After my last blog, God is not the issue, a commenter asked the question: can we derive morality from knowledge? An interesting point, and if I may interpret “knowledge” as logic or reason, the answer is: yes, that’s possible. There are some things to take into consideration, since morals are absolute nor universal. Morality is not an exact science and that means we may have to change our entire attitude towards it.
Morality tends to be defined as a specific set of morals that applies to a group of people – either because they feel comfortable with it or because they are subjected to it. The problem arises that there has to be someone (or a small group of representatives / leaders) who defines the standards, and the more standards there are, the more people will feel alienated from (parts of) the resulting moral framework. Enter: authority, hierarchy and punishment in order to force people to adhere what has become “the norm”. There is no more justification for this in science or logic than there is in religion or any other institution.
When logic is our guide to find morality, we need to find the lowest common denominator. Morality as defined by logic can only exist in the most general possible terms, which means we will have to move beyond our desire to always define everything in (overly precise) laws and regulations. This framework is not a set of morals, but rather a guideline by which morals are measured. It is not a strict matter of right or wrong, as those notions may differ from era to era, or from region to region. Morals can be dynamic (which – again – is contrary to our tendency to view our ideals as “universal”) and there is nothing scary about that, as long as we resist the urge to specify our opinions into law. Changing laws, constitutions, treaties, religious decrees etc. can be scary, which is why our goal should be to eliminate the need to change them. The only way to do that, is to not have them in the first place.
The only concept that can be a guide to morality in one’s own life and in one’s relation to others is freedom. The absolute freedom to do, say and think what you want is a prerequisite for achieving your full potential (much like Aleister Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”), and is naturally also our guideline for our interaction with others, for there is no objective reason why they should not have the same amount of freedom as you. Thus, the only limitation to everyone’s freedom is that it can never infringe on the freedoms of others.
Freedom is the lowest common denominator that ties people together, for that concept can apply to every aspect of our lives, regardless of when or where we live. How we use our freedom, and whether we choose to sacrifice (parts of) it, is up to us. And should only be up to us. I.e.: everyone is also free to allow another person to decide for them – but that does not mean that that person is free to decide for others as well.
Once we accept as a starting point that the only limitation to our freedom is the freedom of others, our freedoms will be in perfect balance, everyone will benefit and our species will prosper. All other limitations are subjective and therefore unnatural and unjustified. Sadly, it takes just one person to distort the balance; one person’s disregard for the freedom of others will prompt the others to take measures against those actions, sacrificing parts of their liberty in defense against wrongdoing. While that first person must have been hoping to benefit from his transgression, he is inevitably also vicitimized by it because ultimately his freedom, too, will be limited.
That last example is where the difficulty lies: the balance of freedoms is fragile and, as humanity stands today, we are not ready to live by that balance alone. However, if we continue to allow institutions such as governments, religions or economical entities to take us by the hand and guide us through life (albeit not to our own destination, but rather the one they desire for us), we are never going to evolve to the point that we can. We have to learn to stand on our own two feet if we are ever to break through the boundaries of our freedoms.
That is what I would consider morality based on reason. Our ability to live by that morality may be considered common sense by some, spiritual awareness by others or natural instinct – the beauty is that it does not matter. Which one suits you best depends on your outlook on the world; while for instance it leaves room for the existence of a god, it does not require it. Everything, apart from freedom, is relative. The biggest question is if we will ever evolve to that point.