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The Moral Amazement...






There are those who maintain that without the absolute standard of the religion they follow, no morality is possible. There are those who maintain that they have a perfectly good moral standard and standing with no religious outlook. It's a word that gets bandied around to no particularly good effect, with endless and sometimes vitriolic debate over what is right or wrong. Probably we are all guilty to a greater or lesser extent of thinking in its' terms without having much structure to the moral concepts we espouse.


Now it's been some time since I came to the conclusion that the only sensible course is to ditch the idea entirely. Ultimately, what is the value in a concept that is used so much in common parlance and in forming judgements if the only basis for assessing its' content and meaning is the framework that we each decide to adopt for ourselves?


Which leads me to try to find an alternative. And the only concept that seems to fit the bill is "responsibility". By this I mean that we do not adopt concepts of "right" and "wrong"; these are too easily manipulated into emotive general statements that have little applicability to any given circumstance. "It is wrong to kill". No, not always. If (and I hope it never happens) I see a man threatening my wife's life, I would have little problem with inserting a knife into his abdomen. "It is wrong to commit adultery". Is it? What of those who agree to have "open" relationships? Or what of the carer who take a lover with the blessing of a severely disabled partner, thereby giving him or herself a much needed release and potentially even saving the relationship with the disabled? The media would enjoy the scandal - all because of its' predilection for "morality". But to condemn in these circumstances is, at best, unthinking.


Rather, I would seek to look at my actions on the basis of their consequences and accept that I will have to live with those consequences for good or ill. In the end we all tend to act on the basis of a perceived cost:benefit ratio. "Responsibility" to my mind is merely accepting that and being prepared to face up to what I have or have not done. No act is "right" or "wrong", save as it is seen in the context of why it was done and what effect it had, independent of any hypothetical standard.


Nor do I think this is, strictly, utilitarianism. That is, itself, a framework which seeks the greatest good for the greatest number. But (and again, I hope it never happens) if ten people were threatening my wife's life and I had a machine gun... Yes, I would use it. I would say: "The majority lost; I was responsible for that decision and for the suffering that flows from it. But also for the survival of my wife. The act itself had its' good and bad results, but I took a decision. It was not a decision for moralizing over in terms of right or wrong; it was simply a decision, an act, a fact of what happened. And the consequences are down to me".


Does that make me amoral? Maybe. But the more I think of morality, the more I see it as a meaningless maze of deceit designed to impose behaviours on others. We can leave that function to the law - that way we at least know where we are. Morality, ultimately, takes us nowhere.



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