Monday, April 18, 2016

The Difference Between Moral Ontology and Moral Epistemology

In my MCCC Logic class we are now talking about about apply logic to ethical theories. This involves the matter of "worldviews." Our text raises the worldview issue and encourages us to develop critical thinking skills to enable us to evaluate our beliefs regarding Big Picture matters.

Everyone has a worldview. Every worldview has a set of core beliefs through which persons view the world; viz., through which they construe reality and experience. For example:

  • In the worldview of Chinese primitive religion one's ancestors dwell in an afterlife and still need to be provided for. Hence, this belief: One's ancestors' well-being depend on sacrifices offered to them in this life.
  • When I was in Kenya I learned that, in Sub-Saharan Africa, divinization rites are an essential part of daily life. I was told that in Kenya, e.g., "diviners are everywhere." So, one belief in the worldview of African primitive religion is: casting pieces of a kola nut can tell a person what to do to make it safely through the day.
  • I embrace the worldview of Christian theism. One of my beliefs is: When I die I shall continue to exist, in the presence of God, in an afterlife (on the basis of Christ's historical resurrection).
Worldview beliefs are expressed as statements, or claims. In logic a statement is a sentence that describes a state of affairs; a statement is a sentence that is either true or false.

Here, e.g., is a belief, an atheist would [and should] have: morality does not exist. An atheist's reasoning would be this:

  1. If there is no God (as moral Commander), then there is no morality (no objective moral values).
  2. God does not exist.
  3. Therefore, objective moral values do not exist (morality does not exist).
A number of philosopher-atheists have made and continue to make this claim. For example, Nietzsche (there are no moral facts), Camus, Sartre (existentialist atheists in general), and more recently Michael Ruse, E.O. Wilson (morality is an evolutionary illusion), and Joel Marks. Were I an atheist, I am certain I would follow this reasoning. As Marks writes: "I now take the non-existence of a Commander as a kind of proof that there are no Commands, i.e., morality." Of course.

Am I claiming that an atheist cannot be moral? Not at all. In fact, I know some atheists who are more moral than some Christians. My point (as made by other atheists and theists) is that, on atheism, there is no longer any metaphyscial foundation for morality.

Important to understand here is that this reasoning is not about describing how moral beliefs come about. To describe how moral beliefs came about (moral epistemology) is irrelevant to this discussion. That is a matter of moral epistemology. The issue is, rather, a matter of moral ontology. It's not a matter of normative ethics; it's a metaethical issue.

As theistic philosopher William Lane Craig says, "The claim that moral values and duties are rooted in God is a Meta-Ethical claim about Moral Ontology, not about Moral Linguistics or Epistemology. It is fundamentally a claim about the objective status of moral properties, not a claim about the meaning of moral sentences or about the justification or knowledge of moral principles."

On atheism, objective moral values (i.e., Marks's "morality") do not exist. I find that eminently logical. An atheist who thinks otherwise is misguided and is, following Nietzsche, still too indebted to the village of Christian theism.

Note: Without morality, what does an atheist who has moral inclinations do? One example is Marks, who rejects utilitarianism and, following his Kantian inclinations, proposes something he calls "desirism." See "An Amoral Manifesto: Part I," and "An Amoral Manifesto: Part II."