First, when one reflects on morality, there are certain objective moral facts that seem to be obvious; these facts can be known by intuition. According to ethicist Greg Koukl, “Philosophers call this kind of knowing a priori knowledge (literally, ‘from what is prior’), that which one knows prior to sense experience.” There are clear-cut actions that we know are wrong, such as murder, the torture of babies for fun, and rape.
The great apologist, C. S. Lewis, argued forcefully that all men are aware of basic moral facts and that these moral facts do not vary from civilization to civilization or from time to time. To prove his point he asked the reader to think of a “country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all of the people who had been kindest to him. You might as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five.”
Philosopher William Lane Craig has argued that people who can not see clear-cut cases of moral truth are morally handicapped and can be safely ignored when debating ethics. Greg Koukl summarizes by claiming “all moral reasoning must start with foundational concepts that can only be known by intuition, which is why one doesn’t carry the burden of proof in clear-cut examples of moral truth.”
Clear-cut moral cases are then seen to be objectively true by intuition, by a priori knowledge. A person may want to reject the existence of objective moral truth by arguing that people often vehemently disagree about particular difficult moral situations, and that this fact, therefore, demonstrates that morality cannot be objectively known. Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Frank Turek respond to this argument by stating that “the fact that there are difficult problems in morality doesn’t disprove the existence of objective natural laws. Scientists don’t deny that an objective world exists when they encounter a difficult problem in the natural world (i.e., when they have trouble knowing the answer).”
In other words, the fact that there are disagreements over complex moral issues fails to prove that objective moral truth cannot be discerned by moral intuition. The point to be understood is that there are straightforward instances of moral judgments – killing innocent humans is wrong, acting unselfishly is a virtue, and so on – that can be known by virtually all people.
Given the existence of objective moral laws, there are other attributes of morality that can be grasped upon further reflection. According to ethicist Francis Beckwith there are at least seven aspects of morality that appear to be true, based on mankind’s common moral experience.
We will review these seven aspects of morality in future posts, so stay tuned.
[quotation references can be provided on request]