brothercyst: morality & religion continued

Monday, July 31, 2006

morality & religion continued

In response to Ned Vizzini's comment to my last post here.


Well, you have "pre-moral intuitions" and then you have self-created standards, which at a basic level may be motivated by pure self-interest ("_______ is bad/good because it hurts/helps me") but which at a more developed level will make judgments by considering the interests of others, making relative distinctions, and recognizing degrees of possibility ("______ would be wrong because the great suffering it might cause to person A seems to outweigh the relatively minor happiness it will definitely cause for person B and for myself").

The latter (the self-created standard, as I'm calling it) is based on a combination of reason and assumption. It is necessary to make certain basic assumptions that we take for granted in daily life - among them: that suffering is bad and pleasure is good, that there are degrees of suffering and pleasure, that an individual human life has some inherent value, and that the exterior world exists independent of oneself - and then apply those assumptions to observations of the world, using reason to establish internally consistent moral standards and to judge human actions accordingly.

(Why moral standards should only apply to human actions rather than, say, the actions of animals or of nature - say, the weather - is a discussion in and of itself.)

This seems to me the most intellectually rigorous and personally defensible way of applying moral standards to one's own life, but it is of course problematic. A malicious or mentally unsound person might make a moral defense of acts that seem appalling to a rational mind. Thus the need for a rule book, as I earlier referred to holy texts like the Bible/Quran/whatever. But why can't the rule book be civil law?

The law, in my opinion, does not (or should not) dictate morality. It should acknowledge certain basic (re: useful) assumptions - like the inherent value of human life (in other words, the right to life/liberty/pursuit of happiness) but after that simply set out necessary guidelines for the smooth functioning of society. We can't have people running around killing each other and taking each other's things and driving without licenses because all those things are in different ways disruptive to the processes that keep civil society functioning.

So if we have the law, why is religion so necessary to so many people? What is it about the idea of a supernatural origin that has such enduring appeal?

All this is written pretty much stream-of-consciousness during my lunch break. Apologies (to any of the few people who may read this) for glossing over certain nuances and surely missing others entirely.

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