Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More Moral Persuasion

Recently, while writing about subjective morality, I came to think about moral progress. If morality is subjective (as I believe it is), then moral progress is also subjective. Yet, if this is so, how are we to identify moral progress?

Deliberate subjective moral progress at the individual level is difficult. I think most people prefer to believe that there is an objective moral code (usually a religious one) that just happens to coincide with their present tastes.

A few people try to locate objective moral principles to guide decisionmaking. However, I think that morality is more like economics than physics. Individual moral "markets" are no more ruled by objective principles than are individual economic markets. There are no perfect moral agents and no perfect consumers. If there really were an objective morality, we would not need to decide between proposed objective moral positions by the emotive strength of their respective case studies (which is what seems to be the case).

I think it is instructive to look back through history at examples of subjective moral progress (typically rejections of slavery, sexism, racism, and homophobia), and try to understand the causes of this perceived progress. The elimination of fear and the promotion of empathy have historically led to the kinds of subjective progress I presently approve of. I interpret this to mean that 1) I should promote courage and empathy in general, and 2) I should be more receptive to moral persuasion founded on these two principles.

I win no special award for spotting a connection between the fear inspired by world events and the new American tolerance for torture and prisoner abuse.

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