I’ve been contemplating this post for quite a few weeks, having my own discussions with my fiance and a couple other friends who are willing to have open discussions on such things with me. The premise of this post is the following question: What is the source of morality? Now, most of you will have already read my little poem on my philosophical principle of the Facets of Morality which constitute the moral standard of the world we live in today. I’ve mentioned that these facets suggested in this poem (social, familial, spiritual, and personal) may not be the only facets, and if anyone has any ideas of other aspects of human life which would contribute to moral standards which are not covered in these four, I’d love to hear what they are and how they contribute to the overall picture of morality… but I digress.
The prominent argument against my facets theory is that there is an outside entity (typically a god) which is the source of morality. The argument is that there are aspects of morality which are (or at least are assumed to be or are claimed should be) universal to all people, and that the source of those universal standards is this outside entity. This theory (again, only typically) also greatly suggests that such an outside entity has determined these parameters of morality as rules of conduct, which are punishable according to that entity. Essentially, this entity becomes the judge, jury, and executioner, as it were, when we commit immoral acts. This judgment and possible punishment is left until after our lives are over, a final judgment after death. Other entity theories suggest that the moral and immoral acts of one’s life determine the next life, that the source of moral standard is still outwardly determined and imposed upon us, and that rewards and punishments exist, and continually occur in a cycle. Only by escaping the cycle of moral and immoral acts and finally balancing one’s acts into only the amoral can one exit this cycle.
The main point of these entity theories is that morality is something beyond man, something which governs man and holds man accountable to a higher power. Morality is also defined as absolute according to this entity theory, as the overarching purpose of this entity is not only the origin of morality, but the origin of man and governor of man’s fate. In this, one must assume there is a higher power to conduct this moral determination upon us, as well as create us under this moral code, which can cause a point of contention toward the entity theory as well as within it. Different concepts of the origin entity develop different principles of morality, different finite lines for where one crosses from moral to immoral acts, and each following of a particular entity, in assuming that morality is absolute, is left to demand their supremacy in moral conduct. To look at the entity theory of morality objectively is essentially to look into a moral soup of chaos, where all those involved assume a posture of moral righteousness against all others, with no baseline to determine who is closer or farther from the real defining line of morality, or the real defining authoritative entity behind that moral code.
Another disconcerting aspect of some versions of entity theory is that the entity itself is not bound by its own moral code. Take the Judaic/Christian God. In the Old Testament [Genesis 22] God orders his first servant and follower, the man Abraham, to take his only son, Issac, to a mount and sacrifice him like a ram in the name of God, to show Abraham’s love and devotion to God. In the story, Abraham obliges God, takes his son to the place of sacrifice, binds Issac, and raises his knife to kill his only son. God stops him just in time, saying essentially that this was a test of Abraham’s devotion, and that Abraham had passed. The concern in this story is that, had God not stopped Abraham, he would have slain his son with no hesitation. The moral implications of even the possibility of this act are very debatable. The universal moral code of the God of the Bible specifically deems murder as wrong [Exodus 20:13, the sixth of the Ten Commandments]. However, human sacrifice certainly constitutes as murder, the killing of another human being. So where is the line truly drawn? If a man can claim his originating entity of morality has commanded him to go against that same universal moral standard, does that make his action moral, or amoral? Is he still punished for committing an immoral act by that entity, despite being commanded by that same entity to commit the immoral act in the first place? With so many origin entities, this becomes a huge concern, in which any man can claim his entity commanded him to perform an immoral act, and he will do it without concern for the breach of moral conduct among his fellow man. The origin entity becomes a justification for immoral acts in the name of that same entity which established the moral code he is breaking.
Alternative issues with the entity theory is that of escaping the moral code all together. In the cyclical model of entity-based morality, there are consequences to both moral and immoral action. Additionally, the moral code is not only held over humans. It seems that, in some interpretations of the reincarnate cycle theory, that in all stages of reincarnation, one can build up karma by performing moral or immoral deeds. This suggests that, if murder is considered immoral, then to be reincarnated as a predator is to be forced to build bad karma. Now some models suggest that instinctive acts of survival are exceptions, but again, if there are arguments for both sides, which can be considered ‘right’ and therefore the correct model of morality to follow? In the end, if you are not willing to dismiss all other possibilities and take it only upon faith that one specific theory on entity morality is truth, then the entity theory cannot be considered reliable as a basis of moral conduct in society.