Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Morality. Who needs it?

To the degree that a society loses its respect for and devotion to the institution of morality, to that degree a society is doomed to decay and, ultimately, ruin.

We often hear this type of claim made by members of the religious community as an argument for why they must remain diligent against the evils of homosexuality and abortion. Against this, some have formed the reflexive reaction that morality is not important. The institution of morality is merely one group of self-important individuals forcing their will on others.

(Which is immoral?)

However, the premise is true.

In fact, in all secular moralities, the premise is axiomatic. Secular moralities are moralities that intimately tie issues of good, evil, right, and wrong to the well-being of societies or the greatest well-being of the greatest number of people within a society. It follows axiomatically that a lack of respect for moral institutions means less well-being within that society.

Desire utilitarianism is no different in this regard.

Morality is concerned with using social forces such as praise and condemnation to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires.

It follows axiomatically from this that a lack of concern about morality means that people are promoting (or, at least, failing to inhibit) desires that tend to thwart other desires, and inhibiting (or, at least, failing to promote) desires that tend to fulfill other desires.

Which means that desires are being thwarted that would not otherwise have been thwarted, and we are failing to fulfill desires that would have otherwise been fulfilled.

Any dispute between these members of the religious right are not legitimately cast as disputes about the importance of morality. They are disputes over what morality requires.

As it turns out, diligence against homosexuality is not an example of a respect for morality. In fact, it is an example of respect for immorality. It is an example of respect for prejudices and superstitions that should have died 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, certain institutions have carried those bigotries forward even to the current day where they are still being used to add misery to the lives of people who have done no wrong.

In fact, a proper respect for morality – a proper respect for institutions that allow people to realize states that have value for them and that teaches people to find value in states that tend to fulfill the desires of others – means respect for institutions that condemn the practice of carrying senseless 2000 year old bigotries forward into the future.

On this one issue, members of the religious community are correct and they should not be challenged. On the issue of the importance of respect for moral institutions, they are correct. Their demand that moral institutions should not be met with condemnation or casually dismissed. "Morality. Who needs it?"

We all need it.

Morality is what prevents people from finding value in (desiring) things that thwart the desires of others, and encourages people to find value in (desire) that which fulfills the desires of others. Which gives all of us better lives than we would otherwise have.

2 comments:

.C. said...

That last sentence was a bit of a tongue twister!

Can you direct me to any of your previous posts which might deal with the common theistic assertion that structured morality arising from organised religion cannot be matched by secular examples. It is an assertion that i refute for many of the reasons you highlight here and in other posts but have little substantive rebuttal for. This post demonstrates how morality might be restricted by the religious community but I'm looking for a definitive model of applied moral law in a secular context. I have no doubt you have one somewhere in your abundant archives... :]

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