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why be moral

why be moral

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Published by Bill McLella

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Published by: Bill McLella on May 08, 2008
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02/01/2013

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Bill McLellan
Why Be Moral?

Dr. McLelland
Philosophical Ethics
Covenant College
5 December 2001

JeremyWhat do you mean \u201cMy God is good\u201d? Look at your life. I don\u2019t know if

your God is really there and all, but for crying out loud, if he is, he sure isn\u2019t being very
grateful for all your obedience. I\u2019ve never met anybody as conscientious as you about
being moral, but it sure hasn\u2019t done you a lick of good. And on top of all that, I can\u2019t
understand why you would go around trying to get others to be moral, too, to live the way
you think your \u201cgood\u201d God wants you to live. Is it just that misery loves company? How
can you come to me, with your life in shambles the way it is and my life rolling in the
dough, and talk to me about why I should want to be moral? Show me what\u2019s in it for
me; then I\u2019ll listen. But don\u2019t come to me with any of that I-should-want-to-be-moral-
even-if-it-hurts stuff. I just won\u2019t buy it. When I look at your life, all I can think is that
morality is a big waste.

DanI don\u2019t think you understand what morality is all about. I behave a certain way

because I value certain things more than others. It\u2019s pretty obvious that we don\u2019t value the same things, but if you\u2019ll give me a few minutes, I think I can help you see why you might want to change\u2026

JeremyWait a minute there. If we\u2019re going to talk about mewanting to change,

then you\u2019ve got to offer me something I want, and I don\u2019t see anything in the worldyou
could possibly offer me to make me want to be like you. Now some people could. I\u2019ve
read all about ethics, and I\u2019ve seen plenty of good reasons to be moral out there. Take for
example the Utilitarians. They say that morality brings happiness for the greatest number
of people; now that\u2019s a reason to be moral\u2014a pretty altruistic reason if you ask me. But
you certainly don\u2019t seem to be in the business of making everybody happy\u2014you
Christians can be so depressing sometimes. You don\u2019t even seem to want to make your
own life happy and comfortable. You know, that\u2019s what the Egoists would say real
morality does. I\u2019ll admit you seem much more righteous than me, but there\u2019s no contest
which one of us is living a more comfortable life. I even have a higher reputation in the
community than you do. Morality sure doesn\u2019t seem to be in your best interest.

DanI still don\u2019t think you\u2019re getting the point. You seem to be getting it all
backwards.
JeremyNo, I don\u2019t thinky o u \u2019re getting the point! Basically every ethical theory

out there\u2014I\u2019ve just mentioned two so far\u2014have reasons they can give me for wanting to
be moral. But when I look at your life, I don\u2019t think you can give me any of them. The
Cost Utilitarians say morality will make me money. Some psychological theories and
even Earnest Hemingway say morality will make me feel good. Emotivists think we can
make people feel the same way we do about morality, while others think that by being
moral, we gain influence over others and the power to prescribe morality for them as
well. Other theories even teach that by being moral, the weak can free themselves from
oppression and protect themselves from those who would harm them. But on top of
being poor, uncomfortable, and of little repute in public, your morality has failed to give
you power over others, a large following, or even protection from those who are always
taking advantage of you. Morality may have worked for these other guys\u2014they seem a
whole lot smarter than either of us\u2014but it sure hasn\u2019t worked for you. I know this

conversation was supposed to be about why I should be moral, but can\u2019t you see? we
ought to be talking about why you want to waste your life so badly.
DanLike I said, I still think you\u2019re getting this whole thing backwards. Ones reasons

for being moral are often contained within ones definition of what morality is. The
Utilitarians you spoke of: they want to be moral because by doing so, they contribute to
the happiness of the greatest number of people, but they also define morality as whatever
does this. Egoists want to be moral not because it always serves their best self-interest,
but because they\u2019ve decided to call whatever does thatmorality. Emotivists also seem to
imply that by being moral one will conform to ones own feelings or those of others, but
they only say that because they think that all talk about morality is nothing more than the
expression of ones feelings. What other purpose, then, could morality possibly serve? If
you still don\u2019t understand what I\u2019m saying, take Kant for example: he seems to think that
as soon as one acts morally for some other reason than morality itself, the act ceases to be
a moral one. Because he defines morality in such a way, what reason do you think he
could possibly give for why one should want be moral?

JeremyI don\u2019t like Kant very much either, but it still seems like all of these people
have much better reasons for being moral than you do.
DanYou missed my point altogether. I mean that in looking at all the examples you

have given me, people construct moralities that seem to them the best means of achieving
or attaining what they view to be of greatest value. For some it\u2019s happiness, for others
money, reputation, comfort, or a good feeling about oneself. As David Hume said,
nobody seems to be moral simply because they know what the right thing to do is;
morality is simply the best means of getting what everybody really wants. Now, I might
have some problems with Hume\u2019s view of morality, but it does seem that when people
ask, \u201cWhy be moral?\u201d the answer always seems to be, \u201cBecause I wantx, and morality
will get mex.\u201d

JeremyAnd that\u2019s exactly what you can\u2019t tell me!
DanNo, I think I can, despite how undesirable my life seems to you. You see, ones

definition of morality is determined by the end morality is supposed to serve. Hume
didn\u2019t think you could argue ethically over ends, but I do. It seems that our argument
isn\u2019t over which end (happiness, reputation, or money, for example) is best served by a
common morality we all agree on. Egoists and Utilitarians disagree not because one
thinks morality will make everyone happy and the other thinks it will make only
individuals happy, but because they have different views about what is moral in the first
place. In a sense, the meaning of the wordmoral when you ask, \u201cWhy should I be
moral?\u201d determines the answer to your question.

JeremyLet\u2019s quit arguing semantics here. I don\u2019t want to be moral, and you\u2019re
supposed to change my mind.
DanI don\u2019t think you\u2019re as amoral as you think you are. You see, I\u2019ve met plenty of

people, including you, who don\u2019t want to be moral in my sense of the word because they
don\u2019t value what I value. But they all still want to be moral in their own way; there\u2019s
always something they value highest of all, and most of them have figured out some way

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