Morality is one of the major concerns of philosophy; what is good, what is actually bad? Many theories have tried to answer these questions with or without success. I disagreed with most of the theories except one: objectivism. But first, why subjectivism, emotivism, theological and psychological egoism have failed to convince me.
This theory simply states that ethical judgments are subjective; in other words, ethical judgments are totally influenced by personal opinions. Basically, facts just as right or wrong have no value. The only relevant facts are personal ones according to objectivism.
The theory, therefore, encounters 4 main problems:
- A subjectivist changes his views over time, without expressing any feelings but can’t find a rationale for such change.
- Subjectivism makes moral argument impossible as every ethical judgment reflects a personal mental state.
- A decision-making process is impossible. How can we come to a decision if each of us cannot argue?
- Finally, a disagreement is impossible because a subjectivist states his own feeling; therefore it is not right or wrong, he is neutral.
Subjectivism is therefore a wrong answer to what is right or wrong.
Emotivism states that moral judgments are an expression of our emotions. Words such as “good” or “bad” have no meaning. Therefore, if we state that pedophilia, for example, is wrong, we are only expressing our feeling.
Does it make sense? Of course not. It is true that when we describe pedophilia as being wrong, we express our feelings but most of all, we state the truth of the world. If everything we state seems to be an expression of emotions, nothing has value.
The theological theory
The theological theory links morality with religion and includes two sub-theories:
- The divine command theory: morally right means commanded by God. Already, this statement has a weakness that is assuming that God exists. Moreover, by definition, morality doesn’t mean being commanded by God. Still, the theory answers back by stating that modern language has forgotten the primary sense of morality. But then again, we could ask to show us! Thirdly, the open question argument shows another weakness of the theory. If “X” means “Y”, the question is “X” “Y”? doesn’t have any sense. For example, a dog is a canine. We can’t ask the question “is a dog a canine”? But if God is good, we can still ask is God good? Fourthly, the statement “it is right if God commanded it” means that everything God commands is right. So it sets no limit to what God commands. Moreover, people could use this argument to justify a wrong action. Finally, if what God commands is good, we have a picture of a limited God because wrong things happen so who commanded them? Theologians would answer that humans bring the bad by abusing their free will.
- The theory of natural law: this theory makes 2 statements
- The world has values and purposes built into it; human beings are the most valuable.
- The Laws of nature tell us how things ought to be. This theory doesn’t fit with modern science as it doesn’t refer to values or purposes. Second of all, perfection doesn’t exist and that’s why our world is so interesting. Finally, the idea of a norm doesn’t have any sense. Who gives us “the purpose of things”?
Psychological egoism states that every action is motivated by selfishness. This theory is very dark. For example, charity brings us the good feeling of showing our power. It is maybe unconscious, but it is selfish still.
To cut the story short, the theory only reinterprets motives that are altruist into selfish drives but doesn’t necessarily mean it is the case.
My major criticism of this theory would be to T. Hobbes. According to him, as we are all selfish, we need a sort of all-powerful governor to control us. In his book The Leviathan, he shows how the whole world is minimized by the motive of selfishness. In other words, it is a claim for the glory of dictatorship. But we live in (partial?) democracy, therefore we are not always driven by selfishness. Moreover, as nearly dictatorship failed to last, it shows once again that we are not selfish.
Having proven that all the previous theories don’t answer to the moral question of what is wrong and what is right, the truth of reason seems to be objective and the better answer; although we could argue which truth of reason is the best?