Sunday, February 19, 2006

Morality, Its not just for Religions

The other day in talking with two different friends, they each brought up quotes on morality.

"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something." - Henry David Thoreau


"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated"- Gandhi
We often hear that we must be more moral, our society is losing its morals, and we are losing our morals because we are losing faith. Through out my life different people would throw around the term morality. Yet interestingly, the impression I received was that they did not know specifically what it meant. The usual definition or explanation was that it meant being good. When we deal with morality, we are dealing with ethics and values. Good is a value or in other words a measurement of something. In order to measure something, you need a standard of value or measurement. For example, a ruler's standard of measurement is one inch. What is the standard of value for good or morality? The standard varies depending on your philosophy and ethics. Many people hold this standard subconsciously. However, it can be quite eye opening to understand what your standard happens to be. Holding this standard consciously allows you to measure whether an action or thing helps you to accomplish or maintain your standard (which would also be your ultimate value) or does it prevent you from accomplishing or maintaining your ultimate value. I agree with Ayn Rand's observation, that only living creatures can have values. Life requires self-sustaining action. A cup does not have to take any action to remain in existence. However to maintain life, certain actions are needed. An example would be searching for food or building shelter from the elements. Animals, unlike humans, automatically take actions to maintain their life if the are not stopped by an outside force. Humans, must choose the actions needed to maintain their lives. However, since those actions are not automatic, we need to discover which actions maintain our lives or destroy our lives. Hence, the need for ethics/morality.

Let us look at the first quote. Henry is talking about the morality of most religions. That standard of value is not life, but what god commands you to do. Think of the consequences of god as your standard of value. His commandment may be contradictory of what is required to maintain and enhance your life. Furthermore, it takes away your personal responsibility to identify the facts of existence and to act accordingly. Instead, it promotes obeying authority. I have to think that Thoreau was basically saying that you have put aside the morality with god as a standard and for time to time and use Rational Self-interest the morality with life as the stand. I say one promotes life and the other promotes normally the after-life.

The quote from Gandhi, I have to agree with. I just do not agree in the way he intended. How we treat animals does show our moral progress as a society. If we elevate animals to be equals or above humankind, then we are not progressing because human life is not our standard of value. We have to remember that in the Hindu culture god is in every animal. This is the reason for sacred cows. In this case, it is not the animals that are the standard of value, but their god.

For many people being moral is about following god's authority, for me I say try Rational Self-interest, the other white meat. It will promote and enhance your life.

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