Thoughts on Morality



Morality is often defined as the answer or perhaps a guide to the question – What we ought to do? As a consequence, there is a secondary question that comes after – What we ought to do with respect to what aim?. There is a consensus about the fact that the goal should be flourishing. Because we inherently know that any goal other than flourishing is absurd. Even then there is again the question of flourishing, with respect to what? Is it the flourishing of an individual? Society as a whole? Even if you agree to some extent to the tail end of the proposition, we have to consider another important aspect – one that is debated constantly. Can we say that morality is objective? As in, does it exist independently, of the user – like science or math.

Well, it’s clear from the definition of morality that it can never be objective. The question is what we ought to do, introducing the need for a subjective entity alongside it. The closest it can come to objectivity is universality – meaning, that every conscious (perhaps rational) entity will reach the same moral conclusions given a moral problem. This is something that could very well be true – but it’s hard to prove so. Obviously, there can be reasonable assumptions that lead to this being true, creating a “pseudo-objectivity” that is quite practical to use. However, if we build from the ground up, we can only reach at most practical moral universalism and as the ground truth, something like altruistic egoism or moral relativism.

Let’s consider that flourishing is the goal of morality. Most commonly, people mean flourishing in a general sense. Now, the reason why this is taken as an axiom is that it is apparently irreducible. Although, if we try to put it in concrete terms – general flourishing is the flourishing of all people, with its smallest unit being an individual. Therefore, an even more fundamental assumption will be prioritizing the flourishing of the individual.

A natural concern is what is the implication of this? Well, this is a truth arrived at through reasoning, and it is not something that has to be concerned with implications in my opinion. Even so, that doesn’t mean that society will reduce itself to chaos and anarchy. Quite the naive way to look at things. If you consider how the individual maximizes one’s flourishing, you’ll see that there are some base values they uphold. We really don’t know if these values are inherent to our nature or if they come from a nurturing standpoint, but the outcomes of moral actions can be analyzed. Taking a look back at all societies that have come up, you can see glimpses of moral assumptions that they have taken – even though the reasoning done was poor- and notice that there are a few commonalities between them. For instance, the assumption that a person should be treated with a certain level of dignity and respect just because he’s human is something common. This is not something we write down as rules, but a certain understanding that we can arrive at by observing human behavior and reasoning with it. These are moral propositions that we all agree with, at least almost all documented human societies have agreed upon them. It’s quite reasonable to assume that just because we know that morality isn’t objective, society wouldn’t crumble.

Another argument against why morality isn’t objective is through a thought experiment – what if you were the only sentient creature in reality. Does morality exist there? No. It’s a tool that is created to cohabitate with other sentient species. Well, that is what a social construct looks like. Morality is not objective, but that doesn’t mean it is completely different from individual to individual. There are some fundamental patterns that can be observed. In the end, a better understanding behind the universality of this can only come with a deeper understanding of human psychology.

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