OK, extremely difficult question here, that I’ve been thinking about a bit recently. And this is the first time I’ve ever ventured into GD, so be gentle.
If you accept that morals are purely socially conditioned (not sure whether they are or not, but this is not that debate), then they could theoretically be just about anything. So what should they be?
Elaboration is required. Firstly, when I speak of morals I mean the things that are judged to be right and wrong, where most people will generally try to do right and feel bad about doing wrong. I know many people do do things that aren’t exactly right, but I don’t believe the majority feel such incidents to be really wrong. Stuff like using shareware software without registering, stealing towels from hotels, wasting all your time at work by posting at Straight Dope, etc. You know what I mean. It all fits into a grey area, that will always cause problems in this sort of discussion.
Secondly, there needs to be an aim of some kind for it to be meaningful to say that they should be anything. I would say that there are(/should be) two fundamental objectives of a system of morals:
- To promote the long term survival of the human species.
- To keep the quality of life for every member of the human species as high as possible.
There may be other objectives as well, but I believe these two are fairly basic ones. And these ones are debatable as well. I certainly have no logical arguments for the survival of the human species being a good thing. The only thing is that we are humans, like it or not, and we’re probably always going to be fairly speciesist, and thus I don’t think these objectives are really terribly contentious.
Thirdly, such a system of morals does have to take into consideration the fact that there will be ‘deviant’ individuals, whose personal morals are significantly different from the generally accepted one. As a bad example, a moral code that had all forms of violence being the ultimate evil, an unthinkable crime in any circumstances, then nobody would be able to defend themselves from someone not restrained by such a moral code and was perfectly okay with killing someone.
Fourthly, the really difficult part of this question is that it has to be answered without reference to existing morals. You can’t just say it should be wrong to kill without saying why it should be wrong to kill, in terms of the objectives stated above. (I personally think that one’s pretty easy though, cause while being allowed to kill people MAY be justifiable in terms of survaval of the species [survival of the fittest, natural selection, blah blah blah], it ain’t too good for quality of life if you have to be constantly on your guard against potential murderers.) The same applies to all the other icky things that we don’t like to even think about much. It’s very difficult to put aside your idea of right and wrong, I know, but it’s necessary for this discussion. If you can’t face the possibility that things you think are very nasty should logically be considered right (or vice-versa), this thread is not for you.
Anyone with any thoughts on the matter?