What does being moral do for me?

I was reading the comment section of a post on Ed Feser’s blog — someone who is, interestingly enough, even more verbose than me [grin] — and a comment from a person known only as t — take it from him, Mr. t — drew my interest:

Well OK, but what I find lacking here is the subjective motivation. Let me try to explain. Let’s suppose that I’m a rapist. Raping brings me pleasure. Now, I could accept everything you say about human nature; I could accept that rape is contrary to my human nature, etc, but for me there is still an open question: why would I care? In particular, why would I care that some things are consistent with my human nature, while others are not, even if I accept that they are really so (and there is a compelling case to accept that, as Ed presents in his texts)? I could perfectly accept the theoretical truth: yes, raping makes me a bad instance of human person. But so what? Why shouldn’t I say: I can live with that? What is my subjective motivation to care about that? Raping brings me a pleasure, so I’ll go for it.

This strikes me as one of the big problems with moral analysis, and Russell Blackford’s position is an example of it as well: the idea that we could establish what is moral and someone could go ahead and say “But what’s in it for me to be moral?” and have that be an objection to objective morality. Why should we care if someone says that their main concern is only their own welfare and so they won’t act morally because it would force them to sacrifice their own welfare? We can at that point clearly say that they just don’t want to be moral, and at that point we can actually take the move that Harris takes and say that there’s just no point in discussing it with them anymore. We shouldn’t need some kind of additional benefit argument to justify an objective moral code; whether someone wants to be moral or not shouldn’t invalidate the morality we’re discussing.

Note that this is different from cases like Harris describes. In cases like Harris describes, people are actually disagreeing over what is moral. So a case like an Ethical Egoist would be completely different. I could have a discussion with the Ethical Egoist because the Ethical Egoist is arguing that what is moral just is what benefits them specifically. We are, therefore, disagreeing over what counts as moral, and that’s something that we’d need to and probably can resolve.

But the case in the comment is different. Even if we both agree about what the right moral code is, that person will still not act morally and will demand that it benefit them before they do. They are, therefore, making an explicit decision to not act morally despite agreeing about what it would mean to act morally. At that point, I really can’t see what more we can say to each other … and don’t see why I’d need to.

In the end, I’d just declare them either immoral or amoral and move on. And there’s nothing they could do to challenge those classifications.

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7 Responses to “What does being moral do for me?”

  1. Gian Says:

    Regarding determinism and free will, I have a basic doubt.
    Are animal actions determined?

    Descartes and Dawkins more recently held that animals are essentially complex machines, and thus determined.
    What do you think?

    • verbosestoic Says:

      This would seem to be in the wrong post, but I’d have to say I don’t know. They don’t seem to make the same sort of decisions that we do, and are missing at least some of the rational component that we use, but is it a matter of complexity or is it a matter of capacity? I can’t answer that.

  2. Gian Says:

    Because you have written on free will and determinism, I thought you may have some idea on animals. If animals motions are not determined than it means that the human free will has nothing to do with determinism.
    Would you agree?

  3. Is Morality Actually the Same as Well-Being? « The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] But I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, he appeals to some consequences that might have Utilitarian leanings, and he may well be appealing to the ideas of well-being that the person he’s arguing with, but is that really an actual morality? Marks thinks it isn’t, and it seems that his basis for this is because he doesn’t actually think there is a right or wrong answer. Marks is clear in his post that he is not saying that the person is right or wrong, but that Marks himself simply doesn’t like it, for various reasons. Marks then gives the reasons he doesn’t like it, in the hope that the other person, once they understand the situation, won’t like it either. But if the person he’s arguing with says “I don’t care”, Marks has no recourse … not even the shocked stalking away that Harris advocates. Sure, he may be appealing to well-being at the base — or at least arguments of it — but he’s insisting that that does not make it a judgement of “right” or “wrong”. And if he’s right, that would indeed kill Harris. Let me summarize: if Marks accepts — and he needs not — that Coyne is right that these sorts of considerations are well-being considerations, Marks could — and probably would — argue that those are not moral considerations. And if it turns out that they aren’t moral considerations, then Harris and Coyne are lost. And I think there are reasons to think that they aren’t moral considerations, as I quickly examined here. […]

  4. Ought Is Not Should … « The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] The other difference is what mandates the difference: health is mostly an instrumental value, and not an end in itself. We want to be healthy because it lets us do other things, like go out in the world or not have the unpleasantness of pain, but we don’t want to be heathy just to be healthy (generally). The same thing applies to wealth; in general, we want money to get things to increase our happiness, but we don’t — or at least shouldn’t — want money for the sake of having money. But morality isn’t that way. Being moral shouldn’t be something that you have to justify by appealing to another value, but instead should be something that’s an end in itself, and not something that’s merely instrumental. Or, at least I argue that it shouldn’t be that sort of thing. […]

  5. Intrinsic Moral Value … « The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] talked before about how you should only do moral things because they are moral, and not because they give you something else… This means that morality has intrinsic value, at least in my view; it should only be chosen for its […]

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