What Do We Know About Morality? Part 2

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.  

First, objective moral standards are known.  Any form of total moral skepticism (a view that would deny the concrete knowledge of any moral truth) cannot be true because this view would deny the obvious fact that we do indeed know some unambiguous moral truths.

Second, moral norms are not physical, but immaterial.  We do not know moral norms by using our five senses (see, hear, touch, taste, or smell) or by empirical science.  We know them by intuition, or moral common sense.  This fact counts strongly against any philosophical worldview of naturalism or materialism which denies the existence of all non-material entities.  The epistemology of naturalism (naturalism’s theory of how we know things) dictates that knowledge can only be gained through the five senses, so if we have indeed discovered knowledge (moral norms) without the use of the five senses, we have dealt a serious blow to naturalism.

Third, moral rules are a form of communication and communication can only exist between two minds.  Moral judgments are found in commands, imperatives, and descriptions.   It is nonsensical to think of communication from an irrational or unintelligent agent to an intelligent and rational agent.  Both the transmitter and receiver of communication must be rational, intelligent agents.

Fourth, there is an “oughtness” to morality.  Moral rules make claims on us before we ever act and we feel their force before we make a moral decision.  Morality is prescriptive, not descriptive; it does not tell us only the present state of affairs, but it also tells us how we ought to act in the future.   Philosopher Norman Geisler notes that “a purely descriptive ethic is no ethic at all.  Describing human behavior is sociology.  But prescribing human behavior is the province of morality.”

There are three more aspects of morality that appear to be true, and we will discuss them in the next post.  After we establish these seven aspects of morality, we will use them to evaluate systems of ethics derived from evolutionary theory.

Hang in there!

[quotation references can be provided on request]