Monday, September 05, 2011


I read a great article by Joel Marks on the New York Times Opinion Pages: The Confessions of an Ex-Moralist.  He hits on the crux of a big kink in my belief system. 

Coincidentally, vegetarianism was the flashpoint for both of us.  It made me realize that my general belief in utilitarianism / consequentialism doesn't really jive with my reasons for being vegetarian.  It's instead a gut -level conviction that some acts like the slaughter of animals or genocide are categorically morally wrong.  But my rational side has a hard time accepting that any act can be inherently wrong.

Mark's answer is that there's no morality at all and actions are neither right nor wrong.  Everything comes down to personal preference.  Some people enjoy coffee, some don't.  Some find beauty in nature, some don't.  In the same way, some people find goodness in compassion for animals, and some don't.  The "goodness" of treating animals humanely doesn't derive from any moral authority, divine or otherwise.  Its source is him, and me, and anyone who happens to share that preference.

I'm not sure what to make of this view... In a way it does resolve the disconnect (by saying the issue isn't even valid)  But an amoral world seems like a very scary place.  If it doesn't make sense to ask whether an act is moral or not, how would we know how to act?  I can't see a system existing in a complete vacuum.  Even math and physics are built on fundamental axioms that have not or cannot be proven.  Is a belief system without any fundamental assumptions about morality even a system?  Or just people doing whatever they want, whenever they want?


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