The Purpose of Life: Essays On The Complexity Of The Simplicity Of It All
Purpose of Ethics: Philosophy of Foolish Absolutes
Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? How is any of this important to anything? Why do something if it means nothing? To me in the least... All my life I have searched for the meaning of this life. The answer to what life is. I would grab and reach for what it meant to be me; to be who I am: reaching for today: Carpe Diem, only to have it slip through my fingers. To define now, only to have it change on me. I have heard some people say all life is is change, but if you define life by change, will that not change too? Like happiness, I have found that if you chase after it, it will get further away from you; that is if you chase after meaning, purpose will leave you; and what sense of meaning you had to begin with, you loose. It is like gambling the present to define the past or ponder the future, I lose both my now and my then. I have a saying that if you ignore the future, it is like walking into a brick wall, but to ignore the past is like walking into that same brick wall, again. But like everything; balanced. Both extremes must be avoided. Ignorance is blissful only to the fool, but if you don’t live in the now, you won’t get anywhere either. But where is this purpose? God? Many scoff at that...
“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:33-38a
Scoff: What is truth?
Scoff: What God?
Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.
Scoff: Only fools speak in absolutes.
If a God assuredly does exist, then the question is: Who is this God? Are the Deists correct? The Polytheists? Monotheists? Pantheists? Trinitarianists? Goobldygook! There are no absolutes!? Truth!? Falsehood? Before we can move on to who God is, we must answer this question of absolutes. Because if no truth exists, then everything is relative, circumstantial and preferential; everything would be subjective. But if everything was subjective, would not that statement be subjective?
We have already covered the idea that one cannot know anything for 100% certainty, but that is not the question at hand. The question is whether absolutes exist. Because we cannot know per se what those are does not mean they do not exist. I am sure there are hills in many parts of China, though I have never been there and do not know if there are any in those parts of China. But if there are, my knowing they are there is Not a criteria for them existing. History may have their facts straight, they may not. What they have written down, right or not, does not change what actually happened. The judicial branch was created to judge fairly among the vagabonds and the innocent. Whether or not their verdict is guilty or innocent; the truth of ‘who done it’ does not change. The verdict is not a criteria for the truth of what really did happen. I may have said this before, but if there is no absolutes, then there must be at least one: That there are no absolutes. But if that be true then there are two absolute statements made: 1) There is only one absolute, 2)There are no absolutes. The first contradicts the second, and both of these makes a third absolute: 3)There are only two absolutes, 2)There is only one absolute, 1)There are no absolutes. etc. etc. To say there are no absolutes is an absolute statement; to say that there are no absolutes is self-refuting. It is cyclical and oxi-moronic. There are No Absolutes. Are you Absolutely Sure? It’s like saying, “I’m a married bachelor!” It’s total non-sense.
But many people do not believe in absolutely no absolutes, but only in specific areas; usually with a materialistic viewpoint do they say that there are no absolutes. The perfect example of this being ethics. I once heard a man say within a conversation about morality that “You can’t tell me what’s right and wrong. Haven’t you heard of Einstein and his theory of Relativity?” Ha! That’s not quite right I’m afraid. Einstein’s theory was not applicable to all of life. Take his word for it though, not mine....
“The meaning of relativity has been widely misunderstood. Philosophers play with the word, like a child with a doll . . . It does not mean that everything in life is relative.”~ Albert Einstein
“Relativity applies to physics, not ethics.”
