Who Decides What is Good or Bad?

Over at SoulPancake, a crowdsourcing site for asking questions about religion and philosophy, someone posed the question of who judges morality in the absence of a divine authority.

In short, no one decides. It can only be discovered. Morality is an imperative and is empirically based in our nature as human beings.

The question you have to ask yourself is why do we need morality at all.

The unique thing about human beings is that we are not born with innate values or goals, so they must be chosen. We have no automatic (perfect) forms of knowledge imparted upon our minds, and it takes knowledge to understand that alternatives exist and which you ought to pursue. The first we learn of this alternative is through our physical senses of pain and pleasure.

Yes, we have reflexes and drives, but they can be overridden by choice. Exactly which values we should pursue and which we should not for the purpose of bettering our life is what we have to figure out. There is more to morality than just effective means but also proper ends.

Without life, the concept of value would have no meaning. It follows that sustaining and bettering one’s life is the purpose of all moral values; it is how they come to be. As life exists only in individuals, each individual’s life is an end in itself and should not be sacrificed or used as a means for others for any reason.

Each individual’s life is the ultimate end by which all other values are gauged against. Secular moral subjectivists and religious believers are revealed to agree far more than they disagree since both deny the empirical existence of morality. They both say that without an absolute divine authority, then morality does not exist.

To quote Craig Biddle from “Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support it“:

Consider, for instance, food or poison, pleasure or pain, knowledge or ignorance, joy or sorrow, creation or destruction, wealth or poverty, trade or theft, freedom or slavery. What makes these alternatives possible? Life makes them possible. Without life there would be no one to whom anything could be beneficial or harmful.

The next meaningful question to ponder is which values serve as life-sustaining goals worth pursuing.

Image credit: Ariel Dovas, with a Creative Commons license