the uses of morality

Morality has long been considered to be a theory, by philosophers at least. Grand systems of knowledge have been produced to delineate exactly what should and should not be done. And most such theorists have been convinced, if not of the absolute validity of their own system, at least of the validity of their attempts. We humans tend to think – perhaps for ingrained biological or evolutionary reasons – that there is one big truth about ethics out there, only we need to hit upon it. This, i suggest, is the wrong way of going about the matter.

There is no single system of ethics lying at the foundation of the world. The very idea that such might be the case is at best a contingent evolutionary development of our species: getting people to believe in that ethics is absolutely valid was a good means of keeping them in line and, long long ago, ensuring the survival of our little groups. We still often cannot help but think that killing is either right or wrong and that it has always been so. But it has not always been so, and claiming otherwise is nothing but historical imperialism. Morality has always changed and will continue to do so, not because it is approaching the One True Morality, but because it is adapting to new environments.

If any moral idea should make sense to our current, tech-savvy and result-oriented world it is that morality, like everything else, is a tool and not an absolute truth. Morality should be no more than a set of rules, habits, etc. that help us achieve what we want. We use morality to make ourselves happy. And by ‘we’ i mean all of us taken together.

We must give up the idea that morality and happiness are two separate and not always intersecting roads. We must not be moral and hope we will then be happy. We must instead shape our morality so that it makes us, all of us, happy. Morality is not the end, but only a means – a means to achieving what we want.

Admittedly ‘we’ and ‘what we want’ are impossibly vague concepts; but morality has never been cut and dry. ‘We’ is an ever-expanding idea that needn’t restrict itself to people. ‘What we want’ is at times quite clear, at times hopelessly muddled, but that is not the fault of morality – it is simply due to our diversity and fickleness. These two concepts cannot be done away with, rather we must work with them, make them work. Morality is, by nature, messy.

We must learn to use morality and not let old-fashioned ideas about it use us. Well, that’s what i say…


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