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Prompt: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea.

What
prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

If you went into my room when I was ten years old, you may found me on my
computer, reading the arguments of religious people against atheism on the Internet on
a black desktop computer. My room would’ve been quite messy, as I was never the
most organized person. My brow would’ve been furrowed in frustration as I attempted to
prove them wrong in my mind. I didn’t ever actually post anything or reply to any
arguments. I just attempted to figure out why they were wrong in my head.

Much of the literature on thinking I have read inculcated in me the sense that the
pursuit of truth superseded all else. In other words, something should not be believed
because it was comforting, or because to believe otherwise had negative
consequences, but only because the reasoning leading to this belief was sound. This is
harder than it looks, as with the way I have reasoned about ethics.

Throughout my entire life, one of my strongest desires has been to have a


consistent worldview, for how can one expect to live life properly if one does not
understand it first?

This is what triggered my interest in philosophy, and one particular branch of


philosophy seemed more important than the others when it came to living life the right
way: ethics. Even many atheists, who did not believe in a deity to enforce moral laws,
seemed to believe that ethics was not about personal choice.

This seemed a little strange to me. I wasn’t really sure what it meant for ethics to
be absolute. The basic principle which led to my confusion was this: The reason people
developed moral codes was more likely to be related to the evolutionary survival
mechanisms of groups, rather than because morality was some kind of Platonic Form.

Still, it felt to me like a bad thing to be a moral anti-realist (the technical term for
someone who does not believe that there can be objectively true ethical statements),
like it was somehow morally wrong in itself to believe it. After all, if everyone was a
moral relativist, society would descend into chaos!

I never found satisfying answers to these questions, but I still felt the pressure to
believe moral realism, and I did so for many years. I tried to defend it mentally whenever
I saw arguments against it, but I only did so because I felt the pressure. There was the
problem, of course, that if moral absolutes did exist, it might not look like anything we
would expect.
For example, modern western civilization expresses contempt for many of the
values and practices of past (and present) societies, calling them barbaric. Slavery is
the first example that comes to mind. How did I know, I wondered, that the culture I was
raised in was right about morality and all the others were wrong?

A few months ago, my cousin was visiting my home. At one point, our
conversations drifted to the topic of morality, and (with my father present as well) I
decided to explain the problems that I had with moral realism, my cousin having been
the type of person who would have knowledge on such topics. My father repeated his
usual argument: The fact of the existence of right and wrong was obvious, and I did in
fact know this.

I don’t remember all the details of that conversation, but the most memorable
moment for me was when my cousin mentioned the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche,
whom I had read about earlier, and gave this illustration of his philosophy: A thief who
abides by an internal code of honor, not because that is what society expects of him,
but because when he looks in the mirror, he wants to see someone who abides by that
code of honor.

Believing in Moral Realism no longer felt like an obligation to me. I was able to
provide my own justification for acting ethically without there necessarily being any
external reasons. Afterwards, I recommitted myself to belief only on the basis of logic
and rationality. In the future, I expect to examine all of my beliefs with the same level of
rigor.