Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Moral absolutes? (for Creeping Jenny)

In this comment, Creeping Jenny said,

"Good question about [source of absolutes in] morality. I think human beings have some kind of innate morality-understanding faculty, a bit like our innate language-speaking faculty. Something's striking me as wrong is decent (though pretty imperfect) evidence that it's wrong. I can check up on whether my moral faculty is misleading me by making sure I've got all the facts right, examining whether I have egoistic reasons for prejudicing my judgment one way or another, using logic to check whether my moral beliefs are consistent, and speaking to people who are wiser than me.

As to why anybody has moral perception in the first place, I do not yet have a good answer."

If this conversation continues, it could well need space of its own, hence the new post.


Thanks for your response also.

Language is something that appears to be hard-wired into our brains. Although there is much about brain physiology that isn't understood yet, there is a specific region of our brains that processes language. If morality worked the same way, I would think there would be a corresponding region of our brains that dealth with that. Nobody has discovered one that I'm aware of.

Also, what happens when someone is as rational as you, as well-intended as you, but has a radically different perception of what is right? We can think of the 9-11 terrorists, or the Iranian mullahs, or the Nazis. I'm fascinated by the account of Albert Speer, the well-educated, well-intended young man who because Hitler's architect then Minister of Armaments because, in his words, "Adolf Hitler can save Germany." At least that's according to the movie on his autobio, Inside the Third Reich. I make it a point to watch this movie every year or two, to revisit the question of how such an educated, "enlightened" democracy could descend so quickly to the point of genocide. To make things even more complicated, there were even members of the "Christian" clergy who supported the Nazis (although some opposed too.)

So it's not at all apparent to me that morality is either evident or innate, although we do have (as the Bible says) consciences that remain more or less intact in each individual.

In his book How Shall We Then Live, Fransic Schaeffer poijnts out that if we have only ourselves, individually or collectively, as sources of information from which to reason to conclusions, our ability to reach satisfactory conclusions will be limited, because what we know is limited, especially in comparison to what we need to know to reach the conclusions we seek. That is why the Enlightenment resulted ultimately in postmodernism: despair of finding objective true answers to the human condition, once the possibility of revelation from God is rejected.