~ Albert Einstein
Relativity is a principle of science, not ethics. But since no one can know for 100% certainty who’s morality is right, it must be relative right? I don’t think so. A man’s morality may be relative to his beliefs, but ethics is not. That is a distinction long lost. Today ethics and morality are synonymous. It wasn’t always. Originally ethics was the “ought”. You ought to do or not do this. And morality was the “may”. You may or may not do this. These are not always the same, though it may seem like they could be (and should be), but what you ought to do or not to do is very different from what you have the right to do or not to do. And here I reach a very touchy subject. There are so many who are offended by anything even closely resembling a standard for morality. (Which ethics rightfully could be said is.) “Don’t judge me!” they yell out. “Don’t force your morality on me, man. You can’t go around doing that. You can’t just go around judging people.” I must answer this offense. Because I mean nothing of the sort. I cannot judge anyone lest I judge myself. Seeing as I was the worst of sinners before Christ took ahold of me, how could I judge someone in whose future I know not? Only God be the judge, but let me get to that point... I am not your judge, nor would I dare to. It’s not my place. Indeed, if you had a strong offense so far or later in this essay, it is not me judging you, but you yourself. And I say this with no smugness, but by your offense, you are showing yourself that your morality conflicts with this essay. Be for whatever reason... But I would never want to contend to be your judge. No, never.
To look into this, before we can say what “ought”, we need to tackle morality. What does it entail. There have been many theories upon this point. Morality is a code of ethics consigned by society, or it can also be used in terms of an individuals’ personal code of ethics. And while ethics is more of a general overarching term, morality looks at the minute details, the specific and special circumstances of life. The different theories about morality stems from questions of morality’s role in one’s life and in society, origins of morality, causal reasons for specific morals, and the purpose or reason behind morals.
Utilitarianism. A man by the name of Jeremy Bentham is credited with the start of this train of thought. Utilitarianism bi-polarizes the world into either pain or pleasure. Whatever action or reaction happens, it will either bring pain, or pleasure. What is good is ultimately what brings us pleasure and evil is the opposite, what brings us pain. The word utilitarianism comes from the idea that the morality of an action is summed up by it’s use or amount of utility. The amount it helps or brings us pleasure is the measure of how good it is, or reversely, how bad it is. In sense, utilitarianism brings up the idea that morality is determined by the outcomes. What brings us pleasure or pain is in reaction to the action made, and so out of the action comes the consequences. By the consequences you judge what is good and what is bad. Since what is good cannot be known until after the deed is done, the idea is that good intentions is morally exceptional; meaning if you had good intentions, but failed and things went badly, because of the good intentions afore, it should cancel out the bad consequences, or in the least should be given moral credit for trying. This is a nice idea, but in practice is horrid. In a practical example (though it does not have to do with morality, it gets the point across), some California schools are teaching comradeship as more important than knowledge. While getting along is really important, if a group of elementary school children say that 2+2=5, but they get along with each other, then they get the answer right. Even though 2+2=4, it doesn’t matter because they got along with each other. They had the right motives, they got the wrong answer, but that doesn’t matter. It is a very pretty idea, but how is the child going to learn anything in that situation? They learn that they can get away with anything as long as they cooperate. That’s what they learn. Inversely, that means in practice that as long as you have good intentions, it matters not what you do. You can do whatever you want as long as you have good intentions by it.
Ethical Egoism. Egoism is also almost self-explanatory. Ultimate morality is to be egotistical. Altruism is an illusion. People are never truly looking out for their fellow man, but always looking out for themselves. If they believe they are solely worried about the other guy, they fool themselves. Many also believe that man is not free, but is determined by their environment, upbringing and other such factors. But the ultimate good is self-actualization. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The ultimate thing man needs, what man strives for is self-actualization. To get rid of evil, and pain, one must self-actualize. Get rid of all that limits and hinders personal wants and desires and become yourself, and the world will be a better place. Selfishness is king. I couldn’t think of a more backward approach if I tried! Egoism makes greed and avarice a virtue! But of course an egoist would argue that man is essentially good...
