Morality and the Human Condition, #2–The Standard Conception of Morality: The Moral Question and The Meaning Question.

By Robert Hanna

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker

***

Table of Contents

II. The Standard Conception of Morality

II.1 The Moral Question and The Meaning Question

II.2 How Ethics Relates to Morality

II.3 How Morality Relates to Rationality

II.4 Six Famously Hard Cases

III. Three Classical Challenges to the Standard Conception of Morality

III.1 Moral Relativism

III.2 Eight Logical Principles of Human Rationality

III.3 Moral Skepticism

III.4 Psychological and Moral Egoism

IV. Morality and Religion

IV.1 God and The Divine Command Theory

IV.2 Does an Essentially Rational God Exist?

IV.3 Religion and Morality

V. Three Classical Moral Theories

V.1 Aristotelian Virtue Ethics

V.1.1 Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, books 1–3: A Brief Exposition

V.1.2 Four Worries about Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

V.1.3 Contemporary Virtue Ethics

V.2 Millian Utilitarianism

V.2.1 Not-So-Happy Little Campers: Ten Big Problems for Millian Utilitarianism

V.3 Kant’s Ethics of Persons and Principles

V.3.1 Ten Basic Ideas

V.3.2 Three Classical Worries about Kant’s Ethics

V.4 All-Things-Considered Conclusion of This Section

VI. Pascal’s Optimism and Schopenhauer’s Pessimism

VI.1 Pascal’s Optimism About the Meaning of Life

VI.2 Schopenhauer’s Pessimism About the Meaning of Life

VI.3 Pascal or Schopenhauer? Optimism or Pessimism?

VII. Existentialism, the Absurd, and Affirmation

VII.1 Two Kinds of Existentialism

VII.2 Nagel and the Absurd

VII.3 Camus and Affirmation

VIII. The Ethics of Authenticity

VIII.1 Existential Ethics and the Concept of Authenticity

VIII.1.1 What is Authenticity?

VIII.1.2 Authenticity and Radical Freedom

VIII.1.3 Inauthenticity, Freedom-Refusers, and Freedom Deniers

VIII.2 Two Important Problems for Existential Ethics

VIII.3 Sartre on Principled Authenticity

IX. The Nature of Death

IX.1 The Ambiguity of “Death”

IX.2 The Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.1 Nagel On the Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.2 Suits Against the “Deprivation” Account of the Badness of Death

IX.2.3 Some Critical Worries About What Nagel and Suits are Saying About the Nature of Our Own Death

X. The (Im)Possibility of Human Immortality

X.1 Williams on the Tedium of Immortality

X.2 Fischer on How Human Immortality Could Be a Good Thing

X.3 Some Worries About What Williams and Fischer are Saying About Human Immortality

X.4 Human Life Without Immortality

***

The first installment contains section I.

And this installment contains section II.1.

But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete short course HERE.

***

II. The Standard Conception of Morality[i]

“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?,” by Paul Gauguin
“The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is ‘42’,” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

II.1 The Moral Question and The Meaning Question

the attempt to guide human conduct by rationally formulating and following principles or rules that reflect our basic personal and social commitments and our leading ideals and values.

And as I also mentioned in the Introduction, this presupposes that our “human, all-too-human” lives actually do have some meaning.

By “meaning” in this context — that is, the special kind of “meaning” our human lives can have — I’m referring to some highest good(s), or some ultimate purpose(s), that express our basic personal and social commitments, and our leading ideals and values.

The phrase “human, all-too-human” is an allusion to the title of an 1878 book by Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits.

As I’m understanding it however, what the phrase means, roughly, is that we human beings are nothing more and nothing less than a species of animals essentially characterized by our possession of innate or acquired capacities for

(i) rationality,

(ii) caring (for oneself, for others, and also about chosen and desired ends of various kinds), and

(iii) free agency,

who thereby possess

(iv) absolute, non-denumerably infinite, non-fungible, intrinsic value or dignity,

but who also, as a species, are characterized by

(v) our exceptionally high aspirations and our exceptionally low success rates, and

(vi) our unique capability and propensity for causing and experiencing suffering.

Lucky us.

Nevertheless, when our “human, all-too-human” lives actually do have meaning, then it’s because our lives actually do incorporate the highest good(s) and ultimate purpose(s) that express our basic personal and social commitments, and our leading ideals and values.

Moreover, our lives are then meaningful precisely to the extent that they actually do incorporate the highest good(s) and ultimate purpose(s) that express our basic personal and social commitments, and our leading ideals and values.

And since morality is the attempt to guide human conduct by rationally formulating and following principles or rules that reflect our basic personal and social commitments and our leading ideals and values, therefore it follows that to the extent that we live morally, then we have meaningful lives.

— Or so says the moralist.

But is human life really as the moralist represents it to be?

The doubter or skeptic about morality — Nietzsche is a leading example — and the cynic or pessimist about life’s meaning — Schopenhauer, one of Nietzsche’s immediate philosophical predecessors and an important influence on his work, is a leading example — will outright deny the moralist’s picture of ourselves and of our human lives.

And that denial in turn, leads us to two fundamental questions about morality and meaning:

(1) “Is morality possible, and if so, then how ought we to live?” (the moral question).

(2) “Does life have meaning, and if so, then how can we live meaningful lives?” (the meaning question).

We’ll start with the moral question, but before I get into that, I want to say something about how ethics relates to morality.

NOTE

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