I enjoy learning about different moral philosophies. Few questions are more important, it seems, than this basic one: what ought we to do?
Every philosophical theory has to start with some conception of what is it about human beings that really matters. Given philosophers’ penchant for reason, it is no surprise that so many through the ages take as a starting point the autonomous nature of man and his ability to reason, though I’m not sure I would privilege reason over many other important capacities (if artists created philosophy, our moral framework might start with the human capacity to experience and created beauty, for instance). Others emphasize the capacity for pleasure and pain, and the ancient Greeks still have a lot of relevance with their emphasis on human flourishing, humankind’s capacity to experience what they called eudamonia.
But, though interesting, I find all these theories singularly unsatisfying and quite disconnected from true morality. This is because they all fail to really answer the question of why the particular compounds of chemicals known as human beings should matter any more than any other compounds in the universe. If the universe is a random, chaotic place with no intention or purpose, then do our questions or our reasoning have any import? Indeed, in such a universe it is hard to even conceive of what “meaning” actually, well,…means. Our reason lets us reflect on what matters but is not, in my opinion, the wellspring of moral value.
In my mind, the reason anything has value is because it is valued. The reason our questions about what is right and our striving to do what is right have value is because we are valued.
So, at the close of this Christmas day, my message is a simple one. “For God so loved the world….”