Variations in morality

As author of this blog, I pay attention to readers’ comments and occasionally reply to them. As a policy, however, I’ve chosen not to use the posts themselves to interact with any one person, notwithstanding that readers’ comments have occasionally induced me to consider a matter I might otherwise have not. This is one of those times.

Over the three and a half years of this blog, I’ve made a case for morality to be considered from a secular humanist perspective rather than a religious one (e.g., among several: “Morality is too important to be left to religion,” Jan. 2, 2014; “Morality in secular humanism,” Mar. 16, 2015), even that religion-based morality is frequently itself immoral (e.g., “Escaping the evil of sin,” Jan. 20, 2015; “The immorality of religion’s morality,” July 18, 2016). As desirable as I believe the task of developing morality by and for humans to be, reaching consensus even among humanists would be a formidable task. A similar objective among theists informed by their existing cross faith disagreements would be even more daunting, since religious moralities arise from a desire to please various alleged gods, each with his, her, its, or their considerable differences from faith to faith.

Within Christianity alone, variations in what pleases and displeases God are legion. The purpose of morality in secular humanism–and, therefore, the theme in constructing its morality—is, on the other hand, quite focused: the survival and flourishing of human beings. Briefly stated, whatever contributes toward that flourishing is moral, whatever detracts from it is immoral. But it still isn’t quite that simple, for there are many fine tunings to consider.

Should we add “sentient beings” to “human beings” (as argued by Michael Shermer in The Moral Arc)? Persons who regard treatment of animals as a moral issue would certainly want to do so. Should morality deal solely with what we should not do, that is, what restricts our otherwise free range of behavior, or should it also be prescriptive? Should behaviors otherwise immoral get a free pass if they also have sufficiently positive effects? Considerations like these, along with a myriad of similar quandaries, would still leave individuals with moral decisions to make for which there’d be no specific guidance. That ambiguity is far exceeded by religion-based moral codes for the reasons noted above.

I intend to revisit this line of thought more extensively as the life of this blog continues, along with distinguishing between (a) moral codes persons might personally figure out and adopt and (b) moral imperatives imposed upon individuals by a society (whether based on religion or not).

Considerations of morality have concerned many thinkers over the millennia, not just religious ones. As pointed out in a comment to my most recent post, some have concluded that morality is best governed by religious adherents’ beliefs about gods; others have concluded that humans cannot shirk the opportunity and duty to develop a calculus of morality themselves. Even if a person’s approach is the latter, thoughts of thinkers from both camps have something to offer, as is true in reverse. Do I draw utility and stimulation from thinkers whose starting point was religion, like C.S. Lewis? Yes, along with nonreligious philosophers, like John Stuart Mill (I have read others, but I cite these two simply because each led me to strong opinions about their work).

There seems no more end to philosophical quandaries as time moves along than there are to those of the physical sciences.


About John Bruce Carver

I am a U. S. citizen living in Atlanta, Georgia, having grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and graduating from Chattanooga High School. I served in the Electronic Security Command of the U. S. Air Force before receiving a B.S. degree in business/economics and an M.Ed. in educational psychology, both at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I then completed a Ph.D. in clinical (and research) psychology at Emory University. I have two daughters and three granddaughters. An ardent international traveller, I have been in over 70 countries for business and pleasure. My reading, other than novels, tends to be in history, philosophy, government, and light science. I identify philosophically as a secular humanist, in complete awe of the universe including my fellows and myself. I am married to my best friend, Miriam, formerly of the United Kingdom and Canada.
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