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Objective Morality

Essay by   •  December 20, 2010  •  Essay  •  3,359 Words (14 Pages)  •  1,552 Views

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My purpose in writing this is to argue for the existence of an objective morality based entirely on rational and scientific reasoning. By "objective morality" I do not simply mean that morality exists in the sense that various societies consider various actions to be immoral. What I mean is that certain actions are inherently right or wrong regardless of what any society thinks about them. In other words, I mean that there is an "objective morality" which exists independently of human beliefs and human civilization. There are many people who have the opinion that it is not possible to believe in such an objective morality without also believing in concepts such as God or an eternal soul. I believe that they are wrong. I will attempt to show that an objective morality exists and that this morality is the same regardless of which religion, if any, is correct.

Many people believe that without a religious framework, the only possible conclusion is that all morality is nothing more than a human construct without any objective existence. In other words, what morality a person or a culture accepts is like picking a favorite flavor of ice cream. Some individuals prefer strawberry ice cream, other individuals prefer chocolate, and no person's preference is "more correct" than another's. In a similar manner, they argue, different individuals and different societies have various favorite moral belief systems, and just as with ice cream, no particular set of moral beliefs is "more correct" than any other.

A common argument for this type of thinking is the following. Throughout history, different cultures have had vastly different moral systems. In fact, on almost any moral issue, it appears that there is absolutely no agreement or consensus shared by even a majority of the cultures throughout history. In addition to this, there appears to be no way to prove the superiority of one moral system over another using logic alone. So the only way in which one moral system can actually be the correct one is if religion is the tie breaker. That is, whichever value system the "correct religion" advocates is the correct value system. Otherwise, there is no way to decide between them.

I believe that this type of argument is easily refuted. In order to argue for the existence of an objective morality, I will have to do more than just point out the flaws in lines of reasoning such as this. I will have to provide my own arguments that an objective morality does exist, and I will have to discuss where this morality "comes from". I will also have to explain a process by which we can attempt to determine what it is. This is what I intend to do. I would first, though, like to take some time to point out some of the errors in the reasoning above. There are two points that the argument above makes. The first regards the lack of consensus regarding morality. The second involves the inability to prove the superiority of one moral system over another using logic alone.

It is true that throughout history, different cultures have held vastly different beliefs about morality. These cultures have also held vastly different beliefs regarding natural physical laws. Consider, for example, the belief in gravity. Currently, it is believed that the phenomena which we call gravity is the result of the fact that objects with mass cause a curvature in "space-time". Under this framework, we believe that a clock located in a high gravitational field will appear to run slower than an identical clock in a region with low gravity. We also believe, under this framework, that the path of something without mass, such as a beam of light, is affected by gravity. This was not always the case. At the beginning of the twentieth century, for example, it was believed that the phenomena of gravity is the result of the fact that all objects with mass exert an attractive force on each other. According to this view, the path of a beam of light should be unaffected by gravity and identical clocks should run at the same speed everywhere. This had not always been the case either. At an earlier time it was believed that the natural place for objects such as rocks was on the ground while the natural place for things like steam was up in the sky. According to this perspective, rocks fell to the ground while steam rose because everything tends to go to its natural place. If we do a more thorough examination, including all the cultures throughout all of history, we will find an even larger variety of opinions regarding the law of gravity.

This does not, though, mean that there is no objective law of gravity which exists independently of human society. The beliefs in gravity which I described are attempts by human societies to approximate reality. Clearly, some approximations are better than others. Perhaps the current belief in the curvature of space-time is also incorrect and will later be replaced by an even better approximation. However, most people would have no problem agreeing that the curvature of space-time explanation of gravity is a better approximation to reality than the explanations which came before it.

All that this shows is that even though different cultures hold very different beliefs about a certain issue, this does not necessarily imply that there is no objective reality behind these beliefs. The claim which I will be arguing for is that this is the same for morality as it is for gravity. All the moral beliefs which came before us and all the moral beliefs today are, in exactly the same way as in the case of gravity, approximations to the objective reality which exists independently of human beings. Although probably none of these approximations correspond to reality exactly, as with gravity, some approximations are better than others. For example, the value system of a society which condones slavery but condemns cannibalism is incorrect, but it is a better approximation to reality than that of a society which condones both slavery and cannibalism.

The claim that no one has yet been able to prove the correctness of a particular moral system through logic alone is also correct. However, if we continue the analogy with gravity, we will realize that no one has also been able to prove the existence of gravity through logic alone either. The reason we believe that a rock will fall to the ground is because that is what we have always observed when we have let go of rocks in the past. There is a little more to it than that, of course, but not much. Our current theory of gravity predicts many specific phenomena. These include rocks falling to the ground, planets orbiting the Sun, the creation of ocean tides by the moon, and identical clocks running at different speeds. The only reason why we do believe in our current theory of gravity is because every time we have observed these phenomena,

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