Originally written in November 2012
In this post we will run through the basics of morality, understanding where morality comes from and what it purports.
Morality is not God-given, simply because there is no God. (Even if there was a God, morality defined by him wouldn’t be any more valid than that defined by us, as successfully presented by Plato in Euthyphro dilemma.) There is no right and wrong in the absolute sense. Morality, therefore, is a human construct. We as individuals and the society define what is right and wrong.
In the state of nature there is no morality. Animals in the wild don’t follow a set of rules dictating right and wrong – at least not consciously. Why, then, do we humans have them? Why did we create morality?
The answer should not be too difficult to guess if one notices the contrast between the life in the society and the life in the wild.
One answer to why we created morality (actually, morality developed over the centuries of social evolution) can be: because we are mentally capable of creating it. However, the more cogent explanation is: because we want to have better lives than the life in the state of nature.
Life in the state of nature is chaotic. The wild is literally a dog-eat-dog world. Without ethics and morality to guide our natural urges and inclinations we wouldn’t have upped ourselves from the level of the other animals. It’s another thing that other animals are not capable of rationality and hence couldn’t create morality.
The purpose of morality, therefore, is fostering human well-being. And the way to achieve that is by containing the animal nature within human beings.
Thus, morality is not a given. No action on its own is moral or immoral. Whether some action is moral or immoral that depends on whether it serves or dis-serves the purpose of human well-being set by the society.
In part 3, I introduced an argument of morality according to which the physically strong poor person B should not require incentives from the society to not attack the physically weak rich person A while he can – because it is simply not moral to do so.
Now in light of the basic understanding of morality we will see if this argument holds water.