July 25, 2009

Concrete Morality

Posted in atheism, philosophy, politics, religion, soup at 10:27 am by Jerry

“Do you believe there is absolute morality?”

You gotta love this question, because if you say ‘no’ then it is easily assumed that you believe morality is conditional, flawed, and therefore, you have no solid ground to stand on when deciding what you think is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? Some may go so far as to assume you lack any true standards.

It’s true that there is little to nothing that I “believe” in. However, there are many things or ideas that I accept. (You know, it’s strange that these words, ‘believe’ and ‘absolute’, can be held onto so tight by many of those who get upset when you assume them to be “Fundamentalists”. Huh!)

For those interested, I don’t believe absolute morality exists but I accept the idea that concrete morality does. The literal definition of ‘concrete’ means “to grow together”. As an adjective it can be used to define things as ‘particular’, ‘real’, ‘actual’, ‘tangible’ rather than abstract. As a noun it can be used metaphorically..

an artificial, stonelike material used for various structural purposes, made by mixing cement and various aggregates, as sand, pebbles, gravel, or shale, with water and allowing the mixture to harden. via

I like ‘artificial’ in the sense that it emphasizes that morality is human made. I like ‘stonelike’ in the sense that morality is capable of providing tangible stability. And I like ‘various aggregates’ in the sense that what’s made is made out of diversity.

Morality, to me, is the result of a collective growing together, whether it be intentional or unintentional. When people cross paths, some sort of relating happens. My wife teaches her students, “We cannot not communicate”.  And this communicative experience will naturally establish itself in some kind of rule-enforcing political form (totalitarian, democratic, etc.), for better or worse. And these rules, if broken, are intended to guarantee negative consequences for those who break them. But if the rules are followed, the collective demonstrates an act of reciprocal altruism, however imperfect it may be. And naturally, within this collective, sub-groups develop of people establishing more of these social contracts although with a lesser legalistic nature.

Some might wonder, by using the word “concrete” do I think at some point in the future the moral standards will harden into an unchanging entity. First of all, and let me make this clear, I don’t accept notions of prophecy or fortune-telling. So I don’t know what the future will be for morality, but if at some point the moral standards are hardened concrete and are in need of having some ingredients added or subtracted in the mixture, there’s always room to revise the recipe, collect the edited list of ingredients, and make a similar but better concrete foundation to replace the one being stood on.

Also, some may ask, “Then the horrors of the past are justified because the morality of that day had yet to evolve?” I say, “No”. Whether they knew it was wrong or not, our human ancestors are responsible for discriminatory actions that we, today, consider to be ‘immoral’. Having the individual freedom to decide which of the many good (acceptable) choices will be our own is a must. And expecting a society to protect all individuals that belong to the society from whatever harmful characteristics it may have is just plain common sense. “Then, where is justice for the victims of the past?” they may ask. I say, “Just like morality, justice too is not absolute …it’s concrete.”

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