Washington Society hosts public dialogue on ethics



The Washington Society held a public dialogue on the origins of morality in the Kinder Institute on the University of Missouri campus Monday afternoon. The dialogue, titled “Where Does Morality Come From?” was led by political science Professors Justin Dyer and Jonathan Krieckhaus. Dyer is director of the Kinder Institute.

Krieckhaus kicked off the event by going through a numbered list of points to make about morality in general (copy below).

First, Krieckhaus made the point that it is not prima facie evident that morality does in fact exist.

Knowing this, his second point listed four “existential stances” one can take toward morality: Amorality, logic, deism and naturalism.

The professor’s third point was to explain the increasing importance of this final type, naturalism. Our country is growing less religious with each successive generation, he said, and so, if we are to preserve and develop a shared sense of moral norms, we must turn to non-deist moral reasoning.

Krieckhaus’ fourth point explored the pros and cons of such a form of moral reasoning, mentioning that it is potentially more useful, but also more difficult to develop.

Finally, the last point centered on the Golden Rule. Does the notion of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you fulfill the requirements of a shared naturalist morality in the way we would wish? Not quite, explained the professor, listing a few fundamental disagreements we would still have, such as matters of sexual engagement and abortion rights. However, the Golden Rule is still important, as it is useful in guiding our morality in many other cases.

After Krieckhaus’ lecture, there was a similar introduction from Dyer, a moment of dialogue between the professors and then a period where audience members could ask questions.doc-oct-11-2016-9-02-am

My Analysis

I found Krieckhaus’ talk to be the most interesting of all the segments, specifically his assertion of the importance of non-deist moral reasoning.

It was here that he began to reference Plato. Krieckhaus, who believes there is a discoverable logical foundation upon which we can build our shared morality, nevertheless explored what a world would be like if that was not the case. In such a world, we may need to develop a “noble myth,” he said, echoing the notion of Plato’s noble lie. Even if a non-deist morality doesn’t exist, it is best for society that we create the illusion that one does.

I completely agree with this assertion. Society needs some moral norms in order to function properly. Religion has traditionally been the easiest manner of communicating these norms, but as the developed world continues its trajectory away from deism, it is imperative we find a sturdier foundation upon which to build a new moral system.