As faith-based religion continues to lose its monopoly on morality, the source and nature of mankind’s morality is finally being openly questioned and discussed. In fact, that discussion has been drawing unprecedented audiences to both social media and to live venues, where the likes of Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris have essentially established the popular – and incorrect – framework of this public debate.
It’s not surprising in the least that these debates have never produced a resolution; one cannot resolve a philosophical dilemma without confining oneself to the discipline of philosophy itself. In attempting to resolve issues of ‘free will’, determinism, choice, and morality, neither ‘faith’ nor ‘pragmatism’ offer any solutions.
Morality has but one source and one standard: the preservation of human life itself. That is the ‘good.’ The destruction of human life is the ‘evil.’ Morality has no other application or purpose. Like any discipline, the development of an objective moral code is fundamentally a science, and as such, must be based on evidence and reason, not on faith or intuition.
As the third branch in the hierarchy of philosophy (the first two being metaphysics and epistemology), the development of any moral code will necessarily be based on whatever conclusions have been drawn from the first two. This is why the discussion about morality has largely become hijacked by a needless and meaningless debate over atheism versus religious faith.
Metaphysics and epistemology deal with two primary concepts that are ‘axiomatic’ – meaning that they are not subject to ‘proof’ – but must be accepted: existence and consciousness.
The idea of Existence, a concept of something that has no beginning and no end, represents a dilemma for many, since it would appear to defy the laws of causality. After all, there is no ‘first cause.’ Who or what ‘caused’ existence itself? This, of course, is not a valid question, and the failure to address this epistemological error has ‘caused’ untold suffering throughout history.
‘Cause’ only properly applies to human action (hence the need for morality), not to metaphysical events where ‘cause’ becomes an infinite regress of infinite variables (entities and actions), always defined subjectively by the assumptions, needs, or purpose of an observer.
Similarly, consciousness, particularly of the self and one’s own identity, is complicated by arguments concerning ‘free will’ and its apparent conflict with a deterministic universe. Without free will, it is rightly argued, man cannot be a moral agent.
Yet free will is acknowledged as a given because it can be observed in practice. Were it not so, then no one could be held responsible (being the ‘cause’) for one’s actions, whether resulting in good or evil. In other words, morality would not be possible. Nor would justice. Nor would individual freedom and a free society.
In the attempt to reconcile free will and freedom of choice with a deterministic universe, many resort to a ‘leap of faith’ suggesting that free will is somehow ‘divinely endowed’ upon mankind since free will allows man to escape from the determinism of his universe. Though desired and valued, free will is seen as something ‘unnatural’ since it appears to reside outside the confines imposed by the deterministic laws of nature.
But this view again arises from an epistemological error, one that assumes a conflict between the deterministic nature of the universe, and the wonder and beauty of the freedom that is the consequence of possessing free will.
In the proper context, it must be understood that what is meant by ‘determined’ in a philosophical context are the ‘laws’ of the universe itself, and in particular, the past; history cannot be changed or altered, and each individual is born into an environment ‘determined’ by its immediate past.
Free will can only be exercised in the present – the only possible point of action – and actions freely chosen are ‘determined’ by the free agent’s purpose and code of morality. Those same actions have consequences that will either enhance life or diminish it.
The undetermined is the future, and it is in navigating that undetermined future that we require morality to guide us. In the act of choosing between actions that we know are good and those that we know are evil, the existence of free will is both revealed and confirmed.
There is no conflict between determinism and free will. As demonstrated on today’s broadcast, the great irony is that what has been determined is that human beings have free will.
Nor could it be otherwise. It’s the inescapable conclusion when the issue is resolved in a philosophical way that’s Just Right.