My interest in human morality peaked in grade 12 when I stumbled across ‘Beyond Good and Evil’. Although I
immediately felt a connection with Nietzsche and his writing, I didn’t grasp it all straight away; it has taken years of hard concentration and studying philosophy at a higher level to reach a point where I can regularly flip through Beyond Good and Evil and extract principles and truths with relative ease. Even though it has taken years to reach this place, it still had a profound impact on me. This radical philosophy became the impetus to dissect my diverging view of morality and ethics, and make sense of that in a larger framework.
As with anyone capable of self-reflection, adaptation and an understanding of cause-and-effect, my experiences themselves have yielded massive changes in my understanding and appreciation of morality. I was raised Christian and educated in the Christian school system. My peers saw a revival in their faith as a result of direct faith-based education. I did not.
I came from a home of humble means. My father, who is disabled, stayed at home and took care of us kids while my mom became the sole breadwinner for the family. My father was an ultra-religious man (he has since calmed down). It was a hard life. The Christian school system favored a hard ethic of work over any other virtue; you could be an abusive father and husband, but if you worked hard manual labor and made a name for yourself in business, you would still be held in high-esteem.
As you might have deduced, we were bullied a lot in school; by both the teachers, parents and students. It wasn’t until high-school that I branched away from the community and began to explore my own personal identity. I rebelled, but in a soft-ball sort of fashion; i was in a band, hung-out with ‘non-christians’, and drank and smoked the occasional joint. One of the odd consequences of bullying is that it often produces in the victim a heightened appreciation for altruism, empathy, and in general moral virtue. Basically, even though I looked like a tough kid who didn’t care, I did care.
I’m now attending a private Christian University studying Psychology and Philosophy. I’m still agnostic, and will most likely remain that way. Save for the ex-nhillio appearance of a heavenly apparition revealing the secrets of life, I doubt my beliefs will change.
The only reason I considered Christianity a viable worldview-option is because I found the argument from morality so utterly convincing, and the consequences of such a morality so worthwhile and prosperous. Our professors, especially of philosophy and religion, drill into us the idea that no such morality exists without Christianity, or religion. I always found this odd. My one philosophy professor in particular believes that aside from natural law, morality is simply a cultural creation; that it’s totally arbitrary and relative. When I try to argue for a different brand of morality, or a different cause, he won’t have it – he’s very much a fundamentalist in this way. He’ll site some metaphysical principle that apparently is an antecedent prerequisite for morality in general. But he’s just grasping at straws.
It wasn’t until I downloaded and started reading Sam Harris’ ‘The Moral Landscape’ but a week ago that I realized my intuitions about human morality weren’t totally biased and could actually be explained rationally.
Sam posits that morality is so much more profoundly concrete than previous philosophers have made it out to be. He disagrees with nietzsche’s belief that morality is a social construction, and that we all wish to actualize our own der Wille zur Macht. That morality is a product of our evolutionary ancestry, or that morality can only be explained in religious terms by virtue of natural law. He claims that morality is based upon well-being. That morality can be studied and addressed by science, and that morality is a necessary force for good in this world (and I don’t mean necessary’ in the metaphysical sense). His position is I guess a neo-utilitarianism. Only different. He claims that there will always be objections to a morality based upon well-being, but also their will always be a consensus which holds to the position that general well-being and morality are intimately and causally related.
To ‘reduce’ (I’m using the word reduce adjectivally) the sum of his position to one sentence, it would be this: morality did not arise by virtue of evolution, solely as some mutation that provided increased survival and/or reproductive fitness, but as a byproduct of emerging human consciousness; because it’s an amalgamation of self-reflection, which causes us to be aware of our own well-being, intuition, which provides empathy, and the capacity for problem solving, which allows us the unique purview that what’s good for us, is good for others, and as a result is also good for us, which could only arise as a result of consciousness. (A full comprehensive definition can only be acquired by reading through the whole book, firsthand.)
This is a big discovery for me. Although reading the book I have come across certain assertions that make me grind my teeth with frustration, there have also been certain parts that upon reading have resulted in sort of quasi-epiphanies. Theists will argue against this view of morality vehemently because for the first time someone offers a realistic and rational alternative of morality that is intellectually appealing to the academic and objectively appealing to the layman. I’m not finished the book yet, so I could be jumping the gun, and he could totally contradict himself in the end, but for the most part I’m very grateful and very happy that he wrote this, and that I’ve begun reading it; it is the single biggest influence on my understanding of morality since I read Beyond Good and Evil for the first time when I was eighteen years old.
Christians and Theists often claim authority in matters of morality because they have an ultimate authority upon which to draw answers from. But I’ve always been of the position that a lack of understanding isn’t evidence of an absence of truth, but simply sheds light on the fact that in any given particular situation in which there is a gap between evidence and knowledge there will eventually be a convergence on any number of the particular truths in question – whatever truth that may be. In this instance it’s truth concerning morality and its corollaries. And I’d be more than happy to spearhead a campaign to unearth that truth (not exhume, as the theist would).