Ever since I jumped back into the debate about whether “morality” is objective or simply a matter of opinion, I’ve been asked to clarify my nihilistic view that morality—as a natural, objective concept—does not exist. I am happy to do so.
The problem with morality is this: It is a term without a concept. Or, at least, it lacks a single one capable of being proved correct. An individual could define morality, quite literally, in countless ways; and, each one of those definitions would be equally correct, since there is no evidence available to support one morality conception’s veracity or another’s falsehood. Sam Harris, for example, defines moral actions as those that increase human happiness. On the other hand, in his mind, immoral actions increase human suffering. While that conception of morality seems sensible, it is totally unburdened by evidence. In his book The End of Faith, Harris simply declares that human happiness and suffering are the relevant factors with regard to morality. I could make an entirely different declaration, and be equally correct (as well as equally lacking in actual supporting evidence).
At the risk of being repetitious, I will list three possible conceptions of morality. Note, these are only three among innumerable others.
(1). Morality relates to human-to-human interaction. Moral actions increase happiness, while immoral actions increase suffering.
(2). Morality relates to human-to-environment interaction. Moral actions benefit the environment, while immoral actions harm the environment. Human happiness/suffering is not relevant.
(3). Morality relates to human-to-frog interaction. Moral actions benefit frogs, while immoral actions harm frogs. Human happiness/suffering is not relevant.
Sam Harris would argue neither (2) nor (3) is the correct notion of morality (as neither one places human happiness/suffering at the core of the issue). But, given the absolute dearth of evidence on the matter, (1), (2) and (3) all are equally plausible conceptions of morality. Indeed, the precise opposite of (1)—that morality relates to human-to-human interaction, and that moral actions increase suffering, while immoral actions increase happiness—also is equally as plausible a definition as any other is.
At the risk of being forced to eat my words, I challenge any of my readers to argue—with actual evidence—that one morality conception is more correct than another morality conception. If, collectively, we choose to define morality in some particular way simply out of speciocentric self-interest, that means that, while morality exists, it has no relationship with the natural universe or the true order of things. That is, genocide only would be immoral because—if speciocentric self-interest is the Key Factor—genocide manifestly runs counter to that self-interest. But to allege that Homo sapiens sapiens’ self-interest inherently is relevant to “morality” would be to make an assertion without the benefit of evidence. Human self-interest easily could be replaced by another Key Factor, such as the primacy of the environment or the supremacy of frogs.
The other perplexing thing about morality is the inconsistency with which it is applied. If two lions are fighting over a gazelle carcass, and one lion kills the other, has that lion committed an “immoral” act? If not, then why, in a similar case, would a human be guilty of immorality? Nobody ever talks about duck-billed platypuses behaving immorally, or geese being the picture of moral perfection. Why are Homo sapiens sapiens subject to moral strictures? We are, after all, just another animal species roaming around this planet. We live on the same evolutionary Tree of Life as lions, platypuses and geese. And yet, when it comes to morality, we pretend that we’re not animals like all the rest of our brethren. The truth is—we are. On this planet, we, like all animals, eat, sleep and reproduce.
From whence did morality come?
Why was its noose tied around the neck of our species?
And where is the elusive evidence to justify its existence as a scientific, natural concept?