Is there one universal objective moral code that applies for everyone at all times and in all places? Morality would certainly be an easier endeavor if we could simply point to an objective standard bearer. Many Theists think that if God exists, there is a sufficient basis for objective morality. I still question that premise even if a God exists.
I would certainly agree that if a God exists He could act as an enforcer of various commands and rules, however, even in light of enforcement, would this make such commands objective? In my view, not in light of Euthyphro’s dilemma.
Now, does Euthyphro’s dilemma automatically mean that morality is objective independently of whether God exists? Well, my thought is this. If we are to search out and pinpoint either an objective standard bearer, something equivalent or similar to a God, or the existence of an impersonal set of objective moral standards, I am of the view that both searches fall short.
In other words, it appears that we cannot adequately establish whether morality is a universal objective moral code that applies for everyone at all times and in all places. In order to know this, we would need to be omniscient beings.
An argument for morality as it has been put forth by William Lane Craig and other Theists like him, is rather problematic as it relates to attempting to validate objective morality.
As stated it says,
If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Therefore, God exists.
Premise one of this argument would seem true in the classical sense of understanding morality as a universal objective moral code. If God does not exist, there is not a corner of our universe that appears to be dictating to our species an official code of right and wrong, good and bad.
If God does not exist this would appear to make morality subjective and more relative to one’s circumstances. The question is, would this be such a negative thing to accept about morality? Well, I can think of a few negative objections that often get raised.
If morality is not objective, there is no good reason to agree on anything morally.
If God does not exist, a lack of objective morality implies the absence of ultimate accountability and justice.
If morality is not objective, how can we call out the Holocaust as something that was totally intrinsically wrong?
Let’s take a look at this first objection.
1. If morality is not objective, there is no good reason to agree on anything morally.
This concern would seem to be a failure to account for why there is a good amount of moral consensus in the world already. Certainly the development of moral frameworks is not without benefit in our world.
Just consider a basic desire for well-being both for ourselves and others. A simple definition of well-being is a state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. Certainly we can derive a great amount of motivation to work toward this goal in life, can we not?
Now, just imagine what working toward well-being looks like? It involves avoiding the worst possible outcome for everyone. It involves taking the needs of others into account. Is this working from a strong sense of ought or obligation? No, it is working from a strong internal desire to better the world voluntarily, and dare I say it, in spite of a sense of obligation. I’ll leave it to my readers to judge how freeing that concept may be? Living for the good of others solely because we want to?
What this means is that the beginning of our quest for morality is subjective, but since so many of us can agree that we desire well-being both for others and ourselves, well-being ends up getting greatly informed by the reality of the external world. How we can best live together in a community, how we assess the positive and negative consequences of our actions, how we reduce suffering, and how we ensure the safety of one another.
2. If God does not exist, a lack of objective morality implies the absence of ultimate accountability and justice.
It is true that if God does not exist, there is not an ultimate enforcer of the rules. There is not a divine commander. We each need to think through and consider how relevant these ideas really are to bettering the world regardless? I happen to think that if God doesn’t exist, it really has no bearing on whether we can live selflessly and virtuously before our fellow human beings.
Accountability and justice becomes relevant to our circumstances, not on a cosmic scale, that was never the point. The disappointment that derives from this is that there will have been much within this world that people essentially got away with. A vast array of wrongs that were never punished or made right.
Since I desire to reflect a certain kind of realism, I just pose the question to these people, “should we have ever expected justice to be implemented on a cosmic scale?” Both morality and justice are human constructs, but we benefit from these constructs in order to provide accountability in the here and now, you know, where it appears to count the most. Safety, survival, and a sense of fairness all make sense in a world where we are concerned about well-being.
3. If morality is not objective, how can we call out the Holocaust as something that was totally intrinsically wrong?
I’d say that the problem with this thinking begins with the fact that nobody truly knows whether morality is actually objective. So many good minds are left searching and asking, “in what way is morality objective?” This is more so an argument from desire.
Well, we can wish it and want it with every fiber in our bodies, this doesn’t make God real and it doesn’t make morality objective. So, what are the facts? The fact is that something like the Holocaust is very clearly and objectively a threat to human well-being.
To any of us who agree that well-being is worth striving for, both for ourselves and others, the Holocaust should appear quite objectively antithetical to those goals. That’s what really matters here, am I right? We don’t actually know whether the Holocaust matters on a cosmic scale, so who was this atrocity most relevant to? It was most relevant to our circumstances as human beings that just want to survive and enjoy living.
To a vast majority of people the Holocaust was bad and it was very bad in the context of looking out for the greater well-being of our species. We know we can do better. We know we can value one another better. We know that we can create a safer world than that.
My final point is this, we don’t need ought statements in order to recognize what is objectively threatening and clearly not within the interest of health and well-being. The simple assumption here is that we can and do take it upon ourselves to value one another and vouch for each other’s safety, health, and happiness.
Are there exceptions to this rule, yes, but these are precisely the kind of people that exhibit a lack of basic empathy and demonstrate with their actions why we create justice systems and mental health facilities in the first place.
My next post will pick up where I’ve left off. I’ll move on to address the second premise of The Moral Argument.