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It is Always about Morality: Whose morality?

April 12, 2010

It is Always about Morality: Whose morality?

I sometimes get the impression that there are people who have no idea that there is more than one version of morality being promoted in this world. Such people may use emotional word like ‘evil’ and ‘disgusting’ when they are faced with a moral conflict. Or they may reject all morality in one breath and try to enforce their version in the next. These kinds of methods of making moral decision become transparent because they beg deep questions. Whose moral yardstick are they applying?

Moral yardsticks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and often with the convenience of being made from rubber, so they can stretch to fit any circumstance. For instance in the state of Victoria Australia if a man kills a woman who is 8 months pregnant he can be charged with a double murder. However if a doctor perform an abortion on the same woman then he is off the hook. The obvious dualism stands for all to see: either it is murder in both cases or in neither case. Making it both murder and not murder is warped logic. Yet for some people they see no such conflict. Morality will bend to suit the circumstances that they wish to accept.

Another problem that exists is when people try to hand over moral choices to something that is inherently ambivalent to morality, such as science and reason. At best we can derive a rationalist argument in favour of certain survival and social trends but we can also logically argue against them. One example of this is the ‘eugenics movement’ of the early 20th century. It followed the argument that humanity could be improved by good breeding and forced sterilization. It was promoted as the only true ‘moral choice’ for the future and those who opposed it were either unscientific, stupid or immorally hiding behind the skirt tails of religion. The results of eugenics only became obvious after it had reached it ultimate expression in World War 2 with Nazi eugenics program that eventually became the basis of their euthanasia program and finally the holocaust. It was such an unbroken line of reasoning that now eugenics has become a dirty word in politics.

What had gone wrong with the world that it was willing to reject traditional morality in favour of Eugenics? The answer is not as complicated as it may first appear. The Enlightenment brought forth many new attitudes but none as persuasive as the argument that they needed ‘a new morality for a new age of science’. ‘Science’ was meant to provide all the answers including complicated moral ones. The problem with using Science as the moral yardstick is that science has no greater claim on morality than anything else. There is also the problem of interpretation of science and the morality it wishes to enforce. It is in this interpretation phase where most damage is done. Scientific Rationalism is ideology that produced many movements that claimed to be the scientifically correct method of running society, each producing their own unique moral structures and ethics to guide and protect them. Darwinism, which is the science, became the basis Social Darwinism which is a rationalist ideology and splintered off to produce Scientific Racism. Had Scientific Racism not existed then Apartheid would not have survived as long as it did. By hiding behind the Science title the Racism was given a moral justification. In other words ‘science’ was claimed to be the moral yardstick being applied.

‘For the greater good’ is perhaps the most commonly abused version of morality that exists. In some cases it can be a positive way of motivating people. In other way it has been used to justify every mass killing in recent history. Human life is put into a set of scales and given a value beside other humans. Murder ceases to be murder if the moral objection can be obliterated. Hence we have people who call for the invasion of Iraq a war of liberation. Whether you consider it to be so is based entirely upon the moral yardstick you choose to apply.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ionzone permalink
    May 9, 2010 9:34 am

    I agree, there is no more morality in science than in a particle accelerator. Science is, by its very nature, morally neutral.


  2. May 9, 2010 10:39 am


    Thanks for your comments

    “Science is, by its very nature, morally neutral.”

    And dare I say that it is also politically neutral?


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