Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Talking About Morality

Moral philosophers have a serious problem when it comes to talking to non-philosophers about morality.

This is because moral philosophers have adopted a private language - a secret code that they use to discuss morality among themselves. They are off in a corner speaking their private language, every once in a while glancing out at the world to see what is going on, before continuing their discussion among themselves that nobody else can understand.

It seems somewhat inefficient.

It is an inefficiency that I hope to deal with as I resurrect this blog.

Take, for example, the denial of "moral realism" - the claim that there are no moral facts.

If you are in the corner with the philosophers talking about morality in their own private language, you will be quickly and sternly informed that denying the existence of moral facts does not imply that "everything is permitted". It does not imply that there is no reason to condemn the person who slits the throat of a neighbor out of anger, or that one should feel free to take the property of others whenever one can get away with it. The philosophers will say that there are non-moral reasons to be concerned about these things.

However, when you leave the philosophers' circle and step out onto the street, things are different. On the street, the denial of morality implies uninhibited murder, rape, and theft.

Here, some philosophers will tend to adopt an attitude of superiority and condescension. "This is because the plebes - the uneducated and unwashed masses - lack our sophistication and understanding."

Well, those "plebes" are the ones who are borrowing things and promising to return them, refraining from taking property that they can get away with taking, paying their bills on time (or not), deciding whether to lie about the broken window or to drive away from the accident, or deciding whether to donate to a charity or buy a new big-screen television, deciding which politician to vote for and whether or not to punish their children.

The moral philosopher who wants to talk to non-philosophers has two options.

Option 1: Teach everybody to speak the secret private language of philosophers. This is a poor option. It will require getting people to spend a huge amount of time on something they don't have time for.

Option 2: Learn to speak the "common tongue" of the non-philosopher. That is to say, talk to the people in their own language.

In the "common tongue," "there are no moral facts" implies "uninhibited murder, rape, and theft." And if "institutions for inhibiting socially harmful actions such as murder, rape, and theft exist" then "morality exists."

I hold that morality exists.

There is still some philosophical work to be done. There are two other major institutions that have a role to play in promoting socially useful behavior and inhibiting socially harmful behavior. One of these is "law". The other is "medicine" - specifically, "mental health". It would be useful to distinguish among these. It would be particularly useful to find the distinctions that exist between them in the "common tongue".

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Would you be interested in participating in a blog debate. I've had a couple and the subject of morality is one I have not formally debated as of yet. If you'd like to check out my debates: truthinterrupted.wordpress.com
If you're interested, please let me know. Thanks.

Truth, Interrupted said...

Would you be interested in participating in a blog debate. I've had a couple and the subject of morality is one I have not formally debated as of yet. If you'd like to check out my debates: truthinterrupted.wordpress.com
If you're interested, please let me know. Thanks.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I would be pleased to have a discussion with you on the subject of morality. Let me know the terms and conditions.