Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Purpose of Morality

A couple of days ago, I said in reference to the violence in Mubai, India:

"We invent morality to protect us from these types of events."

In my re-assessment of this blog – my investigation into what the blog is or should be about – this is an important statement. I want to expand on that.

A moral recommendation is a recommendation that says, "If we promote a particular set of attitudes, people generally will be less inclined to do X. As a result, we and those we care about – which should include every innocent person - suffer less thwarting and more fulfillment of their own desires."

Failure to promote a moral society means putting oneself and others at risk of suffering the harms that immoral people impose on others.

This is one of the thoughts that I have going through my mind with every post that I write. The question is, "Am I directing peoples' attention against something that people generally have many and strong reasons to prevent through moral institutions?" The post itself, in the vast majority of cases, is merely my argument that the answer to such a question is "Yes." Or, if I am assessing a moral claim that somebody else has made, my post may be devoted to providing reasons to believe that the answer to that question is, "No" – that the person I am criticizing has her moral facts wrong.

On the view that I defend in this blog, the right act is the act that a person with good desires would perform – the person concerned with the well being of self, family, neighbors, and even unknown strangers.

Morality exists as a way of protecting us, we care about, and even strangers from murder, rape, theft, fraud, and even from harm due to callous negligence. We protect ourselves and others from these wrongs by promoting desires and aversions that will direct them to do something other than commit these types of moral crimes. The failure to promote morality is a failure to promote desires and aversions that would direct people to do things other than commit these types of moral crimes.

These are cases for which a term like "evil" was invented for. It is a flag, directing others to what the reader asserts is some set of attitudes that people generally have many and strong reasons to inhibit. A moral argument that sits behind a moral claim is the proof that those many and strong reasons actually exist.

Of course, if that moral argument makes an ineliminable reference to a God or an intrinsic value, then it makes a reference to a reason that does not exist, and the moral argument fails on that account.

So, this is one of the things that I am after in this blog – a set of arguments that relate objects of (moral) evaluation to reasons for action that do exist. Success means reducing the risk of harms that evil people do for innocent people generally. Failure (which includes any post in which I make a mistake in identifying what people generally have reason to promote or inhibit) means that they are at risk of suffering those harms.

1 comment:

Neuroskeptic said...

Do we invent morality? I'm not sure who invented it and when - I always thought it was a natural expression of human nature. If someone says "X is wrong", it's not because they think saying it will bring about a desired outcome, it's generally because they feel that X is wrong.

I'm not defending this, just pointing it out.