The question “Why be Moral?” is a significant question.
Verbally it seems like a trivial question of “Why ought I do what I ought to do?” An accusation of triviality might run: What is there about “ought” that you do not understand when you ask why you ought to do what you already know you ought?
A quick dismissal of the triviality accusation runs: You really do not understand all dimensions of the meaning of “ought” if you cannot sympathize with people who, when faced with demands of morality contrary to their inclinations, seek something to strengthen their resolve to meet those demands.
But is it a philosophical question?
Way back at the beginning of the twentieth century H.A Prichard challenged its philosophic significance in his influential essay “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on Mistake?” Mind, 1912.
Perhaps on an austere conception of philosophy quests for moral motivation are not philosophic. I do not hold such a view of philosophy. However, while not forgetting that this significant question is primarily about motivation, I shall not focus on motivational dimension of the question. I use the question as an occasion to sketch out pictures of what is involved in obeying moral laws. “This issue of motivation for being moral can be developed as question for fundamental philosophy – call it metaphysics, ontology or study of being per se. It ultimately becomes a question of whether or not in being there can be a moral order.
David Hume is well-known for reminding us that “is” does not imply “ought.” Two other connections between “is” and “ought” are less remarked upon. Logically we cannot infer that something is done from there being a moral law that it ought to be done. Of even more importance is the truth that in nature what ought to be done frequently, far too frequently, does not occur.
There is an obvious difference between moral laws and physical laws. Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. Apparently there is no need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.
For the moral order regard a situation to which a moral law applies a cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation an effect. Not stealing in the example is an effect of the law. As just noted: all too frequently effect does not follow cause in the moral order. In the moral order there is a need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.
Human choice is the intermediary connecting “ought” with “is.” We can choose not to make the connection. We are asking whether we ought to make that gap invariable. What should move our will to do what is right?
Choosing is for something. Choosing is goal driven – teleological. So investigating how choosing, or willing, connects moral cause with moral effect is investigating why the choice is made. Investigating for what a moral choice is made we are investigating at least an aspect of the issue of why we should be moral.
Looking at the “Why be Moral?” question as an occasion to ask what links moral cause with moral effect can lead to many, if not all, of the questions of moral philosophy. For instance, it provides an occasion for asking whether there are moral laws and choices let alone free choices.
I am comparing what I have called divine command morality with progressive morality. I am not preparing a book on moral philosophy. Developing a metaphysical account, or as I prefer to say “a picture,” of reality suitable for divine command morality is what I plan to pursue in my next few posts. Development of this picture of a dynamic moral order is part of my critique of secularism. This dynamic moral order is part of a religious picture of reality which seems presupposed by our ordinary moral language. Thus a rigorous secularism needs to radically revise our moral language. Pointing out that need is a criticism of secularism.