Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Weird Morality

After attending the stimulating and enjoyable Weird Science meeting last Saturday organised by CFI London, it has stuck me that, although on the surface quite different, the questions over morality - moral codes, moral theory and, indeed, many aspects of ethics in general, could, once you have let go of one's personal biases in this field (and we all have them), just as easily be named "Weird Morality".

If you imagine alien sentient beings, whose civilisation has long solved the "Hard Question of Morality" were to visit and study our planet today, I can easily picture them holding a conference back on their home world, entitled "Weird Morality", which would contain the equivalent bizarreness, ridicule and amusement as did our own Weird Science meeting, the amusement hopefully tempered by acknowledging how much self-inflicted damage such weird ideas have caused us over time.

Well you do not need to be an alien to do this. One could apply the methods and application of inquiry we have already used quite successfully, if not for aeons, at least the last few hundred years, the methods of rational and empirical inquiry, of philosophy and science, of skepticism and engineering. However one has to let go of, or suspend belief in, any notion of the specialness of moral inquiry and application and this applies equally to theists and atheists, naturalists and supernaturalists, laymen and experts. One has to regard this whole field as a topic under examinati0n - not just popular morality but the pursuit and formal study of the subject, historically and in the present - and allow that this field that may not actually exist as either popularly or academically conceived - to examine it with reasonable questions, challenges and doubts and then provisionally decide, what is fact, what is fiction and what is fantasy. In other words to be a skeptic.

This is the introduction to a series of posts in which I will pursue Weird Morality, looking not only for weirdness in our moral usage but also in our analysis of it, our arguments for and against it, looking not only at antiquated, archaic religious claims but modern, systematic scientific positions and their political, economic, social, biological and psychological implications. Let us see what results. The next post is Three popular arguments against moral objectivity