GEEK TALK: Moral Philosophy: The good, the evil and the clueless (Part I)

Homar Murillo

What is the difference between good and evil? Well, for many it seems that the answer is a no brainer. For most of us, it is not necessary to have the same level of deductive reasoning power as Sherlock Holmes. There seems to be some ingrained or instinctive sense of morality among us that we call conscience. In most cases, it is something intuitive and does not require further analysis. For instance, most of us would agree that stealing, raping and murdering are moral evils. Humanity’s gut feel about these moral evils is fundamental that secular (e.g, Code of Hammurabi) and religious (e.g., the Ten Commandments) prohibitions against these are well-established since ancient times. Objective morality However, morality is not as simple as black and white. Some people would argue that there are exceptions. It could be asserted that morality is not only comprised of shades of grey in between extremes but also includes a rich spectrum of complex color combinations. Most of the things that we consider morally good and morally evil are either culturally determined like in the case of religious beliefs or politically enforced like in the case of criminal law. A set of values derived or evolved from both culture and politics is – to some great extent – arbitrary. These values are mere social necessities that cannot be easily reduced into something objective and truly universal. If this is the case, by what standard could we determine objective and universal morality? Would a universal and objective morality be poss

ible? We must first understand that morality is something that does not exist in a vacuum. It is a value judgment that is ingrained in social interactions. Morality does not exist as a mere abstract concept that can be removed from sentient and sapient relationships. Hence, by extension, it is conceivable to extend and apply the fundamental moral precepts in connection with the way we treat other sapient/sentient organisms and the ecosystem as a whole. Philosophers and theologians have been debating morality for several millennia with some significant progress. Today psychologists and neurologists are also exploring the issue of morality from the scientific vantage point of view. For example, one research found out that the sense of morality is already present in babies as young as six months. The Euthyphro dilemma There are two main schools of thought about morality, namely, the theological-based morality or divine command morality and the secular rational morality. In a nutshell, the divine command morality is the religious thesis asserting that moral good or evil could ultimately be judged based on the will of a deity or group of deities. In the Christian tradition, for instance, God is seen as the summum bonum or the highest good from whom the standard of morality could be derived. The main criticism against this idea was expressed by Socrates in the Euthyphro dilemma: “Do the gods love the pious because it is the pious, or whether the pious is pious only because it is loved by the gods?” When rephrased in monotheistic form, the dilemma could be rewritten as “Does God command the good because it is good, or is it good because it is commanded by God?” In other words, could something be considered good because it is innately good or is it good simply because God wills it to be good? It is a dilemma because the first horn implies that if true, then there is a standard of good that is beyond or outside God, which makes God an unnecessary standard. On the other hand, the second horn of the dilemma implies that if true, then the standard of good is arbitrarily determined by God. (to be continued…)