Cognitive Moral Development. Lawrence Kohlberg turned ethics into psychology. His theory claimed there was six stages in the development of moral thinking, the next step simply more mature than the next. He also claimed the way one grows in these stages is by logical reasoning. A person develops morality be reason, and the only reason one would have a different view on morality is one or the other is not as mature in their development in morality. It turns ethics into a mental process. But if ethics has nothing to do with actions, and has everything to do with mental processes, then why is morality important? This outlook subverts the main purpose and problem of ethics. Justice. If a child asks a question that is inappropriate, it is not held against the child because of the child’s innocence. If morality is simply child development, then there is no basis for charging wrong because it is too easy to pass the buck. Pass the blame; he doesn’t know better. He can’t be held accountable for that, he’s just not developed enough, that’s all.
Nihilism. Nietzsche, who famously claimed that God was dead, is most often associated with nihilism. There is no such thing as value, either by ethics or by truth. There is no such thing as truth and there is no such thing as morality. There is no purpose, no meaning and no point in anything. Nothing is of value, so it might as well be that nothing exists because nothing matters. A rather bleak outlook.
Pluralism. A pluralistic viewpoint is not necessarily looking at relative ethics, but is usually a large group of different ethical viewpoints foisted together so it is easier to define. A pluralistic viewpoint could be defined by one’s race, or by their gender (sexism or feminism), or by one’s religion. A sort of group ethic. Pluralism kind of blurs the line between ethics, morality and culture. It is the morality of the cliques. Right is right only if it benefits the group. But this only makes sense in view of relativism, because one group will not have the same morality as the next...
Ethical Relativism. Just as it sounds, ethical relativism claims ethics is relative, you cannot tell anyone else what is right or wrong, each person must choose and decide for themselves. Which of course means that since morality does not transcend the person, there is no basis for justice or law because you have no right to impose your morality on other people, you have no right to intervene when someone else is doing something you deem as morally wrong. But this of course produces anarchy (which they can’t rightfully say is bad, but inherently know is bad...) so to assuage this, many claim that there may be ultimately one and only one right standard of moral evaluation, but we can never know it, so what they do is make it a standard. Morality depends on culture. Culture defines what is right and what is wrong. Ultimately, morality is summed up as cultural norms.
Ethical Realism and Hierarchicalism. When talking about norms, there are two ways to think of them. Universally, or culturally. Relativism says it depends on the culture. Universal norms are those which transcend any one culture but is said of all cultures and all people. Both ethical realism and hierarchicalism (or graded absolutism) base their ethics on universal norms; a decision is made by the norms. The conflict comes when one norm contradicts another norm, in which the decision is made towards the higher, or greater of the two norms. The main difference between ethical realism and graded absolutism is the way they portray man’s nature. Ethical realism says that man is basically fallen, with an evil nature and so must choose the lesser of the two evil’s in any “ethical” choice, and then ask God’s forgiveness for the sinful nature (according to Reinhold Neibuhr). Graded absolutism is directly opposite. Man is inherently good, and thus must choose the greater of the two goods. Whatever is of higher benefit or cultural acceptance; the high road must be taken. The interesting thing about saying man is inherently good, is how do you answer the question of where evil came from? It cannot be man if he is in essence good, so where does it come from? Many say it comes from culture, but what is culture made up of? Man. Man makes cultures and culture makes man evil? That is circular reasoning. If man is basically good, especially if there is no supernatural, then those who say man is inherently good have no way of answering the question of where evil comes from. But on the other hand, if we only have the choice of one evil or another, and there is no chance of doing something good, then are we really to be held accountable for something we had no choice in?
Then of course there is Situational Ethics and Legalistic Moralism. Legalistic moralism, or strict absolutism, is the ideal that what is right is universally immutable. It never changes. What is right is always right and nothing will change that. What is wrong is universally immutable. What is wrong is wrong no matter what. While situational ethics is based off of circumstantial exceptions. Most widely, situational ethics is based on a wider scale of factors that defines what is right and wrong. With each situation, the morality of an act changes. The problem with legalistic moralism is it leaves no room for exceptions, but the problem with situational ethics is that it has no basis for a standard.
