“‘Cuz I Said So”

The recent issue of Philosophy Now is devoted to a debate about morality–not about what constitutes morality, but about whether or not there really is such a thing. The debate, however, has only two sides: those who champion relative morality and those who believe morality itself to be a fiction. The latter group is further divided by its views on whether or not the fiction is useful. Note the clever title for the issue: “W(h)ither Morality?”

There are those of us who might argue that there is indeed an inevitable withering of morality when it is seen to be entirely relative. Yes, we comprehend it only in part and from limited perspectives; but to believe that there exist only the perspectives and nothing behind them is a road to nihilism. If morality is essentially a fiction, much else goes “nighty-night” along with it. Not just “mundane” things such as with whom and when one might have sex, but the very notion of “appropriate” as well. Appropriate to what? Something that is preferred; but why should anything be preferred? Why do we have preferences at all? Preferences seem to me to be inextricably tied to purposes. We prefer what promotes our purposes to those things which destroy them. But purposes themselves are aimed at some ultimate end, even if that end is completely time bound.

What of justice? In a non-moral universe there should be no courts or law enforcement; there should be no accounting to be done by Charlie Sheen, Bernie Madoff, or 9/11 terrorists or Middle East dictators. But such accounting is exactly what everyone demands–not just because they arbitrarily prefer it, but because something very basic to human nature cries out when human dignity (another casualty, I’m afraid) is continually thwarted.

One strongly suspects that such pronouncements as the fictionality of morality can only be posited by tenured ivory tower academics who leave their notions at the office when they go home. It is difficult to imagine that they allow any behavior whatsoever from their children; but to enforce restraint is to shape in a certain direction which is presumably thought to be better than the alternatives. It is even more difficult to imagine them having teenage daughters and not caring about the intentions and attitudes of the young males whose attention has been captured. In either case, as soon as the offspring involved ask the inevitable question of “why?” in response to the parental directives, there is nothing to say except what we’ve all said at some point, knowing it to be inadequate: “because I said so.”

Perhaps more to come on the subject, including a more detailed look at the arguments–or would that not be preferable to the readers? Or maybe I’ll do it just because I said so.

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