Consequences: The Great Question of Should, Part II

There is no objective “Should.” There is no objective “Should,” whether a God exists or not. There is no objective “Should” independent of minds complex enough to form the notions of good and evil. There is no objective “Should” because there is no logical basis for the claim that morality can exist as other than the perception of a conscious mind. It does not logically follow from the fact that a conscious mind perceives something as good or evil that it is, therefore, really good or evil, and would remain good or evil whether that mind continued to exist or not. Morality exists only as a perception of conscious minds.

It is difficult for us to reject the objective reality of morality because we perceive it as real. We can “see” it in our minds as both real and absolute. We exist as the culmination of a process of evolution characterized by the preservation of that which has promoted our survival, and the elimination of that which has not. Morality, in the form of a perception of absolute, objective good and evil, has promoted our survival. Therefore, it exists, and it exists in that form. It is real as a subjective perception in our minds. It is not real as the absolute, objective thing that our mental programming, or “human nature,” if you will, suggests to us.

What, then, “Should” we do? The answer is that there can be no objective justification for the claim that we should do one thing, or should not do another.

However, we are mentally predisposed to be moral beings. We interact with other human beings in the context of morality. If we attempted to act amorally, we would likely succeed only in making ourselves miserable. We have a conscience. We cannot shut it off at will. We are moral beings living in a moral world. We must deal with it. I will tell you how I deal with it. I cannot give you any objective reason why you should deal with it the same way. In fact, it would certainly not be to my advantage if everyone did. However, given the nature of our species, I suspect there is little danger of that.

First, it is necessary for me to have an accurate idea of what I am. I have concluded that the conscious mind I experience as “myself” has been produced by the genetic material I carry. That mind is an evolved characteristic that has promoted the survival of the genetic material. As such, it is ancillary. Unlike the genetic material, which has been in continuous existence for many hundreds of millions of years, and is potentially immortal, it is relatively short-lived and mortal. I, therefore, conclude that “I” am not my conscious mind. “I” am my genetic material. I am hardly the first one to arrive at this insight. I like to attribute its origin to the great Bard himself:

O, that you were yourself! But, love, you are
No longer yours than you yourself live here.
Against this coming end you should prepare
And your sweet semblance to some other give.
Shakespeare, Sonnet XIII

“I”, then, am a bundle of genetic material, only aware of my own existence through a conscious mind that I have evolved as a survival mechanism. The mind interacts with the world outside itself on the basis of a moral code, which it is predisposed to develop along certain broad guidelines, the details being filled in by experience, culture and conscious thought. Morality doesn’t exist objectively, outside the mind, but is a subjective construct of the mind. Objectively, there is nothing I should do, and I have no objective purpose. I can, however, have a subjective purpose, subjective goals, and a subjective morality. These must be provided by the conscious mind. What should they be?

Let me consider the matter, subjectively, as I must, from the viewpoint of my conscious mind. The thought of my mortality is no more pleasing to me than it is to anyone else. I have a natural fear of death and wish to avoid it. I also have self respect. I do not wish to perceive myself as a biological dead end at the end of a chain of living beings that have survived for hundreds of millions of years. It does not please me to think of myself as a failed entity and one that will disappear without a trace with the death of my most recent body and mind. These thoughts of death and failure are distressing to me. Realizing, as I do, that I will exist for a limited time, it seems to me unreasonable to be miserable and unhappy during that time. The world and my existence in it seem highly improbable to me. When I think about these things, instead of taking them for granted, they seem wonderful and spectacular. It seems to me that, during the time I have to be a part of this unlikely world, it is better to enjoy the experience than to be miserable. Therefore, to the extent possible, I make it my purpose to avoid death and failure, the thought of which makes me miserable. I decide that my fundamental goal must be to survive. I realize that my “Self” is not the conscious mind thinking these thoughts. My “Self” is that which has created the conscious mind. My “Self” is my genetic material. My “Self” must survive.

I am wired to be a moral being, and cannot act amorally. I must, therefore, adopt a moral code. In view of what I have said above, I will include one good in this moral code that is greater than all other goods. That is the good of survival. The moral code only exists because it has promoted my survival in the past. It has no existence independent of the mind. To the extent to which it becomes a separate entity in itself, distinct from the genetic material that has created it, it is an absurdity. There can be nothing more immoral than failing to survive.

In a later post, we will consider the further moral ramifications of this conclusion.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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