All of these systems seem to have factors that don’t quite fit with reality, and most of them, even if they seem to have some sense of truthfulness to them, do not have the whole picture. So is there no right answer? But if there is no right answer, then wouldn’t the relativists be correct? Let us look at it from a different perspective.
What makes good good and evil evil? If there is no God who defines it, what is there to tell? Let us assume for a second that God is dead, as Nietzsche proclaimed. My first thought is that morality becomes subjective, because there is no structure but chance. No metaphysical definition must mean that it must be physical, defined by the person. Subjective. But morality loses a lot of it’s incentive if there is no judgement or ultimate accountability for our actions. Without God, egoism or perhaps utilitarianism is the only thing ethics can hold for a person. Personal gain or, ultimately, pleasure is the only thing we have or can live for: however we find it. But on further look, if morality is subjective, then it technically is not right or wrong, but simply a like or a dislike. It becomes preferential. This is another line that has often been blurred together. There are ice cream flavors that I like and that I dislike. All taste buds are different, so it becomes a preference, there is no right or wrong personal preference. If right and wrong is the same, preferential, then it ceases to be morality and it becomes a matter of taste. Morality, right and wrong, ceases to exist and everything becomes preferential because there is no right or wrong personal preference. It follows that if you cannot say one things is universally right or wrong, then you actually cannot even say anything is right or wrong. It’s all a matter of preference. You cease to be able to even use ethical language! With no God, all the world is left with, is nihilism. Nothing.
Please don’t take me wrong, I am not basing my argument for God’s existence on the account that morality becomes subjective otherwise, but rather what I am pointing out is that there is a certain amount of ad absurdum to the statement that there is morality without a God. Ad absurdum is a logical tool used to prove, or disprove, logical arguments. In essence, the argument says that if you take the negation of something, (say with the negation of “B”, you get “not B”), and from that you logically deduce a contradiction, (both “A” and “not A”), then it is absurd to say that the negation is true (it is absurd to say “not B” is true because it results in a contradiction), therefore, the premise must be true. (“B” must be true). If there is no God, then there must not be ethics because otherwise you reach absurdity.
So, with no answer to ethics without God, let us now assume God still lives, where does that put us? We still have to answer the hard question of what morality and ethics is. As I mentioned before in the second essay, if the Deists are correct and God does not interact with His creation, then we meet up with the same problem as the Atheists, you get nihilistic morality. Because if God is absent from interaction, that includes justice: it includes punishing evil and condoning good. If God is absent from moral justice, then there is no basis for saying anything is evil or good because God could care less, and it becomes personal, subjective, preferential, thus nihilistic.
So the other option is a God who interacts with His creation. Like the God of the Bible. So let us assume God lives and interacts with His creation. What does a biblical viewpoint say about what ethics is? I would say it comes somewhere between legalistic moralism and situational ethics. Good is always good, and bad is always bad, but God desires mercy and love over strict regulations. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6) It is not one or the other (either mercy or sacrifice), but both - somewhere in between - avoiding both extremes. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth... But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23: 23-24). He is saying here that you have kept the letter of the law, but lost lost the spirit of the law (the heart of the law, the intent of the law). you should have followed the letter while keeping the heart of it. If God is a God of love, desiring relationship, His laws are not restrictive, but protective. If God is a God of love, desiring relationship, then He desires love and obedience back. Our love is not true without obedience, but our obedience is useless without love. Both is needed.
But why is good good and evil evil? Well, as Del Tackett says, I don’t think God was up in heaven, flipping a coin saying: well, if it’s heads, lying is good; tails, lying is bad. That would mean that it could have been different, and thus God would not be immutable (unchanging). For if before the beginning He could have it one way or the other (meaning He had no deference) until after the coin flip (creating standards), then He changed. If God is changeable, if He has no set nature but is ever in flux, then morality would thus be in flux, and we would not have any foundation for it or assurance of it because we would never know if it still is what it was because what if it changed. Thus if God is able to make morality different, then it becomes questionable and preferential. And if God is preferential, then justice ceases to exist. Because preference has no jurisdiction in producing morality because there is no right or wrong in personal preferences.
