disprove the existence of objective scientific truth. Scientists have radically disagreed with each other since the beginning of science, but there has to be something objective for them to work towards.

I take your "objective wrongness" to refer to something that is wrong regardless of what people think. Are you willing to say that torturing babies for fun would not be wrong if everyone agreed to it?

Also, it sounds like you are saying that morality is simply "which actions will increase well-being and which ones won't" and at the same time affirming that objective wrongness does not exist. Would it be objectively wrong for me to disagree with you? If objective wrongness does not exist, then what obligation does anyone have to "increase well-being?"

Not anonymous said...

The planets orbit the sun in an elliptical pattern, but it took science over a thousand years to discover this fact. The fact was objectively true the whole time. Our gradual discovery of the nature of the universe does not render that universe somehow only subjectively true. Rather, we gradually discover objective truth as we shine the lights into more corners of our physical reality.

The moral argument does indeed suppose objective morals. The Holocaust was objectively wrong, even though the Nazis who carried it out thought it right. It would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and Nazified the entire world afterward, leaving every human being on the planet thinking the extermination of the Jews was a moral good. Under your view, under these circumstances the Holocaust would have been "moral", as everybody would have thought so. But we say that it is wrong apart from human opinion on the matter.

There is also a problem with your notion of "well-being". Why is that "good" under naturalism? As animals, and beyond that, merely particles swirling through an unmeaning universe without even any free will, just bouncing about according to the laws of nature, we have neither agency nor meaning. How can anything be "good"? Moral improvement itself is not possible without objective morality, only moral "change" would be possible on a purely materialistic view of the universe.

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