How do we formulate a moral system when we do not have a god to tell us what to do? Are any truths self evident?. How do our ideas on morality have any authority?
Dr James Wakefield tackled these and other questions in a wide ranging and informative talk. He explained three main ways of thinking about moral systems.
The first, ‘Natural Law’ is based on the idea that objective and unchanging facts are out there for us to discover, and that these laws would exist even when they are unrecognised. This way of thinking presupposes the goodness of human nature.
Another way of approaching morality is ‘Utilitarianism’, which supposes that an ideal morality is one which produces the greatest amount of happiness. There must be a reason for us to do what morality requires, and possibly not everyone wants to be happy. Why ought we to promote happiness? Maybe this is not a moral system at all, but merely a theory about happiness.
Finally ‘Constructivism’, where our moral rules are not objective but are constructed. This system draws its reasons from the desires, interests, beliefs and values we already have. We should act according to the best reasons we can come up with. This could collapse into moral relativism where truth becomes a matter of opinion.
There are defenders of all three theories today. Dr Wakefield claims it is uniquely human to stand back and look at moral considerations. He would put himself into the constructivist camp.
This talk stimulated much interest and a lot of questions amongst the capacity audience. We shall take up a related topic in September, and no doubt these views will inform our discussion.