Will Morality Always Be Expressed as Rights and Duties?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

It certainly seems that our moral and political discourse these days is always talking about rights and duties. Gay people want the right to marry. We tell people it is their duty to pay their taxes. These words seem to dominate the conversation.

George Mavrodes sees a day in the future when all of this talk of rights and duties will fade away. Morality will become something more beautiful.

I come more and more to think that morality, while a fact, is a twisted and distorted fact. Or perhaps better, that it is a barely recognizable version of another fact, a version adapted to a twisted and distorted world. It is something like, I suppose, the way in which the pine that grows at timberline, wind blasted and twisted against the rock, is a version of the tall and symmetrical tree that grows lower on the slopes.

I think it may be that the related notions of sacrifice and gift represent (or come close to representing) the fact, that is, the pattern of life, whose distorted version we know here as morality. Imagine a situation, an “economy” if you will, in which no one ever buys or trades for or seizes any good thing. But whatever good he enjoys it is either one which he himself has created or else one which he received as a free and unconditional gift. And as soon as he has tasted it and seen that it is good he stands ready to give it away in his turn as soon as the opportunity arises. In such a place, if one were to speak either of his rights or his duties, his remarks might be met with puzzled laughter as his hearers struggled to recall an ancient world in which these terms referred to something important.

This is, I believe, what heaven will be like. Rights and duties will be alien concepts that will simply disappear with our earthly life. We will simply do the good because it comes to us naturally. We will want to share whatever good we receive with everyone around us. I don’t know about you, but that sounds absolutely wonderful to me.