what morality means

I believe right and wrong are objective. Even if EVERYONE was a sociopathic killer…even if we evolve AWAY from kindness (and into selfishness), we will all be wrong.

Morality is objectively correct.

I’m fascinated by the fact that philosophical discussions in 2017 can still be so confused. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the thinkers of the past who formalised the rambling thoughts most humans have had in their private minds at some point in their life. It’s useful that the typical questions about existence and meaning that lead down obvious channels, are presented more carefully thought-out and sometimes exquisitely expressed, that they have been treasured for millennia, and that they can still provide inspiration for young minds so many generations later.

But let’s be clear, these concepts aren’t the foundation of human thinking. They are the earliest written expressions of countless similar thoughts, which, crucially, were conceived in times of relative ignorance. The assumptions in terms of superstitious underpinning cannot be ignored, nor can the context of the information void.

So, when attempting to discuss this notion of ‘morality’ with some people of a religious persuasion, I’m baffled by their continued acceptance of ‘objective morality’ as a given starting point. Because, they argue, if objective morality doesn’t exist, we’re totally doomed!

Not quite.

‘Morality’ is a label given to really quite basic human thought processes – I simply don’t accept the clouding of superstitious presumption that comes loaded with the label we have attached to it.

Our sense of morality is primarily (certainly in our early years) influenced by our environment: what our culture, society or parents have presented as ‘normal’ and ‘good’. Obvious examples are some Muslims feeling it’s immoral for a woman to show her face in public; some Christians feeling it’s immoral to have sex outside of marriage; some Jews feeling it’s immoral to eat pigs. There can be an overwhelming sense that something is wrong, for no other reason than it is not what we are used to as part of our underpinning tradition, and to do otherwise would feel bad.

But the mechanics of morality are simply actions. When children and adults start to critically evaluate these actions, and question why something ‘instinctively’ feels ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to them, they are stepping into the next stage of our sense of ‘morality’. Because the basic categorisation of actions as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ can be more helpfully evaluated by considering the positive and/or harmful outcomes of actions.

And this is where our moral judgements suddenly become terribly complex. Should we switch off life-saving machines keeping people in pain alive? Would that be killing or showing kindess? Should we bomb people we consider enemies in the pursuit of peace? Would short-term murder save more lives in the long-term? ‘Morality’ can almost never be the simple ‘yes’-‘no’/’right’-‘wrong’ choice that some Christians would like it to be, and this is one of the reasons that encouraging them to challenge their thinking is so important.

Some Christians agree up to this point, but then guided by their archaic understand of ‘morality’, get super excited about their delusion that humans could never agree on a ‘correct’ or ‘moral’ course of action without the presence of an invisible god beaming out ‘good’.  This notion is as ridiculous as it seems. Our shared sense of morality as human beings is guided by our understanding of the impact of our actions, which is influenced by our naturally evolved empathy (understanding and caring about other people’s suffering) mixed with, among other things, the logic of the Golden Rule, the observation of which ensures a more pleasant society for everyone. It’s not magic – it’s simply putting ourselves in others’ shoes, caring about how they feel and wanting better living conditions for those we love.

So, for anyone else who holds the idea of an absence of objective morality with utter horror, please don’t be scared. Be scared for the people who can’t see complex decisions in a rational light, be scared for people who don’t understand their basic empathy, and who can’t see the logic in working together to create societies with less suffering, societies where we all look out for each other. Because all too often these are the shallow, instinctive moral judgements that can lead people to burn heretics, to hang homosexuals or to deny women bodily autonomy. These moral judgements made on a baseless, invisible ‘sense’ of perceived good and bad, are the most senseless of all.