The Moral Argument

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The Moral Argument

Key words & concepts:

  • Categorical imperative – when as action is either right or wrong by fact, not through wish or desire.
  • Summum bonum – the sum of all goodness, the highest good which comprises of all virtue and happiness.
  • Autonomy – personal independence and the capacity to make moral decisions and act on them.

  • A posteriori
  • Inductive
  • Duty
  • Goodwill 
  • Ought implies can

Not an actual argument. Implies God. In the existence of God we find the best explanation for our experience of moral consciousness. In the moral behaviour of people is the proof of God’s existence. We are good because God tells us to be. 

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Fourth of Aquinas’ Five Ways to prove the existence of God.

  • This is an entry into the moral argument.
  • Does not suggest how good can be defined. All we know is that God is a supreme source of it and it is His very essence to be perfectly good.
  • Does not specifically refer to morality itself but truth, nobility, goodness and value.
  • We have a concept of what these things are so these ideas must come from somewhere.
  • There must be something that is most true, more valuable, the most noble and the most good. 
  • For Christian theologians, this is God.
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  • There are two types of action – acts done from inclination and acts done from a sense of duty.
  • An act out of inclination is done out of taste or preference
  • An act done from a sense of duty refers to what one ought to do.
  • Inclination is different to obligation – an obligation is what one ought to do regardless of inclination
  • Morality is closely linked to one’s duties and obligations
  • Acts are only moral if the person concerns understands it is their duty to do them
  • Ought implies can – all humans ought to seek the summum bonum (the highest good) in which virtue and happiness coincide
  • Therefore must be possible to achieve it
  • Therefore there must be an afterlife in which it can be achieved
  • The duty to promote the highest good is called the categorical imperative – following this principle means to acting morally. 
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Weaknesses of Kant:

  • Logical? Kant argues ought implies can yet he states that humans ought to bring about the summum bonum however they are unable to. Why are humans obliged to bring about the summum bonum if they are not capable of it?
  • He states a priori that God is the only one who can bring about summum bonum but this cannot be proven.
  • He states that virtue must be rewarded but claims that a moral action is performed independently of any reward or goal. 
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  • Superego – subconscious set off moral controls. Influenced by our parents and society.
  • Ego – the conscious self: most obvious personality.
  • Id – unconscious self:  basic drives and repressed memories.
  • Religion is an illusion based on human wishes. It meets certain psychological needs.
  • It can govern and regulate human behaviour. Based on what we want to be true as opposed to what is true – ‘wish fulfilment’. It is a neurosis that stops people thinking as adults and taking responsibility for their own lives. 
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Freud's criticisms of Kant:

  • Questions Kant’s conclusion of God.
  • Challenges the notion of an absolute moral law.
  • Moral awareness comes from sources other than God, e.g. a willingness to please (esp. opposite sex parent).
  • Conscience is developed during infancy and merely helps humans live together.
  • Undermines any claim that there is a connection between God and human conscience. Morality can be explained without reference to God.
  • Dismissed any relationship between morality, conscience and God. 
  • Morality is linked to human guilt.
  • Morality is passed on by parents through childhood.
  • Conscience, morality or duty are little more than the inherited traditions of one’s family and community.
  • Kant = source of morality is God.
  • Freud = source of morality is guilt
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