So let us continue our assumption with the added stipulation that God is immutable. What does this add? Well, what does it mean when we say God is immutable. That God is unchanging? It is not speaking about unchanging physically, but in being. His essence never changes. He never changes His mind. His “opinions” never change. His character never changes. Who He is never changes: i.e. His nature never changes. God said lying is bad because it is contrary to His nature. Good is good because it accords with His nature. It is what it is and cannot change because of who He is. He defines good and evil. He is all that is good. Which is why good is what it is. Evil is all that is contrary to who He is. Which is why evil is what it is. Hatred is evil because God is a God of love. Idolatry is evil because God is a jealous God. (Jealous not in that He is envious or covetous, but jealous as a husband is jealous of his wife, or a wife of her husband. Idolatry is anything that takes precedence over God in our life; God is jealous of our life because He wants to be number one in our life, He wants our love, but it is our choice to love. Our choice to do evil or good. According to His nature).
Following that, It is because He is a just God; because of His justice that He must punish sin.
What is sin? Disobedience.
Disobedience to what? The law - God’s word.
What is the law? God’s morality - that which is right and wrong.
What is morality? It is determined by who God is.
What is good? That which accords to His nature.
What is evil? Sin.
What is sin? Disobedience.
What is disobedience? Acting contrary to His nature.
Keep in mind my presupposition, namely that God exists. This supposition can be rejected, but also keep in mind the implications of that statement, namely that morality ceases to have any meaning without God. So you have to decide for yourself, rightly so, whether you believe in God or not, but if you reject a moral absolute founded upon God, all you have left is subjectivity and nihilism. So if you can reject the existence of morality; right and wrong, good and bad, go ahead and believe there is no God. Those beliefs are compatible, but to believe that God is dead and morality exists in any form of standard is illogical. And here is a piece of food for thought, if no morality exists, by right you would not be able to say I am wrong, you are right, lying is bad or telling the truth is good! To say morality does not exist countermands fundamental human nature.
All talk of morality has to deal with standards. The world has many different standards of morality. Relativism, Pluralism, Egoism, Utilitarianism, etc. In honesty, these worldly standards are founded upon the individual. Like purpose, true ethics cannot be meted out by any one individual because personal standards can change. Human standards cannot be based upon themselves or they will fail, fall, and will not be of any consequence. Like our purpose, it must come from outside of ourselves. We are not the epicenter. If an immutable God does exist and created all: who created the sky and the sea, the earth and the cosmos, who formed the cell and formulated the standards of physics, who ordered the information in DNA and set gravity, would it not make sense that such an existent God would also define ethics.
We talk of morality we talk of standards. Whose standard of right and wrong. Because we think of the moral standards of an individual, as being determined by the individuals beliefs. But ethics, the absolute truth of what “ought”. What truly “Is” right and wrong, that is determined by God’s standards. Just as a man’s character is judged by his moral actions, ethical or not, so God’s standards of ethics is based upon His character.
And remember that we were created in His image “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created him.” (Genesis 1:27) ...even though we are also fallen “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) This makes morality something bigger than ourselves. It makes it universal, and it makes reality tangible. What is reality? That which corresponds to how it actually is. Reality is that which is really real. There is an ethical reality. If there were no ethical reality, then logically, there would be no ethics and we would come back to where we started. Absurdity. There must be an ethical reality.
Now that we have postulated the ethical standard, let us look at the morality of that standard, or what “is” the “ought”. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered (“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40) Why is the second like the first? Because they both have to do with love? Perhaps partly so, but by obeying the second commandment, you are also fulfilling the first commandment. Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) It is not from the stance of a dictator’s pride that Jesus says this, but more like a father ordering his children’s obedience for their own sake. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
.............................................................................................................................. (Essay not finished, more to come)