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  • Richard Dawkins and the Chimera of “Moral Duty”

    Posted on September 10th, 2015 Helian 18 comments

    Apparently militant New Atheist Richard Dawkins believes there is such a thing as “moral duty.”  In a recent tweet he wrote, citing an article in the Washington Post,

    US has as much moral duty to accept Syrian refugees as Europe. If not more.

    It’s too bad Socrates isn’t still around to “learn” the nature of this “moral duty” from Dawkins the same way he did from Euthyphro.  I’m sure the resulting dialog would have been most amusing.

    Where on earth does an atheist like Dawkins get the idea that there is such a thing as moral duty?  I doubt that he has even thought about it.  After all, if moral duty is not just a subjective figment of his imagination and is capable of acquiring the legitimacy to apply not only to himself, but to the entire population of the United States as well, it must somehow exist as an entity in itself.  How else could it acquire that legitimacy?  There is no logical justification for the claim that mere subjective artifacts of the consciousness of Richard Dawkins, or any other human individual for that matter, are born automatically equipped with the right to dictate “oughts” to other individuals.  They cannot possibly acquire the necessary legitimacy simply by virtue of the fact that the physical processes in the brain responsible for their existence have occurred.  In what form, then, does “moral duty” exist as an independent thing-in-itself?  To claim that “moral duty” is not a thing, or an object, is tantamount to admitting that it doesn’t exist.  In what other form can it possibly manifest itself?  As a spirit?  If that is Dawkins’ claim, then he is every bit as religious as the most delusional speaker in tongues.  As dark matter, perhaps?  If so then Dawkins must know more about it then the world’s best physicists.

    We’re not talking about a deep philosophical issue here.  I really can’t understand why the question doesn’t occur immediately to anyone who claims to be an atheist.  (Of course, it should occur to religious believers as well, as noted by Socrates well over 2000 years ago.  However, the response that they have a “moral duty” because they don’t want to burn in hell for quintillions of years is at least worth considering).  In any case, the question certainly occurred to me shortly after I became an atheist at the age of 12.  Then, as now, the world was infested with are commonly referred to today as Social Justice Warriors.  Then, as now, they were in a constant state of outrage over one thing or another.  And then, as now, they expected the rest of the world to take their tantrums of virtuous indignation seriously.  Is it really irrational to pose the simple question, “Why?”  I asked myself that question, and quickly came to the conclusion that these people are charlatans.

    The question remains and is just as relevant today as it was then, whether one accepts Darwinian explanations for the origin of morality or not.  However, for atheists who have some respect for the methods of science, I would claim that natural selection is at once the most logical as well as the most parsimonious explanation for the existence of morality.  It is the root cause from which spring all its gaudy and multifarious guises.  If that is the case, then one can only speak of morality in scientific terms as a manifestation of evolved behavioral predispositions.  As such, there is no possible way for it to acquire objective legitimacy.  In other words, the claim that all Americans, or any other subset of the human population, has a genuine “moral duty” of any kind is a mirage.  If anything, this would appear to be doubly true in the case claimed by Dawkins.  It is yet another instance of what I have previously referred to as a “morality inversion.”  “Morality” is invoked as the reason for doing things that accomplish the opposite of that which accounts for the very existence of morality to begin with.

    What?  You don’t agree with me?  Well, if “moral duties” are not made of anything, then they don’t exist, so they must be objects of some kind.  They must be made of something.  By all means, go out and capture a free range “moral duty,” and prove me wrong.  Show it to me!  I hope it’s green.  That’s my favorite color.