Interactive Gospel
- Morality is Central -
by Paul Hazelden


1.   Summary

We believe that morality is a central aspect of human existence.

We believe that morality is vitally important - that you cannot be a fully functioning human being without a sense of what is right and what is wrong.

Morality is innate - it is inbuilt in us from the start. Just as you do not have to teach any child to be naughty or to lie, so you do not have to teach children that there is a difference between right and wrong. They know very quickly when something is 'unfair', for example.

Morality is also vital for civilisation - in fact, for any attempt by human beings to live or work together.

  1. I'll go along with that
  2. Please explain further
  3. I object to what you've said
  4. What are the alternatives?

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2.   Further Details

When we talk about morality, we mean that actions and intentions can be tested against a moral standard, and judged to be right or wrong.

This does not mean that everything is clear-cut, morally either black or white. Shades of gray exist in morality, just as in 'real' life. Sometimes, it is hard to say what the right course of action is. Sometimes, the choices we face seems to be between one evil or another - as in the classic choice: should I betray my country, or my friend?

We talk about 'weighing up' the alternatives. It is a good analogy. In the physical world, without a pair of scales, I may find it hard to decide which of two bags of apples is the heavier. But whatever difficulty I have with that choice, the feature I am making my choice about - the weight of the two bags - really does exist.

Similarly, the fact that I am sometimes faced with difficult choices does not prove there is no such thing as morality. I only struggle because right and wrong do exist, even if I have difficulty judging some situations.

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3.   Objections

The only objections I have come across are described below in the 'Alternatives' section.

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4.   Alternatives

If morality is not central, I can think of only two possibilities.

  1. There is no such thing as morality
  2. Morality is unimportant

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5.   There is no such thing as morality

This is another of these academic alternatives. Every now and then someone may claim this is the case. More rarely, you will hear someone trying to argue it. Never, have I found anyone trying to live it.

Of course, this does sometimes happen. When when someone lives without moral standards, society decides that they are mentally ill and locks them up. You cannot live alongside other people without an understanding of right and wrong, and a willingness to live accordingly.

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6.   Morality is unimportant

This is much more familiar. As a pragmatic position, it probably describes where most people are: I try to be good, but I don't try too hard. I try to be ethical, as long as it doesn't cost me too much.

But this does not work as a position - not when you start to think about it. Moral standards either exist, or they do not. If they really exist, then they must be important. To claim that they are unimportant is to say that, functionally, they do not exist.

We may not live up to our moral standards, but we recognise that this failure matters in some way. If morality does not matter, then this position is no different from the previous one.

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Copyright © 1999-2005 Paul Hazelden
 
http://hazelden.org.uk/ig/ig_morality_central.htm was last updated 4 May 2008
Page content last modified: 11 November 1999, 4 July 2005
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