Morality and the Human Condition, #2–The Standard Conception of Morality: The Moral Question and The Meaning Question.
By Robert Hanna
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
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]
II.1 The Moral Question and The Meaning Question
As I mentioned in the Introduction, 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.
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
(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.
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.
[i] See also J. Rachels and S. Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (7th edn., New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), esp. ch. 1; and R. Shafer-Landau, The Fundamentals of Ethics (3rd edn., Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), esp, the Introduction.
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