Ethics Without Edification

Wallace Matson

in Grand Theories and Everyday Beliefs

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199812691
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919420 | DOI:
Ethics Without Edification

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Gregarious animals are biased to within-group choices favoring recognition of hierarchy, limitation of intragroup violence and rivalry, nurturing of the young, cooperation in obtaining and distributing food: low morality. But high beliefs result in propitiatory sacrifices indifferent or contrary to low morality: high morality. In the ancient world each community's morality had the same low component. The question of ‘Why be (low) moral?’ arose only among the Jews, who conceptualized their one God as creating and decreeing everything. Low morality was obligatory only because He had commanded it. All immorality was disobedience. Taken up into Christianity, this command theory of morals became universal in the Western world. Utilitarian and Kantian efforts to rebuild morality on secular foundations fail because both still conceive of morality as a system of imperatives, which are unintelligible without commanders. The rise of science affords a worldview dispensing with high beliefs, hence with religion. The question of whether morality must go down with it thus becomes pressing.

Keywords: hierarchy; high/low morality; sacrifice; Jew; command; OCL (Omnipotent Creator-Legislator); disobedience; Utilitarian; Kantian; Christianity

Chapter.  8493 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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