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Secular Morality?

January 17, 2017

Can there be a purely secular and rational approach to ethics and morality?

The common attempts come in the form of some version of utilitarianism or in some form of deontological approach, or a contractual view of morality. On one side we are told universally to promote well-being of humans. On the other we are told to find universalizable laws of behavior to govern our conduct among others, as in the Kantian categorical imperative.

Although I feel there may be some benefit to both. I don’t think either has succeeded at giving us a clear secular morality to live by. The big problem is that without either belief, love or both, you are going to be hard pressed to find motivation to act morally. But these things are not rationally explicable. They cannot be put in some rational formula or calculation. They contain an element, not of irrationality, but of trust in our own judgment in an area of discourse where there is some uncertainty.

This key factor is always missed out on by supposedly, objective, neutral or rational and universal approaches to morality. They have to start from something certain. But this is precisely what we lack. So they make up some certainty, regarding individuals or humanity. Attach some value to it, and take that as a given. But all they have done is put their faith in that value. You cannot avoid belief in morality. Because there is no morality without some sense of love of others. And this love requires belief. It is not a natural or given thing.

Love is an intentional value, directed at others. From there, and within that context, we can start to talk about a possible morality. Not before it, and so never based on purely procedural, rational considerations. There is never a purely secular morality, but there can be a community with a more inclusive moral code. We can extend our sympathies outwards, we cannot force a sympathy inwards from universal/objective/rational considerations.

This I believe is the Kantian error, and it has consequences that are not fatal for society unless we already assumed we are in a secular world. If we never made that assumption and always accepted our background within a community and culture, then the consequences far from fatal, are in fact empowering.

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4 Comments
  1. Your wordage on this poem shows brains I do not possess- you’re freaking smart

    • Thanks, I appreciate that, I did my degree in philosophy, these ideas can be understood by more I hope. It really worries me the moral vacuum/nihilism/relativism of our society.

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